The decision of the leadership of the Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria to dismiss one of its pastors has pitched some of its members against the General Overseer, Felix Meduoye.
Isaac Adeyemi, a former Senior Pastor in charge of Foursquare District Headquarters, Ikorodu (Living Spring Tabernacle), was dismissed for alleged insubordination and disrespect for constituted authority.
Following his dismissal, Mr. Adeyemi moved his flock - most of whom were unhappy with the church leadership's decision - to establish a new church, Embrace International Assembly.
Trouble, however, began one Friday in February when Foursquare Gospel Church ministers got armed police officers to evict members of the Embrace International Assembly from their premises in Ikorodu.
"It was a great shock that day (February 9) when the police came in, armed to the teeth, and ordered our people to leave the premises," Adebayo Adio, a pastor in the church, said during a recent press conference organised by the church's Board of Trustees.
"We requested from them what was wrong, but mum was the answer. We asked them if they had any order or injunction to force us out of our own church and prevent us from worship, they couldn't show us anything."
In the beginning
A church member close to Mr. Adeyemi said the land upon which the Living Spring Tabernacle church was built was bought in 2003 through the efforts and financial resources of Mr. Adeyemi and members of his congregation.
"The land was bought without any financial support or contribution from the National Office or any District or Zone," the member said.
"Neither was the new church mothered by any church. Despite the earlier uncomplimentary treatment of the church, the document of the land is in the name of Foursquare Gospel Church."
In 2007, Mr. Adeyemi, then the Resident Pastor at the Living Spring Tabernacle, established a musical crusade called 'Embrace,' an evangelistic outreach which targets both the old and the young and whose popular flagship programme holds every Good Friday at the expansive grounds of Ikorodu Town Hall.
Rev. Isaac Adeyemi
The Embrace programme, wholly packaged by the Living Spring Tabernacle, comprises a free medical outreach, the Word of God, and gospel music aimed at winning more converts.
In 2010, the programme for the first time since inception clashed with the parent church's quarterly vigil, the Refreshing Night Vigil, which holds on the first Friday of every quarter usually at the church's International Conference Centre at Idimu, Lagos.
The then acting General Overseer, Goddy Ebojie, however, gave consent for both programmes to hold as scheduled, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
Two years later, both programmes again coincided but this time, the General Overseer, Mr. Meduoye, who assumed leadership in 2011, directed that the Embrace programme should give way for the Refreshing Night Vigil.
After considering the amount of preparation as well as financial resources that had been put into planning their event, members of the Living Spring Tabernacle decided to ignore the church's General Overseer and go ahead with their programme.
However, while the Embrace outreach was happening at Ikorodu on the night of Good Friday in 2012, Mr. Adeyemi was at the Refreshing Night Vigil where he was given an official assignment by the church leadership.
Days later, Mr. Adeyemi received a query from the national headquarters and his explanation was that the church had already made a significant financial commitment to the programme, adding that it was not the intention to disobey the church.
He also faced a disciplinary panel set up by the church, before whom he tendered an apology.
Afterward, the Embrace committee at the Ikorodu church met and decided that the outreach should be run independently of the Foursquare church to avoid the dilemma experienced whenever Good Friday coincides with the Refreshing Vigil.
The decision did not go down well with the parent church, with Mr. Meduoye urging the Embrace organisers to leave the outreach to continue as one of Foursquare Gospel Church's flagship programmes.
At the next edition of the Embrace outreach, in 2013, Mr. Meduoye was invited to preach to the attendees.
Problem began again in 2014, when Mr. Meduoye announced, during a NEC meeting of the church leaders and ministers in February, that the annual International Conference for Ministers and Leaders will hold from April 14 - 18.
The Good Friday in 2014 fell on April 18.
For four days, Mr. Adeyemi was at the International Conference event which held at the Foursquare Camp in Ajebo, Ogun State, but excused himself on the last day to superintend over his Embrace crusade in Ikorodu.
Two weeks later, another query arrived and, again, accused him of disobedience and insubordination.
Weeks after Mr. Adeyemi received the query, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, a church delegation from the national headquarters led by Ikechukwu Ugbaja, a pastor, and the church's National Secretary, arrived at the Living Spring Tabernacle to deliver a suspension letter to the host pastor and install an acting senior pastor.
"The church members (in Ikorodu) resisted the move and faulted the purported suspension because due process was not followed," a church member, who preferred not to be named because he was not allowed to discuss the matter publicly, told PREMIUM TIMES.
"During the meeting held with the church, the church pleaded with the Board not to suspend the pastor because of the Embrace programme, but this was ignored by the leadership."
That inability to find a common ground between the delegation from the national headquarters and the church members in Ikorodu was the first crack in a rift that would deepen over the years.
Days later, a team from the Living Spring Tabernacle headed to their Yaba headquarters for an audience with the General Overseer. The meeting, however, was deadlocked as Mr. Meduoye insisted the only solution was for Mr. Adeyemi to proceed on suspension.
A 'rude' pastor
Officials of the Living Spring Tabernacle said Mr. Adeyemi was tagged as being "rude" while addressing the General Overseer at a meeting held on May 18, 2014, "because his hands were in his pockets" while speaking to him.
After reviewing a video recording of what transpired at the meeting on May 18, the church at Ikorodu accused the national headquarters of neither being truthful nor sincere.
Consequently, it was decided that the national leaders would no longer be welcomed in the church.
That decision, however, spurred the church's national headquarters into involving the police.
In June 2014, Mr. Adeyemi received a phone call from the Divisional Police Officer of Igbogbo Police Station, Ikorodu, informing him of a letter from the Foursquare national headquarters to Area H, Ijede, that he had been suspended from the church and should not be allowed to set foot on the church premises.
The national headquarters also wrote to Haggai Bank, a bank owned by The Redeemed Christian Church of God, and Guaranty Trust Bank requesting that the accounts of Living Spring Tabernacle be blocked.
Two months later, police officers from Zone 2, Onikan, stormed the home of Mr. Adeyemi one Saturday morning to arrest him but did not meet him. They searched his home, arrested his 25-year-old son, Peter, and took him away.
The next day, on August 3, the church's national leadership led by Mr. Ugbaja and a detachment of police officers from Zone 2 were at the Living Spring Tabernacle to forcefully take over the church and arrest Mr. Adeyemi, whose son was still in detention. They were met with a stiff resistance from the church members who insisted their pastor was being unfairly treated; the members also prevented the church leadership from addressing the congregation.
On August 4, when Mr. Adeyemi reported to the police station in Zone 2 for the release of his son, he was shown a petition written against him by the national headquarters. The petition accused him of forging the signature of the former General Overseer on a document to secure a loan of ₦65 million from Haggai Bank and using the funds to purchase a house at Magodo.
Mr. Adeyemi denies owning a house in Magodo and maintained that the purported document was a deed of assignment signed in 2003 when Wilson Badejo was the General Overseer for the purchase of the land on which Living Spring Tabernacle was built. He added that the land was bought in the name of Foursquare Gospel Church.
On August 5, a letter arrived from the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, ordering the sealing up of the Living Spring Tabernacle premises.
One month later, the church's national headquarters invited Mr. Adeyemi to an "interactive session" with the preliminary investigation panel set up by the church's Board of Directors, according to a letter seen by PREMIUM TIMES.
"The purpose of the meeting is for brotherly interaction with your goodself before the panel commenced its official assignment and we shall appreciate that you honour this invitation," stated the letter dated September 4, 2014, and signed by Ayomide Abraham, the chairman of the Preliminary Investigation Panel.
Mr. Adeyemi's response came from his lawyers, in a letter dated September 9,2014, and they stated that he would not be honouring their invitation due to an ongoing police investigation on the matter.
"The Board of Directors under the leadership of Rev. Felix Meduoye had previously investigated several allegations that I presume have been referred to your panel and had decided to initiate criminal proceedings against me without any opportunity to defend myself, in flagrant violation of the constitution that he swore to uphold," Mr. Adeyemi said through his lawyers.
"At the instance of the Board, a police investigation is currently ongoing and several witnesses have been interrogated regarding the allegations brought before the law enforcement agency.
"You would agree with me as a respected legal practitioner that it is unlawful to take any precipitative action that could be prejudicial to the ongoing investigation, more so as the church is subject to the state."
Unable to invite Mr. Adeyemi to its meeting, the national leadership of the church published a disclaimer in two national dailies announcing that it had dismissed the pastor from the Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria.
It also instituted a suit before the National Industrial Court in Lagos seeking a declaration that Mr. Adeyemi has no right to superintend or oversee ministerial functions at the church in Ikorodu or any of its churches nationwide having been dismissed from the organisation.
The court, however, struck out the suit in 2015 for lack of jurisdiction.
In an interview with Vanguard newspaper in December 2014, Mr. Adeyemi said his ordeal in the church arose because he had contested the General Overseer position with Mr. Meduoye, the current head.
"In 2010, I was one of those who contested for the position of General Overseer that brought the current G.O to office," Mr. Adeyemi was quoted as saying in the interview.
"When he came into office in November 2010, the next month, we had what we call National Key Leaders' Retreat. At that retreat, he requested to meet with District Overseers.
"We met with him and after the meeting, he singled out three of us and said 'Eyes are on you, you must be very careful. I will take no nonsense from any of you.'"
When contacted by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Ugbaja, the National Secretary of the Foursquare Gospel Church, declined to go into details on the matter because the matter is in court.
He, however, maintained that Mr. Adeyemi had been dismissed from the church about three years ago for "some misdemeanour."
"Instead of leaving his place of service, where he was dismissed from, he went to remove the signboard and put his own signboard, on the same place where he was employed to serve as a pastor.
"So it became a court case and the court said 'look you've been dismissed, don't enter there again.' He now refused to listen to the court, so the court had to enforce the order that was given to him. There was a restrictive order that he should not enter the premises, him, his wife and everybody that has anything to do with him. The court sent a bailiff with the court order, and they were protected by the police and they were driven out of the place and the police locked up the place."
Mr. Ugbaja said since he had been dismissed by the leadership, Mr. Adeyemi has no business around the church's premises.
"And you cannot remove the signboard of your former employer and put your own, that is ridiculous and ungodly," he said.
"We are for peace, we preach peace. This our staff, we have bent backward for him to toe the path of peace but he has his own agenda in mind, probably he's eyeing the property that does not belong to him. For us we are ready for peace any moment, anytime."