A church in crisis:Decimating celestial powers in protracted leadership tussle
Pastor Samuel Bilewu Joseph (SBJ) Oshoffa’s foray into Christianity indeed changed the face of religious practices in the West African region beginning from 1947. Like great prophets of old, he had a 40-day divine revelation in the forest of Dahomey (now Republic of Benin), which commissioned him for a great era of signs and wonders. Though a local carpenter by training, his prayers of deliverance healed the sick, raised the dead and liberated the oppressed.
Without leaving the West African shores, his fame spread globally. While he lived, he was a threat to the kingdom of darkness, as he began to raise a congregation of angelic army that spread the goodnews over the face of the earth.
His shocking death in a September 15, 1985 road-accident, however, sent a shockwave among his followers and the beginning of another era in the Celestial Church of Christ Worldwide.
The story of the church in the last 29 years consists of all drama in a reality television show. And just as the acts were thought to be coming to a wrap, a new intrigue reveals deeper cracks in the Celestial Empire. The leading indigenous church — with tentacles all over the world — is embroiled in leadership tussle and in a manner that would have beaten the imagination of its late pastor and founder.
Today, the church parades different factions that seems only united by the white garment uniform and nothing more. Since the law courts waded into the rancour, to maintain law and order among the ‘saints’, the church has been in perpetual search for a unanimous leader to comfortably take the seat SBJ Oshoffa had left unannounced.
Amidst the search, there were unsavory allegations making the rounds about elders, even as the crisis had snowballed into the Oshoffa dynasty that has hitherto stayed aloof as the drama unfolds.
In all, the million-size congregation is at a crossroad, if not lost, finding discords at the temple of deliverance and succour. For keen observers, the sudden demise of SBJ Oshoffa in a September 15, 1985 road-accident threw the fast-growing church into the phase it was least prepared to handle.
Since he founded the church on 29 September 1947 in Porto-Novo, Benin, following a divine visitation, Oshoffa had established hegemony at the top.
With issues of Indiscipline among his disciples, vis-à-vis alleged zeal by the Oshoffa’s dynasty (populated by 53 children of the founder) to continue the hegemony, leadership has continued to be the Achilles’ heel troubling the church.
As much as the movement grew in congregation internationally, choosing a unanimously acceptable spiritual head has been the church’s greatest challenge even as it continues to expand in followership. As at 2009, one in every five Beninoise is a Celestial member.
Underlying the succession rancour was the founding constitution of the movement. According to the constitution, “the successor to the office of Pastor can be from any rank in the hierarchy of the Church and shall, at a time chosen by God to reveal this unto the erstwhile incumbent of the post of Pastor, be named and proclaimed the successor.”
It was gathered that even SBJ Oshoffa didn’t reveal his successor before he passed on suddenly, and it has been rather difficult following the rule among the interested parties in the church and in the family. Alexander Abiodun Adebayo Bada, who was head of the church until his death on 8 September 2000, succeeded SBJ Oshoffa.
But it was a reign that knew little ease, as another influential leader and member of the trustees soon challenged the position in court.
Philip Hunsu Ajose, who died in March 2001, briefly followed Bada as leader. There was a dispute over the succession to Ajose too, with some declaring Gilbert Oluwatosin Jesse the leader, while others recognised the Reverend Emmanuel Oshoffa, first son of SBJ Oshoffa.
Following Jesse’s death, his faction declared that Superior Evangelist Paul Suru Maforikan was the new spiritual leader of the church.
The church has never recovered from the scrambling and partition that trickled down the years. Indeed, the crisis came to the public glare in Imeko (Ogun State) in December 2005, at a grand Christmas festival of worldwide worshipers, where an aggrieved ex-member, Godwin Bolanle Shonekan, publicly declared self as the spiritual head, against the sitting pastor, Emmanuel Mobiyina Oshoffa.
More jibes were thrown at the founding constitution till the court set it aside. Superior Evangelist, Samson Banjo, one of the two surviving original trustees that signed the constitution, explained that there was really no major problem with the constitution, but “a lacuna” which is why the court had to nullify it on technical grounds.
“The constitution says that the last pastor will nominate his successor before he died. Unfortunately, Papa (SBJ Oshoffa) did not nominate the next pastor but the church unanimously appointed our proclaimed Reverend Abiodun Bada and it was so until Owodunni took us to court.
“The main decision of the court was a technical one and they are two. First, it granted Owodunni his request at the Supreme Court. “At the High Court, the court ruled that Owodunni’s claims to be pastor was fake and ingenuine and null and void.
But Pastor Bada was not appointed on the basis of the constitution that says the succeeding pastor has to be nominated by the former. There was no provision at all for the appointment of pastor by the Trustees.
“So, he (Owodunni) went to the Supreme Court but the court ruled in favour of the Trustees that the appointment was okay and Owodunni has no locus standi because he is a trustee of the church. However, the church has to do something about the lacuna in the constitution. That judgment took us 15 years.
The court advised a re-writing of the constitution to make provision for the appointment of a pastor that is not the founder of the church. “The church addressed those areas that allowed the lacuna and have the constitution approved by the Corporate Affairs Commission in December 2000.
It was under that arrangement that Reverend Philip Ajose was appointed. Unfortunately, he died within six weeks. Because we wanted Holy Spirit to lead us, we also prayed and fasted for 21 months and appointed Reverend Mobiyina Oshoffa.”
Coming to the fresh lawsuit in 2010, Banjo said: “Four years ago, someone (Godwin Bolanle Shonekan) took us to court on the ground of the constitution.
The church has before brought all the factions together, from which the church got a draft constitution for the Constitution Drafting Committee to work on. But for logistics problems, one of them funding of committee members to the meetings, the process dragged on for over three years.”
Banjo reckoned that had the Constitution Drafting Committee completed the assignment one or two years ago, “the church would not have been in the mess we are in today.”
He recalled that the emergence of Shonekan was quite messy that the court had to come in to prevent breakdown of law and order. Five years into the matter, the Ilaro High Court, in Ogun State, in a March 2015 ruling said the self-proclamation of Godwin Bolanle Shonekan as pastor of the church was illegal, unconstitutional, and therefore null and void.
Not done, the court further ruled that the appointment of a pastor for the Church needs re-articulation in a new constitution since successions into office of the pastor have not followed provisions of the constitution.
The trial judge therefore set aside all claims to the position of the pastor of the church (held by Emmanuel Mobiyina Oshoffa) pending the amendment or preparation of a new constitution.
While the church had since gone back to rework the constitution, the Board of Trustees, has also appealed against the court ruling, it was gathered.
Last month, however, the church woke to the shocking declaration by Olatoso Oshoffa, the 20th child of the founder, announcing his divine mandate to head the church and unite all the existing faction. Olatoso is not unknown in the movement. He ha, until his declaration, served in personal assistant capacity to his elder brother, Emmanuel Mobiyina Oshoffa.
In the last 12 years, Olatoso has taken instructions from Emmanuel; organised and maintain his diaries and appointments; report to the pastor as well as carry out background researches. He had organised all his meetings as well as prepared the pastor for them all.
The personal assistant, however, took the Church by surprise as he alleged that there had been no progress in 12 years of his brother’s reign and he had been ordained to rebuild the broken walls.
Olatoso said: “When my brother was appointed the Pastor/Spiritual head of our church, I believed it was time for the spiritual growth of the church as no physical or spiritual impact had been made since the demise of our father, Saint SBJ Oshoffa who was the founder and spiritual head of our dear church.
My appointment as his personal assistant made me so glad with the expectations and believe that my inputs, ideas, revelations as received from my late father and God almighty concerning the church, will manifest through my brother for the growth and development of the church. “Unfortunately, this never happened in my 12 years of being his personal assistant as his agenda were totally different,” Olatoso declared.
The last straw, in Olatoso’s account, was the court’s termination of his boss’ tenure. “It further shattered my heart when I heard that shepherds from church are taking to oath with my brother using concoction… The court action saddened my heart as the church was not developing in the last 30 years that my father had passed on and my brother also being derobbed as the pastor of CCC worldwide.”
Prior to this, there had been issues between the two Oshoffa brothers. Olatoso was said to had given his visually impaired elder brother and boss, some documents, which the later gleefully signed. Unknown to Emmanuel, the documents he signed stipulated that he has given the church’s mantle of leadership to Olatoso.
Olatoso Oshoffa, at a public declaration in Lagos, said God and church elders ordained him as the new spiritual head, to unify various factions back into the fold.
Explaining the revelation that confirmed his candidacy, Olatoso said: “On one of my journeys to France, specifically on the 30th of May 2015, my father appeared to me and said ‘my son, Olatoso, the church has diverted from my calling and I want you to stand up, take up my abandoned work and lead my children. ’ “To me, it was a big challenge, even though a confirmation of such had gone forth through several prophesies and revelations since my birth and well even before the appointment of my brother as the pastor of CCC worldwide,” Olatoso said.
Continuing, he said “I have met several spiritual leaders in the church, telling them the revelation I received from my father and from God almighty.
A lot of them did pray about it and confirmed that the revelation is truly from my father and indeed from God.” The new head added that his emergence as leader, though “a sacrifice” on his part, would restore all the lost glories of the white-garment church.
He reckoned that it is a tall order that lies ahead, but he takes solace knowing that the founding head earlier foresaw “the trying time that lies ahead of the church”.
His magic wand to unify the factions might be bearing fruits already. It was gathered that at least three breakaway factions of the Celestial Church of Christ (CCC) Worldwide have reunited with Olatoso Oshoffa, as the new spiritual head of the church.
The factional heads that closed ranks are Paul Suru Maforikan (CCC Ibadan); Josuah Kayode Owodunni (Province Head Superior CCC Lagos) and Dr. S.A. Adebanjo (CCC Ogun State). Owodunni, who spoke at the CCC Oluwaseyi Parish, Itire, Lagos, said the late founder of the church, Pastor SBJ Oshoffa, appeared to him in separate visions and instructed him to support the Unification Leader of the church, Olatoso.
But Olatoso’s siblings, in a reaction, said his emergence was an act of rebellion, orchestrated by some self-serving elders in the church. The second child of founder and spokesman of the Oshoffa dynasty, Ebenezer Oshoffa, said Olatoso’s “self-proclamation” was “a fallacy”, even as the court order had been appealed and billed for hearing.
Ebenezer, in his 60s, said the twist in the leadership tussle was unfortunate and personal “because our son and brother, Senior Evangelist Olatoso Oshoffa is involved.”
He explained that though the genesis of the problem was not unconnected with the court judgment, but the crisis had been grossly mismanaged, by “some unscrupulous, self centred elders of the church who found an avenue for vendetta installed Olatoso Oshoffa with a lot of unwarranted and untrue fallacies.” “It should be known that the family did its best it could to stop recent happenings.
We held meetings and our purpose was for peace and stability of the church,” he said. Ebenezer stressed that Olatoso remains a bonafide member of the family that is calling on him to return as “a prodigal son.”
The spokesman emphasized that the family did not give their support to his leadership bid, adding that, ”Our loyalty remains with Rev. Emmanuel Mobiyina Oshoffa.” “No one can infiltrate and disrupt the peace our father sacrificed so much for.
Our dream of a unified CCC, the heritage of our late father, Rev. Samuel Bilewu Joseph Oshoffa, who is to us a hero, supersedes any other ambition of any individual,” he said.
Speaking the minds of the trustees, Banjo reiterated that in respect the court ruling, “the Church does not have a lawful and duly accredited Pastor for the time being.
Any assertion, representation, claims and pretention by any person or persons including the ill-advised and baseless self-declaration of Senior Evangelist Olatoso Oshoffa to the pastorship or leadership of the Church is fake, ingenuine, a figment of imagination and an exercise in futility, which carries a grave risk of contempt of court. “We therefore advise the general public to ignore such representation in its entirety. Emmanuel Mobiyina Oshoffa remains our leader,” Banjo said.
Banjo said he was not surprised that the church has been in disarray for a better part of last 30 years. Since the biblical times, he recalled, even the kingdom of God was infiltrated by devil, but God always prevail. “I agree with you that the turn of event is shocking; it is also a shock to us but sometimes the unexpected happens. The Almighty said he regretted creating man and in order not to make His works become futile and useless, he sent His son (Jesus) to save the world. But the same virus that has been since creation has also remain with the Church.”
But without a new constitution, binding on all, there would be very little going forward. “So, please pray for us that the whole process go on smoothly.
It is my personal prayer that the whole process get completed by the end of this year.” Banjo reiterated that nobody — including himself, elders of the Church, Board of Trustees, Pastors-in-Council — was consulted before Olatoso “appointed self. “But the devil didn’t consult anyone before he rebelled in heaven. In this case, the judgment of the court is clear and has insisted on a new constitution.
So, nobody can make any pronouncement to the contrary without running foul of the law. Nobody can therefore appoint himself as the pastor of the church until the law approves it. “In the next three month, we hope that they will finish the new constitution. We have already set up a bigger unit, made of lawyers and judges within the church, to look at what they have done and review it.
I’m hopeful that before the end of the year we will finish that process. “Efforts are on to reconcile the two brothers. The situation has not taken that authority from us. I can assure that that we will reconcile the two of them. “Spiritual revelations have various interpretations and you can put it as your heart and conscience directs you.
And if I have a revelation that I am going to be the next pastor, does it mean it has to be today? Or a revelation will say go and kick the current occupant away from office? The spirit of God does not work that way, especially where the two are brothers and they both bear ‘Oshoffa’.
That is the point we are trying to make our son (Olatoso) to see. “It is unfortunate, but even in heaven there was a rebel. People can be misguided but very soon, common sense will prevail and the issue we are all worried about will dissolve. The peace of the church is also the peace of the country,” Banjo said.
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