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Sunday, 27 March 2016

Bumpy roads to CAN presidency

by Sunday Oguntola,
The 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.

ALL 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.

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.

They 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.

Few hours 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 election.”

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 openly.”

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

One 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 things.”

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.

Executive 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?”

Contending interests

Investigations 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.”

Asemota 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 unintended mistakes.

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.

The 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 candidate.

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 professional exposure.

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 foreseeable future.

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.

The 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 correspondent obtained.

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 candidature.

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 bloc.

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.”

But 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 president candidature.

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.

The involvement 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

The ECWA 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.

“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.

“If we 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.

Gado 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 capacities.”

How the new president will emerge

Until six 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.”

It is 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.

The 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.

Whichever 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.

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