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Forces behind disunity in CAN


There is disunity brewing within the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) since the election of Pastor Ayo Joseph Oritsejafor.   According to  Blueprint, following announcement by the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) that it was suspending its participation  at the national affairs of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), it became very clear that all is not well with CAN, a body set up to ensure the unity of Christ’s followers.

Just before the announcement, Oritsejafor, who defeated Cardinal John Onaiyekan to become  CAN president, recently became an object of public criticism over the gift of a jet by his church members. Casting the first stone, Bishop of Sokoto diocese, Dr Matthew Hassan Kukah, castigated the CAN president for his action, insisting that the poverty level of the people does not allow for such display of wealth.

Others soon followed. Attempts to get the reaction of CAN leadership on the controversial jet gift were futile, as no one was willing to speak officially. Even those mandated to speak with the public kept mute.

A source, who volunteered information on condition of anonymity, accused the Catholic leadership of harbouring hatred towards Oritsejafor for his determination to defend the interest of Christians.

“All these people in the Catholic church castigating CAN president have a hidden motive. They have access to the man, why can’t they seek audience with him and speak to him? They are simply lamenting over a loss that cannot be regained,” said source disclosed.

For those close to the workings of CAN, the election of Oritsejafor was linked to the alleged support of President Goodluck Jonathan. If not for the presidency, a source insisted, Oritsejafor would not have been.

“A lot of influence was thrown around, and it was clear that since the creation of CAN, the presidency showed open interest over who became the national president of the body.

“No wonder, after his emergence as CAN president, he showed open interest in the happenings of the presidency, and the body turned into an extension of the presidency, with large retinue of security officials attached to Oritsejafor. We cannot just understand why this should happen, and unless that is addressed, the disunity will continue,” a source revealed to our correspondent.

Giving credence to the disunity that is eating up the Christian body, the Catholic Archbishop of Kaduna archdiocese, Most Rev. Matthew Man Oso-Ndagoso, told Blueprint that the decision by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria to suspend its activities with CAN national level was to ensure the religious body resorts back to its original vision of CAN founders.

“We are only concerned and working to ensure the credibility of CAN is restored. In a situation like this, we are left with no option that to make our worries known; we will not allow CAN to be run like a body of one person or a political extension of certain interests. This is our stand; we only made observation and wrote them,” he said.

He also said that the Catholic Church is not bitter over the headship of CAN national leadership, adding, “There were many national presidents that were not Catholics, did we protest? It never happens and the secretariat was right inside Catholic Secretariat before Ecumenical Centre became functional. So, it is a lie that we pained by losing leadership,” he noted.

Oritsejafor, as CAN president, according to a source, has been enmeshed in surviving the dilemma of being leader of a religious body that is deeply divided over its methodology in running the affairs of the body. The Catholics, according to the source, have sought to paint the CAN leader as a militant.

“Many of the Catholics believe that the CAN president is too militant, especially on the issue of Boko Haram. He has been quoted to have warned the federal government that if the Jonathan-led administration cannot guarantee the security of CAN members, then Christians would have no option but defend themselves.

“That in itself is not acceptable to the Catholic that has always insisted that the attack on churches by Boko Haram is not based on religion, poverty. It is unbelievable to see erudite Bishop Kukah and other notable leaders of the Catholics viewing the attack on Christians from such a perspective,” the source lamented.

It is a wonder, according to the source, why the attacks are restricted to churches and not mosques.

“Oritsejafor was once contacted in the middle of the night from a caller who said he was calling from Yobe. All he heard when he picked up the phone was: ‘They are coming to kill us, National president please help us’. Then he heard gunshot and the phone went dead. How do you expect someone like that to remain silent in the face of silent massacre of Christians in the North,” the source queried.

Attempts by the CAN leadership to resolve its difference with Catholics at the weekend was aborted temporarily as the Catholic Bishops postponed its meeting with the CAN leadership to April. The decision to postpone the meeting, according to a source, was communicated to the CAN president shortly after its meeting in Abuja last week.

“The CAN president has been told in clear terms that the Catholic Bishops will meet with the body in April, contrary to earlier arrangement that the meeting would have held last week. That only goes to show that there are any things that are yet to be clear.

“If the Catholics are really interested in rejoining the activities of CAN at the national level, then the idea of  convening the reconciliatory meeting to resolve difference with the national body should be uppermost,” another source told our correspondent last.

According to Blueprint, it was shown letters of communication which really indicated that CAN leadership has been desirous of meeting the Catholics to sort out alleged differences. However, the attitude of the Catholics has not been forthcoming, hence the determination by CAN leadership to pursue in earnest attempts aimed at re-uniting the Christian body.

“Oritsejafor is not someone to be happy with what is going on in CAN, especially on the decision of the Catholics to pull out from the activities of CAN. He has shown unrestrained vision to bringing back Catholics to the body and that is why he has refused to be drawn into a media war. He believes that as president of the Christian community in Nigeria, he should not be seen to undermine any move that will bring about the unity of Christ’s followers,” the source added.

Since the decision to pull out from CAN activities at the national level, there have been reports that the Catholics have concluded plans to set up another rival religious organisation to assist in pursuing genuine unity among Christians.

Apart from debunking allegations that Catholics are not happy with the headship of Oritsejafor, the Catholics insist that the church is already a body and does not need to set up another body.

According to the Arch-bishop of Kaduna, “We are already a body, there is no such move. It is not true, but you must understand our argument. CAN is a body of churches and there must be a consensus before a stand is taken. There is no way one person will be saying what he feels without it being subjected to all the bodies. There must be general understanding, even in our setting, our president must act based on our agreement and consensus.”

“The Catholics have never been uncomfortable with the Oritsejafor-led CAN, and has therefore resolved to distance itself from the CAN headed Oritsejafor. The Catholics believe that the presidency has captured the Christian body and is therefore becoming an extension of the government which has made the body less credible in the eyes of the public,” the source added.

Despite opposition against his headship, Oritsejafor still enjoys the support of the remaining four groups that form CAN. The four groups have come out severally to pass a vote of confidence on Oritsejafor despite allegation of the body being turned into a extension of the presidency.

“As far as the four groups are concerned, they are comfortable with the leadership of CAN. If Catholics are angry with the man’s style of leadership, there is nothing wrong for them to seek an audience with him to resolve their differences.

“Let me tell you, the other four groups are comfortable with the headship of CAN by Oritsejafor. The four groups have expressed explicit confidence on the CAN president, and that ends the matter.

“For now, no matter how they kick against the man, they have no choice but wait until his term expires. I think the issue has been turned into a media issue and it is not good. I want to believe that the crisis may be instigated outside the body.

“Anyone telling you that CAN is now an extension of the presidency is simply being economical with the truth. In fact President Jonathan is not in support of the CAN leadership as it concerns the resolve of the CAN president to defend the interest of Christians,” the source noted.

 As the CAN leadership waits for the April meeting with the Catholic bishops to resolve differences, not many observers are predicting a quick resolution of the problem. With the Catholics postponing its date of meeting with the CAN leadership, the waiting game may take a longer time.

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