In what many critics of his actions see as the usual boisterous self and penchant for playing to the gallery, Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River may have stirred up a hornet’s nest with his N80 million Naira donation to the state’s religious community. Already, contentious issues have arisen from this monetary incentive perceived in some quarters as a ‘Greek gift’. Ubon Ekanem delves into facts and figures currently causing serious hue and cry among some competing religious interests in The People’s Paradise.
About three months down the line, what was meant as Governor Ben Ayade’s token of appreciation to the people for standing by him during his trial period in the courts is now causing silent ripples across the Cross River State political and religious landscape. Currently, the atmosphere smacks of palpable strain within the hierarchy and membership of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Cross River chapter, as well as atheists over the Governor’s monetary donation to the Christian and Muslim communities in the State.
At a reception at the U.J. Esuene Stadium, Calabar following the December 9, 2016 Supreme Court judgment that validated his election, Governor Ayade had announced that the Cross River State government and his immediate family are jointly giving N50m and N30m to CAN and the Muslim community respectively to show gratitude for their support and supplications to the Almighty God through prayers, fasting and divine assignments in his favour during his legal travails.
Regrettably, this mouth-watering largesse, rather than being a blessing, is apparently becoming a source of worrisome friction within the CAN’s fold and the state in general. Insiders expressed concerns that ‘tongues that should ordinarily be prophesying good tidings for life are suddenly serving as conduit of doom and internal strife messages.’ No thanks to misgivings and apprehension that have now become the watch words in some circles, with some blocs within the Christian body bickering over the possible sharing formula to be applied when the donation eventually finds its way into CAN’s kitty.
Findings by Forefront revealed that the contentious issues are on three key fronts with serious knocks trailing the governor’s ‘Father Christmas’ act. Though many do not want to be accused of stoking the fire of religious acrimony in the state with their refusal to have their names in print, they generally raised issues and called to question the yardstick used by the governor to make the 50:30 million Naira ratio donation in a state where the Christian population is overwhelming in all ramifications.
Accusing Governor Ayade of an action that may set a dangerous precedent in the state, insiders within CAN and even the political circles said the state does not need its chief executive to tread on dangerous grounds with what they described as clearly a ‘lopsided gift package’ to the religious communities.
One of the insiders, who captured the feelings expressed by many stakeholders in the state, told Forefront thus: “Given the different blocs in CAN and the overwhelming numerical strength of the Christian population in the State, would Governor Ayade and his cronies beat their chests to say fairness and equity prevailed in the donation ratio?” “For us, there is nothing wrong with the governor making donations to any group or individuals that may attract his fancy. But he must not in the process take for granted the people’s legendary hospitable disposition to offend our religious sensibilities by a plainly ill-advised action”, our source further warned.
As seeming resentment to the governor’s ‘generous act’ continues in the hush-hush manner across the State, additional information pieced together by Forefront indicate that also brewing is silent protestations from the traditional worshippers and nonbelievers segment that is unhappy and sees the donation as smacking of clear discrimination exhibited by the Governor and the State against a sizeable segment of the Cross River citizenry. “How can the State number one citizen justify his action of clearly ignoring and excluding a segment of his people by singling out only the Christian and Muslim communities to appreciate them with monetary gifts? Does it mean that we are not part of those that wished him well during the court travails? This is certainly not fair and we believe he will make amends and correct this painful error of judgment by recognizing us as part of his victory team”, an embittered member of the aggrieved nonconformists group told this magazine.
Also on notice is the attendant issue of satisfying sharing formula among the five blocs that officially constitute CAN. These are Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN); Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN); Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (CPFN)/Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN); Organisation of African Instituted Churches (OAIC); and TEKAN/Evangelical Fellowship of West Africa (EWCA) Fellowships. Indeed, claims are already rife that some blocs seem to be reconstituting themselves into several distinct sub-groups as part of their plans to access ‘a fair share’ of the governor’s bounty.
However, while some blocs, particularly the CSN and CCN, have expressed lack of excitement about the donation, others like the CPFN/PFN, seen as a strong pillar of CAN in Cross River, have been tagged with being in control of processes surrounding the touchy donation with a view to ensuring that it is redeemed by the Governor whom critics described as being politically shrewd in making good his pledges.
According to a competent source, who readily quoted Edmund Burke, the popular philosopher of yester-years that “politics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement”, Governor Ayade may have scored ‘a cheap political point’ with his announcement of the ‘monetary booty’, but the men from the pulpit are not only unenthusiastic but also wary of the governor’s motive even before the raw cash is released to them.
Sources within a prominent group like the CPFN/PFN that warehouses known and large denominations in the state hinted that their leaders may have chosen to embrace the donation with much reservation. Competent sources told Forefront the leaders’ fear is rooted in an unfortunate incident that reportedly took place immediately after Governor Ayade assumed office as the State’s Chief Executive.
According to CAN sources, worshippers at one of the Catholic parishes, where the governor was hosted as a special guest of honour, were stunned beyond words when upon arriving late for the Church service and being admonished by the Reverend gentleman-in-charge to always be time conscious as ‘time is of essence’ in every human endeavor, especially now that he has mounted the saddle to handle affairs of the State, a visibly upset Governor Ayade felt slighted by the man of God’s admonition. And in a response that many worshippers still recount as being ‘an unbelievable demonstration of arrogance and lack of piety in the presence of God’, the governor fired back that instead of being roundly applauded for prompt payment of salaries to ameliorate the plight of civil servants in the state, the men in cassock were more concerned with just his late arrival for the service.
Putting the issues in perspective, some well-known names in CAN confided in our correspondent that they have not only decided to adopt the late Bola Ige’s popular ‘sidon-look’ approach, nut also agreed to take solace in the wise warning by the great sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo that, “beware when a Briton offers you a gift because the greater the gift, the greater the distrust.”
“To these clergies, since the Governor found it so convenient to exhibit such an ‘ungentlemanly conduct, rhetoric and self extolment’ in a sacred place of worship without any restraint and sense of remorse, rushing to embrace his perceived goodwill to CAN may seamlessly provide a fertile ground for more humiliation and disdain in future”, one of them volunteered.
But defending the governor’s action, one of his close aides said though it is obvious that certain segments of the state may not be comfortable with the donation, “it is important to consider it from the angle that the state and its people are ever always ready to show goodwill and neighborliness to everyone and people of all creeds.” The aide, who preferred anonymity because issues with religious colouration and connotations are always sensitive in nature, insisted there are so many opportunities for CAN, the Christian community or any other group to partner with the State government for good governance, and pleaded for greater understanding from everyone to enable the Governor ‘pursue and conclusively execute his laudable policies and programmes aimed at sustainable development and growth of the State.’
When Forefront sought the views of Governor Ayade’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr Christian Ita, on the issue, he merely confirmed the donation as part of the governor’s good intention towards the people, but said the governor lacks the locus standi to dabble into or be involved in the internal workings of CAN.
However, the CAN Chairman in Cross River, Arch-Bishop Joseph Ugbo, who is no longer in active pastoral service, could not be reached for comments as at the time of going to press.