• Thursday, April 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

Lagos Pentecostal fellowship yet to heal one year after Nigeria’s 2023 poll

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…Division hampers election of state’s new exco

…I see tribalism, individualism at play – Ighele

One year after members and the leadership of the Lagos State chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) sharply divided on the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the then Presidential candidate and the running mate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), peace has not totally returned to the fellowship.

While the Fellowship has maintained its pre-election stand and haves been visibly silent about happenings in the country, the current brouhaha brewing since the last election may have again thrown up fresh animosity between those who vehemently opposed the Muslim-Muslim ticket and those with a ‘soft-heart’ for the then presidential candidate and now President, Bola Tinubu.

Those who have continued to raise their hands in support of the now President, are said to be doing so in the spirit of “one good turn deserves another.”

As a former governor of Lagos State, some of the Christian leaders in the state were said to have benefited from his administration in one way or the other, and considered it wrong to stand against a man that has been of immense help to them in the past.

This may not be too far removed from the foundation of the crisis that has continued to rock the PFN.

An insider source said that there was currently a subtle attempt to hijack the Fellowship in Lagos, which might appear contrary to the belief of the founding fathers.

Also, it is believed that the political class considered the Lagos chapter of the PFN as the backbone of the Fellowship, hence allegedly trying to have it under control through the backdoor by playing an ethnic card.

“Archbishop himself said in a General Assembly of Lagos State PFN last year that he didn’t say he wanted Okwuonu out; rather that the state government and the President of the Federation is interested.

“Unfortunately, it’s like this is what the fathers are afraid of, and it’s about to happen. That PFN is being handed over to the politicians,” a source familiar with the situation told our correspondent.

According to the source, there has been no official communication from all the three layers of powers: the state chairman, South-West national vice president and the national president on the said election.

“Since there is no official communication, the matter is considered not known to the members. Incumbents are still in power at the state, province and chapter; none of the cabinet has been dissolved.”

While some people are insisting that the said election that produced Toyin Kehinde as the state chairman should be ratified, our source disclosed that the election was illegal.

“How can you conduct an election; you told one person but didn’t tell the other three ahead of the election. Two of the four are members of the state advisory council; the other two are not members.

“The two that are not members; he didn’t even give them the privilege to address the electorate. How can it be that it is the Advisory Council that should decide who should be the state chairman?

“What is the record of performance of the contestants that they know? What is the antecedent of the contestants that they know? What is the basis of voting out the current and bringing in another person, except on tribal grounds?

“So, the whole thing became messy and is spoiling PFN. That is why the fathers’ decided to keep the matter cool.”

The electoral crisis that produced Rev Kehinde

Speaking on the candidate that emerged as the winner of the February election, our source disclosed that, “Toyin Kehinde is a good person but he is falling victim to a game, and allows himself to fall into some dirty trap”.

According to our source, the candidate seems to have been carried away by his ambition of becoming the state chairman.

“Once ambition comes in, it becomes difficult to understand the voice of the Holy Spirit,” our source said.

Narrating on what transpired before the said election, our source said that while one of the presumed candidates was invited for an interview by the national vice president (Southwest), an interested party was seated in the room.

“Toyin Kehinde, who became the substantive candidate, was seated when the Archbishop was interviewing one of the candidates. When Femi Paul, who is the other contestant, was invited by the Archbishop to come and present his manifesto; he met Toyin Kehinde and he asked why did you call another person in a meeting that is supposed to be between you and me?

“And he said he felt since he is a member of the South-west executives, he felt it is necessary for him to be there,” our source said.

Our source also disclosed that, “If Femi Paul should write to the press or go to court, he will finish PFN. The Archbishop invited Femi Paul for an interview and Toyin Kehinde was there.

“Femi Paul was supposed to contest for an election; you called him on the day of the election, and he told you he is not duly invited and duly informed.

“Femi Paul is a lawyer and he has foreseen this scenario; apart from the deceitful notification to discuss; Femi Paul wrote in response, asking if he is fit to come or not. It was like Femi Paul initiated the invitation, waiting for his approval which he did not approve up till the eve of the said election,” the source said.

However, another member and one of the advisory members of the Fellowship at the national level told BusinessDay that the PFN leadership was working round the clock to resolve all issues related to the election and other misunderstanding within the Fellowship.

“We are trying to come to the same page; that is what the leaders are trying to do, we want to forge ahead. We don’t want to do anything or say anything that will jeopardise or worsen the situation.

“I am sure after the troubling waters; everything will definitely settle down. We will be able to have a clear view of everything,” Joseph Ojo, the presiding Archbishop of Calvary Kingdom Church (CKC) Lagos, said.

According to him, the national president’s position should be followed to the letter to avert any unforeseen crisis.

“I believe we have a president; the stand of the president is what we should abide by – everything will be okay.

“The president has said everything should be on hold until there is a holistic view of it,” Ojo said, confirming a possible annulment of the election.

On the allegation that Toyin Kehinde has attended three state functions in the last six weeks in the capacity of the state chairman without any former inauguration or unveiling by the Fellowship, Ojo said: “To me, nobody should unilaterally stop him, and he should also be wise enough to allow everything settle down; so that there will be no complication.”

Possible way forward – Bishop Ighele

Bishop Charles Ighele, another member of the Fellowship, also added his voice to the issue, saying that it is sad that Lagos with vibrant men of God with so much influence across Nigeria and beyond will be washing its dirty linen in public.

“I am sad when the NBA conducts an election and they wash their dirty linen in public; I am even more ashamed when the church has to go all out to wash its dirty linen in public; it is disturbing. I see tribalism and individualism at play in all of this,” Ighele, general superintendent and presiding bishop of Holy Spirit Mission, said.

According to him, the Lagos State chapter of the PFN is supposed to be a vibrant voice within the Fellowship but in the recent past, the chapter is losing out in terms of matters within the PFN.

“In most states, PFN chairmen are ministers of God who have respect and influence within and outside the church. They are men of influence within the church and in community work.

“They have real influence and can stand before anybody. They already have a name. They can stand before governors and presidents without any string attached. Many of those who make up the executives in Lagos do not have influence, they tried to use the PFN to market their names,” Ighele said.

According to him, the current crisis in the Lagos state chapter of the PFN may not be unconnected with the last general election; he however, called for caution from all involved.

“I have seen that this crisis resulted from the last presidential election in Lagos where the Labour Party candidate won in Lagos and the ruling party has to fight hard to win the Lagos State governorship election.

“It is a continuation of Lagos for Lagos trajectory that is at play here. You cannot rule out ethnic factors,” he said.

Speaking further on the crisis and the influence of the early Church, Ighele said that the Apostles did not bring tribalism to the matter of the Church.

“In the early church in Jerusalem, the church was growing but there were complaints from widows that they were being neglected, the Apostles had to come in and appoint men of integrity, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.

“At this point, the national president of PFN should look for a respected someone who has influence, who is not hungry or looking for contact with people.

“That person should be a Yoruba man because of ethnicity. I am not rooting for an ethnic job but when people are emotional about things, you will try to pacify them,” Ighele said.

According to him, an interim chairman who is Yoruba can be appointed, while the appointed caretaker committee chairman should also be a Yoruba man but not necessarily from Lagos to bring balance and neutrality to play.

“This should be done with a clear understanding with the CAN chairman in Lagos, Bishop Stephen Adegbite, so we don’t wash our dirty linen in public. Reverend Kehinde should step aside as the election that brought him in was controversial, divisive, and already faulty,” Ighele said.

He disclosed that since the last election was not properly conducted, the national president of the PFN, Wale Oke should draw up a list of members of the committee and should work with the CAN chairman in Lagos on possible ways to set up a committee.

“I presently take an interest in the local chapter of PFN and the national and not the state chapter. I am not a Yoruba and am not rooting to be the state chairman here in Lagos.

“We have to use common sense at this time. I am in Lagos State and I am working for the peace and progress of where I am. I invest a lot in charity and spiritual work; all in the interest of the progress of the state,” Ighele disclosed.

Genesis of the crisis

Yomi Kasali, the senior pastor of Foundation of Truth Assembly (FOTA), called a press conference to notify the public that he did not contest the PFN election, contrary to a report by an online platform.

“This is a response to an online publication about the just concluded PFN election for Lagos State.

“The online publication said I participated in that election that took place on Monday, February 5th.

“This news conference is just to state the fact that I did not participate in that election as the online publication stated that my name was on the ballot,” he said.

According to Kasali, his name which was on the ballot could be either an error or mischievous. He believed it was ill-intentioned because of what transpired on January 29.

“Before the election, I got a call from the South West Vice President of PFN, His Grace, Archbishop John Osa-Oni.

“He asked me if I was available to attend the PFN meeting scheduled for February 5. I asked him what for and he said it was an election that my name had been nominated to be the chairman of Lagos State PFN and that he would like me to come and participate in the election process.

“My response after I thought about it was that I was not interested, hence, I declined,” he said.

Annulment of election

In a letter dated March 18, 2024 and addressed to John Alagbala Osa-Oni, the national vice president (South West) of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), and titled: ‘Re: The election of the new Lagos executive.’

The PFN stated that pursuant to the letter that conveyed the outcome of the 5th February election of the new state executive; that the national president had decided to withhold his assent to the outcome of the election after prayerful consideration.

The following reasons were given by the PFN national president for his decisions:

One: The election was very hastily conducted without adequate sensitisation of members and proper preparation.

Two: ‘Two of the four candidates that were reported to have keenly contested the election have vehemently denied being present or participated in the election.

Three: So many people within the Lagos PFN have severally complained about the way and manner the election was conducted.

Four: The fact that only eight members of the State Adversary Council (SAC) voted in the election in a state as big as Lagos leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

Hence, the PFN president decided thus:

One: The February 5 election of new executive officers of the Lagos State Chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) is hereby cancelled.

Two: The State Advisory council for Lagos State will be expanded to 25 members carefully drawn to fully represent the diverse interests that constitute the membership of the fellowship in the State.

Three: The reconstituted and expanded SAC will conduct a new election within the next two months ending on the 30th of June 2024.

Four: The extant executive will continue in office until the new election is concluded.

Six: The National President has appointed a committee of senior leaders led by Bishop Emmah lsong, national publicity secretary, to oversee the election which will be conducted by the new SAC.

The letter also disclosed that this was not the first time the national office would be intervening in a state that is having electoral difficulty.

“We had a similar case in Imo State and the intervention of the national office brought about amicable settlement of all contentions and a new executive was subsequently elected,” the PFN stated in a letter that was signed by Cosmas Ilechukwu, the national secretary of the PFN.

Archbishop Osa-Oni’s response

In a response dated March 20, 2024, and addressed to the National President of the PFN, the National Vice President (South West), John Osa-Oni said that he deemed it necessary in light of the misrepresentations in some aspects of the letter from the national office, which according to him, rendered the letter essentially untrue.

Osa-Oni responded to four of the items raised in the letter from the national president and also made a general comment to clarify his position on the matter.

“It is good for me to inform you that some leaders mounted huge pressure on me to announce by fiat a particular candidate as the new Lagos State Chairman, but I did not yield because I would not do anything unconstitutional or which will worsen the state of things in Lagos State.

“Furthermore, history has taught us that imposing someone on people has produced negative results in some other states.

“When you heard so many things, I wish you had called me and get my side of the story as one who was instructed by you to conduct the exercise. The minutes of the meeting is available. The SAC members that participated in the election are alive.

“The members of the Lagos State Central Working Committee (CWC) and the National Admin Secretary who were present as observers are also alive to verify,” he stated in his general comments to the national office.