Distinguishing & Dignifying the Person & Office of CAN President

An Appeal to Church Fathers, Christian Leaders, Christians in Government, and Christians in General
Rev. Moses Aransiola, PhD , President, Gethsemane Prayer Ministries International & National Director, Nigeria Prays


PREAMBLE

Something happened recently which was carried by several leading newspapers in Nigeria and beamed live on NTA. It was at the befitting celebration of the 80th birthday of Nigeria’s former Head of State, Gen. Dr. Yakubu Gowon. As President Goodluck Jonathan arrived and made to greet the celebrant, Gen. Gowon bowed gracefully in warm welcome of the President. By virtue of his age, Gen Gowon is old enough to be the President’s father. Moreover, he preceded President Jonathan in office by nearly four decades. But adorned in his characteristic humility, the General bowed to the sacred Office of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not minding the pedigree of the present occupant of the Office. This is an exemplary behaviour from one of the most distinguished Nigerians and a great lesson for the Nigerian Church.

In the closing chapters of His physical existence and ministry on earth, our Lord made several far-reaching statements which have profound implications for this end time. Two of these statements are directly relevant to this discourse. Actually, one of them is a question and the other a prayer.

In Luke 18:8  the Lord asked: “... Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” For a very long time, this question has been perceived largely from the point of view of our individual responsibility to keep the Faith; it is now that contemporary challenges are beginning to educate us that the environment could play a decisive role in the sustenance of our faith in the Son of God. Where the external environment becomes too hostile, Christianity is either driven down or wiped out altogether. And history is our witness in that regard.

Also, in John 17, as the Lord Jesus rendered his doxology, offering prayers and praise to God on the success of His mission on earth, He remembered specifically to ask one thing for the Church that would come after Him: He prayed for the unity of the Church. Said the Master in John 17:20-2:

Neither pray I for these alone [the early disciples], but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

We have now entered a phase in human history and in our national life when we need to have a proper understanding of what our dear Lord is saying to us in these scriptures. Unless the Church unites into a formidable institution to uproot anything that could undermine the growth of Christianity in Nigeria, we would have succeeded in turning Luke 18: 8 into a prophecy. There has been an Islamic Agenda over Nigeria even before Nigeria became a proper nation-state; but there is no countervailing Christian Agenda for the nation. Thus, in the evolving scenario of Nigeria, the Church has become a prey, a deliberate target and a victim of Islamic violence because we have not united solidly enough to take the battle to the gates of the enemy (Is. 28: 6). Our Lord most certainly asked us to pray, but the first command before that is to watch. The Nigerian Church is in danger today even as much as the disciples were in the garden of Gethsemane where the command to watch and pray was first given (Matt. 26: 41).

EMPOWERING THE CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (CAN)

The knowledge is slowly percolating to all segments of the Christian Church now that we cannot go to sleep and assume that our nation is at peace. The events of the past decade have shown that much as we may have been praying, we have not “watched” enough over the heritage of the Lord to prevent the volume and degree of human disaster that has been visited on the Church. The task before the Church fathers today is to turn the heat away from us and stop the incendiary fire of the jihadist movement. We can only do this by empowering the Christian Association of Nigeria and building it into a strong institution. So far, CAN has not operated as an institution. It has served as an umbrella body, but it has been invested with little authority, and has been subjected to public disclaimer by members and belittled by Christians and non-Christians alike. For far too long, CAN has not presented itself as a strong house with a purposeful mission – that is, until in recent times.

We only need to examine the Sultanate to understand what is meant here.

THE SULTANATE IN NIGERIA

The Sultan is the official head and leader of all Muslims in Nigeria. Few institutions rival the power and influence of the Sultanate in Nigeria. The Sultan is not an individual; he is an institution; and represents the major power broker in the Nigerian political equation. The entire power structures and blocs in the conclave of power in Nigeria are tied around the Sultan. For this reason, no Muslim ever abuses, criticises, or insults the Sultan. Wherever the Sultan goes, he is accompanied by a retinue of top emirs, chiefs, personal aides, as well as Islamic and federal security guards. He comes to every gathering with an intimidating and honourable presence.

To reinforce his hold on vital instruments of power, the Sultan, his office and throne are well-funded through:

        All Sokoto State Local Governments
        The Sokoto State Government
        All Muslim-led State Governments of the North
        Direct Federal Government allocation
        The Sultan’s numerous companies
        Personal and corporate gifts
        Even some Christian-led State Governments that invite him from time to time
By way of comparison, have you heard of the CAN President being invited to chair a state function by a State Government in the South, not to talk of the North? The CAN President is routinely despised, ridiculed, ignored and uncelebrated. The way we treat the CAN President in the Church is the way others treat him. When the Sultan and the CAN President are invited to a state function together, a private jet is often sent to ferry the Sultan to and fro the meeting while the CAN President is left to fend for himself. Officially, both the Sultan and CAN President are rated equally on the government’s protocol list, but they are never treated equally. It is impossible to reverse this lopsidedness which subordinates Christianity to Islam in the power relations of Nigeria unless the Church starts by making a dramatic change in the reverence it gives to its leader. The battle for proper placement and appreciation of Christianity in Nigeria must begin from the Church, then it will spread to the nation’s power centres and the media. Nigeria belongs to Christ; Christians cannot continue to be subordinate or second-class citizens in a realm where Christ is supposed to be reigning.

The CAN President suffers such indignities that make the exercise of this otherwise sacred office an ordeal, all because we do not see the danger we let ourselves and the Church into by cutting our spiritual leader down. It is time to restore the CAN leadership to its proper place of honour and respect for it to play the historic role entrusted to it. It must be emphasized that we are not canvassing this point because of any particular individual, the CAN Presidency can fall to any Christian father in the land; and he may be from the Orthodox, Pentecostal or Catholic fold. It is his faith and work in Christ and His Kingdom that matters, not denominational affiliation.

Nigerian Christians, as a united body, must rally round and boost the image of CAN and the CAN President in order to project the correct image of honour and respect that Christianity deserves in Nigeria. We do very great harm to the body of Christ and further sell ourselves as chickens for the killing when we accuse, abuse and insult the person of the CAN leader in the open. Any disagreement with the leadership of CAN ought always to be ironed out discreetly for the sake of the Cross. While an average Muslim can die for the Sultan, we treat the CAN President as a nobody. While no newspaper in the country dare publish any adverse comments about the Sultan, our Christian journalists make the CAN President the butt of their intemperate and immodest writings. From the lowest level to the highest, we do everything to dishonour the head of the 85 million Christian body in Nigeria while the Muslims revere their head as a demi-god. Is this what God expects of us?

I have heard of a nasty experience the CAN President had with a top Muslim cleric in this country while at a meeting of top Christian and Muslim religious leaders. While others, including the Sultan watched in silence, this cleric in the Sultan’s entourage thoroughly dressed down the CAN leader and described him in very unprintable words. Surprisingly, the Christian delegates there kept mute until one of them, a top Christian cleric, finally stood up to challenge the Islamic onslaught and return fire for fire. It was then that the Muslim cleric became sober and subsequently apologized, saying: “We thought your President was acting alone without any backer or support. That’s the way we’ve always viewed you people”. 

A MAGNIFIED OFFICE

The Bible is replete with evidence that God magnifies the exalted office of His High Priest. Paul was not demonstrating pride but a correct understanding of the sacred office of the High Priest when he said, “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office” (Rom. 11:13).

Long before Paul, God Himself has demonstrated His attitude to the position of His priests. In Exo. 28: 1-3, the Lord God set a sacred pattern of how consecrated men of God should be revered. The passage says:

And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's sons. And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty. And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron's garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office (KJV)

 

Consecrate Aaron your brother, and his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar, to be priests, to minister to me. Make special clothes for Aaron, to indicate his separation to God – beautiful garments that will lend dignity to his work. Instruct those to whom I have given special skill as tailors to make the garments that will set him apart from others, so that he may minister to me in the priest’s office (LTB).

 

In the Living Bible Translation quoted above, God emphasizes that He wants His High Priests to be distinguished. To show how God cares about the High Priests and their sacred duty, God personally designed their garments and empowered, by His Spirit, the talented hands that translated His design into the finished garments. If the Almighty can stoop to design beautiful garments for His priests to lend dignity to their work, why should we who are served by these priests do any less? If God cares enough to distinguish and dignify them why should we desecrate and disgrace them? Amazingly, while God is busy dressing up and dignifying His High Priest, the Christian public, especially fellow priests, are busy undressing him and subjecting him to public ridicule. I think it’s time the Nigerian Church obeyed the scriptures to the letter by giving honour to whom it is due (Rom. 12: 7).

FUNDING CAN

One of the clearest indicators of our non-chalance to the real danger facing Christianity in the land today can be seen in the funding of CAN. Under the present arrangements, each of the five blocs that make up CAN is required to pay N250,000 per annum. This adds up to N1.25 million a year. Even though this sum is not enough to run CAN for a week, many groups have several years of unpaid arrears. When the current leadership of CAN assumed office, CAN had no budget, no staff, no functional secretariat, and the CAN President was generally unknown nationally. He rarely showed up in Abuja. Not only has the current CAN President made the office visible, left with no alternative, he has had to fund the Association to the tune of almost 95%. Has anyone in the Nigerian Church ever asked how much the CAN President spends visiting and seeing to the welfare of the victims of Boko Haram? Do people bother to ask where the millions he spends come from?

I also happen to be aware that the incumbent National Secretary of CAN virtually has no mobility. He uses his personal Tokunbo car, and wherever it breaks down, the job stops there. The President, too, has no official vehicle; he uses his own personal vehicle to move around. He pays his airfares and uses his personal money and church money to run CAN.

On assumption of office, His Eminence Pastor Oritsejafor started a CAN Guest House project which is something of a 5-Star facility complete with modern office facilities. After investing tens of millions, the National Headquarters of CAN is now a befitting edifice, courtesy of the funds the CAN President managed to raise from his church and other supporters. Everybody is now happy to visit and identify with the place. But for how long will CAN continue to be run on an ad hoc arrangement? Is there any guarantee that subsequent CAN Presidents will always be able to raise money on their own to meet the obligations of the umbrella body? Isn’t it just better for CAN to have its institutional structures and funding arrangements properly worked out for the avant-garde role forced on it?

As one of our committed pastors have observed, in the battle plan against Christians in Nigeria, CAN will have to play a lead role and must be well funded to be effective. The Church must accept responsibility for its Association. CAN must be well funded and well-respected by all. Pastors must deliberately teach and inform members of the church to respect CAN as an institution and elevate it to a respectable status so that it can be effective in representing the Church. Currently, Christians have derided the Christian Association of Nigeria so much that even the enemies of the Church are not afraid of CAN. This has to stop.

THE WAY FORWARD

We have the blessed assurance that the gates of hell shall not prevail over the Church of God. That assurance is for us in Nigeria as much as it was for the Church in Constantinople (Turkey). As you all know, Turkey was 96% a Christian community. Apostle Paul was from Turkey. Today, both Turkey and the vast area of Asia Minor where Paul did his missionary work have become Islamic States. As it has been argued by some, if Turkey with 1,123 years of Christian history can become an Islamic State, Nigeria with only 172 years of Christian history should better beware. The gates of hell will not prevail over the church, BUT THAT IS ONLY IF THE CHURCH DOES ITS DUTY. We are called to watch and pray. We have a responsibility to prevent our crowns from being snatched from us and from the generations after us. The Church has an onerous duty to stand firm today and quench the raging fire of Islam and jihad. But we can only do this as a formidable institution and as a united force.

As a way forward, it is strongly recommended that the Church fathers put the following recommendations into practice to signal the beginning of the vigilant phase of our Christianity:

     The 85 million Christians in Nigeria should agree to raise the status and profile of the CAN leadership as its umbrella body and muster strong support on its behalf so that it can provide a vigorous leadership such as this time deserves
     In furtherance of the first objective, the present and all future CAN Presidents, as the embodiment of all Christians in Nigeria, should henceforth be addressed as “His Eminence”. The suggested official title of the incumbent President should, therefore, be: “His Eminence, the President of CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor”. This form of address should be officially communicated to the media and all other stakeholders for strict compliance.
     All denominational heads, beginning from PFN, should begin to give due honour, respect and regard to the CAN President. Wherever he goes on assignment, distinguished bishops in the locality should be in his entourage. Everyone must be willing to surrender something for all of us to be great. We all need CAN now more than ever before, but CAN can only be useful to us if it is a formidable and well-respected institution. We must now consciously build and nurture the image of CAN such that once it speaks, all Christians in Nigeria must listen. Government and Muslims, too, must be forced to listen to the voice of CAN. Henceforth, they must be compelled to think first of what CAN will say or do before they take any action that will affect Christians.
     CAN now needs to be radically funded by the Church. If the 85-million-member Church of Nigeria can have a signed commitment of 10 million partners to donate just N100 every month, then CAN can boast of N 1 billion monthly. A stable income of N12 billion from faithful Christians annually will take CAN into the right level of engagement to dislodge Islamic stranglehold on the nation. With proper planning and strategy, CAN can raise N50 billion annually. With this level of funding, we should not be afraid to design a progressive Christian Agenda for Nigeria as well as put a stop to the march of jihad in the country. This financial projection is feasible, and we can do more than is projected here if we truly love Christ and do not want to join in killing the Church He died for through our inaction.
     In the name of God and for the sake of the battle we are drawn to by the jihadists, our big denominations whose annual incomes and budgets run into billions can decide to bankroll certain operations and bills of CAN. There are churches and pastors that can make an annual donation of or contribution of N10 million to CAN without feeling it. We are currently in a battle; our Faith is under threat; our corporate existence as a nation is under attack. CAN needs all the support and funding to continue to provide defence and security for Christians. We need to bear in mind that without Nigeria, there can be no church. Also, without the church, there can be no convention, no programmes, etc. We must learn from what is happening in Borno and Yobe States.
     Leaders of the Nigerian Church must shun all the petty bickering, envy, arrogance, backbiting and self-promotion at the expense of the Cross of Christ. All these factors and division were the things that led to the fall of the Church in Constantinople (Turkey) that made it easy for Islam to overrun it. They must be uprooted in Nigeria for us to survive the well-coordinated and globally funded attack on Christianity in the country. Nigeria belongs to Christ; we must go out as a united force to assert His victory over the schemes of hell once and for all time.   
     Finally, Christian leaders, writers and other Christian stakeholders should henceforth descend with force on any errant and irreverent Christian, writer, journalist, media or any organization that attacks, abuses, insults, denigrates or casts aspersion on the person or office of the CAN President. We must make anybody and everybody think twice before they say or write anything against CAN and its president.
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