One of Nigeria’s leading newspapers has just reported that the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria is currently shopping for a candidate to occupy the presidency of the Christian Association of Nigeria, since the tenure of the incumbent, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, will expire in February 2013.
The question that immediately came to my mind is why the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria alone should be shopping for Pastor Oritsejafor’s replacement as President of CAN, when PFN is not the only body that makes up the Christian Association of Nigeria. Moreover, CAN leadership is rotational. Now that Pastor Oritsejafor is about to complete the slot of PFN, is PFN in a position to produce another President for CAN? Will this move if it is true not bring about the total destruction of what is remaining of CAN as a body? These were the questions that came to my mind.
Well, a cursory look at the past leadership of CAN since its inception in 1976 showed that CAN and the Nigerian Body of Christ has never had it so bad in the area of integrity. People like His Eminence Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, His Eminence, Akinola, and the former Archbishop of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie and Sunday Mbang, former Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, just to mention a few, have at various times occupied the Presidency of CAN even during military regimes where anything goes. But the integrity of Christian faith as a body has never been called to question like it is now; this is the heart of the matter. Today, corruption in Churches has assumed an alarming proportion. I fear that God will judge some ministers for blatantly refusing to talk about this cankerworm and depressing situation or even prayed about it. The conclusion is that Christians’ silence contributes to the shame and secrecy which has become the order of the day with regard to corrupt practices in our country. Whenever, I think of these issues, I am reminded of what my mother used to say. I was always coming home with a scratch or cut from my school playing ground as at then. My mother would take the bandage off; clean the wound and say, “Things that are covered don’t heal well.” Mother was right. Things that are covered do not heal well. Corruption in churches! We must talk about it. Most Pastors and General Overseers of Churches in Nigeria are today regarded as money mongers, the church is now generally seen as a money making venture instead of winning souls and preaching salvation without which no man can see God. This should bother every genuine Christian, in all honesty.
Come to think of it, what should be of concern to every Christian in Nigeria now, is how to reverse the downward trend of integrity in CAN and the Body of Christ in Nigeria.
It is in line with this thinking, that I am constrained to make this intervention, so that members of all Christian bodies in the country should at least moderate their actions so that we can all re-build a new CAN that will be respected.
In 1976 when the Nigerian government under General Olusegun Obasanjo invited Christian leaders across the country to a meeting to discuss the proposed introduction of the national pledge to primary and secondary schools in the country, none of the leaders present at that meeting ever thought that a body like CAN could be formed. This meeting was held on the 27th of August at the Dodan Barracks Lagos. Thirty-three leaders from thirteen denominations attended that meeting: which included Presbyterians, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, the African Church, Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, United African Methodist, HEKAN Churches and the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN). After an address by the then Chief of Staff, Brigadier-General Shehu Yar’adua, the Christian leaders requested that they be excused so they could meet privately to give a well prepared response to government.
The Christian leaders then proceeded to the Catholic Secretariat which was close to the seat of power then to produce a memorandum which would be a fitting reply to the government. In their resolution, the Christian leaders “did not object to the introduction of the two items provided and on the condition that reading and reciting the national pledge and saluting the national flag would be preceded by the usual morning devotions, during which the staff and the students of each school worship their Creator and offer praises and prayers to the most High God.
It was at that meeting, that it became clear to the leaders, that Christians in Nigeria needed an association through which they could always present a united front on any issue that relate to their welfare in the country. And before that meeting was over, it was unanimously decided that an umbrella Association for Nigerian Christians should be formed.
Meetings were fixed for the 7th and 8th of September 1976, to discuss the details of the working of the new association, to choose a name, to draft a constitution and to elect the executive. On the 8th of September that same year, the name Christian Association of Nigeria was picked from several options. A provisional constitution was also drafted, which defined CAN as “a fellowship of churches, working together to promote the glory of God by encouraging the growth and unity of the churches, and by helping them to salvation and all its fruits.”
The functions of the association were stated thus, to meet regularly and take joint action on vital matters, especially on those issues which affect the Christian Faith and the welfare of the generality of Nigeria. If one may ask of late, has CAN been able to provide an acceptable leadership in line with this objective?
The second objective is for CAN to serve as a basis of response to the unity of the church especially as contained in our Lord’s pastoral prayer that they all may be one. Is the Nigerian body of Christ not more divided now than before?
Has CAN in recent times been able to realize its third objective, of acting as liaison committee by means of which its member-churches can consult together and when necessary make common statement and take common actions. What we have seen for some years now from CAN leadership, is the regular visit to the seat of power, Aso Rock Villa and mere blowing of hot air whenever crises arise, exhibiting absolutely no power to take decisive action on matters affecting the Nigerian Christians.
In all honesty, has CAN been able to act as watchman of the spiritual and moral welfare of our nation, Nigeria? The answer is No. If this is the situation therefore, should all Christians not show more interest in scrutinizing the integrity of whosoever wishes to lead CAN this time around?
I am, however, worried when a group of Pastors or General Overseers, begin to see CAN as their personal property, this is not supposed to be the case. These men of God should be reminded that the birth of CAN came about mainly due to the strong push of members of the core Northern Christian Association (NCA) who were well represented at the August 27, 1976 meeting in Lagos that decided the formation of CAN and whose suggestion gave CAN its name. The reasons for their push then for the formation of CAN is not far to seek: the Northern Christians Association saw the formation of CAN basically as a continuation of the battle to liberate itself from the domination of Islam which the NCA had been involved in since 1948.
If the above mentioned fact, is anything to go by, common sense therefore suggest that adequate consultation must be made before a new president of CAN emerges.
Over the years, the membership of CAN has been more clearly defined to comprise five major blocs of Christianity in Nigeria, The Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), The Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN), The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Organization of African Instituted Churches (OAIC) and ECWA/TEKAN Fellowship.
As we bid Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor farewell, a painstaking process must now be put in place to select, who becomes the leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria. I am not too sure that the Organization of African Instituted Churches (OAIC), Presbyterians and ECWA/TEKAN Fellowship have produced a president of CAN, why can’t we look in that direction for the next leader of the Christian body. However, the above mentioned blocs must meet to select a credible person who will become CAN President. As a matter of fact, all Christians in Nigeria must join hands in ensuring that we stop forthwith, Pastors who are self-seeking individual who see the position of CAN President not as an opportunity to serve, but as an avenue to make more connections and quick money, instead of advancing the objective of the founding fathers of the Christian Association of Nigeria.
The intense scrutiny of any candidate that present himself for this leadership position would to a great extent help to restore the lost glory of CAN.
Mr. Omonhinmin is a Lagos based Media Consultant.