RESPONSE BY BISHOP MATTHEW HASSAN KUKAH
First, let me apologise to the reader over the length of this Essay but it is very necessary for our records. It is difficult to say how many poor, ignorant or even educated Christians, within and without the Christian community would have been fooled by the trash concocted by a man who claims to have a Ph.D by the name of Nwankwo Tony Nwaezeigwe. It is unclear who may have encouraged, inspired or sponsored him to write such a despicable piece. However, for a man who claims to be in the History Department of a prestigious institute like the revered University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), I do not know if the abandonment of the study of History has affected the quality of his claims to have a Doctorate degree in History.Beyond this, Dr. Nwaezeigwe has done even worse for the body of Christ by sowing bad seeds while we all slept.
As I will illustrate, Dr. Nwaezeigwe is a victim of the culture of innuendoes, rumours and gossips that have turned the history of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) into the stuff of apocryphal narrations. In this case, for claiming to be a Historian, he has become a victim, not a perpetrator, a consequence not an actor and a symptom but not a disease of what ails the body of Christ today. I will return to this later in this rebuttal.
The first sign that this yoghurt of lies has expired is to be found where the author draws his inspiration. He says that his thesis was inspired by the fact that a driver, yes, a driver of a northern Emir decided to leak a secret to a northern Christian leader of the secret plot to unseat Jonathan and install a President of northern extraction. The first sign of trouble is the quality of judgment of the author. Anyone who knows a thing about the north knows that the sums do not add up. For the sake of intention or even motive, what does the driver stand to gain by making this sacrifice to save Jonathan or Christianity and undermine the agenda of his own master? Secondly, how would the driver have been privy to all the salacious details of the burial of a cow and this plot?
So, we are all supposed to be so stupid enough as to believe that of all people, a driver would be the source of such information, that the driver attended the meeting, that he saw where and how the cow was slaughtered and that he is volunteering this information to a Christian because he loves Christianity or loves Jonathan? Bunkum!By the next paragraph, this driver informant is even being called a Muslim angel and a good Samaritan! Sadly, this is typical of many very innocent and ignorant citizens who continue to fall victims to conmen who exploit dangerous stories to divert attention and exploit the ignorant.
For example, they would come and tell you that an enemy has paid them money to kill you. However, they would say, you are such a good man, we do not want to kill you because we know you and your goodness. We were offered Five million, we rejected the money and we are telling you because we do not wish to harm you. In your stupidity, you panic and might offer them either Five million naira or more and then go on to profusely thank the criminal for saving your life! I am convinced that first, no meeting took place in Sokoto and two, no driver approached any northern Christian with any of such story. The conman may be the so-called northern Christian peddling a story that he knew would have traction and help him enter the loop of power.
For in telling this story, he is supposed to be drawn closer to the circle of power in CAN who love and are willing to protect the Jonathan Presidency! I dare Dr. Nwaezeigwe to give us the names of these conmen even if discreetly! My argument is that this is the first block that was laid on this altar of lies and fraud. We are told by Dr. Nwaezeigwe that all the key actors in this drama, including the President of CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, in response to this news were all acting in states of agitation. The northern pastor is in a state of agitation when he comes to Pastor Ayo. Pastor Ayo goes to President Jonathan in a state of agitation. Luckily, at least President Jonathan is not agitated. Unlike his informants, President Jonathan decided to investigate, something his agitated informants totally ignored. You do not need to be a Professor of Psychology to know the implications and consequences of acting in a state of agitation. But the principal actors here were obsessed with their own cock and bull story which they believed and were determined to cry more than the bereaved. They wanted the Presidency more than Jonathan the President. How weird! But we shall return to this later.
Dr. Nwaezeigwe seems to suffer the same state of mental agitation and impaired judgment in the course of his article. I will ignore the Ironsi and Madiebo references because they are irrelevant but also full of inaccuracies and relying on innuendo and bavardage. He accuses both Dr. Hassan Tukur and Col. Sambo of being part of the plot. (Just as an aside, contrary to his claims, Hassan Tukur is not of Sokoto extraction!) He claims that they were part of the plot both to distance President Jonathan from Pastor Ayo so as to ensure that President Jonathan doesn’t win the elections. Although there is no need to go into this now, it is important as an aside to appreciate that it is not uncommon for a politician to shed off moral weight when they sight con prophets that have questionable capital.
Here, the reader might have to refer to how Senator Obama very quickly distanced himself from Rev. Jeremiah Wright in 2007 ahead of the Presidential elections when the consequences of this relationship became clear.The sheer illogicality of Dr. Nwaezeigwe’s arguments is staggering. He accuses Jonathan of being against his own personal ambition and then goes on to conscript the Catholic Church as collaborators, mentioning His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, former President of CAN, Archbishop Kaigama, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and my humble self. How my name got into a list of Presidents should baffle the reader but I am quite pleased to be in good company on this matter. Here, we have opportunists whose dangerous personal ambitions becloud judgement since their relevance hangs on a Jonathan Presidency!
Dr. Nwaezeigwe then goes on a wild goose chase, weaving a long tapestry of half-truths, outright misrepresentation, and unverifiable and doubtful conclusions. I am unsure of what status the Dr occupies in the scheme of CAN apart from the deduction we can draw that he seems to be a side kick for Pastor Oritsejafor or a baggage handler posing as a Consultant. His accusations against the Catholic Church show his true colours. They also show the dangerous rut, decay and debauchery into which CAN had sunk at this point. If he is a real Historian as he claims, then he would take periodization very seriously given how important it is to interpreting historical events. Periods define and provide a context for interpreting events. Look at the history of slavery or women today. If he paid attention to this detail, he would have had to address the issues of the history of CAN and ask the question, when did the hemorrhage in CAN start?
As an agent, his history of CAN starts and ends with the Ayo Presidency with Jonathan providing a prop and a backdrop. The body was founded in 1982 and it established itself as a moral voice? What happened to CAN when it was led by Cardinal Ekandem, Cardinal Okogie, Rev. Sunday Mbang? Is it an accident that all those who headed CAN from beginning to the tenure of Mbang were all in the highest rankings of their Churches? What did Nigerians know and think of CAN then? Where was CAN domiciled from its foundation? Who provided resources for the upkeep of CAN? The answer is recorded in History: The Catholic Church housed CAN for over 20 years in its Secretariat on 6, Force Road, Lagos. It offered its resources and charged the body not a single penny. I know because I was Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat where it was housed.
The Catholic Church paid the bills when the need arose, we hosted the meetings and so on. I know because I was the Treasurer of CAN for over six years. Where was Oritsejafor and the new knights in dubious shining armour that Dr Nwaezeigwe now represent? Dr. Nwaezeigwe is right at least when he states where the rain started to fall so badly on CAN’s roof. Yes, he is right that Rev. Akinnola was (s)elected President of CAN in 2003. He is right in the subsequent developments within the organisation leading to the failure of Cardinal Onaiyekan to get elected and the failure of Rev. Akinola to get elected for a second term. He is right in stating these historic phases in the history of CAN, but blatantly lies and side tracks the truth concerning the context of the developments around both Cardinal Onaiyekan and Prelate Akinola.
Dr. Nwaezeigwe then proceeds to use a paint brush of dubious quality to paint his master, Pastor Ayo in superfluous colours as a knight on horseback who was beckoned by the Northern Christian leaders of CAN to embark on a mission of redemption for CAN. At this point, Dr. Nwaezeigwe adopts subterfuge, sheer mendacity, jiggery pockery and kidology to lie his way with the facts. Those inglorious moments are better ignored. Let me state the facts as they are so that the reader can make up his or her mind in this unfortunate period when CAN became a platform for barter and trade to some high bidders, a trait that was unknown in CAN history, a trait whose period of emergence can be recorded in history, a period when CAN was auctioned, seduced and then co-opted to the table of power and the politics of the PDP. Those who know better are free to disagree with me and offer new facts and perspectives so that the body of Christ can hopefully rescue itself from the slippery slope of Nigerian politics. This is why History is important for us all.
It is important to note that up to 2003, CAN only elected a Vice President rather than a President. The Office of President was never contested for because the Vice President always took over from the outgoing President as a formality. That is how it was from Cardinals Ekandem and Okogie up to the time of His Eminence, Sunday Mbang who had taken over from Cardinal Okogie and was President from 1995-2003. Cardinal Onaiyekan had successfully served as Vice President under Prelate Mbang and naturally, Cardinal Onaiyekan’s succession was, in keeping with the respected tradition, should have been taken as a given. Then, from nowhere, CAN decided to (s)elect the Prelate of the Anglican Church then, Archbishop Peter Akinola, my personal friend as the new President of CAN. Strangely, Prelate Akinola was neither the Vice President of CAN nor was he on the Executive. If we are to appreciate the mess that would finally engulf CAN, we must understand that this was the scene of the original sin of those who sought to make CAN in the image and likeness of the political ambitions of the time. CAN would then be conscripted and placed on the altar of ethnic and partisan political loyalties fueled by material resources.
From there on, struggle for the Presidency of CAN would become a miniature version of the characteristics of the theatrics of any of the Nigerian political parties. The Constitution was changed and the idea of Delegates was introduced. Ability to win would be based on ability to mobilise money, seeking sponsorships from politicians from the Villa to other so called Christian politicians with deep pockets, the reaching out and outright buying of delegates among others. Governors would become shadow sponsors of CAN elections at their State levels. With mammon on the throne, it was the political agenda that was important, not the future and the fate of the body of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Saviour. Caesar and God got into bed and the fruit of that union would be the birth of a malformed set of Siamese twins with severe consequences for the moral authority and integrity of the body.
Defending the secular throne of Caesar would prove to be more important than spreading the word of God.Are we to assume that it was an accident that Rev. Akinola became President of CAN in 2003 from nowhere at a time when his kinsman, President Obasanjo would later begin to nurse the idea of a third term? Is it an accident that for the first time in the history of CAN, the President of CAN would not be able to secure a second term as it happened in 2007? Was it an accident that the collapse of Obasanjo’s third term project coincided with the failure of Primate Akinola to secure a second term? If CAN found Cardinal Onaiyekan unelectable in 2003, what had he done to suddenly become electable in 2007? Did the king makers in CAN suddenly suffer a pang of conscience? What had changed in Cardinal Onaiyekan’s profile? The answer seems to be that with President Obasanjo gone, a CAN President under a Muslim President did not seem to offer much juice.
It seemed safe then to bring back Cardinal Onaiyekan because the fat years had ended and ethnicity was no longer relevant. Or was it that the leaders of CAN had just returned from Damascus? The realities would later unravel with the death of Yar’adua.With the death of Yar’adua in 2010 and the succession by President Jonathan the same year, the vultures began once again to circle around the plum job of the CAN Presidency. Cardinal Onaiyekan who had been elected in 2007 was due to run a second term in the 2010 elections, but he was defeated by Pastor Ayo who was totally unknown outside his Church in Warri. He had not been an active member of CAN at the national level and had not been a member of the CAN Executive. Like Primate Akinola, he too had come with a parachute to the Presidency of CAN. With an Ijaw cousin from the South-South State of Bayelsa now in power, how could Pastor Ayo from the same zone and next door neighbour from Delta fail to gate crash and become President of CAN so as to support his kinsman? Cardinal Onaiyekan suddenly became unattractive, failed to get a second term.
From nowhere, Pastor Ayo, not having held any position the CAN Executive, left his Word of Life Bible Church in Warri and is sponsored and wins the Presidency of CAN? Who sponsored him and how much did it cost? At this point, CAN elections had become monetised with allegations flying around about shameful inducements of delegates by candidates. Unlike the Apostles before them, CAN leaders would rather distribute bread baked by Caesar than preach the word of God (Acts 6:2). Pastor Ayo’s tenure was turbulent and the turbulence must be placed squarely around the table of those who had turned the CAN into a poodle, the praying wing of the PDP and a lap dog of the Jonathan Presidency. CAN’s fulcrum and focus was President Jonathan which was suddenly presented as if Jonathan had become the President of Nigerian Christians.
CAN’s overt support for the Jonathan Presidency would suck CAN into the politics of PDP and leave it with the tragic sobriquet of being a Party for Christians! It was at this point that the Catholic Church clearly began to appreciate the fact that it could no longer see a reflection of its values in the CAN of that period. Archbishop Kaigama was our President. The issue of our relationship with CAN was extensively discussed and it was clear to the Catholic Bishops that CAN’s moral hemorrhage had serious implications for its role as a mediating institution. Our decision to pull out of CAN then was unanimous and unambiguous in response to the slide in the moral direction and political partisanship of the body. Our return has been based on our commitment to repositioning the body of Christ and for full disclosure, I am the Chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Dialogue and represent it in CAN.
What Nwaezeigwe claims that what he calls the Caliphate co-opted the Catholic Church in a battle to destroy Pastor Ayo is a copout and mischief of the highest order. He proceeded to make such a silly claim about the Sardauna, Cardinal and the Catholic Church. It is strange that a teacher of History will teach the kind of nonsense that Dr. Nwaezeigwe claims to be teaching and mixing up facts using a fertile and imagination obsessed with fragile straws of misleading fables . Who would believe his twisted falsehood that the Sarduana or the so called bogey he calls the Caliphate rewarded the Catholic Church by allowing Sokoto Diocese to be created in 1964? Since when has the Catholic Church needed the permission of the State to create a Diocese?
A simple familiarity with the history of the Catholic Church will expose the silliness of this argument. To argue that the Church needs to permission of the state to create a Diocese is evidence of the desperation of the author to clutch on to straws to erect his edifice on sands of lies and mischief.If as he claims, there was a plot to destroy Pastor Ayo, then he and his cohorts must admit what destroyed them. The seeds were buried in the womb of their material quest. Who could fail to note the moral burden carried by the President of CAN receiving a private Jet as a birthday gift purported to have been given by the President of Nigeria and his dubious Committee of Friends? If anyone is looking for where the seeds to destroy Pastor Ayo were sown, both he and President Jonathan along with their Committee of Friends should look no further than here. Dr Nwaezeigwe is right that the Catholic Church distanced itself from the affairs of CAN during the times of Pastor Ayo but the reasons were largely reasons based on the moral choice between the mission of CAN, which is uniting Christians and the decision to pawn that association for a seat on the table of mammon.
The Catholic Church drew from its rich History knowing that the Church’s duty was not to seek a place on the bed of Caesar but to continue to prophesy to Caesar about his duty to his citizens. The Catholic Bishops Conference had a great relationship with President Jonathan, but he himself would testify that this relationship was based on respect and at no time did the Catholic Church seek special favours beyond the common good of our people.Continuing with his bizarre and muddled up conspiracy theories, Dr Nwaezeigwe blames the Catholic Church and accuses it of conspiring with Col. Sambo Dasuki and the caliphate in the disgraceful debacle over the botched lease of Pastor Ayo’s private jet to purchase arms in South Africa. First, Pastor Ayo had turned his plane into a commercial enterprise and must have landed a good financial deal when he heard it was going to be on lease by the Presidency. Their business went wrong and had the plane been used for drugs, this strange student of History would argue that the body of Christ should come out in sack cloth and ashes because their President was being framed.
This phase of our history is disgraceful and its memory should conjure penance. Pastor Ayo’s plane was not on a missionary journey but a commercial enterprise. This alone was a slap on the face of Christians. Dr. Nwaezeigwe’s failed attempt to besmirch the reputation of the Catholic Church through its leaders such as Cardinal Onaiyekan and Archbishop Kaigama is evident that there are many who are really making the devil’s work very easy. My name was mentioned but nothing was ascribed to me. Just as well because I would have like to know where they would draw their foul inspiration from. To be sure, the Presidency of Pastor Ayo was at best a period of unnecessary tumult even within the body of Christ and there are lessons for us to learn in the urgency of dialogue with our brothers of other faiths and how to guide our nation morally.First, this was the worst period in which Christianity was dragged into the muddy waters of politics for filthy lucre and raw power. Yes, many Christian leaders made billions of naira and for them, the Jonathan Presidency was their altar of sacrifice.
Muslim leaders were not left out of the Jonathan largesse. I don’t think deep down today, these religious leaders necessarily saw the President as anything other than a cow full of milk. For example, since President Jonathan lost the elections, how many of them have said anything to defend him? How many of them stood up for Jonathan when he was being savaged by the Buharists immediately after 2015? They have been busy superintending the billion naira projects they used the Jonathan Presidency and the name of Christ to acquire. Thus, according to Dr. Nwaezeigwe, Pastor said to President Jonathan, Mr. President, you are finished, what he really meant was, oh, our ATM has crashed, our feeding bottle is broken. The concern was not with Jonathan but the loss of their fortunes and investments. They can luxuriate in their folly, we know better. Second, there is no doubt that the Presidency of Ayo deepened the Christian-Muslim fault line.
Indeed, their overbearing obsession with spiritualizing President Jonathan, did more to unite the Muslims for Buhari. A prominent northern Muslim and scholar said to me: The way that CAN was carrying on about Jonathan pushed us to support General Buhari even though we did not even know which mosque he was worshipping in. CAN went out of its way to lead the President to Jerusalem on a grand pilgrimage ahead of the elections. Was this necessary? With hindsight, how many times have we Christians seen Muslims make such a song and dance about a Muslim President? President Jonathan was the President of Nigeria not the President of the Christians in Nigeria. CAN did more to diminish its reputation in these times than even the President realised. This is what the Catholic Church objected to. Third, after this charade, Christians must ask themselves the question: why do we want to get into power? Is it just to participate in the culture of theft and banditry in the name of getting our share? Clearly, politics is a vocation and Christian participation must bring something new, something fresh, something more edifying and pleasing to God. We faith leaders must encourage our people to participate in politics. Perhaps, we, Bishops of the Catholic Church stand on a different pedestal since neither we nor our priests can directly participate in politics. Either way, in a politically plural environment such as ours, religious leaders must allow themselves enough latitude to point to a moral direction for all our public officers irrespective of faith or party affiliation. This is where our credibility lies.Fourth, since the end of the Pastor Ayo Presidency, CAN seem has been trying to climb out of the morass into which it was sunk.
I was called upon last year to conduct the last CAN Presidential elections. It was the first time I would be invited to any CAN event at a national level since the end of my term as CAN Treasurer in 2001. I reluctantly accepted to Chair the elections and had some good people to work with. It seemed to be a straightforward exercise, but to understand how deep we had sunk, we concluded the elections peacefully and in record time. As we stepped out, I was shocked to find a truck load of the DSS operatives outside the National Ecumenical Centre. When I asked, I was told that they had been told by some members of CAN that there would be violence during the elections. I was surprise that everyone seemed
shocked that the elections had passed on peacefully. I am pleased that CAN is seemingly climbing out of the murky waters of politics and trying to face the challenges of internal harmony and cohesion among Christians so that together we can face the larger challenge of what role Christianity can play in inserting Christian values into public life. That body must return to the spirit of its founding fathers. Finally, I think Dr Nwaezeigwe and those he represents should go back to the river where they left their cloths and not distract the Catholic Church by subterfuge and naked blackmail. Imagine the irony: a cow was buried in Sokoto to deny President Jonathan the Presidency yet Sokoto state is today solidly in the hands of PDP while, as we know, Bayelsa is PDP by Supreme Court declaration not the votes of the people.
The ex-President’s sympathies had even openly shifted from the PDP to the APC candidate! Does it not seem strange that those who buried the cow to stop Jonathan had the kind of showing the had in Bayelsa? Every sane Nigerian knows why President Jonathan lost or surrendered the elections. It is all there in his own words in his recent book. Dr. Nwaezeigwe should at least read the President’s own account of issues. Jonathan is today the darling of those who overthrew him as we see from the missions he has undertaken for this government. So, Dr. Nwaezeigwe should perhaps go back to Political Science 101 to fill up his many gaps of knowledge of Nigeria and its intricate politics. The red-herring he tried to draw in his hallucinating piece is at best, nonsense on stilts.