by Sunday Oguntola,
presidential election of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)
billed for May is tearing apart hitherto united groups and stakeholders
with unexpected intrigues almost on a daily basis. SUNDAY OGUNTOLA
reports on the tension-soaked build-up to the exercise as well as
infighting among blocs and churches constituting the organization.
is not well with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) ahead of
its presidential election later in May. The struggle for the body’s top
position worsened last Monday with the kidnap of President of the United
Church of Christ in Nigeria (UCC), Reverend Emmanuel Dziggau.
who is also head of TEKAN/ECWA bloc of the umbrella Christian body, was
abducted in a farm some 17km off the Kaduna/Abuja expressway with two
other ministers identified as Rev. Iliya Anto and Rev. Yakubu Zarma. The
trio was at the farm for clearing of land for the church’s seminary,
which was about to take off when six masked gunmen seized them.
were whisked to an unknown destination immediately. But impeccable
sources said the kidnappers contacted the UCC’s leadership few hours
later after realising Anto, who had just undergone a surgery, was sick.
They reportedly arranged to have him picked up on compassionate grounds
at a prescribed location.
The operation was however busted when
the kidnappers sighted policemen with the church’s leaders waiting to
pick up the sick Anto. It was gathered that the kidnappers called off
the pick-up effort and placed an N100million ransom on the three
pastors. Our correspondent learnt that members and leaders of UCC are
negotiating with the kidnappers for downward review of the ransom while
also raising funds to secure release of the ministers.
after the kidnap, the national secretary of CAN, Rev. Musa Asake,
attributed the incident to contention for the body’s forthcoming
election in an SMS to church leaders nationwide.
Asake said: “To
all CAN leaders all over the country, it is with heavy heart that I send
this SMS to you to inform you that the unbelievable has happened in the
family of CAN. The TEKAN/ECWA bloc leader, Rev. Dr Emmanuel Dziggau was
kidnapped today and it is in connection with the forthcoming CAN
He later summoned all church leaders to an emergency
meeting at the National Christian Church, Abuja for last Thursday by
6pm, stating “all hands must be on deck to ensure those who do not wish
the church well do not succeed.”
Investigations revealed that the
meeting was called off when some church leaders queried Asake for
linking the kidnap incident to the forthcoming election. Many of them,
it was learnt, challenged him to present evidence of the inference,
expressing anger that the body’s leadership was already drawing
conclusion before investigations.
It was learnt that the
development led to a shouting match among some church leaders in Abuja
last week. Sources said some took on Asake for having the effrontery to
send out such a loaded message out before security agents were allowed
to do their work.
More than a kidnap
The Secretary of
National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF), Pastor Bosun Emmanuel followed
up with an email on the kidnap incident to selected church leaders. He
said: “It is believed that the kidnap is not unconnected with
subterranean moves being made by some forces in the country to influence
the election of the next President of CAN.
“Rev. Dr Dziggau,
according to people close to him, has consistently resisted pressures to
support undue interference in the election process to produce the next
President of CAN, a stand which has drawn the anger of some influential
Christians in government. He has been heard to express his neutrality
Dziggau, according to investigations, is a key figure in
the election process. As head of a bloc, he has the authority to
recommend anyone from his group for the top post. While he has stated
that he is not interested in vying for the position, some forces within
the TEKAN/ECWA have been rooting for the national president of
Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), Rev. Dr Jeremiah Gado, to
represent the bloc.
It was learnt that Dziggau balked at the
idea, telling many that the bloc has no interest in presenting anyone
for CAN presidency. His position has been interpreted as an opposition
to the ambition of Gado, making some to insinuate that he might have
been kidnapped to prevent him from being a spoiler to Gado’s aspiration.
Election politicking: Not even the church is spared
of those fuelling the theory told our correspondent on strict condition
of anonymity that “You know there is an internal crisis within his
bloc. They did this to shut the man up. I doubt if he will be released
until after the nomination process has been concluded. This is from his
bloc and it is very unfortunate.”
But those in the pro-Gado’s
camp are countering the insinuation. They said such theory do not hold
waters. “If we need him to nominate Rev. Dr Gado, why would we kidnap
him? Will that make him do what we want as they insinuated? This does
not make sense and I think people should be a bit smarter when saying
Instead they are also pointing accusing fingers at the
current leadership of CAN, saying it was behind the abduction of
Dziggau. They said the kidnapped leader is known to have sympathies for
the CAN’s helmsman, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, who they accuse of plotting
to install his successor at all costs.
“Oritsejafor and his group
are behind all of this. They want to make it look like an internal
crisis within TEKAN/ECWA. That is why they are quick to jump into
conclusion and impute motives to the incident,” the source added.
Director of Voice of Northern Christian Movement, Pastor Kallamu Dikwa,
said the abducted Dziggau must have connived with forces loyal to
Oritsejafor to plan the incident. This, he alleged, “is to cover their
corrupt activities during the Jonathan’s years and get sympathies from
people, while also destabilising the next CAN election so that they can
remain in CAN.”
But spokesman of Northern States CAN, Rev. Joseph
Hayab, denounced insinuations that the kidnap had anything to do with
the forthcoming elections. He said the incident was carried out by
criminals out to make cheap money.
According to him, “It is
mischievous and childish to say the kidnap is about CAN election. It is
sad that some people are politicising a criminal issue that affects a
religious leader. In the last one month, at least four people have been
kidnapped around the same place that these men of God were seized. Were
those cases also related to the elections?”
revealed that Oritsejafor has more than a passing interest in who
succeeds him. This, it was learnt, is why the election, which has always
been outside of public purview, has attracted so much attention and
drawn church leaders against themselves.
President of National
Christian Elders Forum (NCEF), Solomon Asemota, in a document titledNext
President of CAN, said the forum, which was created by Oritsejafor,
“should give advice by way of guidance to help in the selection of a
qualified, suitable and respectable President of CAN.”
asked members of the forum in the private document: “In the
circumstance, would it be safe for the NCEF to be neutral so that a
perceived Islamist or their proxy, sympathiser or agent becomes the
President of CAN?” It is believed Oritsejafor is out for a successor
that will protect his legacies and prevent possible backlashes from
The wars within blocs
At the last
National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of CAN in Abuja, it was decided
that the five blocs namely the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN); the
Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN); the Pentecostal Fellowship of
Nigeria (PFN)/Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (CPFN);
Organisation of African Instituted Churches (OAIC) and TEKAN/ECWA should
submit names of their respective candidates latest by March 31.
directive has thrown up serious contentions within the TEKAN/ECWA and
OAIC blocs, which are yet to produce the body’s president. Many forces
and vested interests have been scheming and coming up with permutations
to support their respective candidates.
The OAIC clearly has the
advantage in producing the next President of CAN. This is because of the
general consensus that the slot should be ceded to the bloc. Churches
within the bloc are however known to be disunited and always at each
other’s throats, almost foreclosing the possibility of a consensus
The General Evangelist of Motailatu Church Cherubim
and Seraphim Worldwide (MCCSW), Elder Joseph Otubu, is a strong
contender from the bloc. The retired gynaecologist is a leading light of
Aladura Movement, which is a major component of the bloc. Some consider
him the best prospect from the bloc in terms of pedigree and
There is a wide sentiment among the
Aladura Movement in OAIC that Otubu represents their best chance to have
a shot at the presidency of CAN. Many of them who spoke with our
correspondent said should Otubu be stopped by forces within the bloc,
the Aladura Churches might never lead the Christian community in the
But he is facing serious opposition from
elderly components of the church, which some forces said are just
envious of his meteoric rise within the movement.
soft-spoken, rich cleric has however been receiving endorsements from
some prominent leaders of the Aladura Movement, including Most Rev.
Samuel Abidoye, the Chairman of Cherubim and Seraphim Movement Church
Movement Ayo Ni O and Spiritual leader of Sacred Cherubim and Seraphim
Church of Nigeria, His Most Eminence Dr. Solomon A. Alao, who is also
leading the Unification arms of the Aladura Churches. Many other
members of the Movement from the South East have also endorsed his
candidature from letters written to CAN secretariat that our
But there is also the South West Chairman
of OAIC, Archbishop (Professor) Magnus Atilade, who is giving Otubu a
big chase in the bloc. Atilade, also a medical doctor, has long years of
experience in CAN.
He was recently appointed as the First vice
national President of OAIC in Abuja to underscore his importance within
the bloc. His opponents said that the new position was to shut off from
the CAN presidency while his supporters said it was to shore up his
Atilade is widely connected with active services in
several capacities within CAN. But his critics said he is not a bona
fide member of OAIC because his church, Gospel Baptist Conference of
Nigeria and Overseas broke from the Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC),
which is part of CCN. They said Atilade should be part of CCN and not
OAIC, which has more Aladura churches.
Otubu has the support of
the large Aladura majority within the bloc while Atilade is the toast of
some other indigenous churches within the group. The NEC of OAIC is
expected to meet soon in Abuja to present a candidate, which is seen as a
tough choice. The REC meeting of OAIC has been put on holds for several
weeks, ostensibly to calm frayed nerves and reduce tensions within the
In ECWA/TEKAN, Gado is the darling of most northern
interest groups and bodies. They see him as a rallying point because no
northern, aside from Archbishop John Onaiyekan from Kabba in Kogi State,
has ever presided over CAN. Onaiyekan got the position via the CSN
bloc, which dominated the umbrella body for several years. Most northern
Christians, who spoke with our correspondent, said it is the turn of
the region to lead the organisation.
They argue that the body
took off in the north in 1964 as a response to the series of attacks and
persecutions targeted against Christians before it became a national
body in 1976. Hayab said there was nothing wrong with having a
northerner as CAN president because the region has supported others from
the South in the past.
He said: “We never saw anybody as
northerner or southerner. We saw everybody as a Christian. I am
surprised people are seeing this thing from a tribal point of view. This
is not good for Christian unity and oneness. We should allow the best
candidate to emerge that will protect Christians nationwide.”
Gado has serious battles to contend with. The current secretary
general, Rev. Musa Asake, is from his bloc. His critics said it wouldn’t
be possible to have a President and Secretary from the same bloc. Many
believe Asake is indisposed to Gado’s emergence so as to retain his
position in the incoming administration.
But our correspondent’s
findings revealed that Asake was appointed to complete the tenure of
Engr. Salifu, his predecessor from the same bloc, who fell out with
Oritsejafor few months after the latter became national president and
resigned in anger.
Gado’s biggest hurdle to the CAN presidency
however is the perception that he is the anointed government’s
candidate. This perception stems from the fact that the Secretary to the
Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal, is a pastor
in ECWA. Gado’s critics and opponents are insinuating that Lawal is
using his influence and contacts in the presidency to push for the ECWA
Lawal’s Senior Special Adviser on
Political Matters, Gideon Sammani, is also a member of ECWA church. It
is believed that Lawal and Sammani are working behind the scene to shore
up Gado’s aspiration, an allegation that his supporters have denounced
as an attempt to blackmail him out of the race.
of the presidency in the election is said to have sent jitters down
spines in Aso Rock. Our correspondent gathered that there is an express
directive that nobody in the presidency should interfere in the process
to avoid embarrassment.
Conversation with Gado
President told our correspondent on phone last Friday that all the
insinuations against his candidacy were orchestrated to smear and
frustrate him out of the race. Reacting to the allegation that he had
anything to do with Dziggau’s abduction, Gado said: “Those spreading
that rumour are threatened by my candidacy so they want to smear me.
They see me as standing on their way out of desperation. They are just
out to blackmail me.” He believes the abduction was arranged to
frustrate the primary of TEKAN/ECWA from holding. “I’m for primary in
TEKAN/ECWA. But some forces do not want this to hold. When we met in
March 15 for the exercise in Jos, Plateau State they scuttled it.
has been postponed to March 29, just two days before the deadline for
submission of bloc nomination to the national secretariat. I am
suspecting the abduction was to prevent the primary from holding. If
there is anybody that wants the primary to hold, it is me.
cannot hold the primary, I won’t be able to be nominated to contest
from my bloc. So, I suspect they are holding Rev. Dziggau to frustrate
me. I fear he might not be released until after the primary has been
foreclosed. Those who rushed to make insinuations about the incident
should know something about the abduction,” he concluded.
said the process leading to the primary in TEKAN/ECWA has been anything
but orderly. “Due process is not being followed. There is no order. I
don’t mind losing because it is not a matter of life and death. But I
want to lose in a free and fair primary.”
He dispelled the notion
that Lawal and Sammani were working for him in Aso Rock, saying they
are just church members. “I solicited for the help and support of all
ECWA members. They are our members but they have nothing to do with this
aspiration. If they support me, it is only in their private
How the new president will emerge
years ago when Oritsejafor mounted the saddles, CAN election was more or
less a private affair completely carried out without any hues or cries.
But everything changed when Oritsejafor decided to challenge the
establishment and mounted a spirited campaign that took him to most
parts of the north.
His efforts yielded results when he clinched
the presidency. His flamboyant lifestyle and public comments soon
attracted attention to the otherwise conservative organisation. Article
18d of the body’s constitution prescribes that the President and Vice
President “must be nominated by an electoral college of 15 spiritual
leaders.” The Electoral College will be inaugurated by March 31 with
each of the five blocs nominating three representatives. It is at the
College that the real battle is expected to be fought. This is because
whichever of the five candidates presented to the College members will
be pruned down to two.
The two candidates with the highest votes
will be presented to CAN’s National Executive Committee (NEC), which has
109 members drawn from the five blocs; 37 state representatives;
national officers and the women and youth wings of the body. An election
at the stage between the two candidates will finally determine the next
CAN president with the one with the second highest votes automatically
becoming the vice-president.
The General Assembly merely ratifies
the result of elections. But it has the option of opposing the
candidate with the majority votes, which will force the Electoral
College to “reconsider the suitability or otherwise of the candidate
based upon the reasons adduced by those who opposed.”
expected that the forthcoming election will go the long hull with
gladiators determined to ensure that only their candidates succeed. The
desperation is already creating ripples and fears of a breakaway in the
umbrella Christian body. The Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria in 2014
suspended its participation at the national level of the body, saying it
had derailed from its original mandates.
The group was bitter
with the undue attention Oritsejafor was drawing to the body, saying his
leadership style leaves much to be desired. It only returned less than a
year ago after much persuasion from concerned senior citizens.
imminent implosion, many fears, may result if the northern axis of the
group loses out at the presidency. Some foot soldiers in northern CAN
are already threatening to pull out. They say they have more numbers to
stand on their own. But their Southern counterparts counter that they
provide the resources and impetus to run the organisation.
way the election goes, CAN will no doubt not remain the same again. The
new helmsman will face a serious hurdle on reconciliation and
realignment for the apex Christian body to regain its lost glories.