•Worshippers decry protracted crisis
• 2 warring leaders hopeful church will be one again
Raphael Ede, Enugu
Church crises in Nigeria are not new. But those that have been prolonged by the protagonists had cast aspersion on the image of the various denominations concerned.
One of the churches that have been engulfed by crisis is the Assemblies of God Church Nigeria, which is faced with an unending leadership tussle.
The crisis in the church has become a source of concern to the worshipers as it has polarized the hitherto one formidable body of Christ.
Sunday Sun investigations showed that the three-year-old crisis, which began on March 6, 2014 following the purported removal of the General Superintendent (GS) of the church, Rev. Prof. Paul Emeka, is not abating.
Lingering court cases have worsened the crisis, which has now taken a new twist as the church presently operates two headquarters; one headed by the new helmsman, Rev Dr Chidi Okoroafor and another by his presumed predecessor, Rev Prof Paul Emeka.
Since the embattled GS, Rev Emeka was bundled out of the national headquarters of the Assemblies of God Church located on Ozubulu Street Independent Layout, Enugu on March 29, 2017 by operatives of the Enugu State Police Command, with the backing of the Nigerian Army, he has moved his office to the New Haven branch of the Church also in Enugu, where he now holds sway as a parallel GS to Dr Okoroafor.
Indeed, as some of the worshippers believe that where the bishop is that is where the church is, thus they believe that it is immaterial where the GS stays.
“Anywhere Rev Emeka stays that is the headquarters of the Assemblies of God Nigeria”, one of the Rev. Emeka’s supporters told Sunday Sun.
But Rev Okoroafor’s supporters countered by saying that Rev Emeka was gone for good and the church is now moving on well with Rev Okoroafor as its new GS.
When this reporter visited the national secretariat of the church last week, fierce-looking mobile policemen were seen guarding the secretariat while the new headquarters occupied by Rev. Emeka was accessible to people without hindrance.
Also a visit to most of the branches of the church in Enugu State in particular and the South-East zone in general revealed that the members of the church are now divided into three groups; those loyal to Rev. Okoroafor; those loyal to Prof. Emeka and those who are neutral.
Those loyal to Okoroafor are no longer worshiping in their various church centres as most of them have relocated to primary school premises for their Sunday worships and other activities while those that do not find alternative places of worship share time of Sunday services like was observed at Mount Street, Enugu branch of the church.
However, the adherents who are still with Rev. Emeka have remained at their various church centres with those who are neutral.
As the crisis has been worsened by litigations and counter-litigations, some members of the church who spoke to Sunday Sun expressed fear that if it was not quickly resolved the church could split into two main autonomous entities.
While some of them expressed doubt the church could be one again, some others maintained that there was nothing God could not do.
The majority of the adherents believed that the crisis was avoidable, but was sustained by envy and lust for materialism, especially on the part of Dr Okoroafor-led group, which they accused of refusing all entreaties made for peaceful resolution of the matter.
A member of the church, Mr Ndu Nwamuo told Sunday Sun that the crisis was actually blown open in 2014.
“It blew open so that people began to know actually what was happening in the church, but within our leaders there were intrigues among the hierarchy which we didn’t know until the event of March 6, 2014,” he said.
Going down memory lane to trace the origin of the crisis, Nwamuo said: “The man (Dr. Charles Osueke) who retired in 2010 precisely as General Superintendent actually did not like the man who succeeded him as he was not his anointed successor. From that point the problem started.”
He explained that the retired GS while in office had instituted a body called ‘the Ambassadors of the Kingdom,’ which body, he said, was not known by the constitution of the church.
This, he said, laid the foundation of the crisis.
“The Ambassadors of the Kingdom was neither the policy makers, policy formulators nor the policy implementers,” Nwamuo said, stressing that immediately Dr Osueke retired his ambassadors wanted to hijack the church.
“They now formed what they called ‘consultative forum’ which was not only the Ambassadors of the Kingdom, but all the prominent men in the Assemblies of God Church were co- opted to become members of the so-called ‘consultative forum,’ which will now direct the church on what to do and what not to do.
“So when the successor, Rev. Paul Emeka came, he actually wanted to have his way; a way he felt will bring out result and carry the church along.
“The ambassadors were not comfortable with that move; to them, they saw him as trying to scrap or lay-off the Ambassadors of the Kingdom and from there the problem started. Their first attack was a petition against Rev. Emeka; between 16 and 26 issues were leveled against him.
“While he wrote out answers to the petition, they didn’t want him to present them, instead they called a General Committee meeting.”
According to Nwamuo, in the Assemblies of God, for a General Committee meeting to be held, 33 per cent of the units must approve the holding of the meeting through a document signed by them and which the GS, who whether he likes it or not, must call for the meeting.
“These people came up with that idea, saying that they have consulted, and got more than 33 per cent signatories required, but they didn’t bring it to the GS because they were afraid that if he saw the signatories, he will use it to intermediate the people concerned.
“The constitution says lay it before the GS and he is obligatory to call for the meeting once 33 per cent of the constituency signed for the meeting, but the Ambassadors of the Kingdom said no to this constitutional requirement and called for the meeting.
“The constitutional provision was that the GS should convene and preside over the meeting, but they rather brought retired GS (Dr Osueke) to preside over the meeting in exclusion of the serving GS (Rev Emeka).
“But this man chaired it because of the old animosity which he had for Rev Emeka and didn’t want him to be. There and then, on that same day of March 6, 2014, they decided that he has been suspended, dismissed and de-fellowship. That was how the crisis set in.
“So, since March 6, 2014, the Assemblies of God has never been the same again,” Nwamuo narrated.
He, however, said that the crisis could be resolved only when the people behind the actors are willing to get it resolved, saying that it would not be an easy task to resolve.
He pointed out that “three different bodies have come to resolve it, but could not due to the fact that some people have made up their mind that it is either this way or never.”
According to him, “the first people who stepped into this matter were the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and after discussions, both parties were asked to return on a date all of them agreed, but till date the Rev. Okoroafor-led group never returned and that was the end of the PFN intervention.
“As the crisis lingered, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) came in and they suffered the same treatment meted out to the PFN. After that, some eminent members of the church, who I will mention two or three names; somebody like Senator Sam Egwu, Senator Ogbuoji and others went to Dr Osueke, Paul Emeka and Rev Chidi Okoroafor, who all accepted their proposal to resolve this problem outside any other group.
“Regrettably, on the fixed date, Dr Okoroafor was conspicuously absent. Everything now is directed to God. The bottom line from my own calculation is that they want Paul Emeka out. They believe that if they move him out the problem will be over.”
But Nwamuo also reasoned that removing Rev Emeka would not solve the problem as he said that opinions have been formed and a lot of people are following him.
Hear him: “If you remove him and maybe install Rev Okoroafor that may be the beginning of another round of crisis. As a person if you ask me, both Okoroafor and Emeka should be retired from the active service of the church.
“With both retired, I believe Assemblies of God can be one again, but if you say Paul Emeka go and Chidi Okoroafor remain, the crisis will continue.”
Another worshiper of the church, Elder Sydney Edeji, told Sunday Sun that the crisis threatening to destroy the AG, which hitherto was organized, was envy and lust for materialism on the part of their leaders.
Corroborating the narrative of Mr Nwamuo, Edeji said: “We have a constitution that guides the running of the church and somebody felt that because of his privileged position he can now be the god of the church.”
He pointed out that Dr Osueke led the Assemblies of God Nigeria for 22 years and his successor was voted in massively, pointing out that Rev. Emeka scored over 4,000 votes on the day of the election and his assistant, Rev. Okoroafor scored 700 votes.
“The church should be law-abiding, constitution of Assemblies of God should guide us, and the constitution of the country, the laws of the land should guide us because we preach to our members to respect the law.”
For Elder Edeji, the only possible solution to resolving the matter was for both parties to agree and obey the law.
“The judiciary is the last hope of the common man and the court has been trying to give us judgment that will help us resolve this matter, but the group led by Dr Okoroafor has made up their mind not to work with Rev Emeka.
“So, if they can bend down and follow the rule of the law, obey what the law is saying there will be peace because all the bishops in Enugu at one point in time intervened, but to no avail. I feel the solution should be to wait for the court to pronounce its verdict on the matter,” he said.
Another member of the church, Mr Ahiabuike Egbulonu expressed optimism that the crisis would end one day, saying that it was not beyond God despite the fact that before the eyes of men it appears impossible to resolve.
“What is happening now in the Assemblies of God Church is as a result of mistrust and dishonesty,” Egbulonu explained, adding that “the basic principle that brought us together is following the truth. Outside the truth and justice I don’t think God is interested in the crowd”.
Another faithful of AG, Elder Richard Nwaebi, said that it was regrettable that the level AG leaders have taken the crisis left him to ponder if the church was no longer the church of God.
According to him, the possibility of resolving the crisis remains slim as he alleged that they are all after earthly things instead of serving God and humanity.
“I must tell you that the situation appears gloomy, those at the head are not interested in coming down to make peace as children of God”, Nwaebi said, stressing that retiring all the principal actors from the ministry would have been the best solution, but “I’m afraid who among them is ready to step outside”.
For Ode Egbe Jaius, who hails from Bayelsa, said: “The church has been together and all of us agreed to the changes, but only a few individuals felt that they have been injured and start fighting.”
Ode believes that one of them stepping aside for the other will be the beginning of another crisis as he said “I don’t believe in anybody stepping down, the right thing to do is when you have done a wrong thing you should come and correct it. You don’t plan a coup d’état in the church, but if those who planned the coup will come back and reason together there will be peace and they will be forgiven.”
Mrs Ohaha Charity Onah, a member of the church also told Sunday Sun that the crisis in AG would at the end of the day unite the church and make it stronger.
“I see the possibility because with God all things are possible,” she said, adding that asking Rev Emeka or Rev. Okoroafor to step aside is out of it.
Also a member of the church, who is sympathetic to Rev Okoroafor that does not want his name on print told Sunday Sun that though there was problem in the church, the AG remained one body that can never be divided by anybody, not even Rev Emeka.
He said that Prof Emeka was the cause of the crisis in AG, stressing that Dr Okoroafor has no personal matter with him.
According to him, Emeka was having issues with the General Council (GC) and not with Rev Okoroafor as some people mistakenly assumed.
“The GC is the highest decision-making body in the Assemblies of God Church. The case of Emeka can be likened to the case of Saul and David. The glory of God has departed from Emeka and God has found favour in Dr Chidi Okoroafor. And like Saul fought David and lost, so shall Rev. Emeka lose,” he said.
He claimed that the problem between Emeka and the GC was caused as Emeka allegedly violated the rules and regulations of the church for which he was punished.
“He committed an offence that when committed in the Assemblies of God, you will be given the back-seat and he was given the back-seat, but he refused to serve the punishment.
“Some members who are following him do not understand what is going on, that is the reason they are still with him. Time is coming when he will leave the church because AG was there before he came. It is not a one-man church, if you sin and continue to sin there is no way AG will accept you back. It would be better for Paul Emeka to go and establish his own church and leave AG alone. He doesn’t want to be under the general council and everybody knows that he is politicizing the church.
He accused Emeka of bringing crisis to the church to the extent that other churches are warning him to desist, but he refused.
He also said that Rev Emeka left God he should run to in time of crisis and went to the court.
“One of his major offences now was dragging the church to court, which our rules forbid. He took the AG to court whereas the Bible says that nobody should take his brother to court. When he was told that he committed an offence instead of coming to resolve it like a brethren, he took the church to court and this is his greatest undoing”.
At Olive Grove Secondary School, Njamanze where the members loyal to Dr. Okoroafor have relocated for their church services, a women who doesn’t want name mentioned told Sunday Sun that “the crisis in AG has since been put to rest through the judgment of the Supreme Court. So, as long as I am concerned there are no more crises in AG”.
But Mr Paul Ude, who worships at the mount church, said: “There is no gainsaying the obvious that the AG is in deep crisis, but I believe that our GS (Dr Okoroafor) has started to reconcile members. I am aware that he has extended the olive branch to Prof Emeka through one of us and he has agreed to restore those who are with Prof Emeka that were sacked and pay them in full”.
Ude expressed optimism that the AG would come out stronger after the great trial.
When contacted on phone, Rev Dr Chidi Okoroafor retorted: “I do not know what you stand to gain and who detailed you on the image of the church. I know even in the family there could be misunderstanding, but these matters are being resolved and meetings are being held to be able to put things where they should be.”
Describing the situation as very unfortunate to have developed to where it is, Rev Okoroafor said: “But I don’t think it is what anybody will take glory in publishing, but what I know is that meetings are being held and general olive branch is being granted to people to reconcile this matter and the process is ongoing by the grace of God.”
He charged this reporter to also report the positive aspect of the church, stressing that “God is doing a lot of things and, of course, you know that over 90 per cent of the Assemblies God worshippers are intact.
“All the institutions of the church and the Bible School are intact under the General Council, the university is under the General Council, the AG Mortgage Bank is under the General Council and the national headquarters of the church is under the General Council.”
He, however, said that “no matter what happens in life you must have few sympathizers and we continue to call on those few sympathizers to return to the main line of the church.
“As I told you, the Assemblies of God church has extended olive branch to those people to be able to return to the mainstream of the church.
“You may begin to ask why that division at the time, it is because when the main line of the church discovered that some people were interested in thuggery, shedding of blood and causing havoc.
“We said we cannot allow blood and thuggery to go on, that was why some of the brethren have to leave and started worshipping elsewhere.”
Also when contacted, Rev Paul Emeka told Sunday Sun that he was desirous to see that the church was united, stressing that “the church is God’s church and in mysterious way, God will one day unite the church again.”
Rev Emeka explained that the difference between them was that the other people would claim that the matter has ended without them, “but when you come to us, we say that the matter has not ended.
“We recognized the fact that there are two factions and my desire is that the two factions will come together.
“If you come to Assemblies of God like every other denomination you will meet hierarchies; there are the commoners, people who come to church to worship, but there are the leaders who don’t only worship, but they also make monetary gains and those people occupying high positions.
“This is one of the reasons that led them to do what they did, to try to remove me was in order to distribute positions among themselves illegally, though they did that and they know that my coming back to get united with them will mean that they have to drop those positions they acquired illegally.
“That is why they don’t want, they will always say that the Supreme Court has given ruling when it is known to everybody that Supreme Court never gave that kind of judgment, but they want to make people believe that, that is the truth.
“Thank God that the bubble is busting and people know the truth now and they can’t hide the truth anymore.”
Rev. Emeka who expressed optimism for the church to become one united entity again said “it is my utmost desire that the two factions in the church will come together.
“It is possible because God owns the church and in the mysterious way he will bring us together,” he said, stressing that “already we are seeing signs by what he is doing even in the court right now that the truth is emerging.
“It is this truth that will bring the church together. It is like the body, the body has skeletons made up of bones, but we also have flesh and skin; if the skeleton or the bones are not there, the flesh and the skin cannot stand.
“The facts/truth in the court which is being brought out is the real facts/truth that hold the church together. So, you cannot just come and say ‘Ah! No’ the church is united when you are not in the truth and so the truth is the foundation and every other thing is superstructure and the decoration”.
Rev Emeka explained that any house its foundation was laid upon falsehood no matter the superstructure build upon it with decorations it will surely collapse one day, stressing that what the other group, referring to Rev Okoroafor’s group, are doing was not of the church.
“The church must be based on truth and that is what we are doing. By the grace of God as soon as the truth has come out and whether they like it or not, it has now been established by the court of law.
“That is the truth and we are united, those other people who are seeking positions if they don’t like to come they will have to go because they can’t disobey what the law says.
“The commoners who sincerely have come to worship God will come and begin to worship. And so when we talk of the church getting reunited, we are not really talking of the leaders coming, the leaders have vested interest in positions and money and may not like to, but the people who will come to worship God will come and worship and in so doing, the church is getting reunited. I believe strongly that the church will be united”, he explained.
As the members keep waiting, the controversy of who is the authentic GS of the church still lingers on after the Supreme Court ruling on August 2017 on the matter.
While Dr Okoroafor still claims that the apex court had sacked Rev Emeka through the 2017 ruling, Prof Emeka also contends that the court did not give any judgment relating to his sack.