Chief Dapo Oke is the President, Christ Ambassadors Society of the Cathedral Church of Christ, Ilaro and Member of the Interim Committee of the Church. In this interview with the Editor, Arts and Culture- Prince Oladimeji Adelaja, he speaks on the crisis rocking the Cathedral Church of Christ Ilaro (Anglican Communion).
You are a member of the interim Committee of the Cathedral Church, Ilaro. What are the terms of reference of the Committee?
The interim Committee was appointed by the Bishop on 21st February 2016 following the expiration of the tenure of the Church Standing Committee in February. The Committee was set up to identify the immediate and remote cause (s) of rifts and conflicts in the cathedral Church of Christ, Ilaro, to initiate peace moves and reconcile aggrieved people, to mobilize every member of the Cathedral Church for peace and stability in the Church and to oversee the general administration of the Cathedral pending the time the Church would have stabilized to conduct election into the Standing Committee of the Church. Let me state here that my inclusion in the Committee was in recognition of the role played by my Society towards finding solution to the impasse in the Church. My Society, the Christ Ambassadors wrote two letters to the Primate one seeking his timely intervention in the protracted crisis and the second letter which was a response to the Primate’s reply sought his attention to send a fact finding panel to the Cathedral for him to understand the real crux of the matter rather than listening to the individual and group accounts that are far from the truth.
The crisis in the Church had been on for some time now, what in your opinion are responsible for the conflicts and rifts in the House of God?
I did not know much about the cause of the rift until when I decided with Comrade Biodun Olakanmi and Lanre Olakanmi to champion a reconciliatory move sometimes in January on behalf of our Societies (the Christ Ambassadors and Christ Peoples Band). The peace move was aborted by refusal of Mr Adeniji’s group to allow the Priests (Canon Ibikunle and Venerable Oluwatade) posted by the Bishop to officiate in the Church for reasons best known to them. However, in the course of our investigation, we discovered that there are three basic issues in the crisis: First was the major issue of succession to the office of the Bishop following the retirement of late Rt. Revd Adebola, we also discovered conflict in the doctrinal principle behind the creation of Prayer City called “Ori Oke’’ by the former Provost and the third factor being the issue of group or sectional interest in the control of the general administration of the Cathedral.
Can you substantiate your claim that succession to the office of Bishop was a factor in the crisis since Anglican Church of Nigeria has its operational guiding rules for election of Bishops?
Our investigation confirmed that the main cause of the crisis was the ambition of the former provost (Very Rev. Rotimi Adewunmi rtd) to succeed late Bishop Adebola as the Bishop of the Diocese. According to our findings, his group was opposed to the appointment of the incumbent Bishop of Yewa Anglican Diocese Rt. Revd. M.A.Oluwarohunbi, they were holding noctional meeting in Mr Adeniji’s house while the selection process was on. They were obviously disappointed with the outcome of the selection exercise hence their resolve not to recognize the seat of the Bishop in the Cathedral since their candidate, Very Revd Rotimi Adewunmi Rtd. was not successful at the Bishop’s selection process in Abuja.
We also discovered that it was the same group that was opposed to Ven. Wusa’s election as Provost of the Cathedral then that broke into two main groups, the Solomon Adeniji group and what was first known as Lala’s faction. It was therefore the sharp difference between the hitherto one group that snowballed into the protracted crisis we have been having in the Cathedral till date. It was however funny that the same people who were making references to the Church rules to negate the appointment of Wusa then, suddenly seems to have forgotten that there are such guiding rules and procedures for the appointment of Bishop in this present scenario. Then, they have the support of the majority of the people because of the principle of legality involved in the matter unlike now that they ganged up against the same principle of legality and due process in favour of the parochial interest of their group.
What did you consider to be the missing point between the Church rules and the groups’ objectives in the conflict?
Precisely, we identified three main groups in the crisis sharply divided in thoughts and principle: the Pro-Adewunmi group headed by Mr. Adeniji Solomon whose objective was to ensure installation of their Principal, Very Revd. Adewunmi as the Bishop of Yewa Diocese and who were resolute not to recognize the leadership of the new Bishop in the Cathedral since according to them the Bishop does not have “Canonical experience” to be so appointed. The second group headed by Mr. Lala Thomas whose view is that due process in Anglican Church’s Constitution must be followed in the appointment of the Bishop and therefore refused to be part of the protest letter written by the other group to reject the election of Rt Revd Oluwarohunbi as the Bishop of the Diocese on such a flimsy excuse since according to it, the Adeniji group was been sponsored by Adewunmi who was only weeping up mere sentiments to back up his ambition. There are also other members of the Congregation that are not aligned to any of the groups mostly elders in the Church but shared the view of Lala group in the sanctity of the Church Constitution, doctrines and due diligence in the administration of the Church and other allied matters
As previously mentioned, the interim Committee at work also discovered doctrinal dispute on the part of the people loyal to the former Provost who believed that ori-oke (prayer city) which he (Adewunmi) created must stand against the directive of the Bishop that the interpretation of “ori-oke’’ does not align with the Anglican doctrine and Constitution of the Church of Nigeria with their claim that the Bishop does not want growth of Evangelism in the Cathedral. Whereas the other group and some other people also alleged that Adewunmi created the so called Prayer city to prepare ground for the anticipated take off of his Ministry in Ilaro and its environ in view of what later played out in his eventual resignation, Canonical disobedience and proprietorship of his Ministry, Rocks Believers along Asero road, in Abeokuta. The people you find in this group are mostly women led by Iya Egbe Aya Bishop Mrs Ogunlolu and people who worked directly with the former Provost in the administration of the Church ; the wardens, Sunday School teachers, the organist, some members of the Choir and Church Secretary, Accountant and some members of the congregations. Up till now, they cannot come out to tell the whole world what are the sins committed by the Bishop and for which reason backed up by relevant sections of the Church laws the Bishop must be sanctioned other than their Mills and Booms tales by the moonlight.
What are the views of your Committee on all these?
Yes, we had extensive discussions on the allegations and counter allegations emanating from the two camps. But in all, we found the positions of the Adeniji group inalienable with the body of rules and regulations guiding the Church’s administration and we cannot close our eyes to many of the impunities going on in that camp, hence the coming on board of some of us on the part of the Church administration to say enough is enough. We viewed the activities of the group as unacceptable affronts to the leadership of the Church of Nigeria and the Diocese of Yewa; of course, we are yet to see where the group derived its powers anywhere in the Constitution of the Church to challenge the appointment of the selection of a duly elected, consecrated and enthroned Bishop of the Church of Nigeria and to ask for his translation from the Diocese on the basis of personal and group interest and on grounds we also found cannot be backed up by constitution of the Church, perhaps they have forgotten that the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion is a well structured legal entity. We were therefore concerned that the clandestine activities and actions of these few elements in the Cathedral which had portrayed us in bad light in the eyes of members of the Community cannot be further tolerated, it was as if we have no sensible people who knows their left from the right to put a final stop to their illegal activities.
As at the last time we checked the provisions of our Diocesan Constitution on the status of the Cathedral, we still found Statutes 3 and 4 on page 32-33 clearly stating that the Cathedral belongs to the Diocese against the flimsy believe of the Adeniji’s camp that it is their Church via the stories that their great grandfather sometimes ago carried stones and blocks for the erection of the Church building. It is also clearly stated in the provisions that the Bishop is the head to the Cathedral of the Diocese. Our understanding is also that the Diocese has 18 administrative Units in which the Cathedral is just one and the Diocesan headquarters supposedly to be the seat of the Bishop. We are therefore at a lost why a group of people who are just fractional part of the Cathedral will seems to be arrogating to themselves the powers to dictate to our highly respectable Primate and the body of Council of Bishops on election and translation of the Bishop and to continually determine what operates in the Cathedral thereby usurping the powers in the Constitution of the Church and of the Standing Committee of the Cathedral and the Diocesan Board respectively. They only want to re-write the history of the Church which is not acceptable to many of us with sound knowledge of Church administration and legal issues.
In all, we could not really understand whose interest the group is out to serve by disregarding the advice and the mediatory roles of the special delegation of the Primate and by their consistent violation of the directives of the Bishop recognized by the Church leadership and laws as the valid authority in charge of the Diocese and by arrogating to themselves powers that are not known to the Constitution of the Church: by Insisting that the Bishop be translated from the Diocese and that Venerable Oluwatade and four other Priests in the services of the Diocese cannot officiate in the Cathedral, by illegally holding on to the finances of the Cathedral and their refusal to fulfill the Church’s financial obligations to the Diocese as prescribed by law , by parading some of their members as officers of the Standing Committee of the Church despite the expiration of the tenure of the body and its dissolution since February 29th 2016.
You mentioned the delegation of the Primate to mediate in the crisis in your earlier comments, was there any major breakthrough by the special delegation?
The Primate of All Nigeria, The Most Rev. Dr. Nicholas D. Okoh had sent a high powered delegation led by the Diocesan Bishop of Lagos and Dean Emeritus Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) Most Rev. Dr. E.A Ademowo to mediate in the Crisis and find a lasting solution to the Cathedral problem. The reconciliatory meeting took place at the All Saints’ Anglican Church, Leslie Road, Ilaro on Tuesday 12th April 2016 during which the decision to reopen the Church was taken and agreed to by all the parties. To our greatest surprise however, the group boycotted the commemoration service held on 17th April 2016 at the Cathedral and had since then been conducting their activities at the Cathedral Prayer City. But we told them about the need to understand that for as long as they conduct their activities at the Cathedral Prayer city, whatever they do there is domiciled under the Anglican Communion and the Diocese of Yewa hence the need for them to follow the Church Constitution and doctrinal believes and practices including having due allegiance to the Diocesan board for their programmes and activities.
Why did you conclude that the Adeniji group did not recognize the seat of the Bishop in the Cathedral or you mean they were opposed to Rt. Revd Oluwarohunbi?
Point of correction, The Rt. Revd Oluwarohunbi is the defacto Bishop of Yewa Diocese having been duly elected, consecrated and Enthroned by the instruments of the Church of Nigeria and his seat is located in the Cathedral, anybody who is against that is just deluding and probably not a member of the Church in a right sense. Now to your question, it is an open thing that the group activities in the Cathedral since the beginning of the conflict are defiant in nature. Despite the several peace moves and visits by the Bishop to persuade the group to sheath their swords in the general interest of the Church and our Christian faith, the group by its actions and activities had fallen short of people’s expectations in a house of God. At several occasions they have attempted to hijack the administration of the Church by; insisting that certain priests of their choice should be posted to the Cathedral Church and that certain priests marked by them should not be allowed to officiate in the Cathedral. They were also resolute that the Bishop must be translated to another Diocese or else he will not be allowed to officiate in the Cathedral, in fact that was their demand before the special delegation of the Primate. Their members have been engaging in usurpation of the powers and privileges of the priests by employing the services of Mrs Bose Adebowale, Mrs Ogunubi and Mr Afolabi Popoola who are members of the laity in the Church as Evangelists to lead their services and perform duties and functions of ordained Priest against doctrinal principles and practices in the Anglican Communion. They have illegally taken over the finances of the church without paying assessment as prescribed by the Anglican Constitution and regulation. The committee also noted that the Bishop posted about four (4) priests to the Cathedral for administration and this same group sent them out and did not allow them to officiate claiming that they will be spies for the Bishop. Part of their gross misconducts were disruption of church services and forcing the closure of the Church on several occasions: on the 1st, 3rd and 10th of January, 2016, the group locked up the church and did not allow the worshippers to worship, as a follow-up of what happened on 5th July, 2015, when they prevented ordination service from taking place in the Cathedral.
One of their members even snatched the pastoral letter written by the Lord Bishop to the church from the Vicar while reading it to the congregation during the church service of Sunday 21st February 2016 and they went ahead to hold the vestry meeting against the directive of the Bishop that vestry meeting cannot be held without first reconciling the Church members and ensuring lasting peace. Eventually, they held the meeting without a presiding priest as the practice in Anglican Communion against the Bishop’s directive, The group also locked up the Choir robes, the generator house, the Church organ and holding to the keys by one Kola Oketogun, the church organist, despite several appeals to make him release the keys
They also vandalised the Church drum sets and electrical installations in the Church auditorium. Even when the Bishop wrote to freeze the operational Accounts of the Church in all the banks, the management of EKUOMBE MICROFINANCE BANK ignored the Bishop’s directive on the instruction of the group hence our Church account with the bank is still being illegally operated by the group while the heights of their misbehavior was their renewed attempt to disrupt the our Sunday service and force a re-closure of the Church by attempting to abduct Venerable Oluwatade from the Church on Sunday 1st May 2016 save the timely intervention of the Policemen on special duty around the Church environs. Presently, we have been hearing of their plans to concede the Cathedral land at the Prayer City to Adewunmi to establish his Church but we still regard it as a rumour and we are waiting for their action on that, but let me mention it here that the Cathedral signpost recently erected on the land was destroyed by them overnight which seems to confirm the rumour.
What did the Bishop do practically to reconcile the aggrieved members of the group?
I am not holding brief for the Bishop, but I’m aware that the Bishop had taken many measures to resolve the crisis one of such measures was the inauguration of the Interim Committee, while in the presence of the special delegation he had appealed and begged the group members to allow peace reign in the Cathedral. We are also aware of his visits to their members and at one occasion he was locked out of their leader’s residence in the company of some of the Priests who accompanied him on the visit. The fact is that the group must be up to something as they refused to honour all invitations to the peace meetings called by the interim committee and also resisted the inclusion of their members in the interim Committee constituted by the Bishop. The committee also observed that other peace moves were jettisoned by the group such as the peace moves by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), including the peace moves initiated by the Paramount ruler of Yewaland and the Local Government Chairman at different times including the one Championed by my Society, the Christ Ambassadors and the Christ Peoples Band which I mentioned earlier.
What is the position of the other groups in the crisis especially the Lala group?
Let me tell you that the present situation now is that the Lala group had since gone into extinction; we can no longer refer to it as a group in the crisis. The role the group played was to expose the clandestine activities of the other group over the failed attempt at appointing their Principal as Bishop and their plans to reject the appointment of Rt Revd Oluwarohunbi as the Bishop of Yewa Diocese. The Lala’s group was more or less a one man squadron so to speak. Let me also state here that despite the crisis situation in the Church, majority of the Cathedral members believed that the sanctity of the Anglican Communion Constitution should be followed in appointment and administration of the Church while many of the Church elders are constraint to still stay at home pending the final restoration of peace in the Cathedral for fear of violence.
What are the resolutions of the Committee on the Crisis situation at the moment?
The Committee after much consideration and deliberation on the matters in the crisis strongly affirmed that the Office of the Bishop is a sacred position that should not be allowed to be dragged in the frivolities and mundane activities of selected individuals or group interests. That the position of the Adeniji led group is seriously adverse to the Constitution of Yewa Diocese and the body of rules in the constitution of Church of Nigeria ,Anglican Communion and a total violation of the rights of other members of the Congregation in the Cathedral including other administrative areas in the Diocese. That the continued closure of the Cathedral Church then was not in the best interest of law abiding members of the Church who are being deprived of their right to religious worship in the house of God and therefore advised the Bishop to reopen the Church immediately. That non compliance with the due process in the appointment of the former Provost , Very Revd Adewunmi rtd then was the remote cause of the crisis as the group that championed the course then felt it could still perpetrate the same impunity with the appointment of the Bishop .That the Bishop is absolved of any wrong doing in the whole crisis at least none known to be against the Constitution of the Church of Nigeria and cannot be translated on just flimsy excuses of a group working for a particular master who is no longer in the service of the Church of Nigeria. That the actions of some people leading to the sharp divisions in the Church as well as promotion of unethical practices and clandestine meetings should be condemned and resisted forthwith. That the sanctity of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion and Yewa Diocese Constitutions must be protected and all defiant warned and if possible cautioned by law enforcement agencies if they persist to avoid further acts of lawlessness and breakdown of laws and order in the Church by any individual or group of people. That the issue of the Prayer City be properly addressed by the Diocesan Board and the leadership of Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) within the ambit of the Anglican Church of Nigerian doctrinal believes and practices.
The Committee in view of its findings and convictions therefore resolved that further to the resolution of the current impasse, the Constitution of Anglican Communion and Yewa Diocese must be followed thus the provision in statue iii sections 1 and 5 and statue Statues 4, section 2 are instructive about the Status of the Cathedral and the avowed roles and position of the Bishop including application of rules in the posting and assigning priest functions in the Cathedral and anywhere in the Diocese of Yewa. We upheld that the correct and appropriate interpretation of the statues becomes very necessary and its provisions should not be wished away in the final resolution of the crisis especially in their unholy demand that certain priests cannot officiate in the Cathedral. The Committee’s report was presented to the Bishop who in his wisdom represented it to the Diocesan board for ratification and approval at the extra ordinary meeting of the Diocesan Board to the best of my knowledge.
What would you advise generally as the way forward in the Church issue?
I think it is necessary to let people know that the House of God is not a place for undue activism and unlawful comradeship. It is a place of worship under the leadership of anointed men of God. As members of the Laity, we should not be seen to be encroaching on the duties and privileges of the house of Priests. We should allow the Church administration follow a due process rather than hijacking the process of appointment and movement of priest based on group and personal interest. In the same vein, the Church leadership should try at all times to do exactly what they preach or teach to the congregation. We are all in the presence of God and we must know that we shall all be accountable for our numerous deeds therein. So, coming to promote division and crisis in the house of God cannot be a way to seek the good face of the Lord hence my appeal to all gladiators in the Cathedral crisis to sheath their swords, reconcile with God and return to His way. If only people will remember that God did not allow David to build for him the magnificent temple of his dream despite the availability of huge resources, and well articulated plans simply because of his blood stained hands in Uriah’s wife issue while Apostle Paul despite his great exploits for Christ and the Church among the Apostles had to still die by the sword, that’s to tell us that our God is a thorough God and we must serve him carefully and diligently. He is able to fight His battle always against all manners of recklessness and impunities.