By Kelechi Esogwa-Amadi
The suspension of Archbishop D.B. Kaladokubo by the African Church has continued to elicit reactions from members of the Church and the Christian fold in Rivers State. Archbishop Kaladokubo is the head of the Rivers State Province of the African Church and Chairman, Christian Council of Nigeria, Rivers State Chapter.
Speaking to Kalabari Times in his office in Port Harcourt recently, Archbishop Kaladokubo said there is no problem in the Rivers Province and that he has not violated any Church rule or regulation to merit suspension, adding that even when their Church headquarters requested for his province’s lectors’ schedule, he sent it to them.
Tracing the origin of the crisis in the African Church, the Kalabari-born clergy explained that it all started when the Church amended its constitution and put the tenures of a primate and an archbishop at ten years.
According to him, the tenure of the current primate of the Church, Most Rev E.J. Udofia, is supposed to expire by 2024 going by the amended constitution.
He added that by implication, his own tenure as archbishop of Rivers Province will also expire in 2024.
“But before this new constitution was done, we held several meetings – meetings in Ikot Ekpene, meetings in Lagos, in different dioceses, and agreed in a meeting that this current constitution will not affect the tenure of this incumbent primate. We have three types of meetings. We have the general committee meeting; we have the executive meeting and we have the conference and the constitution says that the conference is the highest decision-making body.
“So the decision we took in the general committee was shifted to the executive committee and from the executive committee to the conference. The conference, in its magnanimity, said this constitution did not affect the tenure of the primate. This is black and white. It is that conference decision that we are contending. We are saying no to what they’re requesting. The primate cannot go,” Archbishop Kaladokubo explained.
He said the matter was later brought to the executive committee which upheld that a decision had already been taken at the conference and went ahead to produce the conference documents.
He explained that despite that unanimous decision by the general meeting, the executive meeting and the conference, some people were still bent on forcing the primate out before the expiration of his tenure.
“It is that conference decision that we are contending. We are saying no, it can’t be so. What they’re requesting, the primate cannot go until 2024 by which time he would have been 65.
“We went to a general committee meeting and they brought this matter and we say no, the decision has been taken at the conference. There is a conference document to that effect. They now agreed for us to negotiate. At a point, they told the primate, Most Rev Udofia, that they will give him five years in lieu of notice and 20 million naira, for him to vacate the office. What has he done for him to vacate the office?
“At the end of that decision in Lagos, the primate now said instead of this church to break into two, he will spend two years and forgo three years,” Kaladokubo added.
He said they later had another meeting in Lagos which he did not attend, during which some members from the western part of Nigeria insisted that the primate must go, despite his decision to forgo three years and stay for just two years.
According to Archbishop Kaladokubo, the insistence by the Lagos people that the primate must go did not go down well with the dioceses in the South-South, including Rivers and Calabar.
He said soon after this, the primate began to receive different types of spiritual attacks in his office, which made him to vacate and relocate. He said they later went to court to stop the removal of the primate from office and stand by the decision of the conference.
“To tell you that what they did was wrong, Makurdi also joined us. So, we have three provinces now on one side against them,” he said, adding that the court has told them that the incumbent primate remains the true primate until the matter is resolved.
Expressing surprise about his suspension, Archbishop Kaladokubo said he did not attend two of the meetings called by the headquarters in Lagos since he is not with them in the case but was shocked that by the third meeting, he was suspended.
He said: “I’m not with them, so how can they suspend me? That’s the issue. I’ve not taken anybody’s money. So, there’s no way I can go to them. We’re still fighting. We the South-South said no. We’re seriously marginalized. How can it be only me from the South-South that is archbishop?”
Archbishop Kaladokubo, however, expressed hope that the crisis will be resolved peacefully, adding that a similar crisis had happened before between the Lagos and Ibadan Dioceses and at the end of the day, it was also resolved.
But reacting to the crisis rocking the African Church with regard to the tenure of office of their primate, Most Rev E.J. Udofia and the suspension of the archbishop of the Rivers Province, Most Rev. Dr Kaladokubo, a key member of the church, Barr Opiri Egerton Cheetham-West, said the constitution of the Church is very clear on the tenure of the primate.
According to him, the constitution indicates that a primate’s tenure of office is ten years while the age of retirement is 65 years. He said if an incumbent primate spends ten years in office, by the provision of the constitution, he will retire even if he has not attained 65 years. On the other hand, he further explained, if incumbent primate clocks 65 years in age, even if he has not spent up to ten years in office, he will still retire, in accordance with the provision of the constitution, which he said is the most supreme book in every institution.
Barr Opiri Egerton Cheetham-West, who said he is a lay preacher in Rivers Diocese of the African Church as well as a one-time pastor’s warden of St. Matthias’ African Church Parish for 15 years, disclosed that the tenures of Archbishop Kaladokubo and the Vice Lay President, Engr (Chief) Awoye Lawson have been characterized by controversies because of their styles of leadership.
“The Archbishop, His Grace, the Most Rev. Dr Kaladokubo, Archbishop of Rivers Province and Bishop of Rivers Diocese, has been our priest, from priest to venerable, to bishop, now archbishop. He has done well but there are a lot of controversies in his tenure. He has a leadership style which does not consider the next person,” he said.
Throwing some light into the crisis rocking the African Church and the suspension of Archbishop Kaladokubo, Barr Cheetham-West said: “I have looked through the constitution of the African Church. There is a retiring primate, His Grace, Most Rev. E.J. Udofia. The constitution of the African Church is very explicit on the position of an archbishop. He is like first among equals. The constitution is very clear that, having served ten years as an archbishop, whichever comes first- if ten years or 65 years comes first, he will retire. In the case of the primate, E.J. Udofia, ten years comes first.”
Cheetham-West said a group of people, a very minute set, parading under the aegis of South-South Aggrieved Bishops or so, insisted that the primate would not go, arguing that the amendment of the constitution does not affect the tenure of the primate and must count from 2014 to 2024 and later dragged the church to court over the matter.
On the allegation that the Yorubas are against Primate E.J. Udofia because he is from the South-South, Barr Cheetam-West said it is not true, adding that the same Yorubas were the people who voted for him to emerge as primate against their fellow Yoruba who contested with him, a development that made him to be the first non-Yoruba primate of the African Church.
“So the Yoruba people you’re referring to were his staunch supporters against their own son and Udofia won that election and became the primate. Today, why are you thinking that the Yoruba people are against him? His tenure has elapsed. The Yoruba people never gave him problem. They allowed him to finish his tenure. Now the man who is to take over from him was not then up to fifty years at that time the election was held. He is the oldest bishop in the African Church in Nigeria and abroad,” he said, noting that the incoming primate is both of Delta State and Yoruba extractions.
On the alleged spiritual attack against Primate E.J. Udofia that saw dangerous animals visiting his house, Barr Egerton said he does not believe in voodoo and wondered why the Primate, whom he said is full of spirit, should believe in it.
“I don’t believe in voodoo. Any time they said that I don’t believe it because if you don’t weed your house; if you’re not taking care of your house, you’ll see all types of reptiles. If your environment is not clean, you will see all types of reptiles visiting your environment,” he said, noting that Primate E.J. Udofia is the first non-Yoruba primate to live in the newly built primate’s lodge in Lagos.
Barr Cheetham-West expressed surprise that men of God of that capacity would be susceptible to the temptation of going to court to settle church issues thereby risking tarnishing the image of the African Church.
He said: “They went to Effurun, High Court Warri; then the headquarters went to Federal High Court Lagos, also to put an injunction. So the two cases are just like that.”
On why Archbishop Kaladokubo was suspended, Barr Opiri Egerton Cheetham-West explained: “It is only the office of the primate that is in contention. In other words, every other position is still loyal to the national. Our archbishop was posted to Rivers Diocese by the national. He is not part of either of the suits filed. He is not part of the suit instituted at High Court Effurun. He is not also part of the suit instituted at Federal High Court, Lagos. The national headquarters believe that they posted him. In the event that they called him to come and brief them on the update of the Rivers Diocese, why does he deny his employer the right to hear from him? They invited him to come and brief them. The answer he gave was that they’re doing case. Is he part of the cases? Is Rivers State Calabar? Is Rivers, Akwa Ibom Diocese? He is the spiritual head of Rivers Diocese, and not of Akwa Ibom Diocese. His Grace (Archbishop Kaladokubo) remains an employee of the national till tomorrow. He is not part of the suits.
“Now the national has called him to come and brief them of the happenings in the Rivers Diocese, he said he was not going. Every year, the African Church holds national conference. This year, they held it at Abeokuta. It is believed that every minister, including the Most Rev. D.B. Kaladokubo, must be there. None of these people, including him who is an employee of the national, went. They called him and asked him why he didn’t come. He did not have any explanation.”
According to him, Archbishop Kaladokubo, the Vice Lay and all other officers in Rivers Province took their oaths of office in Lagos, which shows that they are still accountable to Lagos, which is the national headquarters.
Bemoaning the unfavourable position the archbishop is putting himself into, Barr Cheetham-West said that it is the national headquarters in Lagos that will pay him (Kaladokubo) his retirement benefits and pension, wondering why he wants to risk all that by involving himself in a matter that does not concern him, after serving in the church for thirty years and has only five years remaining before retirement.
“He has contributed immensely to the national. He took an oath of office as bishop in Lagos, the national headquarters. So, why is he against the person who employed him? I expected him to tell whoever put him into this troubled water that he cannot fight his employers,” Cheetam-West said, adding that Archbishop Kaladokubo did not consult with officers of the church before meddling into the crisis.
He said why the nation has not sent another person to come and take over from Archbishop Kaladokubo is because section 134 of the constitution of the church provides that one month will be used to look into the matter after which they will send somebody to come and take over.
“They have one month to look into this matter. After that, they will now send somebody. The one month expired on August 31st. He was suspended on July 31st. According to section 131, a panel will be set up if a clergyman is suspended. If the matter is wrong from the suspension, it becomes expunged. Till this moment, he has not gone to answer the panel. Remember, he’s not also part of the case. He’s neither a claimant nor a defendant,” Cheetam-West explained.
Barr Cheetham-West, who recalled that a similar crisis had happened 30 years ago between Lagos and Ibadan Dioceses, attributed it to manifestations of carnality and called on the two groups to try and resolve the matter in a more godly way to save the image of the church.
“The two parties should seek the face of God in prayer to direct them on how to resolve the matter,” he advised.
On the recent aborted meeting that was to be held at the I.B. Johnson Street, Port Harcourt headquarters of the African Church, Rivers Province, Barr Cheetam-West said:
“The Rivers Diocese has been in the dark under the leadership of His Grace, the Archbishop Dr. Kaladokubo and the Vice Lay President, Engr (Chief) Awoye Lawson Ogaree and all their executives. They’re not telling us anything. We’re not hearing anything from national. So, during this year’s Nigerian Bar Association Conference in Lagos, I, Opiri Egerton Cheetham-West and my senior colleague, Barr Alu LongJohn, visited the incoming primate. We visited him on our own.
“We were there to discuss with him the way forward for the African Church -the problems, the court cases, and the other related problems. He sat us down and gave us the national’s side of the story. Then we told him that these things have not been made known to Rivers Diocese because our head has taken sides. We advised them to come and see the people and hold a meeting with them and also tell them their side of the story; that the church is waiting for them. That was why they fixed that meeting of Thursday to tell Rivers Diocese what is going on. They were properly served the letter. All the relevant persons were served the letter. When you’re writing a letter from the national to any of the dioceses, it is the secretary you send the letter to. The letter went to the provincial secretary and other relevant officers, only for some miscreants – I call them miscreants because the act they perpetrated is evil – to send sms that if they come, their bodies will be taken to the mortuary,” he narrated.
Barr Cheetham-West said that the letter for the meeting was not sent to Archbishop Kaladokubo because he is on suspension.
However, he said the meeting would have been an avenue for them to mediate on behalf of the archbishop had it been allowed to hold. Rather the group stopped the meeting from holding, locked up all the churches in the Rivers Diocese, including St. Paul’s, I.B. Johnson Street.
Cheetham-West later explained that while the church was still deliberating on whether or not the national should be allowed to make use of St. Paul’s for the meeting, the Rivers Diocese wrote a letter to the national, countering the meeting and putting St. Paul’s in a kind of dilemma.
“They now held a meeting at St. Mathias’ Church on Wednesday, telling all the churches to lock their premises. They never knew that we have shifted the meeting from St. Paul’s to Our Saviour’s African Church, Buguma. Why did we shift the meeting? Coming from the airport to Obiri Ikwerre, going to Buguma is easier to them than moving from Obiri Ikwerre to St. Paul’s. So, we that are working with the national decided to change the venue. If St. Paul’s is in a dilemma to take decision, Our Saviour’s African Church, Buguma, is the headquarters of the Rivers Diocese; so we decided to go there.
“And we got there, the church was locked. We invited the local government chairman to come and see it. We also sent word to Amanyanabo because it’s becoming a traditional issue,” he narrated.
Cheetham-West advised all the parties involved in the crisis to repent, adding: “We’re all sinners. We are carnal; they are carnality.
“One Venerable J.B.J. Lawson was transferred to Ifoko Church but he told the bishop that the problem he had was kidnapping and that he was still receiving threats and so would not be able to go, requesting to be posted to another place. Little did we know that he was not posted to any other station for one year. He was suffering until the national intervened and gave him office there. What kind of carnality is that?
“One Venerable Mac-Harry was in St. Mathias’ Church. The church voted if he should continue to be venerable in the church. We were 26 people. None voted for him. We now voted if Rev. Young Matthew should continue. He had 6 votes. We drafted a letter and mailed it to our bishop, telling him to transfer the venerable and that it was the decision of the parish council. Yet he allowed him to stay. Is it not carnality? But somebody who told him that he could not go to Ifoko Church because of his predicament, you said because he disobeyed you, he does not have a church for one year.”
Cheetham-West, who said that some of them are not happy with the crisis going on in the African Church, urged all the parties to seek the face of God in prayer and resolve the matter peacefully.
Kalabari Times gathered that Archbishop Kaladokubo’s suspension was communicated to him via a letter dated July 31, 2019 and entitled:
NOTICE OF SUSPENSION.
The letter, which was signed by Bro. Bamdele Vincent, Asst. General Secretary (Laity) and Engr Babatunde A. Odufuwa, Hon. Lay President, reads: “I am directed by the Management Committee to inform you that in accordance with the constitution of the African Church sections 131, 132 and 134, you hereby stand indefinitely suspended without pay as the Archbishop of Rivers Province, pending the final recommendations of the Disciplinary Committee.
Also, Kalabari Times investigation reveals that section 105.3 (i) of the African Church Constitution reads: ”A Primate shall serve in that office for a minimum period of ten (10) years from the date on which he takes the oath of office or until he attains the age of sixty–five (65) years, whichever occurs earlier.”