We can confirm that the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, made up of five blocs: the Christian Council of Nigeria, the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, the Organisation of African Instituted Churches, and the Evangelical Church Winning All, held its quarterly meeting on Wednesday to review the state of the nation even as Nigeria prepares for another independence day celebration in ten days time.
The meeting was well attended as many of the 105-member NEC and the 304-member General Assembly, with presentation from both the Women and Youth Wings received unofficial reports that the Presidency has, of recent, come under intense pressure to relocate the Villa Chapel, where Christians have been worshipping on Sundays because the Chapel, built and inaugurated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, is said to be too close to President Muhammadu Buhari’s bedroom and kitchen.
Some leaders of the apex religious body were visibly infuriated especially by the report that, ahead of the relocation of the Chapel, the Children’s church, was not only shut but some rooms there also converted to kitchen store and, as a result of the closure, children were forced to relocate to the office of the Chaplain, Seyi Malomo, for their service. To the leaders, anybody who plays politics with the Church will only end up with burnt fingers.
The CAN leadership was said to have managed to calm frayed nerves of agitated members, some of whom were poised for concerted efforts because they believed the reports could be a kite to test the waters in preparation for the demolition of the chapel in line with a hidden Islamic agenda. It therefore adopted a wait-and-see attitude while setting up a machinery to investigate the veracity of the ‘rumour’ and design a suitable approach to the matter to avoid fiction.
All efforts to reach the CAN National President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor for his comments proved abortive as he was said to have jetted out of the country on ecclesiastical mission after the Wednesday night. A concerned Christian elder, who wouldn’t want his name in print apparently because he had not been briefed, told our correspondent that sometimes the Muslims rake up things ahead of what they plan to do eventually. “They have a mosque in the Villa; so why are they targeting the chapel?”, he said, stressing that it’s not really the fault of the other religion, rather it’s the fault of Christians who have refused to assert their position in the country.
“We are supposed to be 50-50 in terms of representation based on religion but Christians have remained docile while the other people control everything. That’s our problem and until we wake up from our slumber to assert our position, Nigeria will continue to go backwards”.
Buhari should not bite his fingers – Okogie
Meanwhile, Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos Archdiocese and former CAN President, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, has described the alleged move to relocate the Aso Rock Villa Chapel as a rumour.
“I regard the report as a rumour because there is nothing to confirm it yet. You know most of our fellow country men and women peddle rumors for whatever reasons and so many of them are not in tune with what President Muhammadu Buhari has been doing since his inauguration. For example, there are so many people who have issue with the delay in appointing his cabinet”, Okogie said.
“There are others who want his anti-corruption probe to go in certain directions instead of his current body language and there is yet another group who have called the president `Baba Go Slow’ and so on; and I think some of these people believe that the greater the pressure on him, the more difficult it will be for him to achieve his set goals. That’s my thought because Nigerians can say all sorts of things. So, I believe it’s a rumour”.
The Sunday Vanguard’s conversation with him continues:
If the rumour turns out to be true, what will the Christian community do?
Hmmmm! What do you expect the Christian community to do? Don’t forget that Nigeria is a secular nation and, as such, it is not just for one particular religion and being the Head of State and going by what he said during his inauguration on May 29, 2015, he will be biting his fingers. And he will not only be biting his fingers, he will be lighting his candle at both ends. And by that I mean we are yet to settle the Boko Harm insurgency and he wants to light another candle. I don’t know any wise person who will do that. As so the response of the Christian community, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor will be in a better position to answer that question. He is supposed to be talking for Christians, not me.
The impression is that until the emergence of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (retd) as president, there was no worship centre for Christians in the Villa…
(Cuts in) I don’t think you are right there. There was a prayer place where Christians assembled in the Villa. Because we had a Muslim Head of State and because they claim to be more than Christians, the Muslims gather in the Villa for their prayers. You don’t expect 5,000 or so Christians in Aso Rock Villa to protest over a worship centre. After all, there are Christians among the military people and other staff who are working in the Presidential Villa. Are they godless because they are working there? They are not. And the Heads of State that occupy the place, from time to time, are sensible. They dare not touch them on account of their religion or force them not to pray to their God or cajole them to pray their own way.
One has to be very careful when dealing with religious matters in this country. For example, people have started saying there are more Christians among the persons so far appointed by President Buhari essentially because of the names of some of the appointees. I don’t know. One just has to be careful. Your question borders on the rumour currently making the rounds that the president is under pressure to demolish the Aso Rock chapel and I don’t want to join that. I will wait and see the action before one can react. Words can be dangerous! That’s one of the reasons I blame journalists who publish sensational stories without investigating properly. It’s wrong.
A good journalist must have to find out his facts before going to press and be ready to defend the authenticity. But these days journalists often want to dance to the tune of their proprietors. That’s not proper. A lot of problems arise from such practice. For instance, a journalist hears that Okogie is a thief and without getting to bottom of the allegation goes straight to press…without going to Okogie to hear his side of the story or finding out what he stole. And after destroying the name, they won’t even have the moral latitude to return to the person and make corrections.
No religion is superior to the other – CAN leader
Out-going Chairman, North East CAN, Rev. Shuiabu M. Byal, says the chapel relocation plan is not true
What is the reaction of the North East group to the report of threat to the Aso Rock Chapel?
We have the belief that in a dispensation like this, the Church will live to have a kind of a leadership where we express our freedom of worship, freedom of speech in whatever we do. We were only informed, not officially, because no official matter came to us from the Villa Chapel except from what we hear around. It’s a rumour and we want to dissuade ourselves from such attitude. But if the Villa Chapel is there as a place of worship, it demystifies the theory that Nigeria is a religious country, even by the political hypocrisy but we know that there are Christians and Muslims. Those who are atheists and animists will be there but they are not much pronounced.
I do know that as a Church, we can worship wherever the Lord has allowed it to be. The Church or the chapel in the Villa is meant for people of God who will always gather and meet and worship God, to have biblical studies that will promote their spirituality and what will actually make them to move to the glory of God and the honour of Nigeria and Nigerians. Because there are some challenges out there, I don’t think it’s right for somebody who is there as a Christian to seek to make everybody a Christian in the Villa. Or somebody who is there as a Muslim must not feel that the place is all for Muslims.
The church is there, the mosque is equally there. We will love that things work for the good of this nation. And if things like that begin to happen in the Villa, it’s going to affect so many things that will disturb the peace of the nation. And I want to believe that the rumour we are hearing is not true. It’s a rumour and people can always amplify what they hear. But for now, we are telling our people that yes, certain things like that have happened, but they should be quiet and remain peaceful because there are still people who are stakeholders who believe in the unity of this country.
The Vice President remains the grand patron of the Villa Chapel. When we had a Christian President, he was the Patron of the Chapel, just as Vice President Sambo was the Grand Patron in the Villa mosque. We must not take religion for granted; no religion is superior to the other. Every religion is superior in its own context. Some people will say Christianity is superior but Christianity is not just a religion, it’s a matter of relationship between God and man and between man and man.
From what we have heard so far, the argument is that the chapel was constructed in such a way that it’s so close to the residence of the president. If that be the case, will the president be justified to demolish such a structure?
What are we saying here? What happened when the late President Umaru Yar’Adua was there? After President Olusegun Obasanjo, we had the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who was there. I’m sure he allowed it to work. And today if Muhammadu Buhari is there as the president of Nigeria and he is a Muslim, I think there’s a place for the mosque. Let the truth be told that there are places in this country where there are mosques but churches are not allowed. Even in our federal, state and local government offices, chapels are not allowed. What is happening to Mr. A should be happening to Mr. B so that everybody will see that neutrality was played.
For instance, if the chapel was there at the time of Obasanjo and Yar’Adua came and met it, and unfortunately he could not complete his tenure and, in just three months of this government, we are hearing stories like this, what then is the hope we have in our leadership?
Has there been any complaint from the Presidency to CAN?
As far as we know, CAN is not aware of it and that is the reason we take it as a rumour. We cannot go and ask government that this is what we have heard, but if government is truly on the side of this, they know the best way to approach CAN because that’s the leadership over all churches in the country.
Will CAN just watch developments until the place is demolished?
Like I told you, if there’s honour and dignity, the Church will be approached appropriately and the reason will be told to the Church. But the Church is not told yet. We are only hearing information from some members who are inside there. They have to work on it and douse further tension in the country. I don’t think the Presidency will act so rashly because there’s nothing between the Church and the government of Nigeria. The Church does not harbour ill-feelings against President Buhari because he is a Muslim. Nigeria is a secular country and should not be monopolized by Christianity or Islam.
Yar’Adua didn’t relocate chapel – CAN scribe
Secretary-General of CAN, Rev. Musa Asake, says the group has received no correspondence from government on the issue of chapel relocation.
There is this report of a threat to the Aso Rock chapel. What is the reaction of CAN to that report?
The reaction is that we heard the rumour but the Church is still standing. Had it been he has closed down the chapel, then CAN will speak. We are waiting to see if something like that will happen as we will speak.
The argument is that the chapel is so close to the president’s residence…
President Umaru Yar’Adua was there as a Muslim and the chapel was there; so that argument does not hold water. The reason I’m saying there’s nothing we can say now is that if we begin to work on rumour, it will not be fair. We better allow the thing to happen.
Are you confirming that there was no formal letter from the Presidency to the effect that there is a plan to relocate the Chapel?
I have not read of that. All I heard was the rumour and I saw the chaplain saying that there’s nothing like that. From the words of the chaplain, I go by that until something happens otherwise.
Do you have any reason to doubt the report so far?
I don’t have any reason to doubt or believe the report.
We were told that the place was closed down in the last week of August and people were not allowed to worship in the place…
What you heard is what we heard too. And as I said, you don’t just hear something and jump into making statements and then people will ask you what are you shouting for when people are still worshiping there. If there’s an underground plan, I just want you to know that we are living in peace and we have freedom of worship and the Chapel has been there even when we had a Muslim as the president and a Muslim as vice president also. If they so choose to deny Christians the opportunity of worshipping there, well… let it happen before we know what to say. For now, we maintain the status quo.
Is CAN doing anything to investigate the reports?
Why should CAN just investigate when we have the chaplain there and the vice president is a Christian? What investigation are we going to carry out? If it happens, the Christians worshipping there will let us know that they have been denied a place of worship. If we go by the rumour, we may end up destroying the peace we are enjoying right now. For now, it’s rumour and we are waiting.
There’s this other development in Kaduna where two churches were closed down by the governor…
I’m just hearing that and I’m wondering when the governor became a pastor that is intervening in wranglings in church. There have been quarrels in different mosques across the nation and we’ve never heard government closing any mosque. But we are investigating to find out what really happened and why a governor should take it upon himself to do it. You will hear from us soon.
Chapel relocation ill-advised – Methodist Prelate
Prelate, Methodist Church Nigeria, His Eminence Chukwuemeka Uche, says President Buhari must avoid seed of discord
To me, it’s a rumour! But if it’s true, then it is unfair and whoever has advised President Buhari does not love Nigeria. After all, President Umaru Yar’Adua lived there and Nigerians didn’t hear any such talks of a chapel being too close to the president’s bedroom and he never succumbed to such pressures. Nigeria is not a religious country. It is a secular nation and therefore nobody should strive to enthrone one religion above the other.
We want to live together in peace. We will do everything to resist that because it will not augur well for the peace of the nation. If it is suggested by anybody, it is unfair and whoever is advising either to close down the chapel or relocate it, is tempting Nigerians especially Christians and it is not good. We should maintain the status quo because for the benefit of peaceful co-existence the way we are now is good for the overall development of the country. I am not sure if he has complained to them that the noise of Christians in the Aso Rock Villa chapel is disturbing him. The president himself, as far as I am concerned, is a disciplined man who has integrity. He shouldn’t allow his integrity to be rubbished by overzealous aides around him and plunge the nation into another crisis.
If the rumour is true, it is unfortunate because it only shows that some people are blowing the wind of religious intolerance which is unfair to the nation. Our president should not allow himself to pushed to look like as if he is a religious bigot. He should resist the temptation, after all God has give him the mandate to steer the sheep of the nation as the Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and not the president of Islamic Republic of Nigeria because there are animists and other traditional regions in the country. He is our president and he must see himself as such. We will all give him the support he needs and will want people to sow the seed of discord in our politics.