Monday, May 27, 2013

Storm in Baptist Church over anti-Akala Pastor

WHEN on Sunday, April 21, 2013 some heavily armed policemen with an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), stormed the Okelerin First Baptist Church, Ogbomoso Oyo State, apparently to maintain the peace, many residents of the area, as well as some members of the church felt jittery, thinking that the dreaded Boko Haram sect might have infiltrated the church.

Such was not the development however, as Nigerian Compass on Saturday later gathered that the peace of the church was ruptured when the security agents came in, which led to the disruption of the ongoing holy service. It was learnt that some members of the church, who were up in arms against the pastor, Revd Dr. John Aworinde, had invited the armed security men to deal with him.

The shepherd was accused of sundry allegations including high-handedness in his dealings with the congregation, misappropriation of some funds, and more importantly alleged display of partisan politics, contrary to the ethics of his calling.

The immediate past governor of Oyo State, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala, recently celebrated, in a grand style, the 60 years remembrance of his late father, Pa Opadoyin, in the church, the Akala family being a very strong factor in the holy house established in the early 50s.
On the fateful Sunday, the service had hardly started when a member of the church started to ring a bell to disrupt it. The action caused pandemonium until an elderly member of the church mounted the platform to appeal to the charged members to keep calm.

The service continued, but soon ended abruptly by the time sermon was to be delivered by Aworinde, the man in the eye of the storm.

Investigation revealed that the Police Area Commander in the town had sensed danger and the effect of the looming crisis, and so quickly communicated some elders of the church to allow the service to end then.

Among the allegations that were flying around in the air then was that in 2011, the pastor exhibited his disapproval towards the second term ambition of the then sitting governor, Otunba Alao-Akala (a very staunch member of the church).

Aworinde was alleged to have preached against the former governor on two occasions when he (Alao-Akala) had special occasions to celebrate in the church.

He was also alleged to be collecting N5,000 from the treasury at every service, while he also allegedly solely increased his salary without the approval of the Ogbomoso Bethel Baptist Association in the Ogbomoso Baptist Conference, or the Nigerian Baptist Convention, the umbrella body saddled with such authority.

Aside the allegation of high-handedness, Aworinde, who has been pastoring the church for the past 14 years, was also alleged and found culpable by a concerned group for not holding Church-in-Conference meetings regularly, as well as single-handedly nominating his favorites into the church committees and offices.

 The allegations which, Reverend Aworinde recently said were vexatious, wicked lies, and mere agenda of some people to call a dog a bad name in order to hang it, had fueled the crisis, which snowballed into the April 21 ugly scene.

Before the crisis blew open, a group of members of the Okelerin First Baptist Church had written to the Ogbomoso Bethel Baptist Association notifying that Revd Aworinde had been suspended indefinitely.

The letter, dated 8April 13, 2003, signed by Mr D.O. Odoje, the designated Acting Church Secretary, disclosed that the suspension was part of the resolutions reached at the Church-in-Conference allegedly held by the group on Sunday 7th April, 2013.

Upon the receipt of the notification, the association represented by the moderator, Revd. O.B. Babalola with five others, summoned a meeting with the group, which had five members in attendance on 9th April, 2013; and held another with the officers of the church on April 12, 2013.

The association also held an interactive meeting with Revd Aworinde on April 15, 2013, as well as a separate one with Revd. and Mrs. J.A. Adeleke (who had a face-off with Aworinde, and have been seconded to Amazing Grace Baptist Church- a baby of Okelerin First Baptist Church), on April 16, 2013. The committee then arrived at a recommendation towards the resolution of the impasse.

Having heard all the parties involved in the crisis, "and having considered the issues that were raised by church members spearheaded by the Concerned Group as requiring attention and the responses to them by the leadership of the church, we are pleased to make the following recommendation under God, believing that a sincere consideration and honest application of them will enhance the peace of the church and enable her to fulfil its God- given mission", the Ogbomoso Bethel Association report, a copy of which Nigerian Compass obtained, said.

While suggesting that Aworinde should ensure that regular church business meetings be held to iron any issues relating to church finances; hold Church-in-Conference as and when due; make conscious and genuine efforts in improving his relations with all church members; set up welfare committee to always look into the welfare of church members, among others, the report recommended that "all aggrieved persons in the church should exhaust the grievance handling procedure provided by the constitution of the Church and policy and practice of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. Due process should be followed in all matters".

To ensure reports of church finances were presented as and when due, the committee recommended that "the church should look into the possibility of reducing the presentation of financial reports at the Church business meeting to two times in a year in order to help the finance officers, who are volunteer workers adequate time to do their work. This will also enable the Church to have two business meetings without the burden of financial reports since the regular Church-in-Conference holds four times in a year", the report also recommended.

The resolution committee, which had Revd. Dr. A.A. Adeniji, Revd. S.O. Areo, Revd. S.O. Olajire, Revd. J.O. Awoniyi and Mr T.A. Oloyede as members, therefore recommended in the final analysis that "the suspension of Revd. Dr. J.A. Aworinde as the Pastor of the Okelerin First Baptist Church on April 17, 2013, and all decisions taken to hinder his performance as the Church Pastor be reversed with immediate effect to foster the peace, stability and progress of the work of the Church".

On a general note, the committee said: "Church Council and members should avoid character assassination, derogatory comments and all manner of mudslinging, remembering the Yoruba adage that 'Bi a ba ta ara ile eni lopo, a o le ri ra lowon" (meaning, If you trade off your relation cheaply, you might not be able to redeem his image, even with lots of money).

To clear the air on some allegations bothering on misappropriation of funds, sour relationship with the former governor (his kinsman), high-handedness among others, which the report did not include, Nigerian Compass on Saturday met with some officers of the church.

Financial Secretary of the church, Mr Afon Adekunle, said: "the Reverend was not sacked as claimed by the so-called Concerned Group and there was no record of financial misappropriation by him. All what he is being paid is done according to the prescription of the Nigerian Baptist Convention salary scheme. So, the reports printed out by some media are false. The reverend is not dictatorial at all as reported. Everything is okay now and there is no more conflict", he said.

An elder of the Church, Pa Amos Ogunsola, who said he had been counting church money for the past 40 years, said, "I had been in charge of collecting money and taking it to the reverend to pray on it before taking it away for counting since the time of Baba Adediran. It is now over 40 years. Reverend Aworinde met me here. His first sermon 14 years ago, if you want me to tell you, is 'God will do a new thing'.

"He has never entered where we count money since he came here. So, the allegation that he was collecting certain amount of money at the end of every service is quite untrue", Pa Ogunsola said.

The Secretary of the Church, Mr John Akande said: "Since I became the Church Secretary, I have never seen any anomaly with the Reverend pertaining to money affair. Whenever the Church needed to spend any money, the reverend will call the people in charge, like the Financial Secretary, Treasurer and me. After he might have secured the approval from the financial committee, it is then money can be withdrawn from the bank.

"The Reverend cannot spend any money unless it has first been deposited in the bank. So, he is not dictatorial and he doesn't curse from the pulpit as alleged", the Church Secretary said.

The Treasurer, Mr Adebisi Babatunde, who said he was surprised at the news peddled around about Reverend Aworinde, told Nigerian Compass on Saturday: "I was astounded when I heard that the reverend was used to collecting money from us without financial committee's approval. I have been in this system for a long time. Since I have been in this position, I have never experienced his collecting N5,000 from the church at the end of any service. It is also not correct that he fixed his salary by himself. That is not possible. We pay him in accordance with the scheme of the Nigerian Baptist Convention".

 Nigerian Compass on Saturday stumbled on a defence written by Reverend Aworinde.
On the allegation of his preaching against the former governor, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala, to antagonise his second term ambition, Aworinde wrote: "That I preached against Chief Adebayo Akala whenever he had special occasions like in 2003 and 2006 is not true. Most of the time that he had special occasions, guest preachers were invited, like the former General Secretary Dr. Ademola Ishola, and Dr Dele Adeleru. During the normal church services, I preached as the Holy Spirit directed.

"That I worked against the success of Chief Akala in the last gubernatorial election cannot be true. Am I a politician? I don't talk about politics at the pulpit. I am not partisan", he submitted.

 On the allegation of his collecting money from the church without being authorized, he said, "This church is a highly organized church. We don't spend kobo at table. All the monies collected first of all go to bank. It is not true. Besides there are three signatories. All the three signatories must sign before money is collected", he said.

Regarding allegation of collecting N5,000 at the end of every service, Aworinde asked "For what?", explaining that, "I don't even go to where they count money. I have never done so. That is even not possible in a one-man church. It is absolutely untrue. Anybody can find that out from those who count money", he wrote.

To the allegation that he single-handedly increased his salary by 19 per cent, thereby earning N167,000 a month, the pastor said, "This is another unkind lie. I don't earn as much as that at all. The church follows normal increment as designed in the scheme of service of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. This could be verified from the finance as could be seen in the payment vouchers".

On the allegation that he was cursing from the pulpit, Aworinde wrote: "This accusation is meant to smear the image of the Pastor. I don't curse anybody. I use the pulpit to preach the word of God un-diluted and to pray. That is the whole truth".

In summation, the Pastor, who was formerly shepherding the First Baptist Church, Minna in Niger State before his appointment at Okelerin in 1999, wrote: "my reaction is that I still love my people. They are the people that God has put under my care. They should let all of us unite to move the Church forward, break new frontiers and expand the Kingdom of Jesus Christ for God's glory".

Our correspondent observed last Sunday that owing to the crisis, the Mothers Day celebration, which had been observed in all Baptist churches across the nation on the 12th of May was celebrated a week after at the Okelerin Baptist Church.

It was learnt that the bank account of the church had since been frozen by the umbrella body, pending final resolution of the crisis.

Culled from COMPASS ( )

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