Thursday 30 October 2014

The Present CAN Of Worms - by Ohi Ehimiakhe

Any unbiased reader of Rev. Chris Okotie’s recent commentary on Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor’s alleged link with the $9.3 million arms deal scandal could observe that he had nothing personal against the Christian Association of Nigeria President. 

To me, Okotie merely spoke truth to power, like many concerned individuals are wont to do on issues of national interest. Simply put, Oritsejafor should save the Christian Association of Nigeria’s image, and by extension, Christians in Nigeria, from being dragged further into disrepute by his open flirtations with politicians. Apparently, what rattled CAN authorities the more was the messenger and not really the message.

Instructively, when a one-time President of CAN, Anthony Cardinal Okogie, said, “Oritsejafor has fallen from grace to grass… the leadership of CAN is zero”, the organistion did not attack him. When Rev. Matthew Kukah likened the Jonathan-Oritsejafor relationship to fellowship with Caesar, there was no indignation, but when Okotie ventilated his own opinion, it provoked a diatribe from CAN.

Rather than address the issue which Okotie raised, Oritsejafor’s CAN chose to use this chance to launch a personal vendetta against the former. This is highly unfortunate, and a cheap blackmail by a group of people using an ecclesiastical umbrella to pursue an obviously personal agenda.

It is indeed ludicrous that CAN could resort to name-calling on a national issue which affects the integrity of its President. The authenticity of Okotie’s Christianity as questioned by the body, the charges of his domestic affairs and his need for popularity are totally unconnected with the issue, especially the expediency of the advice which was given to redeem the battered image of Oritsejeafor-led CAN.

The scandalous aspersion of CAN against Okotie is outrageous, especially seeing the way government is going about trying to exonerate Oritsejeafor from any complicity in the matter. If he hadn’t embraced chumminess with the powers that be; if he hadn’t gone to great lengths to ride on his kinsmanship with the President, then the reported use of his plane would not have raised eyebrows and become his albatross, casting him in a bad light.

There are too many twists and turns in this soggy affair, and it is clear that when government goes out of its way to defend anybody, then there is something lurking in the shadows. The shroud of political secrecy that enveloped the Oritsejafor affair is more than meets the eye – there is no smoke without fire, and the smoke here is really thick.

Contrary to claims that this is a normal transaction, purchasing arms on the black market from mercenaries who probably supply insurgents, militants and drug cartels is illegal and is not exactly an easy affair; it’s not like buying fish at the market. Ferrying undeclared money is illegal. Is government hereby endorsing this trend? Besides, who are these people who were contracted to purchase arms on the black market? Since when have they been doing this? Who have they secured arms for? Who introduced them? Are they licensed to deal in arms in Nigeria? What if they had absconded with the cash? What if the aircraft had mysteriously gone missing or crashed? How did the money get out of Nigeria without being declared? How come they did not make necessary provisions to meet South Africa’s customs requirements if this is a normal affair? Many unanswered questions.

Government and CAN’s defence rests on the claim that Oritsejeafor contracted out his plane, and is not involved in its day-to-day running. But will the operators of the aircraft, without his prior knowledge, decide to engage in this act of ferrying money illegally for purchase of arms, against a string of financial, aviation, customs and immigration laws, with an aircraft registered to engage in evangelical work, without the consent of the owner, knowing full well that not only can the plane be impounded and lose its licence, but could also tarnish the image of the owner?

And how come after this unfortunate incident, they are still operating the aircraft? Any right thinking businessman would see the clear and present danger in allowing this, as they may well lease it out for more sinister purposes. The probability that the weight of evidence and questionable discrepancies in this untidy affair do not point at the possibilities of a consenting involvement is almost non-existent. So, defensive arguments in favour of the aircraft owner being ignorant of the deal is like an argument that he might not be aware of CAN’s response to Okotie.

In jurisprudence, a shadow of doubt can affect a case. Here, there are simply too many which cannot be wished away. Government cannot be trusted to exonerate Oritsejafor; it is party to the questionable deal gone awry. CAN on its part lacks the capacity and investigative acumen to conduct an un-jaundiced and forensic analysis of the details of the case.

This blight is self-inflicted as Oritsejeafor did not think deeply on the consequences of his public relationship with President Jonathan, and how it can be easily misconstrued. All he saw was the opportunity to take advantage of the presence of a kinsman at the helm, under the guise that he was being hamstrung by northern and Muslim fundamentalists seeking to frustrate his government.

Jonathan will not always be President, and someday, a Pharaoh that does not recognise the current leadership of CAN will come along. What happens then?

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