We begin our present article with the following rhetorical questions: ‘Now that Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is compromised, Quo Vadis?’ Is the problem with CAN, really, its present leadership or its fluid archaic structures and constitution? Where lies the problem with CAN, the leadership or the association itself?
Corollary, ‘do Nigerian Christians and churches still need CAN?’ How relevant is CAN to the struggle and challenges facing Christians and churches of Nigeria today?
Put in another way, ‘has CAN outlived its usefulness?’ Are we at the “Nunc Dimittis” and funeral of CAN? ‘Can CAN be saved?’ If so, how and who can do that? Does the present leadership crisis – betrayal of public trust beseeching the umbrella body of Nigerian Christians not a sign that it be replaced with something new and more dynamic?
“Give me a man – one man, One mighty prophet of the Lord, Whose heart is touched by the heavens’ fire, And I will give peace on earth, Bought with a prayer and not a sword.” (George Liddel, quoted in J. Oswald Sander’s “Spiritual Leadership” (1967).
The immortal words of the renowned spiritual writer, George Liddel cited above are an indictment of the present leadership of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). The consequences of betrayal of qualities of personal example exhibited by our spiritual leaders today are far greater than corruption-mess of our politicians. The betrayal of trust of an estimated 80 million Nigerian Christians by the present leadership of CAN at this most critical time of our history, is a crime that cries out to the highest heavens.
In fact, looking at the dance of shame, present national and sectional leadership of CAN, have plagued the Christian body in recent times, I am inclined to applaud the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), for dissociating itself from time immemorial from the present class of CAN leadership at the national level. I applaud also the eminently peopled National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF), led by Retired General Theophilus Danjuma, for their foresight and courage in exposing the corruption and complicity going on at the CAN leadership highest decision-making body, both at the national and state levels.
The NCEF recently, indicted heavily, and accused CAN leadership of collecting and sharing between “N25m ad N40m”, given and collected as “presidential ‘transport fare’ envelopes” from Aso Rock. According to NCEF, “the national leadership of CAN has become a lobbying platform to secure a juicy visit to Aso Rock and participate in the sharing of ‘transport fare’ bounties.” Unfortunately, this is happening at a time Nigerians Christians and citizens in general are expecting a purposeful leadership from CAN.
CAN leadership betrayal of public trust is happening amidst the ongoing massacres of Christians and indigenous populations across the country by the marauding Fulani herdsmen militants and terrorists, and the Nigerian federal government inescapable culpability and suspicious connivance. The betrayal by CAN leadership is coming at the most critical and trial period of Nigerian Christians and churches.
Moreover, the disappointment of Nigerian Christians by the present class of CAN leadership is making some individuals and groups to call for disbandment of CAN itself. It has also made the NCEF to request Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) to come back to CAN, to help give it direction and needed leadership for the sake of the future of Christianity and Christians in the country.
The Problem with CAN
The problem with CAN is its leadership, and it has history! In fact, the leadership of CAN in recent time has been high-jacked and controlled mainly by the so-called Founders and General Overseers of New Religious Movements and Neo-Pentecostalism in Nigeria. In our previous writings, we have cautioned that the nefarious activities of charlatan pastors and the so-called General Overseers of these New Religious Movements of workers and seekers of miracles, is a great danger to Christianity in Nigeria. They may make or mar Christianity in our land.
This new class of CAN leaders immediately they took over the mantle of leadership of the association, started to drift from the original aim of the Christian body, founded in 1976. Since then, this class of leaders at the helm of CAN have continuously been running from pillar to pole, especially in recent times in the midst of yearly butchering of thousands of its defenseless Christian members and burning of hundreds of churches and Christian schools.
Thus, with such an atmosphere in the present leadership of CAN, one is beginning to have nostalgia of the days of Cardinal Archbishop Anthony Okogie of Lagos, when he was President CAN in the 1980s. In 1980s, and at the beginning of post-Nigeria-Biafra War Muslim onslaught of Christians, especially in Northern Nigeria, Archbishop Okogie became the most visible figure and prophetic voice among Christian religious leaders in the country that confronted the government of the day. In his days of active pastoral service, the Cardinal Archbishop of Lagos offered hope and needed leadership to Nigerian Christians and churches at the time of crisis.
I remember in one of those days, Christians were being butchered in Northern Nigeria by Muslim extremists, the BBC journalist interviewing Archbishop Okogie, introduced him, as the “Archbishop of Nigeria.” The prophetic voice of Archbishop Okogie echoed far-and-wide – within and beyond the shores of Nigeria. When Okogie spoke, nobody remembers again his or her Christian confessions. Okogie spoke for all Christians and churches in Nigeria. He was both national and international recognized authentic voice representative of Nigerian Christians and churches whenever and wherever he spoke.
Once there was news of killings of Christians or wanton destruction of churches and Christian schools anywhere in Northern Nigeria or elsewhere in the country in those days, Archbishop Okogie would be there at the spot the next day to see things himself, commiserate with the victims. He would not stop there. The Archbishop would be at the Dodan Barracks or State House, Marina Lagos, with stern face to confront the military dictator or Head of State of the day. His visit to State House was not for pleasantries or juicy gifts from a dictator. No. He goes to the State House Marina, invited or uninvited, to confront the government of the day about the evil being inflicted on Christians and churches of the country at the time under the watch of that government.
That was the leadership quality of a religious leader, Cardinal Archbishop Okogie demonstrated during his active days in the pastoral ministry and as President of CAN or CBCN. He would be there on the spot to confront the government of the day at the instance of the wanton killings of Christians by Muslim extremists, for example, at Kano in 1980, Maiduguri 1982, Jimeta 1984, Gombe 1985, Zaria 1987, Kaduna and Kafanchan 1991, Bauchi and Katsina 1991, Kano 1991, Zango-Kataf 1992, Funtua 1993, Kano 1994, etc.
Most significantly, Cardinal Archbishop Okogie became a torn in the flesh of the then military dictator, Ibrahim Babaginda when the later secretly attempted to register Nigeria into the membership of Organization of Islamic Conferences (OIC). Okogie confronted the military junta of Babaginda like a soldier of Christ. In fact, it was rumored in those days that because of Okogie’s doggedness, the military dictator at Dodan Barracks concocted and planed different ways to trap and rubbish the good name and image of the Archbishop, but all to no avail.
Furthermore, I remember reading in a newspaper in those days, the answer Archbishop Okogie gave to a journalist who asked him how he came about his new mission of prophetic voice and fearless defender of Nigerian Christians and churches at a time of crisis and persecutions. Okogie’s reply was that as Archbishop of the Cosmopolitan City of Lagos, then seat of nation’s federal government, he found himself at the center. That if he does not speak and confront those at the corridors of power, who happened to live almost next door to his house, it all means he did not know his mission and function as an Archbishop of Lagos and a religious leader. Humbly, he added that any other Bishop who finds himself in his position could have done the same thing.
However, not every Christian religious leader in Nigeria have such courage and quick grasp of one’s prophetic mission at the time of crisis as Okogie demonstrated in his active years in the ministry. Otherwise, we will not be lamenting of absence of a religious leader of moral authority in Nigeria today. How many Cosmopolitan Cities with their religious leaders do we have in Nigeria today? How many of our Christian religious leaders of these Cosmopolitan Cities of Nigeria are prophetic voices and moral authority in their own right in the country today?
In fact, in the days of Cardinal Archbishop Anthony Okogie of Lagos, he filled that gap of absence of prophetic voice and moral authority in Nigeria. Today, unfortunately, there is no one among our active and serving religious leaders in the country to fill the gap. This is the crux of the matter! Where are the Okogies’ of today? This the question many Nigerian Christians are asking nowadays.
Today, there is no doubt that many Nigerian Christians of my generation will be having nostalgia of the days of Cardinal Archbishop Okogie when he was President of CAN. Without exaggeration, from 1999 till date, the Christian body (CAN) is yet to have national President that could match the shoe of Cardinal Okogie. In other words, since the return to democracy in 1999, Nigerian Christians are yet to experience once more the kind of purposeful leadership CAN had in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The present cancer plaguing CAN started to rear its ugly head in 1999, after the return to democratic rule. I remember how Retired General Obasanjo in 2001, as the president of Nigeria during the Muslim onslaught of Christians in Plateau, insulted CAN with the infamous expression, “CAN my foot.” This was after Obasanjo was accused of partiality by one Rev. Pam, the then Plateau State President of CAN. Obasanjo was accused of rushing to declare state of emergency in Plateau State, while looking elsewhere when Christians were being massacred and butchered by Muslim militants in the North East and North West regions of the country.
Obasanjo reacted angrily to Rev. Pam’s accusations and sent security men to haunt him. He even went ahead and declared state of emergency in the heavily Christian-populated Plateau State while treating with kid’s glove the Muslim onslaught of Christians in the Northern Nigeria Sharia States. Unfortunately, the then President of CAN, and Primate of Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Most Rev. Archbishop Peter Akinlola, intervened and made Rev. Pam to soft-pedal in his stern confrontation with Obasanjo. One can only hope that the fierce-fighting Rev. Pam of 2001, is not related with the one recently accused of renegade after the last week visit to Aso Rock of Plateau State CAN executive board led by one Rev. Pam.
Like Obasanjo, one Lauretta Onochie, a Presidential Aide of General Buhari, recently rained another venom on CAN. Lauretta Onochie used the most offensive expression ever against CAN. She called the umbrella Christian body, “CAN, can of worms.” When M/s Lauretta Onochie used those derogatory terms to insult CAN – the supposedly highest Nigerian Christian body, little did we know that the lady, like Obasanjo, was right on the mark. For it was not long before the CAN leadership was exposed of its highest drama of shame and betrayal.
The case in point is the recent somersault by CAN President Rev. Dr. Samson Olasupo A. Ayokunle. After visiting Aso Rock in Abuja, at the time Christians and indigenous populations were being haunted and massacred in Plateau State and other places by Fulani herdsmen militants, the revered CAN President hurriedly and suspiciously reversed himself, canceling the national anti-Christian violence processions originally fixed for July 11, 2018 – which he hinged on forces or circumstances beyond his control. Ironically, by admitting being overwhelmed by “forces or circumstances beyond his control” the CAN President forgot that, in effect he was passing a vote of no-confidence on himself and members of his national executive. That is, that they are unfit to remain in their respective national positions as ‘leaders of CAN in Nigeria.’
According to Inter-Society Rights Group, the action of CAN leadership is coming at the time of “mounting credibility challenges facing the present federal government of Nigeria over its poor handling of the ongoing religious and ‘state-sponsored killings in the name of Islam’, which the same government is heavily accused of being inescapable complicit and … unrepentant.”
In addition, there is also the case of sectional leaders of CAN from the 19 Northern states of Nigeria visiting Aso Rock for similar suspicious motives. This is a case in which the famous Rev. Pam was alleged of leading a delegation of Plateau State CAN executive on a solidarity visit to Aso Rock, Abuja. This was at the instance of the recent Fulani herdsmen massacre of Christians in the state.
At a time, Plateau State Christians and indigenous populations were being massacred on daily basis by the invading Fulani herdsmen terrorists, government protection and security non-existent, one is forced to ask, what are CAN executive members of Plateau State (or any other state for that matter), visiting Aso Rock for? Why have these Christian religious leaders, chosen to go to Aso Rock, dine and laugh away with someone at the helm of affairs who never acknowledged that his tribe’s men are behind all these killings?
Our people say that someone whose house is on fire does not pursue lizard. Sometimes we forget that one whose house is on fire, also, does not go to shake hands or feast with the ‘chief priest’ of those who have set his house on fire. Unfortunately, this is what most of our Christian religious leaders have been doing all this while. You do not fight an evil by befriending it. You fight evil by totally disengaging yourself with it. To befriend a dictator (or a killer) is to endanger yourself and people all the more with his cunning and snake character.
A dictator works with the deceit of the Devil. He is a snake! Sometimes, he appears soft-spoken, smiling, kind-hearted and welcoming. Some other time he comes as a brother, about to help you. All these are the deceits of the Devil. The juicy gifts of a dictator is nothing but a “Greek-gift.” Only fools are deceived with “Greek-gifts.” As the saying goes: ‘All that glitters is not gold.’
Thus, the question is: ‘Why do these Christian religious leaders of CAN rush to Aso Rock each time Fulani herdsmen attack Christians?’ Again, why do these Christian religious leaders go to Aso Rock to shake hands of fellowship with someone whose body language and complicity of silence are clear signs that he is not prepared to move an inch to stop the killings of Christians and indigenous populations in the country?
Is the ‘Greek-gift’ of the dictator to our Christian religious leaders more important than disengaging totally with the dictator himself? Is it by accepting a juice gift from the ‘chief-priest’ of killers of our people that we would achieve protection of lives and property of our Christians and indigenous populations? What has a ‘Greek-gift’ of a dictator to do with the prophetic mission of our religious leaders at the time of crisis? Again, will a juicy gift of a dictator provide protection and security of lives and property of our people?
We raised the above questions for one major reason. The mad-rush of our Christian religious leader to Aso Rock each time Christians are butchered by Fulani herdsmen terrorists is nothing but a big folly and deceit of the Devil.
The earlier our Christian religious leaders disengage themselves totally with their romance of shame with the ‘chief-priest’ of the killers of their members, the better for Nigerian Christians and churches. Our Christian religious leaders’ romance and friendship with the present ineptitude Nigerian government that has failed to call to order the marauding Fulani herdsmen, killers of our Christians, is too dangerous for the future of Christianity in the country.
Merchants in the Temple – “In My Father’s House”:
“In My Father’s House” is the title of the epical book of Kwame Anthony Appiah from Ghana, published in 1992. The book falls in the same category with the famous work of Congolese African philosopher, Valentin Y. Mudimbe, “The Invention of Africa.”
However, Appiah’s “In My Father’s House” is a discourse on how the first generation of Pan Africanists and intellectuals of African origin, both from the continent and diasporas, created a new story for the Black continent against the backdrop of the colonial dispossession of African people, identity and culture.
After the looting of Africa by the colonial bandits between 15th and 19th centuries, first generation Pan-Africanists and intellectuals saw it as a challenge to reinvent Africa, restore the dignity of its people, damaged by many years of European and Arab Slave Trades and colonial activities in the continent. Appiah uses the metaphor “In My Father’s House” to depict the struggle undertaken by these first generation Pan-Africanists and intellectuals against colonial domination, narrative, and invasive dispossession of indigenous African populations, life and culture. He applied the metaphor to describe long route to freedom of Africa and the contribution of first generation Pan-Africanists and intellectuals.
Finally, Appiah, asked the most important question: How far is the present generation of Africans prepared to continue with the struggle towards safeguarding the indigenous African populations, their life and religious-cultural heritage? That is, how far are Africans of today, prepared to protect their “Father’s House”, live in it without fear of foreign domination or distorted narrative again?
Let us attempt to answer the above questions in the light of what Nigerian Christians and indigenous populations are passing through today at the hands of Fulani herdsmen militants and ineptitude leadership of the present Nigerian government.
We take our clue from the anger expressed by Jesus Christ when he entered the temple at Jerusalem and ordered the money-changers, – merchants in the temple, out of his Father’s house:
“Jesus then went into the Temple and drove out all those who were selling and buying there; he upset the tables of the money-changers and the seats of the dove-sellers. He said to them, ‘According to scripture, my house will be called a house of prayers; but you are turning it into a bandits’ den.” (Matthew 21:12-13).
The reordering of the house of God as Jesus did when he entered the temple at Jerusalem is what is required in CAN leadership today. With the present crop of CAN leaders at the helm of affairs of the Christian body at this time of our history, Christianity in Nigeria is really at great risk of extinction, as NCEF recently warned us.
The question is, “what has Aso Rock gotten to do with normal activities of the Christian body that makes our CAN national and sectional leaders to rush there and order the cancellation of national anti-Christian violence processions?” Does this mean that CAN is now, controlled from Aso Rock, and that Presidency determines Christian activities in Nigeria today?
The implications of this new development is enormous and dangerous. As the Inter-Society Rights Group rightly observed, it further means “that one day very soon, if CAN is not disbanded, a national directive shall be given to all churches to suspend their normal church services and other activities as a fallout of a ‘meeting with the Nigerian Presidency’ or for the purpose of meeting the President of Nigeria.”
We should not forget that this was the tactics the Presidency used last year 2017 in deceiving South-East Governors in the buildup to their proscribing and tagging IPOB as a terrorist organization, and therefore, banning the Igbo youth non-violent movement organization from participating in active politics in Nigeria. Today, by that deceitful tactics of Nigerian government, the buoyant and lively South East youths have gone silent, grouped as ‘personae non-grata’ in their country and region. This is the greatest tragedy after Nigeria-Biafra War, people of South East have to live with for many years to come.
Unfortunately, Fulani herdsmen militants move freely all over the country, killing and destroying people’s means of livelihood, yet the same federal government has never condemned or tagged them as terrorists. But IPOB members who have never killed anybody or caused breach of peace anywhere in the country is proscribed and tagged terrorist organization by the federal government of Nigeria. What a deceit of the Devil?
Therefore, the danger today is that Christian churches could be the next targets of the present federal government of Nigeria after the IPOB. The Presidency may be targeting the churches, to proscribe and declare them ‘enemies of the state.’ This is why Christian leaders of mainline churches in Nigeria must not look with complacency at what is happening with the present CAN leadership.
Today, CAN as we know it has outlived its usefulness. There is need for immediate disbandment of CAN as presently constituted, or as some have suggested, of scrapping of all its national, zonal, State and local government executives. There is an urgent need today for formation of “new central umbrella Christian body for all Nigerian Christians with strong constitution and ethical codes to sanitize the body and persons manning all its structures and leaderships.”
As some groups and individuals are advocating, the national Christian body of Nigeria needs new constitution and new formula of two-third majority for its electoral processes, resolutions and decisions. Experts’ departments and centers should be created within the leadership structure of the Christian body. This is to bring in specialists among our experienced and convinced lay Christians in various fields of human endeavor, civil and religious life in Nigeria into the structure and daily running of the new Christian body.
This includes also having new regulations guiding the questions of lobbying, inter-faith dialogue as well as the issuance of orders for national processions against anti-Christian violence and wanton destruction of churches and Christian schools in Nigeria. It is not healthy to continue to leave CAN only at the hands of clergymen, and in particular, at the leadership of some individuals of questionable character. It is high time experienced and knowledgeable lay Christians with impeccable character, are brought into the Christian body leadership structure and political lobbying.
In other words, concerned Christian leaders and churches are today challenged to rise up to the demands of their office and help get rid of the present corrupt CAN leadership. As some individuals and concerned groups have noted, an umbrella body of Christians in Nigeria should not be left at the hands of ‘those whose primary interest is to simile to the bank at the cost of the blood of thousands of their faithful massacred in broad day light and hours of the blue law or late night.’
Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic Priest. He lives in Rome where he is a Professor of missiology (mission theology) in a Pontifical University. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.