I wish to express my utmost dismay and anger over how hard Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor the president of CAN is working to destroy the little credibility that is left of this once glorious organization. Still trending a clearly criminal, immoral and unethical act is being white washed with religious grandstanding.
It is necessary that those of us who profess the Christian faith and have since the return to democratic rule in 1999, offered ourselves to serve this country sometimes at grave personal risks must speak out against the brazen attempts to hijack our religion and use it for purposes that are clearly against the tenets of the teachings of Jesus the Christ.
On 5th September 2014, a jet owned by Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor was caught in South Africa stashed with United States Dollars to the tune of 9.3 million undeclared cash purportedly meant for the purchase of arms through black market. The circumstances surrounding the incident suggest that those ferrying the money did it in open breach of Nigerian and international laws. South Africa has already established a prima facie case of criminality involved in the questionable misadventure.
Pastor Oritsejafor has openly confessed that he owns the jet involved in this crime. He however, claimed that the jet was leased out to Eagle Air, which again leased it out to Green Coast Produce Limited. He has desperately tried to absolve himself of the crime committed by those who were transferring money illegally. His arguments are unsustainable because he has vicarious liability at several levels. One, the vessel used for criminal activity belongs to him.
Secondly, he commercially leased the vessel to Eagle Air, which is a company he holds an interest in and which in turn further leased same to the company that converted it to commercial use with his full knowledge and approval. The chain of ethical liability is unbroken. How will the pastor explain his involvement with people engaged in the murky waters of international arms trafficking? He claimed that his congregation donated this same jet to him on the 40th anniversary of his ministry sometime in 2012 for the purpose of attending to his flock and doing God’s work. The plane, a Bombardier Challenger 600 was registered as a privately owned jet supposedly for pastoral use. However, the three passengers arrested in South Africa with the aircraft were definitely not on pastoral visit to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, CAN has jumped into this fray, hurling insults on respectable members of the society and making statements that are more political than spiritual. I wish to remind officials of CAN that when on 27th August, 1976, Christian leaders first met at the Catholic secretariat, Lagos, they agreed to establish an organization that would promote cooperation among Christians, interfaith harmony and safeguard the welfare of all Nigerians. When CAN was eventually registered in 1986, it’s constitution clearly articulated among other objectives to act as “watchperson of the spiritual and moral welfare of the Nation.” Another core objective is to promote understanding, peace and unity among the various people of Nigeria.
From the pioneer president of CAN, His Eminence Dominic Cardinal Ekandem (of blessed memory), through his several revered successors like Anthony Cardinal Okogie, Dr. Sunday Mbang, Most Rev. Peter Akinola and the immediate past President of CAN and Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, His
Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, CAN witnessed its glorious years. The organization promoted religious harmony through inter-faith dialogue.
Cardinal Onaiyekan and the Sultan of Sokoto were even considered for the Nobel Peace Prize award. CAN, in those years, regularly advised government on diverse issues affecting ordinary citizens and remained a strident voice for the voiceless. Those were those days. Today, the story is different.
Since the present CAN leadership came on board, CAN has become a sorry appendage of the villa. It has become politically partisan, obscenely materialistic and the voice of the oppressor rather than the oppressed. The situation degenerated to a state that the single largest block of CAN, which is, the Catholic Church suspended itself from the national leadership of CAN until “sanity” returns to the leadership.
Those of us who are Christians and are saddled with leadership positions are terribly disappointed that this once glorious organization has become the defender of criminal acts that have exposed Nigeria to international ridicule. The jet plane in question is not the property of CAN. It belongs to Pastor Oritsejafor, supposedly donated to him by his congregation. This was a private jet for spiritual work but as the owner himself has confessed, it was leased out for financial gain. The Jet was on a mission to buy arms or so we are told. The arms merchants who hired the jet behaved as outlaws by brazenly breaching the laws of Nigeria, South Africa and the United Nations. This is against all the teachings of Christ who urged all his followers to be law abiding and give unto Caesar what is his.
The present leadership of CAN has never raised a comment on the legion of scandals President Jonathan has buffeted Nigerians with. CAN was not heard on the fuel subsidy scam, pension scam, kerosene scam, Deizani’s myriad of sleazes, etc. etc. Rather, CAN is badmouthing any Nigerian who dares to admonish or even interrogate the series of controversies Pastor Oritsejafor is visiting on Christendom. May it not be recorded in our national history that in Nigeria, Saints are demonized and demons are canonized?
My appeal to our brothers in the north is that, what they see in CAN today has nothing to do with Christianity but everything to do with crass materialism and self-seeking opportunism. Thank God, not all hope is lost for Christendom. When Nigerian Christians expect a voice of reason from it’s leaders, such voice always comes assuredly from the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN).
Finally, my appeal to Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor is that as a Christian leader, his beacon should be Jesus the Christ. The Christ who was born in a manger, had no place to sleep; borrowed a donkey to ride into Jerusalem; borrowed the upper room to have his last supper with his Apostles and after his death, was buried in a borrowed tomb. If Christ lived over two thousand years ago and his lifestyle cannot resonate Pastor Ayo’s present reality, he may yet emulate the Catholic Pontiff Pope Francis who does not have a private jet even though his flock numbers over a billion and spread allover the world.
I advise him to sell this controversial jet and use the funds to reconstruct or rehabilitate churches destroyed by Boko Haram in the northeast of Nigeria. This advice is especially apt now that the Pastor no longer needs the plane for pastoral duties.
Senator George Akume is the Minority Leader in the Nigerian Senate.