- Actually, we were told that Gen. Buhari wanted to have an audience with us regarding his presidential aspiration. The idea was that it was going to be an interactive session. I believe this is a sponsored endorsement. Our patrons and leaders are too noble to bring us to this embarrassing situation this way. There was no meeting or agreement that suggests that this organisation or all leaders of Christians in the North should come and endorse Gen. Buhari or any other presidential candidate…
The altar was desecrated yesterday as some clergymen from the North tricked their unsuspecting colleagues into a meeting in Abuja to endorse All Progressives Congress, APC presidential candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari for the March 28 presidential election.
Signs that all was not well in the camp of the organisers started emerging at the venue of the meeting when some of the invited pastors complained that they were not told that the forum was called to endorse Buhari and his running mate, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
A group, which identified itself as Northern Christian Leaders Eagle-Eye Forum, spearheaded the meeting at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, where Buhari and Osinbajo were in attendance.
Some of the Christian leaders who openly protested the action of the patrons of the group, alleged that they were deceived into attending the meeting.
They alleged that the organisers told them that the meeting was put in place to enable the clergymen take up Buhari on some topical issues but lamented that it “turned out to be total declaration of support for Buhari.”
While some of the aggrieved pastors stormed out of the meeting, others stayed till the end.
They were however shocked when contrary to the organisers’ promise to give each participant either N50,000 or N100,000 (depending on the locations from whence they came), the funds released by a governor who bankrolled the meeting, was between N3,000 and N5,000. Some of the pastors said that the money given to them was not bribe but welfare package and insisted on collecting it.
It was learnt that the governor, whose identity was not disclosed, bankrolled the meeting with N500million.
In his address at the occasion with the theme: “Declaring Total Support for General Muhammadu Buhari,” the chairman of the Forum, Pastor Habu Aminchi, promised that his group would not only work for Buhari but would deliver 85 percent Christian votes in the North for the APC candidate.
However, some members of the group staged a walkout of the hall when Pastor Aminchi declared in the course of his speech that the Forum has endorsed Buhari for the presidential election.
The angry pastors said that they were neither involved in any meeting where such a decision was reached, nor were they informed about such a position to suggest endorsement of any presidential candidate or party in the forthcoming general elections.
Meeting initiated by Ango Abdullahi
Pastor Aminchi stated that the group used to work for the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, but that “what we are passing through today as a country made us to change our mind.”
According to him, the idea to convene the meeting came to him after Chairman of Northern Elders’ Forum, NEF, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, called him on phone and invited him for a chat.
Pastor Aminchi said that after his meeting with Prof. Abdullahi, he became convinced about the credibility of Buhari’s candidature against all the propaganda, an indication that all the negative media reports about him were all lies.
He described those who do not like the personality of Buhari as “attackers of destiny” who do not want him to succeed in his presidential bid to salvage the country from corruption, insecurity and declining economy.
Aminchi said he had since realised that all the propaganda against Buhari were false and were designed to smear his public image and make him an enemy of Christians in order to divide the political parties and the country along religious lines.
According to Pastor Aminchi, voting for Buhari means voting for Prof. Osibanjo, who is also a pastor. Buhari, according to him, is capable of restoring the country’s lost glory if he wins and reintroducing discipline and result-oriented anti-corruption campaign in the country, just like he did when he served as head of state.
The meeting is a fraud
However, several members of the Christian body alleged that Gen. Buhari and his party, APC, are sponsoring division among Christian communities in the North.
In an interview with Nigerian Pilot, Pastor Bitrus Yerima, the national president of Gospel Advancement Leadership Initiative and a member the Northern Christian Leaders Eagle-eyes Forum, said that most of the pastors, including himself, who attended the “endorsement meeting” had no prior knowledge of what was to happen at the event.
He said: “Actually, we were told that Gen. Buhari wanted to have an audience with us regarding his presidential aspiration. The idea was that it was going to be an interactive session. I believe this is a sponsored endorsement. Our patrons and leaders are too noble to bring us to this embarrassing situation this way.
“There was no meeting or agreement that suggests that this organisation or all leaders of Christians in the North should come and endorse Gen. Buhari or any other presidential candidates,” he said.
According to him, “whoever came up with this idea, I believe, is speaking his own mind and not that of Northern Christian leaders. What you just witnessed is a fraud. This Forum has no right to take such a decision the way it has taken. Our members comprise of people belonging to different political parties and it is our belief that our members are free to vote for any candidate of their choice,” he said.
Another pastor who sought anonymity told our correspondent that the agenda was dead on arrival.
“The fact is that we were taken unawares by this so-called endorsement. Some of us have invested our integrity in our spiritual assignment that we cannot sell ourselves so cheaply. There are going to be a lot of counter reactions to this embarrassing development after this moment.”
Outside the lobby of the ICC, pastors were sharply divided as they discussed the development and its implications on their integrity and sub-groups in the northern region. A group was overheard expressing its displeasure that they could be invited to such a “shameful programme.”
One of them told newsmen when he was approached that the endorsement was planned. “I am an insider and I know everything that is happening here.”
The cleric stated that he had been in Abuja since the beginning of the week for an important event before a friend who was one of the organisers of the event asked him to wait behind to attend the meeting.
“It was supposed to be an interactive discussion with Gen. Buhari by the pastors to hear from him the grievances of the clerics from the northern part of the country but dramatically, it turned out as an endorsement meeting. Of course, the pastors will collect their welfare packages and go back knowing full well that this is fake,” he said.
Another Jos-based clergyman lamented that he had been dribbled into what he described as a big scam by politicians in the forum who are working for APC.
“Some of us were promised N100,000 each if we come here (Abuja). Later, they said the money had been reduced to figure of N50,000.”
However, what aggravated the anger of the clerics was the way they said they were shabbily treated. “What is so annoying now is that they eventually gave those of us who came from Jos N5,000, and then doled out N3,000 to those within Abuja axis. It is regrettable to have come here at all,” he said.
When Pastor Aminchi was later asked by newsmen to react to the grievances of some of his members, he said that “all the members on our list were sponsored.”
Asked to clarify the contention that the issue of endorsement of Buhari or any other presidential candidate was never discussed in any of their previous meetings and if it was, did the executive council of the Forum send the resolutions to all members, Pastor Aminchi emphatically stated that, “the issue was well discussed and attended.
“We held meetings in Zaria and Kaduna last week. Anyone who has a dissenting voice against what we have just done is definitely not our member,” he said.
In an attempt to give the meeting a wider spread, some of the pastors registered their churches in the states of the North where they are not represented. They also included the names of churches whose leaders were invited but did not attend the meeting.
Among the northern Christian leaders in at the meeting included Pastor Paul Great of Methodist Church, Jos; Bishop Lawrence Awanorwo, New Creation School of Divinity, Niger State; Bishop Daniel Oboni, Christ Life Evangelistic Church, Bauchi State (instead of Jos); Bishop Musa Gomson, Unlimited Mercy and Glory Church, Gombe State (instead of Jos); Apostle (Dr.) Abraham Babe, World Christian Mission, Taraba State (operates in Jos); Paul Zumta, Alheri Baptist Church, Sokoto State; Rev. Sam Adejoh, Life Changer Christian Centre, Yobe (instead of Jos); Rev. Daniel D. Gonzuk, Amazing Grace, Benue State (operates in Jos); Rev. Emmanuel Edesiri, Destiny Path Assembly Int. Nasarawa State (instead of Jos), Rev. (Dr.) Sunday, Divine Latter Times, Borno State (instead of Jos) and others.
Beside Osinbajo, Buhari was accompanied to the meeting by former Chief of Army Staff and Director of Security Committee of the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation, Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau, Prof. Abdullahi and Gen. Paul Tarfa. Both Buhari and Osinbajo were presented copies of the Holy Bible at the meeting.
I’ll not promote one religion over another – Buhari
In his speech at the event, Buhari assured the Christian leaders that he would not promote one religion over another if elected president of Nigeria.
He said as a practicing Muslim, he never shared the views of any extremist group.
Buhari said: “I will not entertain, consider or promote the religious agenda of anyone. I will not condone any initiative that seeks to promote one religion over the other. Neither I, nor my party, or any member of my team has any desire or plan to Islamise or Christianise Nigeria or support anyone with such intention.
“Although I am a practicing Muslim, and I have been so all my life, I have never belonged to, nor shared the views of any extremist group. I am not even a cleric. I believe that religion is personal and private.
“Most of my bodyguards are Christians. If I have not Islamised these people who serve under me, how will I Islamise the likes of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Ogbonnaya Onu, Governor Rochas Okorocha,
Kayode Fayemi, Rotimi Amaechi or Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a pastor?”
Buhari stressed that religion was never a factor with people he had worked with, saying what matters was that they were competent.
The APC candidate said Nigerians at all time should hold the unity, peace and progress of the country paramount and above all other considerations, especially politics.