The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Most Rev. Hassan Kukah, yesterday admonished reelected president of the Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Samson Ayokunle, not to be too close to government. He urged him to speak truth to leaders without necessarily being antagonistic.
The Members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of CAN yesterday reelected Ayokunle for a second term in office. He polled 59 votes to defeat his closet rival, Caleb Ahima, who got 44 votes.
In the keenly contested election which had Kukah as the returning officer,103 out of the 104 members of the NEC of the association participated.
By the election, Ahima, who is the leader of TEKAN/ECWA, one of the five blocs that make up CAN, has automatically become the vice president of the association in line with the constitution of the Christians body. He replaced the immediate past vice president, Elder Joseph Otubu, who The Guardian gathered was out of the country and could not participate in the election.
CAN officially has 105 persons representing its five blocs as members of the NEC, but the number was reduced to 104 following the death of the immediate past general secretary, Dr. Musa Asake.
In his remarks, Kukah charged the new CAN leadership to work for the unity of the body of Christ in Nigeria and to speak truth to power without necessarily being antagonistic towards the government.
"You should not be too close to the government at the expense of the church but to speak for the church when the need arises. This does not mean you should be confrontational or be fighting the government. And you should work with those who contested against you, those who voted for you, who worked for you and those who worked against you. God gives us the freedom of choice and it is that gift we have just demonstrated. I am so happy that the election was free and fair as we can all see it," Kukah said.
In his acceptance speech, Ayokunle promised to continue carrying the leadership of CAN along in all his actions and to work together with his new deputy.
He charged church leaders in the country to avoid contradicting the position of the association on national issues.
"We are one, our actions must show that we are one. I advise all our leaders to borrow a leaf from Pastor Enoch Adeboye who said he did not need to be speaking again on any issue once the CAN president has spoken on it," he said.
Ahima promised to work harmoniously with Ayokunle on how to speak for the church in the country.
Ayokunle's tenure as CAN president has been enmeshed in controversies, with some Christian leaders, especially in the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF), accusing him of hobnobbing with the presidency.
His congratulatory visit to President Muhammadu Buhari after the 2019 general elections received criticisms with the NCEF Chairman, Solomon Asemota (SAN), describing it as "morally and spiritually reprehensible."
Asemota, who alleged that Ayokunle "is running CAN as an appendage of the All Progressives Congress (APC)" added that the visit was ill-advised and amounted to sub-judice.
Also, there were allegations that Ayokunle gave out between N250,000 and N300,000 to the CAN chairmen in all the zones and that he got the money from the Presidential Villa.
A civil rights organisation, Coalition Against Corrupt Christians (CACA) on Monday expressed fears that the CAN presidential election could be marred by vote-buying.
According to CACA, the CAN President was also said to have promised to change the constitution after one month in office to give the zonal leaders a five-year tenure, which would elongate their stay in office, beginning with himself.
A statement issued in Abuja and endorsed by the President of CACA, Deacon Bamidele Adekoya; Secretary-General, Rev. Ezekiel Dashak and Public Relations Officer, Israel Danfulani, also said that Ayokunle struck a deal with the political camp of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to assist the APC realise the presidential ambition of Bola Tinubu in 2023, among others.
The statement added further, "Ayokunle has struck a deal with the political camp of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo to assist them realise the presidential ambition of Tinubu in 2023. He has promised the CAN chairmen in the LGs that if elected, he was going to provide them with accommodation and change the constitution after one month in office to give them a five-year tenure which would elongate their stay in office, beginning with himself."
In his reaction to the reelection of Ayokunle, the Methodist Bishop of the Metropolitan Diocese of Ikeja, Rt. Revd Stephen Tunde Adegbite, who is also the Director, National Issues and Social Welfare of CAN, said: "All those allegations against him are false. The Prelate, Methodist Church, Nigeria was in attendance and he voted for Ayokunle, because he believes in his cause and also believes that he is ruling in the fear of God. That is why he personally participated in the election and was part of it. So the Methodist Church, Nigeria supports him to still be the president of CAN.
"It is only God that appoints leaders to serve and we thank God that He has appointed him again to lead the Nigerian church for another three years. We will continue to pray for him so that he will continue to do the will of God. The church in Nigeria has been snatched from the hands of oppressors who believed that they are the only ones who can determine who become leaders of the church. God has demonstrated His supremacy today and Ayokunle will rule with the fear of God for the next three years by the grace of God."
The Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, His Grace, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins said: "If an election has taken place and he has been elected fairly, then obviously it is an endorsement that the Christian community in the country should fall behind him and support him, and ensure that he fulfils the mandate that has been given. And of course, we should pray for him that he may be able to fulfill that mandate successfully."
On the allegations against Ayokunle, the archbishop said, he was not aware.
"I am not aware of allegations against him, but if the election had in any way been compromised then obviously there is some work that needs to be done in order to justify his election otherwise an election that is fraught with irregularities naturally gives people a bit of concern. An election that is fraught with irregularities weakens the base of the person that is elected. If he has been elected fairly and squarely, we will fall behind him, but if there are issues of irregularities they should be investigated and I am sure that the body of Christ and the leaders in the group will be able to discuss them and should know what to do about them. In this regard, I don't speak for the Catholic church, I speak for myself."
Ayokunle took over from Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor who is perceived to be his godfather, having allegedly worked for his victory in 2015.
TEKAN, a conglomeration of 15 churches in northern Nigeria under the aegis of Tarayar Ekklisiyoyin Kristi A Nigeria (meaning, fellowship of the Churches of Christ In Nigeria) belongs to the same bloc with the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA).
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has congratulated Ayokunle on his re-election.
He also congratulated church leaders and Christendom in general for the successful election, assuring the president of
CAN that his administration would continue to strengthen the cordial relationship that has existed, especially in tackling the challenges facing Nigeria.
Recalling his meetings with Rev. Ayokunle, who is also the president of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, Buhari said the cleric's maturity, humility and wise counsel to governments would go a long way in healing and putting the country on the right track for development.