“Oritsejafor Should Resign As CAN President Over $9.3 Million Scandal” – Rev. Chris Okotie

The recent seizure by the South African authorities of $9.3m found in a private jet owned by Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, has aggravated the image problem of this country at a time when the narrative of this government is brimming with negatives under the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan

The South African government took the action on the alleged charge that the undeclared $9.3m found in the plane might have been laundered. This revelation came when the dust generated by the seemingly dubious donation of the jet to Pastor Ayo is yet to settle. His friendship with the President has been at the centre of the controversies that mark his explosive tenure as the leader of the eponymous religious organization in Nigeria.

Not that it is a sin to be the President’s Pal, but when such relationship becomes provocatively patronizing, or self-serving, it is unacceptable. The Pastor does not show restraint in the way he goes about, publicly hobnobbing with the President as if he is the Chaplain of Aso Rock. This certainly has compromised the integrity of his office as CAN President and this latest incident is just the climax of embarrassing incidents we can’t tolerate any longer.

Considering the collateral damage Pastor Ayo’s close relationship with the President has done to the Christian community, it is fit and proper for the Pastor to resign immediately as CAN President to salvage what remains of the battered image of the association.

This is without prejudice to the on-going investigation on the matter. Denials of his culpability by the Federal Government, CAN officials and his own recent defense, does nothing to reduce the moral burden this whole saga places on his shoulders. As the titular leader of Christians in Nigeria, there’s now a serious crisis of confidence on his leadership and he ought to respond to it by resigning from his exalted position.

That is what the ecclesiastic responsibility of his calling as a gospel minister dictates, once he finds himself in a situation where his continued occupation of public office suffers a moral deficit, on account of any error of commission or omission. If one may ask: why should Pastor Ayo’s jet be the one that was chartered for this ill-fated transaction when there are numerous competitors in that business in which he is obviously a new player?

It is very difficult to sustain the argument that a civilian aircraft is ideal to ferry weapons of war. A sitting President of CAN should never be involved in any way in the procurement of arms to fight insurgents like Boko Haram which claims Islamic principles in its war against the state. To do so is to expose Christians to more deadly attacks.

To whom much is given, much is expected. The Pastor has the distinction of being the first and only person to occupy the posts of CAN President, and President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, until recently when Rev. Felix Omobude succeeded him as PFN President.

Pastor Ayo’s friendship with President Jonathan is perfectly legitimate and nobody should attempt to query such relationship. However, the Pastor opens himself to criticism of this otherwise normal social interaction because of his indiscretion in identifying too closely to the President, in a way that suggests a veiled endorsement of Dr. Jonathan’s policies and actions by the entire Christian community. He ought to have identified privately with the President knowing full well that he carries the mandate of the Christian community at these trying times.

In a nation of contending faiths, Pastor Ayo literally ignores our divergent religious sensibilities as he sometimes gets himself involved in public quarrels with the President’s critics, from the muslim faith as well as in the opposition. Not all Christians are comfortable with this posture by their leader, especially at a time of intense politicking and the sectarian tensions generated by the Boko Haram insurgents and communal violence involving ethnic minorities with entrenched religious identities.

The cumulative effect of Pastor Ayo’s abrasive leadership style has also polarized the Christian community as evidenced by the current unprecedented division in CAN. Before now, leaders of this organization deliberately stayed out of politics in keeping with the traditional stance of neutrality of the body vis-a-vis the policy postures of incumbent governments. In fact, former PFN leaders like the late Archbishop Benson Idohosa and ex-CAN President, Olubunmi Cardinal Okogie kept governments on their toes during their time.

In more mature democracies, it is not unusual for public officers to resign from office when their actions appear to degrade their positions. And they would not have to wait to be found guilty in circumstances surrounding their actions before they throw in the towel. In other words, they could even be victims of circumstances; or in rare cases, subjects of blackmail. It didn’t matter. Once you are pelted in any way, you quit to protect the integrity of your office.

That was the case of Dominic Strauss-Khan who resigned his position as the President of IMF because he was accused of molesting a maid in a hotel in the United States. He was eventually acquitted after a celebrated trial. The Prime Minister of South Korea, Jong Hong-won resigned because his compatriots were drowned recently in a chartered cruise ship which carried some students on a picnic. Just last month, the First Minister of Scotland, Mr. Alex Salmond resigned because he led his country’s failed bid to gain independence from the United Kingdom. Nobody asked him to resign; he did so of his own accord because he felt it was wrong to continue to run a country he launched on a part of an unsuccessful “secession”.

If purely secular leaders could do this to affirm their integrity, Pastor Ayo should take the honourable path by leaving office, not necessarily because he is guilty as charged, but to restore honour to an exalted office he has unwittingly degraded because of his unabashed flirtation with the head of a government that is perceived as one of the most corrupt in the world. The Bible commands us to “flee from all appearance of evil”.

Nobody says Pastor Ayo cannot do business; he could have been in order, if he does so as the Pastor of his Word of Life Bible Church, WOLBC. But since his private jet was involved in a transaction gone awry in a foreign land, while he is still the sitting President of CAN, it is difficult for him to continue to command the respect of Nigerian Christians of diverse denominations who constitute the CAN group, regardless of the defense his sympathizers and the Federal Government tried to put up on his behalf.

If this incident had happened in Pastor Ayo’s capacity as the head/founder of the Word of Life Bible Church, no one could justifiably call for his head because the Bible teaches that the “call of God is without repentance”. In other words, regardless of the conduct of a servant of God, He does not remove them from office or withdraw their anointing. This is one of the mysteries of the gospel. The Almighty has a way of chastising his errant servants.

But here, we are dealing with Pastor Ayo as the leader of CAN; the largest umbrella of Nigerian Christians. He is condemned to be judged by secular standards, which, in this case, demands that, having found himself in a quagmire which calls to question, the sanctity of his office, he must step down to redeem his image.

The Pastor should quit the CAN post and return to his church where he could then recalibrate himself, away from this season of anomie.

Rev. Okotie, a Presidential Aspirant, wrote from Lagos


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