The Church was hit by various controversies and attacks this year. After today, the Christian community in Nigeria, in retrospect, will look back to the year 2017 and celebrate the good, while it continues to take stock of the bad and ugly events that happened within the year as it affects the church. Among such events were the resignation of Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) as the General Overseer in Nigeria, the Southern Kaduna killings, arrest of Apostle Johnson Suleman of Omega Fire Ministries, the killing of a Catholic priest, massacre of some worshippers in a Catholic Church at Ozubulu, Anambra State, the purported de-listing of CRK from school curriculum, the Reinhard Bonnke farewell crusade, and the tithing controversy.
Adeboye’s resignation as the General Overseer of the RCCG
While at the Cross-Over service of the church held at the campground, at the new 3-kilometre-by-3-kilometre auditorium in Simawa, Ogun State, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye had prophesied that the year 2017 would be full of surprises. Less than a week into the New Year, the prophecy manifested in a way that threw up surprises and shock at the same time, to those in the corridors of power and the church in general.
Nigerians were shell shocked by a sudden announcement by Pastor Adeboye himself, of his retirement as the national overseer of the church. He cited the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRC)’s Corporate Governance Code, as his basis for taking the bow, since he would not like to be seen running afoul of the law of the land.
Pastor Adeboye had announced his retirement as the head of the RCCG in Nigeria with the setting up of a new leadership structure in the church on 7 January during the month’s Holy Ghost Congress based on the then introduced FRC act. Pastor Joshua Obayemi, the former Special Assistant to the General Overseer (SATGO) on Finance was therefore, announced as the new National Overseer of the RCCG in Nigeria.
However, in the course of events that unfolded a few days later, Jim Obazee, executive director, FRC; the man behind the controversial law, was sacked by the Federal Government. This rested the controversy the FRC Act was already generating in the Christendom.
Southern Kaduna killings and the call for justice by the Christian community
The Southern Kaduna renewed violence started when Kadara youths in the area allegedly killed a herdsman, who they said was a known bandit that had been terrorising the area, prompting a reprisal attack from his fellow herdsmen, who allegedly stormed Ungwan Uka. Scores of persons were feared killed in that renewed round of violence between farmers and herders in Kajuru, Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
Most Revd. Joseph Danlami Bagobiri, Bishop of Kafanchan Diocese and Chairman, Southern Kaduna Christian Elders Association, accused the governor of not acting swiftly as the situation demanded of him. Bagobiri had said that Governor El-Rufai “unabashedly takes sides with the armed herdsmen, thereby failing in his responsibility as a true statesman, becoming, therefore, a biased umpire who blames and criminalises southern Kaduna victims as the cause of the mayhem.”
However, a Lagos based clergyman and Vicar, St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Oke-Afa, Isolo, Diocese of Lagos West, Venerable Chiedu A. Ekpunobi in an interview on the Southern Kaduna killings called on Christians to put their faith in God, as he urged them to pray more for the leadership of the country in order to move Nigeria forward.
“God is my defense; this has been a serious area of discourse among Christians: if we want to be Christ-like, we would talk and walk like Christ talked and walked in Gethsemane when He was holding His last prayers in that garden,” said Ekpunobi.
Apostle Johnson Suleman arrested by DSS
Following the Southern Kaduna killings and the laxity of the government and security operatives to act swiftly in curtailing the act of violence, and the resultant effects on the society, some religious leaders both within and outside Kaduna State reacted by advising their members on steps to take in defending themselves and the church.
Notable among the voices that spoke against the Southern Kaduna killings was Apostle Johnson Suleman, Senior Pastor of the Omega Fire Ministry. Apostle Suleman was alleged to have advised his members to defend themselves following the extra judicial killings that happened in Southern Kaduna.
The Department of State Service (DSS) invited Apostle Suleman for allegedly asking his members to kill any Fulani herdsmen seen around him or the church in defense of themselves and the church.
However, a group known as the Buhari Support Group (BSG) had warned the DSS against arresting the preacher for what it consider could spell doom for the current Federal Government. But in a statement signed by its deputy director, Blessing Agbomhere, the group said arresting of cleric will pitch the Christian community against the Buhari-led Federal Government.
The group noted that Suleman’s comments on the killings in Southern Kaduna was a reflection of the mind of the Christian community across the country, and therefore urged the DSS to focus on stopping clashes between farmers and herdsmen in parts of the country to ensure the security of lives and property.
Recall that the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose also prevented the DSS operatives from arresting Apostle Suleman who had come to pay a courtesy visit on Fayose at the Government House.
The massacre at Ozubulu Church
August 6 was a red letter day in Anambra State as unidentified gunmen invaded St Philip’s Catholic Church, Amakwa Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of the state, killing about 35 worshippers and injuring scores.
It was the first of such incident since the creation of the state. It was learnt that trouble started for worshippers who were in church for the 6:00am Mass, when at about 6:45am, the gunmen rode into the church in a Lexus SUV, as one of them entered the church and shot at close range an elderly man, later identified as Pa Ikegwuonu, while others remained in the vehicle outside.
Pa Ikegwuonu was the father of Chief Aloysius Ikegwuonu, a businessman from Amakwa, who built and donated the church to Nnewi Diocese, while his wife was shot on her right arm.
It was gathered that the gunmen were looking for Aloysius, who was said to have returned to the village the previous day, Saturday, and left later in the day.
Killing of a Catholic priest in Imo, and others…
On September 1, news broke about a Catholic priest from the Orlu Catholic Diocese in Imo State, Rev. Fr. Cyriacus Onunkwo whose body was recovered 24 hours after he was abducted by gunmen.
Earlier before the death of Rev. Fr. Onunkwo, the same gunmen who were alleged to have abducted him attacked three Catholic priests who by chance cheated death after the robbers stormed the parish house of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Umualumaku, Ehime Mbano Local Government Area, of Imo State.
One of the attacked priests, Rev. Fr. Innocent Obiukwu, a resident priest was seeking refuge in the parish with Rev. Fr. Anthony Dieme, the Parish priest of St. Joseph and his curate, Rev. Fr. Christian Obioha after surviving Boko Haram insurgents in the Northeast.
However, barely two weeks after the Ozobulu incident in Imo State, another Catholic Priest was shot and badly wounded in Lagos. Identified as Reverend Father Daniel Nwankwo, the Police said the assailants waited for the priest to conclude his early morning mass before opening fire on him.
The Rev. Father who unsuspectingly granted the hoodlums an audience outside the church auditorium was shot at by one of the hoodlums with a locally made pistol. The hoodlums jumped the fence and escaped towards an adjoining canal after the Rev. Father raised an alarm.
CAN react to the de-listing of CRK from school curriculum
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the umbrella body for Christians in Nigeria, in the course of the year reacted angrily to the alleged de-listing of the Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK) from school curriculum at the secondary school level.
According to statements credited to Samson Ayokunle, the president of CAN, the growing criminal activities in the country could be linked to a lack of early religious education for children. He wondered why CRK was merged with civic studies in the first place, saying that was not good for the country. “If you look at the curriculum, you will see that the religious subjects were removed for unknown reasons,” Ayokunle was quoted then at the heat of the controversy.
The group, in an Originating Summons it filed pursuant to section 6 and 10 of the 1999 constitution, as amended, prayed the court to determine whether or not the removal of CRS as a separate subject from the academic curriculum of studies for Nigerian schools amounts to breach of rights of Christian children/students to freely acquire sound Christian education in line with the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of conscience and religion and belief.
However, the Nigerian government reacted to the controversy over the alleged removal of key religious subjects from the education curriculum through the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council.
The acting Executive Secretary of Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC), Kate Nwufo, in stating government position denied claims that Christian Religious Studies and Islamic Studies had been removed from the curriculum, or were now studied as a single subject.
According to her, the NERDC developed the curriculum in partnership with the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), “We have developed a curriculum on Religion and National Values to expose pupils to see relationship between moral values which entails religion, social values and civic values,” Nwufo said.
Nwufo strongly denied the allegations and opined then that the Christian leaders were dissipating their energy on unfounded claims. “People especially leaders should be careful of the information peddled around and take their time to make findings,” Nwufo stated.
The Reinhard Bonnke Farewell Crusade
It was a farewell crusade for Reinhard Bonnke, the German evangelist and founder Christ for all Nations (CfaN) and a welcome crusade for Daniel Kolenda who took over from Bonnke as the lead evangelist for the ministry.
The 77-year- old evangelist, who gave his life to Christ at a young age of 9, is a well-known preacher of the gospel across Africa with his outreaches being jointly organised by his ministry, the Christ for All Nations (CfAN) and the local churches in every country he visits.
Bonnke himself a son of a pastor attended Bible College in Wales, and after his ordination in Germany he pastured a church before moving into Africa to start missionary work. He heard the call to the African mission field as a teenager.
God placed on him the vision of ‘the continent in the small mountain kingdom of Lesotho. However, from that small mountain he has covered the entire continent of Africa with the gospel light, moving from Cape Town to Cairo, Dakar to Djibouti spreading the word to as many that needed to be reached and hear the proclamation of the signs following the gospel.
The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) recognised Reinhard Bonnke with a Life-Time Partnership Award for Evangelism in Africa at the Farewell Gospel Crusade in Lagos. The Life-Time Partnership Award for Evangelism in Africa plaque was presented to Bonnke by Bishop Mike Okonkwo of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM) on behalf of the PFN’s president, Reverend Felix Omobude.
According to the PFN, the body of Christ in Nigeria recognized the various contribution made by Reinhard Bonnke to ensure souls are won to the kingdom of God through his evangelistic outreaches in Africa.
Reinhard Bonnke in accepting the award thanked the PFN for the support given to his ministry and for recognising him with the award, and he dedicated the award to God. “I give it to the only one through which all things is possible and to whom nothing is impossible,” said Bonnke in acceptance.
Tithing controversy by Daddy Freeze
The ongoing tithing controversy in the country was stated by Daddy Freeze, an On Air Personality (OAP) who alleged tithing is an Old Testament command that has been abolished in the New Testament, and wondered why preachers and churches are still collecting tithes from their congregations.
Femi Aribisala, a pastor and columnist with the Vanguard Newspaper, in one of his columns on the newspaper wrote a piece with the theme, “Don’t persecute Daddy Freeze: Tithing today is a scam.”
Aribisala in the first paragraph of the article wrote, “When Daddy Freeze identified tithing as a modern-day scam in a fascinating interview, I was also asked to weigh in on the same issue by Sahara Reporters. But I declined because I did not think it was necessary to add anything to what he said. However, I have changed my mind seeing that some church heavyweights have come out swinging at him in the bid to undermine his message and safeguard their illicit financial bottom line”.
Another preacher, Prophet Samuel Abiara, the former General Evangelist of the Christ Apostolic Church in reacting to the tithing controversy said: “You don’t need to know what happens to the tithe you pay. Leave it to the servants of God who will use it for evangelism. It is not for you to investigate how the money is utilised.”
However, Prophet Abiara urged clerics to see the tithing controversy as a call for accountability in the church. “However, it is compulsory for the servants of God to give an account of the tithe and other offerings paid by church members to avoid corruption. Proper accountability of incomes accruable to the church will enable the authorities to pay the salaries of pastors and other workers as and when due,” he said.
Pastor Paul Adefarasin of the House on the Rock during a recent midweek service of the church spoke on tithing: ‘Abraham’s Blessings are already upon my Life,’ while he backed his sermon with bible verses from Hebrews 6:13-14; and Genesis 12: 1-3, both from the old and new testaments.
However, few minutes into his sermon, Adefarasin weigh in on the principle of tithing. “Tithe is a way to show that God is the supplier of your resources. God blesses and I respond with my 10percent. It is a honour system, it means the money is not yours but God. You won’t be cursed if you don’t tithe but when you tithe, you are saying you recognise Him and it keeps the cycle moving.”
Pastor Tunde Bakare of the Later Rain Assembly in an interview granted on tithing few years back based his principle of tithes on the Melchizedek priesthood. According to him, Abraham was the first man to pay tithe and he did it willingly. “Melchizedek did not demand tithe from Abraham, it was what Abraham did willingly. My opinion is that let every man be persuaded in his own heart,” Bakare said.
Nigerians and celebrities are not left out of the conversation as many took to the social media to make their opinions known on the matter. Notable among them are Rapper, Lanre Dabiri, popularly known as Eldee, who used his Instagram account to air his opinion.
Eldee wrote, “Freeze has asked Nigerian pastors to come out and explain where in the bible God mandated tithing and not a single one has been able to respond with scripture, not even the all-time tithing collection grandmaster GO. When you get to church this Sunday, beg your pastor to please shut Freeze up by sharing the bible verses where God mandated tithing. We are all very curious now.