The Assemblies of God Nigeria did not actually begin as the Assemblies of God. The Church was founded in 1939 in Umuahia, the present Abia State, Nigeria by a group of new believers who believed in speaking in tongues which was not common at that time. The Church was known by various names before it finally found an ally in the Assemblies of God, USA, a church that shared similar beliefs. The Church in Nigeria then submitted to the Assemblies of God, USA with the latter sending a missionary from neighbouring West African country, Ghana to help tutor the new Church in Nigeria. The Nigerian church, now in existence for 76 years, then assumed the Assemblies of God nomenclature and thus, it is clear that the Assemblies of God Nigeria was not founded by the Assemblies of God USA. It could be that this factor limited the influence of the Assemblies of God, USA in helping to find a solution in the Nigerian crisis.
On March 6, 2014 a group constituting the General Committee of the church, passed a vote of no confidence on Rev. Paul Emeka and removed him from office as the General Superintendent of the church. His erstwhile deputy, Rev. Chidi Okoroafor was appointed, by that group as the acting General Superintendent of the Nigerian body. The proceedings as the meeting was led by Rev. Charles Osueke, a retired minister and Rev. Emeka’s predecessor in office. It should be noted that the Church’s constitution provided expressly that only the General Superintendent could call for such a meeting.
The purported removal from office, suspension as a minister and excommunication from the church of Rev Paul Emeka was not accepted by him and his supporters. This writer believes that the body that passed the ‘judgement’ on Rev Paul Emeka that led to the events of March 6, 2014 had believed that removing the latter from office by all means was the solution to the crisis that had engulfed the church. This error of judgement rightly or wrongly is the focet origoof the lingering crisis that is threatening the peace and brotherly spirit of members of the church.
Upon assumption of office as General Superintendent in 2010, Rev Paul Emeka embarked on radical changes aimed, in his plan, towards strategic reform of the church. His changes did not go down well with some of the leaders in the church. This was the beginning of the many troubles for Rev Emeka.
The Assemblies of God Nigeria, generally known for its conservative nature, was being led by a somewhat progressive radical. It was not going to be easy to change the system over night. The leadership structure at the national level is made up of an Executive Committee chaired by the General Superintendent. Voting was necessary to reach decisions in the Committee. An Assemblies of God Nigeria, General Superintendent even though, he occupies the highest office in the body polity of the church, does not have the same powers as a president and founder common with other church bodies amongst the Pentecostals in the country. Unfortunately, in his reform programme, in which he had assumed was for the good of the church, Rev Emeka had acted sometimes ultra vires his powers. For example, after discovering the corruption in the church printing press, he assumed powers to remove certain persons from office. This led to a turnaround of the printing press and within one year, the printing press that was running at a loss had started making astonishing profits. His action was not taken lightly by those whose toes he had stepped on.
Rev Emeka also removed from office, the Vice Chancellor the church’s Evangel University located in Ebonyi State. He alleged that the VC of the Evangel University was mismanaging the school. This action again did not go down well with a number of the leaders.
Surprisingly, it was not the clergy that initially moved against Rev Emeka. In the forefront of those who had become irritated by the supposed high-handedness of Rev Emeka was a body in the church known as the ‘Ambassadors of the Kingdom.’ (This body is a creation of the former revered General Superintendent, Rev Charles Osueke, a man who led the church in very successful mission outreaches like the Mission Ife, Mission Kogi and Mission Gongola. Rev Osueke, it is on credit, going by his background as an evangelist, spearheaded a decade of mass evangelism and expansion.) The Ambassadors of the Kingdom are likened to the Knights of the Catholic or Anglican church. They constitute individuals in the church who had contributed to the church’s progress and expansion and who have also made a significant contribution to the society in their professional lives. It is worthy to note, that this body is not known to the constitution of the Church. However, it was this body that brought allegations against the person of Rev Paul Emeka. A list of allegations was drawn up against him which included inter alia the unauthorised purchase of a building in Germany by the church without the consent of other members of the Executive Committee; the assumption of powers not conferred on him by unilaterally removing the Vice Chancellor of the Evangel University and the change at the Printing Press, the use of a fake title of ‘Professor’ by Rev Emeka even when it cannot be ascertain that he was genuinely conferred by a university by that rank.
Rev Emeka was expected to attend the General Committee to defend himself against the allegations. He did not attend the panel hearing and in his absence, Rev Osueke presided over the meeting where it was quickly decided to remove him from office. This writer opines that it was assumed that this action would bring to an end the crisis. It was considered by those who reached the decision that Rev Emeka was the problem and with him out of office, things would return to normal. This was a big error as they had not reckoned that Rev Emeka had those who supported his reforms.
Rev. Emeka approached the High Court in Enugu for a declaration that his fundamental human right had been breached. Since the General Committee assumed powers to try him, it had constituted itself into a tribunal and is expected to observe the twin principles of natural justice. The High Court entered judgement in favour of Rev Emeka and restored him to office. The other camp, led by Rev Chidi Okoroafor challenged the decision of the Enugu High Court at the Court of Appeal. Their appeal succeeded. The matter is now before the Supreme Court. It would be subjudice to comment on the issues in contention.
Aside the courts, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and the Christian Association of Nigeria have at various times offered to mediate in the crisis. Unfortunately, these Christian leaders refused the truce suggested at the different meetings. Each camp, continued to put forward their claims of being right and the other side being in the wrong.
The crisis that has engulfed the Assemblies of God Nigeria has not only brought reproach to the church but also the body of Christ in Nigeria. The crisis has turn brothers against each other. It has led to dual General Council of the Assemblies of God Nigeria. One camp is being led by Rev Chidi Okoroafor and the other camp is led by Rev Paul Emeka. Whilst Rev Emeka is in control of the General Council Secretariat in Enugu and the residence of the General Superintendent, Rev Okoroafor’s group controls the Church camp site at Okpoto and nearly all of the church’s Bible Colleges/Schools. This has led to the creation of a new Bible College at Enugu to serve the needs of those in the Rev Emeka camp.
Apart from the polarisation at the national level, the church is now being polarised at District levels. There are for instance dual leadership in Jos Mainland, Jos, Anioma, Saminaka, Enugu, Warri, Bayelsa just to mention but a few. In recent times, the polarisation has spread to local church level with the membership worshipping at different times depending on which camp a church member belongs to.
In one of the branch churches in Enugu, members engaged in fisticuffs over which group should operate in the church. This led to the church building being under lock and key with each group worshipping at the same compound at various times.
Just recently, the Governor of Kaduna State, Nigeria ordered the closure of two Assemblies of God Churches, a hospital and the church’s Bible College at Saminaka in order to forestall a further breach of the peace in the town and in the state.
This writer believes that the Saminaka and Enugu incidents are only a tip of the iceberg if a permanent solution to the crisis is not found in the near term. Already, brothers have been turned against one another. Depending on what camp you find yourself in. In most cases, you belong to a camp not by choice but as a result of where you find yourself. If for example, you were a pastor in Lagos before the crisis and since the Lagos area supports the Okoroafor camp, you are by default, a member of that camp, to do otherwise, would mean you being thrown out of your church and unemployed. Same goes for the locations where the Emeka camp holds sway. It is not necessarily an alignment based on thought per se but one based on location for the clergy and mostly for the members the support goes to your favourite pastor and you just follow by supporting which camp he supports.
Relations between many AG pastors have now been severed across the various camps. It is not uncommon to read fellow AG clergy exchanging abusive words on social media walls. The crisis has made many to loose respect in the sight of those who ordinarily hold them in high esteem.
Church money in the form of tithes and offerings are today being used to fund lawyers’ fees and to pay for filing of court cases. Scarce funds are being used to pay for full page adverts on national dailies not for the purpose of advertising church programmes but for the sake of propagandas and smear campaigns.
If you are a believer in Nigeria and you listen to messages on tape, chances are that you may have listened to the popular ‘Are We Still Brethren’ message by Rev Chidi Okoroafor. This writer submits that the message is not just an Okoroafor message but an Assemblies of God message. Is it not time for Assemblies of God Nigeria to look at the virtues of brotherliness over who should be the winner because he is right? Ironically also, Rev Paul Emeka is a church crisis specialists haven written a monograph on how to handle church crisis.
Crisis are not a new thing in the Church body. Paul the Apostle disagreed with Barnabas, a man who encouraged him in his initial walk as a Christian. They moved in separate ways because Paul would not accept John Mark, the later having abandoned them at a point in time. Barnabas went along with John Mark and Paul picked Silas as his new companion. Paul later recognised his error and sent for John Mark.
The Nigerian Assemblies of God crisis has reached a point where everyone involved needs to stop and have a rethink. The church is a church and not a political party. Is it biblical for the church to wait for a decision by a court in which a winner-takes-all or will the church tow the path of reconciliation and then withdraw the matter before the court? A lot of persons have suffered pain already. Some have suffered personal injuries and financial losses. The pastors of the closed churches in Saminaka will be without any income for sometime. The animosity brethren are bearing against each other has done enough damage. The insults on the walls of social media have reached a crescendo. This nonsense must stop.
This writer recommends a reconciliation amongst the leaders of the various camps leading the current divide in the Assemblies of God Nigeria. It is not just about Paul Emeka or about Chidi Okoroafor. It is about the peace, reputation and growth of the church. It is suggested that both men relinquish their positions as well as all the leaders in the various camps. It is expedient that both men do so as no one is bigger than the church and no sacrifice is too much to lay down for the growth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the meantime, an interim leader from among the retired clergy among northern brethren who has not shown support for either camp should be appointed to lead an interim committee made up of three appointees each from each camp. The Interim committee should in three months organise and call for an extra ordinary General Council meeting for the election of a new executive committee for a united Assemblies of God, Nigeria.
Arimoro is a Doctoral Researcher, Kingston Law School, Kingston University London