Christianity under siege —Ayokunle, CAN President

Reverend (Dr) Samson Olasupo Ayokunle, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the President, Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC), and member of the executive committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC), bares his mind on religious and national issues. RITA OKONOBOH provides experts:


How it feels being CAN President

By the grace of God, it’s a privilege and divine mandate. For the NBC, for the past 177 years of our existence in Nigeria, none of our leaders was given the privilege of serving at this level, although we have served at state level, as general secretary of the Christian Council of Nigeria, which came on board before CAN. Though, I also served at the national level of CAN, this is a different ball game.

I think it’s a privilege for all Christians to be able to agree on one person to serve. It is also a divine mandate because I didn’t just plunge into it as adding office to office. The whole thing started in October 2015. I was in Houston, Texas, with my wife on vacation, and I saw a vision, in which I saw CAN election going on and I saw a bloc (I wouldn’t mention the name), voting en masse for me. I was wondering why they were voting for me, even as I was not from that bloc and I woke my wife and told her about the dream. She was really troubled about the vision about me running for CAN presidency, and was against the idea, because according to her, she didn’t want trouble for me. I calmed her down and we agreed to pray for God to take charge. I then decided that I would not help the situation, because I wanted to see how it would play out. At a meeting, they announced for submission of names to vie for positions. One of my officials kept troubling me to submit my name, seeing as I was qualified to run for president or second term as vice president. When he saw that I was using delay tactics, he went ahead and submitted my name, after consulting with the Vice President (Finance) of the NBC. It was after the name had been submitted to the CCN and CCN had forwarded to CAN that they informed me. I was surprised, but they said they were convinced. I was still watching to see how the vision would come to pass. The rest is history now. As I said, it’s a privilege given to me by God’s people and a divine mandate and I know God has something in mind for all Christians and for all Nigerians, by deciding to use me for His work.


Initial reluctance to vie for position

I fear failure. It is better not to start at all than to fail. I have a big assignment at the NBC. The NBC is a multi-organisation, with many commitments. To combine such huge assignment with CAN is intimidating, so the reluctance was out of the fear of failure. If you look at the past, men that God used were reluctant. It’s not about occupying positions, but about functioning properly.


Coping with the responsibility of leadership

Being in leadership does not mean that you’re there alone. It involves team work. You can harness the resources around you. The NBC runs a splendid system so the president doesn’t work alone. I have three vice presidents – the VP (Ministerial), an accredited theologian with a doctorate in philosophy; the VP (Administration and Human Resources) and the VP (Finance). These people are experts in their fields. I also have directors, who are accredited theologians with doctorate in their various fields. God has put me in the midst of abundant resources. I have been away for about a month and nothing is amiss because I have capable hands. I also delegate them for international meetings. In the Baptist setting, we believe in the congregation making decision. We discuss and assign people to implement decisions. It is a collective process. So also, with CAN, there is a vice president and various directors.


CAN and internal crisis

Before now, we’ve had groups going round to ensure unity. I’ve also travelled around the country, meeting with those who matter within CAN to preach the gospel of unity, otherwise, the inauguration wouldn’t have been possible. We even met with ex-presidents of CAN as well. Those aggrieved presented their position and Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor presented his position and they were convinced that election followed due process. We are meeting those in court and those not in court and reconciliatory moves are ongoing. We need everybody because a house divided against itself cannot stand. What we are saying is that the enemies we have outside are more, and we shouldn’t be having crisis among ourselves. See how almost on a weekly basis Christians are being killed and it appears that nobody seems to care. Our consternation is the attitude of those in authority. As I said in my acceptance speech, our leaders swore to defend us and to give us freedom to practise our religion. These are trying times, but we will confront these challenges headlong, within the confines of the law. It won’t be confrontational, but we will not shirk in our responsibility to ensure that everyone, irrespective of whatever religion he/she practices, enjoys.


Advice on surviving economic hardship

It is said that tough situations do not last but tough people do. Blessed are those who endure tribulation and trials. People shouldn’t give up. Let us trust God who provided for over 600,000 people in the wilderness for 40 years without cultivating any land. We must allow the power of God to work in our lives.

For those in government, the people have their expectations. There have been accusations of who caused what, but it is curious that after the previous administration left, within one year, it became so bad. If the economic policies are not working, we may need change. We used to be seen as a thriving economy but the story has changed. Something is wrong. We commend the present government for fighting corruption, but we want the fight to go beyond political leanings, and be on a broader perspective, so that when we have dealt with corruption, we will know that we have overcome an obstacle. We urge the president to remain on the anti-corruption track but while fighting corruption, the government should also focus on the people’s welfare. Pensions have not been paid, and those in active service are being owed seven, eight months’ salary arrears. It has never been this bad, even during the military era.

We are the people that can tell them the truth because we get the feelings of the people as we lead them every Sunday. We know what they go through, so when we talk to those in government, they should endeavour to listen and that is how we can be partners in progress. If they live in their own political world, carrying out only parties’ positions, they will not be good servants of the people. We need economic experts to lead us out of the present economic situation.


On hijab ruling

I am worried because there is a difference between what the law says and what common sense is, in terms of peaceful coexistence. When Christian students decide to wear their Christian uniforms, why should anyone pick holes in that? That judgment opened the door for religious uniforms to be worn to schools. It is logical. We are not against the use of hijab, but nobody should be