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By Ejikeme Omenazu - Production Editor, Lagos
The date was Thursday January 30. The venue was White House, a popular hotel along Joel Ogunnaike Street, GRA, Ikeja. The host, Rev Robinson E. B. Oritsuwa, was in his elements. Oritsuwa, former seafarer cum unionist, is the General Overseer of Deliverance Gospel Mission, aka Hour of Redemption, Warri. That aside, he is a federal Commissioner representing South South in the Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC), an agency under the presidency that handles Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Lands of Israel, Egypt, Rome and Greece.
Rev Oritsuwa, who is also involved in televangelism ministry, had invited select newsmen, to narrate his alleged bitter experiences as NCPC Commissioner representing South South, in the hands of the agency’s Executive Secretary, John Kennedy-Opara.
The subject of the briefing, the cleric disclosed, had already been made known to President Goodluck Jonathan through two petitions, one of which was dated June 25, 2013, and others to the Secretary of the Government of the Federation on the status of his seat at the commission. All the letters, Oritsuwa stressed, had not been responded to, giving him the impression that Mr. President may not be aware of the letters and the issues raised, even as he fingered an alleged collusion with the Office of the SFG over the matter. As a last resort, the cleric said he might consider redress in court to resolve the issue.
Although Oritsuwa said he did not want to open cans of worms as he did not want to embarrass the church in Nigeria, he released several angry bees, in the direction of the NCPC chief scribe, whose stings would surely cause pains. Such pains, he feared, would one way or the other, bear negatively on the church, as the NCPC is chaired by no less a person than the Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Archbishop Anthony Okoh, while the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) National President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, is a major stakeholder in Christian leadership in South South, as well as one of the close associates of the presidency, who also is very close to the NCPC.
All these, Oritsuwa stressed, had made him to thread softly in the face of alleged intimidations and marginalisation by Kennedy-Opara, an Mbaise, Imo State-born NCPC helmsman. But before heading to the courts, the cleric is considering laying the issues at stake on the tables of the South South governors for their intervention.
His bone of contention was the alleged illegal and unprocedural withdrawal of his name from the list of NCPC board members after Mr President had approved him and the others for second term, according to the NCPC Act. He sought explanation on how and why his name was substituted with another name, one Pastor Mike Abakata, also from South South, when he and the other NCPC board members should be doing their second term at the same time. He alleged that such withdrawal of his name was not communicated to him, while he only saw that he was no longer on the list through a paid advert on NTA and AIT, by Secretary of the board, Kenedy-Opara. He also sought explanation on the alleged behind-the-scene involvement of the SFG’s office, some CAN stakeholders from Niger Delta on the matter.
Justifying his second term approval by Mr. President, which he said is line with Section 4(1) of the NPCP Act, Rev. Oritsuwa told the newsmen: “During my first tenure as a member of the board, activities of the commission, to the glory of God, were upgraded through harmonious working relationship that existed between the members of the board. For instance, my zone, the South South zone, produces the highest number of pilgrims as a result of my hard work.”
On the substitution of his name, Oritsuwa maintained that “This is nothing but crass injustice, knowing that I have served n the board diligently, and the largest members of the pilgrims in the whole six geopolitical zones are from my zone, that is the South South zone. And it is also on record that I established the best zonal office in the whole six geopolitical zones at Yenagoa and my service at the board was without blemish.
“The reason for these happenings is because I have been the only person who speaks against the one-man administration in the Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission, being championed by the Secretary, Mr. Kennedy Opara, who is everything in the commission. All other members of the board are there without a voice”.
He alleged that the NCPC secretary always uses the President’s name to threaten people. He maintained that the NCPC secretary used the privilege of his position to place mostly people from his zone as principal officers of the commission. Also, he alleged that the NCPC scribe uses the CAN officials from his zone to work against him, with the connivance of the SGF’s office.
He maintained that since July last year, all his entitlements were being withheld allegedly by the NCPC scribe, even as attempts were being made to marginalise and make him irrelevant, in preference to someone whose name was unknown to Mr. President.
Other areas, which he wants the President to beam searchlight on include the running of the accounts of the commission. He claimed that in the NCPC office in Israel, for instance, no Nigerian accountant there is a signatory to the commission’s accounts. Such is also the situation in Greece and Rome. Also, he alleged that the aircraft being used to airlift Nigerian pilgrims do not meet specifications, which he maintained is risky. He called for transparency in the running of the commission, informing that board members do not know anything about the finances of the commission.
He also urged the President to set up a probe panel to investigate the activities of the agency’s secretariat since the current board took over five years ago. He also asked the President to investigate the circumstances leading to the detention of some pilgrims from Delta State in Bethlehem due to activities of some staff of the NCPC, especially the ground handlers.