The President of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, on Monday, maintained his innocence in the controversial $9.3m smuggled into South Africa by two Nigerians and an Israeli, using his private jet.
Oritsejafor broke his silence during the National Executive Council meeting of CAN at the National Christian Centre, Abuja.
The CAN president decried attempts in the media to link him with the incident by mischievous elements, adding that he chose not to respond all thus while because he needed to explain his position to the church first, which is his primary constituency.
Oritsejafor, in his address, declared that he was never a party to the movement of the $9.3m from Nigeria to South Africa to purchase arms and ammunition.
He said, “I want to assure you that I will not do anything to tarnish the image of Jesus Christ or compromise the divine standard of the church.
“As you are all aware, the media has been awashed in the past few days about an unfortunate incident involving the movement of funds from Nigeria to South Africa. In the unfortunate news reports, attempts have been made to link me directly with the transaction.
“So far I have refrained from making any direct public response pending the time that I would have brief the leaders if the church and explain my position on the issues to them.
“I believe that the primary institution that I owe any explanation to is the church”.
Oritsejafor added: “At the risk of being seen to be defending myself, I wish to confirm to the distinguished leaders of the church that the Bombardier Challenger 601 aircraft in question is mine. The aircraft was presented to me as a gift by members of our congregation and ministry partners worldwide at my 40th anniversary of my call into the ministry.
“May I be permitted to stress that the aircraft was not given to me by the President of Nigeria, neither was it a settlement for any political favour or patronage.
“With the benefit of hindsight, the President of the country was a guest in our church during the anniversary celebration when the jet was presented to me”.
The influential CAN leader explained further that “the President of Nigeria has nothing to do with the gift of the aircraft. By the way I still wonder why all those saying this, still cannot come out to show proof so that the matter can be put to rest once and for all. Let me say that this might be an issue for the courts in the near future”.
Pastor Oritsejafor, who also explained the circumstances that led to the involvement of his aircraft, said “in order to ameliorate the cost of maintenance of the aircraft, I sought and got permit to allow the aircraft fly in and out of Nigeria.
“Based on this, I leased the aircraft on August 2, 2014 to a company to run it. It was the leasee that entered into an agreement with the people who carried out the transfer of funds. Having leased the aircraft to the Green Coast Produce Company Limited, any transaction undertaken with the aircraft can no longer be attached to me.
“Inasmuch as I am shocked and distressed by the incident, I wish to appeal to Christians in Nigeria to remember that a war has been waged against the Nigerian church. This war is being fought on many fronts and this unfortunate incident is another dimension in the assault against the church.
“It is clear that those who manipulated this conspiracy desire to create a schism in the church”.
According to him, “the media hype and the deliberate distortion of information that followed it confirmed that forces that desperately desire to cause division and disunity in the church are at work. Even the devil knows that a house that is divided cannot stand.
“As Christians, we need unity in the church now more than ever. We are witnessing inhuman attacks by religious extremists against Christians in the northern part of the country, while christian infrastructure is being destroyed in hundreds.
“If we permit the enemy divide us, our chances of corporate survival shall be severely threatened.
“Distinguished leaders of the church, please permit me to state clearly before God and before all of you here present today, that I am not a party to the movement of $9.3m from Nigeria to South Africa to purchase arms and ammunition. I am not part of the deal. I know nothing about it”.
The CAN president, however, commended the Catholic Church for its support, particularly in refuting a distorted news report, which claimed the leadership of Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria had lampooned him for “dragging Christianity into the mud”, particularly his constant hobnobbing with the presidency.
He appealed to heads of blocks that constitute CAN and heads of denominations and Christian leaders at different levels and spheres of influence, to use their good offices to caution and control their subordinates and followers from making public pronouncements that will further polarise the church and strengthen the arms of the enemies of the church.
Quoting the book of Matthew Chapter 18 verses 15 to 20, Oritsejafor said, “If I offend you or you offend me, instead of talking to media, let us talk to each other within the house of God”.