Reverend Samson Olasupo Adeniyi Ayokunle, 59, was elected President of the 40-year-old Christian Association of Nigeria [CAN] after months of back and forth tussle among the five Christian groups that make up the association. His election was announced last Tuesday by the outgoing CAN president Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor at the National Christian Centre, Abuja.
With his election, the Baptist priest has stepped into the shoes of past CAN leaders who were prominent for their principles and earned the respect of the Nigerian public. They include Anthony Cardinal Okogie (1988-1995); Dr Sunday Mbang (1995-2003); Most Reverend Peter Akinola (2003-2007); John Cardinal Onaiyekan (2007-2010) and of the immediate past CAN president, Pastor Oritsejafor (2010-2016).
As Reverend Ayokunle assumes his new position, all Christians and all Nigerians expect him to uphold the objectives of CAN. These are, “To serve as a basis of response to the unity of the church especially as contained in our Lord’s pastoral prayer that they all may be one [John 17 : 21]; to promote understanding, peace and unity among the various people and strata of society in Nigeria through the propagation of the gospel; to act as a liaison committee by means of which its member-churches can consult together and when necessary make common Statement and take common actions; and to act as watch person of the Spiritual and moral welfare of the nation.”
These objectives, crafted by the association’s founding fathers are noble and the new CAN President must not lose sight of them because it was sometimes alleged that they were observed in the breach. In the light of the hue and cry from the some sections of the Christian community over his election, Reverend Ayokunle has the immediate challenge of bringing together all arms of the association and give them each one a sense of belonging.
CAN has five arms. These are Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN); Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN); Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (CPFN)/ Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN); Organisation of African Instituted Churches (OAIC); and TEKAN and ECWA Fellowships. Grouped under these five umbrellas are hundreds of Christian churches. The new CAN president has the task of creating a sense of belonging for all.
Apart from unifying the Christian community, the new president should provide leadership that is devoid of political, social and economic controversies that could weaken the capacity of the Church to tell truth to power. It is not ethical for the church to be embroiled in high-wire politics and even join the street fight in the country’s power game.
More so, there is no integrity in the Church jumping into the ring to engage in geopolitical and sectional battles because a religious organisation should be seen to engage in peacemaking, rather than stoking the embers of division and diatribe. In Matthew 5:9 Jesus admonishes his followers: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
CAN must be seen to fight for the poor and helpless, and not to promote the interest only of society’s rich and powerful. It may be tempting for the new CAN president to rub shoulders with the high and mighty in government, politics and economy but the poor and the needy are valuable to the Almighty God whose ministers every priest is supposed to be.
Similarly, the new leader should promote interfaith dialogue at a time when terrorism and insurgency have become a curse for Nigeria. In the last seven years, Boko Haram crisis has affected Christians as much as it has caused devastation among Muslims in Nigeria. It is, therefore, an era in which both faiths should join hands with government and security agencies to tackle this common enemy, instead of engaging in blame-games and inflammatory statements which could whip up sectarian sentiments among their followers.
We congratulate Reverend Ayokunle on his election as CAN President and wish him success in the onerous task ahead.
Task before CAN’s new President
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