I have since then had a deep fondness and respect for most of the Christian leaders that have led the organisation. My experience with CAN over the years, has shown that although the body is greatly diverse in its thinking and unafraid to speak out on differences or disagreement on opinions, when any of the blocs that make up the body, is in need, CAN as a body is the first and the stoutest in working together for the good of its common cause. As far as I am concerned, the present disagreement within CAN will pass away sooner than we expect.
When an organisation is united in purpose, differences are not only respected, but they can be truly valued for their synergetic course.
Very early this year, when I did an article entitled “YARDSTICK FOR NEW CAN LEADERSHIP”, it was clear that I had a premonition that all was not well with CAN.
I was, therefore, not surprised that barely two weeks after that article, the Nigerian Catholic Church in a press statement announced a ‘temporal’ withdrawal from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), saying it took the action in order to promote Christian unity and peaceful coexistence amongst Christians and non-Christians alike.
A spokesperson of the Church, Rev. Fr. Dr. Cornelius Omonokhua, said the action taken by the Catholic Church would be reviewed after the annual meeting of the Conference of Bishops in February.
Dr. Omonokhua listed reasons for the pull out to include the polarizing statements of some Christian leaders; the use of money in CAN elections; and several court cases involving state chapters of CAN.
He said as members of CAN, Catholic leaders have quietly brought these concerns to CAN leadership but that their advice was shunted aside as the CAN leadership repeatedly accused them of ‘intellectual arrogance.’
He pointed out that the Catholic Church which is some 1,000 years old, has the experience and knowledge to offer advice and moral leadership to CAN and has done so many times.
But, Dr. Omonokhua said, “You just can’t save people who are drowning, if you are drowning with them.”
He also said that the leadership of CAN is not the leadership of Nigerian Christians, since most of the churches are autonomous. As such, the pullout will not create any vacuum.
Asked if the Catholics were concerned about material acquisition by CAN leaders, he said the Catholic Church does not want to tell church leaders how to live their lives, but cautioned that modesty was lacking among some church leaders in Nigeria of today. He said Catholic priests have sworn an oath of poverty and as such could not partake in the material acquisition of worldly things.
“We will be happy if CAN leadership can show moderation,” he said. “Common sense dictates that they do that.”
A very careful look at this statement to any discerning mind shows that, this is a clarion call for self examination on the part of CAN leadership.
It is a matter of deep regret, however, that some leaders of CAN as presently constituted, instead of heeding the advice contained in statement, have resulted to divisive tendency because of their pecuniary gains of today.
CAN statement which alleged that the action of Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) was due to the loss of the Presidency to Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, is most uncharitable and also ungodly. Especially when statements like this, is coming from people who claim to be working in God’s vineyard on earth. I am a Christian, and a member of one the churches that make up the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. There is nothing to show from the statement issued by the Catholic Church of Nigeria that indicates that there is a disagreement resulting from leadership tussle between PFN and the Church. What is at stake is simply the vex issue of poor leadership in CAN, the regrettable act of indiscretion on the part of some church leaders, the massive corruption which is now the order of the day in some churches and the immodest display of wealth by some pastors and bishops, the present crop of CAN leadership inclusive which no doubt assuage the sensibility of most Nigerians. If one may ask, is it wrong, for a stakeholder in CAN to draw the attention of the leadership of the body to the objective of the founding fathers of the CAN when it has become obvious to everyone that CAN has gone out of its way?
For those people among the present leadership of CAN who claim, to know how the body was formed, I will simply say that, the way and manner they are running CAN now, is neither the aim nor the desire of people like David Lot, who in 1948 assume the position of the first president of the organization that later metamorphosed into the Northern Christian Association. Pastor Lot was one of the prominent figures in the Middle Belt Christian movement and in the Northern politics of that era.
No matter the defense of CAN present leadership; it has not shown sufficient character in the area of purposeful leadership. This is the crux of the matter. For example in 1987, when Christians and Churches were assaulted like the Boko Haram is presently doing, even though it was a military regime that was in power, CAN came out with a clear statement expressing its disgust, and went ahead to declare a national week of mourning, special prayers and fasting from 13 to 18 of April, 1987. Before then, on the 8th of March, 1987, CAN wrote a very strongly worded letter to the then Military President, Major General Ibrahim Babangida, on the need to ensure the security of Christians and other Nigerians. Part of that letter read as follows: – “The violence that erupted on the same day as Sheik Abubakar Gumi returned from Saudi Arabia is ominous, and tends to confirm the fear of Christians… This is a dangerous situation. NOT only must the fear of the Christians be allayed, the overwhelming government support for Islam must now give place to justice and fair play. Nigeria is our nation, it is left to us to mould it or break it. Until Christians are convinced that their safety and well being as an integral part of Nigeria is assured, we will assume that the Moslems of Nigeria have decided to eliminate the Christians in their midst. Of course, we will no longer stand by and see ourselves killed and our property destroyed. Since the law and governments have been so incompetent to defend us, we will have to defend ourselves”.
Let me point out at this juncture, that I am not saying that Pastor Oritsejafor should ask Nigerian Christians to pick up arms against their Muslim brothers and sisters. No! His leadership has so far not made any meaningful move that would convince Christians that as a body, it is doing something concrete to reduce the daily carnage experienced by Christians all over the country. Would it have been out of place, for the Pastor Oritsejafor’s leadership of CAN to join hands with our Muslim brothers and leaders in Nigeria to force the Nigerian government to bring about a constructive dialogue with the Boko Haram leadership? I am also not aware, if the Pastor Oritsejafor- led CAN has written to express its displeasure over the security situation in the country to the Nigerian President, who is the chief security officer of the nation, over the wanton killing of Christians and the destruction of their properties over these years. Above all other consideration, CAN has so far failed to act as a watchman of the spiritual and moral welfare of our nations. I therefore do not think it is wrong for any bloc of CAN to express its misgiving about this. As far as I am concerned, once CAN begins to do what is expected of it as a body, it will get the support of all Nigerian Christians.
Mr. Omonhinmin is a Lagos based Media Consultant.