By Isidore Emeka Uzoatu
The recent elevation of Archbishop Daniel Okoh, the General Superintendent of Christ Holy Church aka Nation Builders (Odozi-Obodo), to the prestigious presidency of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) refers.
If anything, it should come like a breath of much needed local air to the group. Much like the early Church in Antioch, Nigerian Christians have often spoken in tongues other than the lingua franca. Always at daggers drawn within their ranks, they end up making it seem as though the love preachments by their mentor and saviour elapsed into desuetude upon his crucifixion.
Of the five blocs making up the association, it holds true that the only indigenous group is the one that produced Archbishop Okoh. Aptly known as Organisation of African Instituted Churches (OAIC), it’s on record that only them have been able to fashion out Christian sects that can lay any claims to being home grown. And like is, all efforts at domestication by the others has only aroused feelings of consternation.
The Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), for instance. Now, as always, they remain tied to the apron strings of the Vatican. In their undying claims to the universality imbued by the papacy of St Peter, they have often excluded themselves from the rest. Most pertinently, efforts to ‘enculturate’ their liturgy have often been sacrificed on the altar of feared syncretism.
The Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) on its part, comprises the leading churches that arose following the Protestant Revolution of the 16th Century. Originally brought to Africa by Europeans and some freed slaves, most are now at a loggerheads with their former lord’s on account of irreconcilable differences. Topping the list being their headquarters’ position on homosexuality.
Then there is the Christian Pentecostal/ Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (CPFN/PFN) group. Though arguably with no direct foreign affiliations, they often manifest tendencies more foreign than the more orthodox denominations. From their language of choice, diction, to their accoutrements, it’s often harder to classify them here rather than there.
The Fellowship of Churches of Christ in Nigeria (Tarayah Ekklisiyoyin Kristi A Nigeria)/ Evangelical Church Winning All (TEKNA/ECWA) bloc completes the list. Though markedly local, they are behaviourally no different from the rest in their views of our traditional customs and mores.
Therefore, now that Okoh has assumed that exalted office, he has to be reminded that the onus of performance rests squarely on his shoulders. Armed with the homegrown theology of his homebase, he has the advantage never enjoyed by his counterparts from the alien churches. As in taking decisions that will jeopardise our collective heritage.
Like is well known, in Nigeria there are organisations whoever mounts the saddle of its leadership needs the steady prayers of all to succeed. Apart from the much revered office of President and C-in-C of our armed forces, the next should be the presidency of CAN. Overtime, steering the association has often exposed the chief helmsman to untold accusations.
More so now. For presently lurking in the recesses of the mind of every other Nigerian Christian is the purported threat posed on their existence by that other faith from the Middle East. With or without proof, the average Nigerian follower of Jesus Christ fears the faith may end up suffering the fate dealt on our traditional beliefs by these invader religions.
Consequently, to tide over it’s incumbent on Archbishop Okoh to first put his house in order. This is because whatever fate they are afraid of can only be visited on them if they remain divided. Like in the paradigm of a lone and tied up broom: they can only be broken individually.
The groundswell all over town is that all the divisiveness they have exhibited in the past, if unchecked, may do them in. A vivid example remains when one of the leading blocs boycotted the body. Avowedly it was on account of how its leadership at the time was hobnobbing with the government of the day. But it was believed in some quarters that there was more to it than meets the eyes.
Whatever be the reason, though, it’s up to Okoh and his team to see that a repeat of such is avoided at all costs. Yes, a house divided can seldom stand. So, for all intents and purposes, the prime concern for CAN has to be unity. Yes, the achievement of that rather fond commandment of their master has never mattered more.
Most of all, Archbishop Okoh should be minded by history. For instance, before the Anglicans ‘usurped’ it, the Church of Nigeria project was a move by some of the churches in the CCN bloc to come together as one. There’s no better time to rejuvenate such a move than now. In fact, where possible, the union should be evened out some more now the Christian faith is faced with real and imagined persecution.
An immediate job on hand remains the challenge thrown on them by one of the contending parties for the 2023 presidential elections. In selecting a Muslim/Muslim ticket for the election, they have literally kicked mud into CAN’s eyes. So more than all the incessant jibes emanating from them individually, it’s in unison that they can bark and be heard.
Anyway, it’s also well known that dogs that bark don’t bite. The implication here is that CAN should back its bark with an incisive bite. When push comes to shove, it’ll never be enough to just run to the tv and radio stations.
Men and women should be put on the field. Already the airwaves are filled with spurious allegations that must be nipped in the bud.
And talking of history, it’s well known that Christianity when it was yet one, lasted for a whooping four hundred years in Northern Africa before the advent of Islam. Yet, but for the Coptic Church in Egypt, there might as well have been no traces of all the Apostolic Churches founded there then. Including the Bishopric of St Augustine of Hippo who entered the City of God when his colleagues in the West yet scoured its periphery.
Also, most recently, a Methodist Church in the United Kingdom has just announced its ‘closing service’ for the 25th of September, 2022. According to them, they no ‘longer have enough members to fulfil the required church posts and not enough finances to maintain’ their elderly chapel.
All said and done, Nigerian Christians should be involved. Above all, they should endeavour to rally round Archbishop Okoh and his team in their onerous task of making Christianity a home in the country. After all, a table without legs can only transmute to the planks of wood with which it was constructed.
*Uzoatu writes from Onitsha.