New Telegraph

7th-Day Adventist crisis (2)

Pastor Owolabi’s resignation, only panacea to end crisis –Laity
The man they’re talking about is the best minister in the church, says Union

This is the concluding part of the Seventh-day Adventist crisis that had threatened the very existence of the church in Nigeria as captured by Isioma Madike

Press conference
Representatives of the Laity at the Western Nigeria Union Conference (WNUC) held a Press Conference, at the Church branch at the Low Cost Estate, Ijaye, Lagos State, on Sunday, February 13. Delivering the paper on behalf of the group, Elder Kunle Falade, who represented the Ondo State chapter at the press briefing, said part of the aim of the conference was to draw the attention of the church leadership in West Africa and the World in general to the decadence in the church. He added that, “restoring the confidence of members and the sanctity of the church in Nigeria is paramount to the group.” Falade also said that “the press briefing was to dissociate the generality of the church from the ‘nefarious and sacrilegious’ activities of an upcoming cabal being used by the devil to destabilise the church and undermine the authority of its constituted upper leadership. “The General Conference of Seventh- day Adventists should summarily attend to the crises in Western Nigeria by upholding and giving force to the decisions reached at the 2020 West-Central African Division (WAD) Year End Meeting. “We hate to think that when it concerned the Babcock University takeover attempt, it was speedily attended to and scuttled by the higher organisation of the Church but we wonder why they have been dragging their feet on the continuous attempt by Pastor Owolabi and his cronies to pocket the Church in WNUC and run it as a personal business with glaring facts. “EFCC should expedite action in prosecuting Pastor Owolabi for his alleged fraudulent management of ADRA funds; we sincerely hope that this illogically protracted investigation by the EFCC is not an indication of the ‘Nigerian factor.’ The EFCC should know strongly that this is not merely ‘another case’ but one which, depending on how it is handled, stands to either make or break the anti-corruption crusade of Mr. President. “The public should remain assured that as a church, we condemn, in very strong terms, every form of fraudulent practices and mismanagement and stand in unwavering solidarity with ADRA Germany and the German Federal Office in ensuring that everyone involved in the scandal is brought to book.” The laity further stated: “The generality of members should remain calm trusting that God is in firm control of His church and believing that the gate of hell cannot prevail over the church.” WNUC, the entity being represented at this press conference, consists of church membership in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Edo, Delta, Kwara and Kogi states. Those who signed the petition on behalf of the laity included Comrade Friday Aniekan, representing Lagos, Elder (Prof.) Oluseyi Oduyoye, Ogun, Elder Kunle Falade, Ondo; Elder Edeiran Emmanuel O. for Osun; Elder Folorunsho O., Kwara; Delta had Elder Onuruvie; Edo had Samuel Ogbu while Ekiti had in attendance Elder Asekunowo John Olanrewaju. There was also a protest by members on the premises of the church. There were equally other allegations against Pastor Owolabi and his officials as itemised in the 26 allegations presented to the Karnik Commission. Some of them are: Oyo Conference issue, Babcock University ownership, trustees of the SDA, N3.2 million allegations, Illegal and improper production of official church materials, dubious extortion and abuse of power. There are many more however.

N3.2 million allegations

The Laity claimed that funds were raised to assist a former Adventist Women Ministry (AWM) Director, who died due to health issues and that Pastor Owolabi withheld the money. “The son did an interview that he didn’t even know they were raising money until the day of the burial when Pastor Owolabi said that they were raising money so that it could be used for Foundation in her honour. “He later issued a cheque and told the children that the money was just N3.2 million. He issued the cheque through the WNUC, Zenith Bank account, and refused to sign it. When those of us who stood for the truth and the sanctity of the church intervened, he resorted to improper use of the police to harass and cow us. “His target at all times is to have access to church funds and start squandering it. We have had enough of him. No single person owns this church. The church is older than him. It was officially organised in 1863 in the United States of America before it registered its presence in Nigeria. “Part of the question police were asking was who the founder of the church is and who owns the church; this shows the malice that is present. Intimidation and suppressing people to cow them into silence,” Deacon Adebayo said. He added: “As far as this headquarters is concerned, Pastor Owolabi’s tenure expired in December 2020. He came to office in 2016 and it’s four years tenure. While this crisis lasts, the church he pastors stopped remitting their tithe to the conference here; the conference here also cut him off. They stopped paying his salary. “He has been transferred to Sango, Ogun State. He is no longer on our pay-roll. He is still presuming to be a member of Seventh-day Adventist Church but someone who is a pastor can’t put up the lie of assassination against the members of the church.”

Illegal and improper production of official church materials

It was also alleged that Pastor Owolabi, since he became the president of the Union, has usurped the office of the Publishing Director by single handedly negotiating the production cost of official church materials, such as the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, the Sabbath School Lesson pamphlets, and yearly devotionals for his private gains.

Dubious extortion and abuse of power

Aside that it was said that during the inauguration of the conferences, Pastor Owolabi received varied sums of money as honorarium for the newly inaugurated conferences. For example, he was said to have received N500,000 each from Lagos Atlantic, Lagos Mainland, and Ogun Conference, N300,000 each from Delta, Edo and Osun Conferences, N200,000 from Oyo and Ekiti Conferences, N200,000 from Ondo Mission. While Kwara Conference Treasurer, Elder J.O.P. Afolayan, according to the allegation, told him that they could not afford to pay such honorarium because they were struggling to pay their workers, he allegedly renegotiated the amount to N150, 000 and told them to pay him later. The then treasurer, they said, still insisted there was no money. But Pastor Owolabi allegedly said he would lend them and collect it whenever they had money. The monies collected from other conferences were reportedly paid to the personal account of the then Union treasurer, Elder Musa Markus Dangana. And that the money was allegedly collected under the pretense that it was going to be given to the then Division officers, who came for the inauguration as honorarium. Rejoinder to the press conference The Union however issued a rejoinder almost immediately after the press conference to state their side of the story and addressed the allegations one after the other. One of the issued addressed was that of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Nigeria/ ADRA Germany ADRA Nigeria and ADRA Germany had, according to the rejoinder, a project implementation agreement from 2017- 2018. The projects, they said, were duly implemented in accordance with the approved project proposal and guidelines.

The rejoinder reads in part: “The reports of the implemented activities were sent to ADRA Germany including narrative, financial and original copies of the supporting documents. This ADRA Germany attested to in their response to the Deloitte forensic audit carried out on ADRA Nigeria operations. A careful examination of the Deloitte audit report shows that neither the Board nor the Board Chair (Pastor Oyeleke Alabi Owolabi) was indicted. “All ADRA Nigeria project activities were implemented in accordance with humanitarian best practices, reports provided and audited by external auditors. The records are in the public domain for verification.”

Union and Oyo Conference Issue

Elder Amos told Saturday Telegraph that the crisis between the Oyo conference and the Union began gradually in December 2016, when the tenure of the Pastor Ezekiel Oyinloye-led Administration allegedly ended and they refused to call for a constituency. He said that initially they promised to hold it in March 2017. Meanwhile, when the Union executive committee, according to him, took actions on the Karnik Commission, and when their expectations were not met, they became angry. He said: “Pastors Oyinloye and Ajani (Oyo Conference President and Executive Secretary, respectively) took the church to the High Court at Iyaganku, Ibadan, Oyo State. When the Judge gave his ruling, it was not in their favour. “Those who shared the same sentiment with them, the self-acclaimed ‘reformers’ took the same Karnik Commission report to EFCC at Ibadan for investigation and prosecution. The EFCC did their investigation and at the end, Pastor Owolabi was not indicted in any way and he was never prosecuted. The aggrieved party was not satisfied still; so, they went to court in Delta and Ondo states. “The ‘reformers’ in Delta Conference and Ondo Mission also took the Union President, Pastor Owolabi, and the officers of the two entities to court. To the glory of God, they (the reformers) lost the ‘battle.’ Instead of them humbly surrendering to God and allowing Him to handle the situation in His own way, they became adamant like Pharaoh and his army, who pursued the Israelites to the Red Sea. “The Union leadership resorted to using biblical principle and church policy conciliation provision to resolve the crises. Thus, various committees were engaged. The Nigeria Association of Adventist Lawyers (NAAL) was called Develupon to look into the matter. Their representatives met with the Union officers, they went to Ibadan to hold a meeting with Oyo Conference officers, they went to Akure to meet with some of the leaders of the ‘reformers’ there; all to no avail. “The Union also set up a reconciliation committee that met at Ede and Babcock University High School three times. Oyo Conference officers were officially invited on the three occasions, but they never honoured the invitation. The retired pastors became worried about the situation of the church; thus, reconciliation meetings were called – Pastors Adeniji, Alalade, Ola, Ajibade, Akintunde Rufus and Edoro among others – were in attendance at Osun Conference Headquarters, Ede. “The meeting was held at three different times and Oyo Conference officers never showed up for once at the meeting despite different delegations sent to them by these old retired fathers in the Lord, to attend the meeting. Since the Oyo Conference officers failed to honour the invitation of the retired pastors for once, the old men hands off the matter.”

Babcock University ownership

According to the Union, the issue in question bordered on the ownership of Babcock University; it has nothing to do with any takeover. The “busy bodies”, who are calling themselves concerned laity, the Union further said, have no idea of who owns Babcock University. The University, it said, belongs to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Nigeria. The Incorporated Trustees of the Church in Nigeria represent the SDA Church in terms of property acquisition and ownership.

Trustees of the SDA Church in Nigeria

Another official of the Union, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Elder (Professor) Paul Ananaba, who also spoke with this reporter, said by the operational policy of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the trustees are usually the serving Union officers. The need for reconstitution, he said, arises when there is a change in the composition of officers at the Union level. This happened, according to him, in 2013/2014 when a new set of officers were elected at the inauguration of the Union conference status for the three Unions in Nigeria. As at date, the reconstitution process is ongoing in consultation with the General Conference and Division Leadership, he said. He added: “What has happened is that the church was incorporated and registered. The trustees are subject to change from time to time based on tenure. In the church there are three commissions. In the North they are about to set up another trustees of their own and it was necessary for the two remaining Unions to come together and say that since this is one entity, they have to organise a constituency too. They did a total incorporation. One entity cannot go to CAC when there are other trustees. “These are all falsehoods that some people want to use to spoil the church. Reasonable people will investigate and know the truth from the lies. The church is well organised and structured. We should remain one entity. The headship of Babcock will rotate around the three commissions. It was time for the president from the North to be the vice chancellor of the school and we asked him to support the incorporation. “We met at CAC to determine whether to proceed or not. It had nothing to do with taking over the University. We asked them to go and reconcile. Propaganda, deceit and misinformation filled the air and we didn’t want to come into it then. The truth comes out at last. The higher organisation came and committees were set up from the US headquarters. The matter has been resolved.” He added that trusteeship is not something that is permanent. “It changes every five years and other people can take over. It wasn’t about personal issues. The issue of planning to takeover the University is unfounded. When the North was to be constituted, they brought in new trustees for the rest but we respected our church policies. “They started saying that we wanted to steal and sell the University. Anything that happens in that University, the trustees will be called to answer. The advert by the North was to the whole world. We also advertised and proposed our own people too. What are they complaining about, what are they complaining for? It is all falsehood.”

Response to N3.2 million allegations

The Union said on July 16, 2020, when the then Union AWM Director, Late Mrs. Victoria Omodan, was called to rest after a delicate surgery, WNUC Leadership led by its President, Pastor (Prof.) Oyeleke Owolabi, visited with the family at Iperu, Ogun State. The family, according to the Union, had decided that burial would take place within 7-14 days, but that the AWM passionately requested adequate time to effectively plan the burial of its late Director/Leader. The Union said: “It will be recalled that during the period of hospitalisation, WNUC Leadership networked and consulted wide and far to ensure a prompt medical intervention that would save its devoted member and worker in the Lord’s Vineyard. The death of Mrs. Victoria Omodan came as a big blow to the Church in Nigeria, and the entire Division. Late Mrs. Omodan gave her best service to the Master and deserved a respectable farewell. To the Glory of God, WNUC Leadership – with the active roles of AWM across the Union and Division – Late Mrs. Victoria Omodan received a befitting burial. “During the period of hospitalisation and quest for surgical medical intervention, WNUC Leadership reached out to high net-worth members for help. By the provisional Grace of God, many members came to the rescue. Of note is the N2,000,000 financial support from Her Excellency, Mrs. Nkechi Ikpeazu, wife of the Governor of Abia State. “WNUC Leadership advised a direct payment to the family to assuage costs in the face of the irreparable loss. Mrs. Bukola Omodan-Omotosho (Late Mrs. Omodan’s daughter) was the recipient of this donation. “During Omodan’s preparation for surgical procedure, Springtime Development Foundation donated the sum of N2,000,000 while the Conference Presidents contributed a total of N1,120,000. This brought total monies raised to N3,120,000 for the procedure. “Albeit critically ill, Late Omodan rejected, insisting that they already had sufficient funds to cover the surgery. From her sick bed, she wrote to WNUC Leadership and other Directors standing her ground on donation refusal sent out on July 8, 2020, and July 9, 2020, respectively. “Nevertheless, the Church kept the donation in a Safety-Wallet hoping to reopen the issue after a surgical procedure and her safe return home. Unfortunately, on July 16, 2020, we lost Mama Omodan post-surgery to the cold hands of death. The WNUC and AWM Leadership rallied round the family and continued visitation and ministration activities. “ The Union added: “On July 26, 2020, at an extraordinary meeting, the WNUC and AWM leaders agreed to utilise the donated funds for the establishment of The Victoria Omodan Educational Foundation. This decision was further communicated to the family at Ikpoti after Late Mrs. Victoria Omodan had been laid to rest on August 13, 2020. Hence, Union Leadership was shocked when Pa James Omodan later requested for the funds. “After Mama Omodan’s one-year memorial, WNUC and AWM Leadership met with the Omodan family at their Lagos home in Agbara on the issue. Subsequently, during the WNUC Youth Camporee in Edo Conference, a Zenith Bank Cheque for the sum of N3,120,000 dated September 28, 2021, in favour of the Widower, Pa James Adepoju Omodan, was issued. “Elder Gbenga Kolawole, the Edo Conference Treasurer, was mandated to deposit the cheque into Pa Omodan’s Account number with Union Bank as provided by the family. “Elder Kolawole later learnt that the cheque was not treated because Pa Omodan’s Account required upgrading.”

Way forward

While the Laity demands that Pastor Owolabi resignation remains the panacea to the church crisis as they have passed a vote of no confidence on him. This is because the Seventh- day Adventist Church, according to them, is a worldwide Church that will not continue to harbour such a leader. The Union on the other hand still sees the “reformers” as their members and are ready to make peace and settle the matter provided they humble themselves and come forward for forgiveness. To them the issue is a personal decision. “The man they are talking about is the best minister in the church. All the allegations are unfounded. They said the man is a thief yet there is still money in the church,” they said.

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