When the news broke that a private plane from Nigeria was seized in South Africa with brand new dollar notes of about $10m my heart palpitated and I was askance even though I was in the midst of others. My fear steamed for a few facts. I was sure that the federal government of Nigeria will do what it does best; keep mum and then later will either deny or offer some lame explanations while muddling up the waters sufficiently enough by using pawns to obliterate the facts of the matter and politicizing the issues, hereby diverting our attention away to other things.
Sad to say, I have been proved right on every count. Not only have they started their campaign of calumny, they have used a most saddening approach; they are playing the religious card. Why is the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) getting involved in a supposedly private matter of such dangerous proportion? We shall come back to the CAN later on. Suffice to say that Nigeria is in deeper troubles than we are presently prepared to admit to. Sadly, the trouble and danger inherent is potent enough and highly dangerous to our corporate existence, while collectively playing the ostrich will benefit no one eventually.
Here are the facts of the matter. On 5th September 2014, a Bombardier Challenger 600, with a Nigerian flight crew piloted by Captain Tunde Ojongbede, flew into South Africa and landed at Lanseria Airport in Johannesburg. Eventually we got to understand that there were two planes and not one that flew in to South Africa.
The other plane involved, used by Swat Inc., a Hawker Siddeley 125, also with an American registration number (N497AG), landed at Lanseria Airport last month. That plane and its passengers remained in the country for two days before returning to Abuja on August 13.
When the passengers luggage were checked, officials of SA Revenue Service (Sars), found undeclared raw cash of $9.3 million on the passengers. On board one the seized aircrafts was also an Abuja-based Israeli man, Eyal Mesika, whom we were told was the only man with the combinations to open the lock on the suit cases containing the cash to be laundered or used to purchase illegal arms by the order of some unnamed persons in the Nigerian Government.
One amazing fact is that the Nigerian government has maintained a curious silence since the scandal broke on September 5th when South African law enforcement agents confiscated $9.3 million from the two private jets. If Sahara Reporters did not blow the lid on the illegality, I doubt if ordinary Nigerians would have known the kind of gang we currently parade as political and religious leaders.
South African airport security spokesman Solomon Makgale confirmed a police investigation was underway but declined to give details. The aircraft was temporarily impounded, but was allowed to return to Abuja about four days after the initial arrest of the plane because the Nigerian government reached out to its South African counterparts, ostensibly to douse the tension and keep the fact away from the public.
The arrested passengers apparently told officials they were acting on behalf of the Nigerian intelligence service, and they provided documentation confirming they had come to South Africa to buy weapons. However, the National Conventional Arms Control Committee, which has to approve the import and export of any weapons as well as issue permits for such transactions, was not aware of any applications in this case. It is also not clear whether the Israeli passenger was an intelligence operative or an arms dealer.
A spokesman for South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority disclosed that the country’s investigators found the Nigerian arms buyers with invoices from two South African firms called Tier One and ESD. The invoices were for armaments and a helicopter.
According to South Africa’s City Press, “In court papers, the NPA submitted evidence that Tier One is not registered with the National Conventional Arms Control Committee and is thus not authorized to enter into any agreements regarding the sale and/or rental of military equipment."
The paper further revealed, “The agreement between Tier One and ESD was concluded on September 8, three days after the money was seized at Lanseria.”
We can safely conclude therefore that the arms deal was supposed to be a black market operation and therefore an illegal arm purchase. Such arms could end up anywhere either in the hands of the Niger Delta militants, political thugs and assassins, or even the dreaded Boko Haram militants...your guess is as good as mine.
After much hush hush, it finally emerged that the bombardier jet involved in the illegal money laundering and purchase of black market arms belonged to Pastor Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor the founding and Senior Pastor of Word of Life Bible Church, located in Warri, southern Nigeria, and currently the President of CAN.
A statement released by the church on behalf of Pastor Oritsejafor reads in part "On behalf of Pastor Oritsejafor, we can confirm that although he holds an interest in Eagle Air, the aircraft in question is not operated by Pastor Oritsejafor. The aircraft was leased to, and is operated by Green Coast Produce Limited since August 2.”
But, here are a few questions keen watchers have been asking. FAAN just over a year ago readjusted the laws guiding the usage of non-scheduled commercial operators. The law according to the Nigerian aviation authorities seeks to regulate and stop the abuse by private jets owners, who turn their planes over for commercial purposes illegally.
Therefore one should ask, why was Pastor Ayo private jet leased out for a supposedly commercial purpose since August 2nd 2014 according to him?
Recall also that private jet owners were not only barred from leasing their planes out for commercial purposes, they were also barred from carrying people other than their family members.
The above reasons alone are enough to indict Pastor Ayo and his co-travelers.
Now, let’s come to the issue of CAN. Pastor Ayo is first and foremost the senior Pastor and founder of a church and we all remembered his initial claims that the plane was a gift by some unnamed members of his church. If that is the case, why is the church not in the forefront of defending his latest escapade? Why drag CAN into his private church business?
I am a Christian and as such an affiliate of CAN. Pastor Ayo should be left alone to defend himself and his private business without dragging CAN alongside himself. Why has CAN become the private enterprise of one man?
CAN have existed before the advent of Pastor Oritsejafor and should be left alone to do what it was established to do. The statement supposedly released in the defense of Pastor Oritsejafor by a certain Sunny Oibe on behalf of CAN is not only reprehensible, it is asinine; it is disgraceful and it is totally unbecoming of what an organization representing the body of Christ should ever have thought of, let alone made public. It was not only acerbic and jejune, it was a classic gutter styled gobbledygook that no self respecting Christian body should ever be associated with no matter the level of "provocation".
Please don't bring the "Touch not mine anointed” crap here. For your information, severally we have been reprimanded to “touch not mine anointed” but is this the correct application of this scripture? In which context was this phrase used in the Bible? It can be found in Psalm 105:15 and repeated in 1Chronicles 16:22. That passage was written to praise the works of God when He brought out the children of Israel from Egypt and saved them from several dangers, even though they were few in number. It was never about a pastor or a church leader. It was written to praise God in taking care of a called out people. Anointed vessels are men who allow God to do his bidding through them.
Note that those people who do his bidding must be “called out” and what is the “church”? The root word for church is "Ecclesia" which simply means “the called out ones”. Therefore, that passage can also mean “touch not the church”. Do NOT be deceived. It was never written to protect or immune “penterascality” or ‘pastopreneurs’ from honest criticism. It was written as a mark or seal of God’s protection upon His chosen ones and His chosen ones are his body, His church.
Pastor Ayo will do well to resign his position as CAN President and face his calling squarely. He has done more to harm the reputation of CAN by his several actions and careless speeches. It is written in 2 Timothy 2:4, “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.”
In 1 Peter 4: 17 it is written, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begins with us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?”
To serve God is to serve his people. Let Pastor Ayo search himself, has he been true to the one who called him? Let God be true, let all men be liars.
Pastor Oritsejafor’s ownership of the jet has raised several questions in the past. One of which is that the plane seized by South African officials is actually registered in the US for use only as a private jet, not for commercial purposes. Another issue is does Pastor Oritsejafor owns more than one jet? In 2012, he claimed that members of his congregation presented him with the gift of a jet. However, the registration number of the jet detained by South African authorities differs from the registration details for the jet purchased by Mr. Oritsejafor’s congregants. In response to criticism of his acquisition of a private jet, the pastor had argued that he needed the jet to enable him to travel widely for events related to his ministry. The question then is whether the commercial leasing of a private jet is part of Oritsejafor’s ministry?
Nigerians are watching the unfolding dangerous drama and waiting with a baited breath. How will the Federal Government of PDP led by Goodluck Jonathan handle this case? Will they prove their detractors right that the government of Jonathan have always known, collaborated with and have been covering up sponsors of terror in Nigeria, or will President Jonathan rise to the occasion this time?
Time will tell, but remember history is being written for the future by every present action and deliberate but highly noticeable inactions.
I am Ayobami Oyalowo and you can follow me on twitter @Ayourb