Former Minister of the Federal Capital Abuja, Nasir El Rufai has criticized the current leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, for betraying the group’s legacy of fighting against oppressive forces.
In a statement released today, Mr. El Rufai recalled the heroic role played by past CAN leader, Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, as “a voice of resistance” to the despotic military regimes of the 1980s and 1990s. According to the former minister, at “a time when many people kept silent in the face of human rights abuses, Okogie faced down the military government and told them some home truths.” The minister added: “It didn’t matter if the victims were Muslims or Christians; it didn’t matter whether they were from the north or south; CAN fought for all Nigerians. Okogie had the moral authority to act, and did so with dignity, to the admiration of all of us.”
Mr. El Rufai also stated that Cardinal Okojie’s heroism was not an isolated one, adding that several other past CAN leaders lent their voices to the struggle for democratic governance in Nigeria. “Okogie’s bravery was not unusual for CAN leaders; if anything, in the turbulent history of this country, there is a proud tradition of leaders of CAN who spoke for and stood by the people of this country,” said the former minister. He lauded those CAN luminaries for using “their moral authority to defend the rights of all Nigerians even during the most brutal military dictatorships or corrupt and inept civilian administrations,” naming Archbishop Peter Jasper Akinola, the Reverend Sunday Mbang and Cardinal John Onaiyekan, as “shining examples of faith in action, with compassion for the oppressed and chastisement for the tyrants.”
Mr. El Rufai contrasted the noble era of CAN leadership with the current leadership of the Christian body, led by Pastor Oritsejafor. The former minister’s statement accused Oritsejafor of seeking to make himself and his personal political biases synonymous with those of CAN.
“In spite of the corruption that blights much discourse these days, it is evident that a clear distinction exists between CAN as a body and the individual that leads it. Ayo Oritsejafor cannot be allowed to conflate himself with CAN. He bears personal accountability for the conduct and utterances that portray him as a messenger of the powerful, or as an active soldier of the ruling party,” said Mr. El Rufai.
He added: “Except for the informed, the casual observer may mistake Oritsejafor for a minor protocol official of government, so pathetically has he cheapened the erstwhile integrity of the CAN presidency.”
He expressed dismay that Pastor Oritsejafor’s “utterances and behavior amount to repudiation of the moral authority, fair-mindedness and high standing his predecessors invested in that office.” According to him, while CAN’s past leaders “spoke truth to power in the exalted prophetic tradition,” the current leader “cossets and pampers the government of the day.” He also accused Pastor Oritsejafor of championing the “politics of ethnic and religious division by making unfounded allegations against opposition leaders.” He asked: “How else can any neutral observer rationalize his two calls for General Buhari’s arrest? In contrast, Oritsejafor was dead silent when persons that are Jonathan’s sidekicks threatened the nation with violence if he is not voted president in 2015!”
Mr. El Rufai accused Pastor Oritsejafor of choosing “”to be a subaltern to power,” but praised the efforts by other men of faith “to stem division and help the country achieve peace.” He added that such laudable efforts earned Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan and the Sultan of Sokoto a joint nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Mr. El Rufai reminded the current CAN leader that nomination for the Nobel, an esteemed global honor, “is a measurement of leadership quality and character,” adding that it was “distinct from Oritsejafor who prefers earthly gains and ostentatious lifestyle of private jets!” He recalled that Pastor Oritsejafor had in November, 2012 accepted the gift of private jet “in the presence of a smiling President Jonathan.”
He remarked that Oritsejafor’s style of leadership had created division within CAN, illustrated by Catholic leaders’ “recent unprecedented decision to temporarily opt out of CAN!” Stated Mr. El Rufai: “It is not because Christians in Nigeria today are markedly different from those that lived in the days when Okogie, Akinola and Mbang led CAN honorably; it is because the Oritsejafor style has driven the organization into the ignominious politics of hatred and division.”
He said that the mood of sensitivity about religion had led many to refrain from “pointing out the errant ways of Oritsejafor, but if we are to build the Nigeria of our dreams, we must have the courage to point out transgressions against all Nigerians by people masking themselves in religious toga to create strife in the country.” He added that “Oritsejafor is neither a personalization of CAN, nor an example of the compassion, grace and modesty Christianity teaches.”
The former minister stated that a statement “purportedly issued in CAN’s name in defense of Oritsejafor” represented a “case of the descent into toxic politics.” He added that the “language of the statement is very similar to the gutter language usually spewed out of the Presidential Villa whenever any citizen expresses the right to question the corruption, impunity and incompetence of the Jonathan administration.”
Mr. El Rufai warned that when “purportedly religious leaders or organizations become brazenly partisan, they should not complain directly and through surrogates when they are responded to in like manner.” He cautioned against reducing God’s work “to petty electoral calculations” as well as religious leaders indulging “in base blackmail and falsehood.” He warned that leaders of faith must exhibit “good example in the public arena.”
According to him, religious leaders must not exploit their faith “for political and commercial favors.” He concluded that, “In the final analysis, the needs and wants of a less privileged Christian destitute in Abia is not that much different from that of a Muslim Almajiri in Zamfara!”