27 January 2013

Nigeria: CAN Implosion - the New Calculations...

Photo: Vanguard
Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor


An apparent mix of spiritual and secular politics is feeding a bust-up within the ranks of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) as the Catholic Church of Nigeria, a prominent component of the group announces partial suspension of its affiliation with the association.LOUIS ACHI examines the key issues of the bust-up, especially against the background of the crucial security challenges facing the Nigerian project

"You just can't save people who are drowning; if you are drowning with them...We will be happy if CAN leadership can show moderation. Common sense dictates that they do that." -Rev. Fr. Dr. Cornelius Omonokhua Catholic Church Spokesman.

"There is no need for anybody to lose sleep over the threat by Catholics to pull out of CAN because without them CAN will still continue... Why is it that when Catholics were in the leadership of CAN, every bloc supported them, but now because power has changed hands, they are threatening to pull out and causing confusion?" -Mr. Sunny Oibe - Spokesperson for the 19 Northern chapters of CAN

Clearly, the perceived Bohemian swagger of the Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor-led Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), allegations of vision deviation and undue closeness to the presidency comprise the beef of Catholics who have served notice of quitting the organization.

Cut to the bone, the continuing affiliation of the Catholic Church of Nigeria with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), probably became a major 'doctrinal deviance' once the headship of that quirky organisation shifted to the perceived laiser-faire orbit of the Pentecostal segment of the movement.

Significantly, the Pentecostals appear to be enjoying demographic ascendancy in the larger faith picture in Nigeria, given the populist bent of their message delivery and overarching but attractive emphasis on liberation from poverty. It was simply a matter of time before the Catholics made their move - something of a course foretold.

For the highly conservative and politically sophisticated Roman Catholic Church, the second-fiddle role it was consigned to, following the loss of the CAN presidency by Cardinal John Onaiyekan to Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor may have laid the foundation for the sudden policy footing it expressed midweek. Added to this is the often shrill accusation of vision deviation the Catholics direct at the current leadership of CAN. But then, many believe this conspiracy theory rests in the realm of speculation. Or does it?

Can of worms?

It could be recalled that the President, Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria (CBNC), Ignatius Kaigama had recently written to CAN President, Ayo Oritsejafor, saying his group was suspending "participation in CAN meetings at the national level until such a time the leadership of CAN reverses to the original vision, mission and objectives of CAN".

In further clarification of its grouse with the Ayo Oritsejafor-led leadership of the association, the bishops lamented that CAN had been politicized and was no longer being used to promote peace and unity in the country. His words: "CAN is being dragged into partisan politics thereby compromising the ability to play its true role as conscience of the nation and the voice of the voiceless," the bishops said.

Not folks to let the grass grow under their feet CAN fired back, claiming that the Catholic Church was merely throwing a churlish tantrum on account of its loss of presidency of the Christian body.According to the organization, the Catholic Church in Nigeria was free to quit the body.Midweek, the spokesperson for the 19 Northern chapters of CAN, Sunny Oibe, undiplomatically told journalists in Abuja that the Catholics were free to go away. He also accused the Catholics of arrogance, saying they were merely angry because the presidency of the association had moved to another block of the group.

According to Oibe who held that their exit will not affect CAN in any way alleged that Catholics had been sulking since its candidate, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, lost the presidency of the association to Ayo Oritsejafor.

"There are some certain elements in the leadership of CAN led by Cardinal John Onaiyekan because he lost CAN Presidency to Oritsejafor who has a lot of achievements. There is no need for anybody to lose sleep over the threat by Catholics to pull out of CAN because without them CAN will still continue. The constitution of CAN makes provision that membership can be terminated by any group that is misbehaving or any group can also terminate their membership.

"Why is it that when Catholics were in the leadership of CAN, every bloc supported them, but now because power has changed hands, they are threatening to pull out and causing confusion?


The unfolding quasi-spiritual dissonance within CAN has spawned some fundamental posers. Has CAN lost its founding motivation? Is the organisation still relevant to the stumbling Nigeria project? Has the platform's leadership betrayed the trust and confidence of its members - for money, other gratifications and the good things of life - a scenario at odds with the compelling prescriptions of the author of their faith? In sum, has CAN become part of problem - as opposed to the solution Nigerians are sorely in need of? Big questions. But there are more.

Given the current security challenge ravaging northern Nigeria and much of the country, what are the implications of the CAN bust-up? The emerging consensus is that a critical loss of Christian synergy will undercut the faith's focus and strength in standing up to a common enemy.

The allegation that the CAN leadership is unduly hob-knobbing with the presidency - a key point of the Catholics' angst - is seen as a position that may hinder President Jonathan's 2015 ambition. The Catholic Church, over time and history has proven a powerful, influential organization that can determine important political outcomes - including who gains power in 2015. In this connection, many believe it would be fool-hardy to trifle with them or gloss over matters they feel strongly about.

Some analysts point out that the lion share of deaths recorded by Boko Haram attacks against Christian faithful in the country was borne by the Catholic flock. This scenario may indeed have strengthened the Catholic voice when they demand that things must be done properly in CAN. As other faith organisations watch the bust-up with the CAN ranks, it is clear that new calculations are kicking in to exploit the chink the development may have created.

Tracking Back

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is an umbrella organization containing numerous Christian denominations in Nigeria. Controversial and inimitable Ayo Oritsejafor, Senior Pastor of Word of Life Bible Church,is CAN's current president while Archbishop Daniel Okoh, President of the Organisation of African Instituted Churches, is vice president. The body was founded in 1976, and originally only contained the Catholic Church and mainlineProtestant groups. However, it later expanded to include Pentecostal churches as well.

Former presidents include Roman CatholicArchbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Akinola, CardinalArchbishop of LagosAnthony OlubumniOkogie, and Sunday Mbang, Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria. The organization comprises five blocks. These include the Christian Council of Nigeria, the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, the aforementioned Organisation of African Instituted Churches, and the Evangelical Fellowship of West Africa.

The CAN has Women and Youth Wings, a National Executive Council consisting of 105 members (which elects the President), and a General Assembly of 304 members (which ratifies the President's election).

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