At last, Pastor Helen Oritsejafor, has opened up on the contentious $9.3m money-for-arm saga, saying it was a grand design to cow Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the outspoken founder of the Word of Life Bible Church and president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). She described the episode in which an aircraft owned by her spouse was caught in South Africa with the staggering amount on board as a ‘sinister joke.’ He dismissed it as the handiwork of enemies of progress determined to destabilize the country.
“Whoever such people are, they are not true Muslims or Christians. These are enemies of progress. These are people who are doing their very best to cause unnecessary discord between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria which is very sad. To use an innocent man to throw this sling is very sad”, she said, emotion welling up in her voice.
According to Mama Helen, who spoke in Warri ahead of the Church’s annual Jubilee Word Festival, “Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor is not the target; it’s every Christian in Nigeria. We are all the target. We are the ones they have targeted but, of course, they can’t get to everyone, so they have to look for the person who represents Christianity in Nigeria and that is what we are experiencing.”
She descended heavily on some men of God who have called on her husband to step down as CAN leader over the episode. She spoke further on this and more with BEIFOH OSEWELE. Excerpts:
Your husband has received a lot of bashing lately. How do you react?
For us southerners, we might not really appreciate what Papa Ayo Oritsejafor is doing and the role he is playing in Christianity in Nigeria because we are not directly affected by the activities of the terrorist group, Boko Haram. Christians in the North are the ones experiencing it, they are the ones losing fathers and mothers, children; being dislocated. They are the ones who see people’s throats being cut off like chickens, their houses being burnt by petrol bombs and their young ones both boys and girls being abducted on a daily basis. They value Papa so very much. They know that whatever he is going through today is because of them. They were actually the people who came to persuade him to run for CAN presidency. The first time they came, he used wisdom for them and said he would think about it. They came back again and kept coming because they know who he is. He is a good man. If there is anything I know my husband to be, is that he is a good man to a fault, and sometimes, I really feel for him. Unfortunately, the society of nowadays does not value a man like this, especially those of us in the South. He is much respected in the North.
How did you receive the news of his jet’s involvement in the $9.3m money-for-arms saga?
I was really surprised. I didn’t even know anything about it. I didn’t even know our plane was out of the country because we leased it out to a company in Abuja so that we will be able to utilise whatever comes out of the deal for the maintenance of the plane because it is quite expensive. So, we didn’t know. Even though we read and heard some comments some people made concerning it, unknown to us that our plane was actually involved. We were really surprised just like every people. In all honesty, by the time we got to know that it was Papa’s plane, we knew that the enemies were trying to play some prank. It is natural because he is a symbol of Christianity in Nigeria. If anyone wants to move against Christianity in Nigeria, it would be easier for the one to go after the symbol. The only thing is I wasn’t expecting people to get really dirty as they did.
So you were really shocked?
The whole episode appeared as if somebody was out for some sinister joke. It’s quite obvious. Take for instance, why was it that it was Papa’s plane that would be hired? How would it be that it would be his plane of all planes in Nigeria that they needed for that mission? It’s still very baffling. Number two, it became obvious that it was orchestrated and the whole essence of it is to see how they can give him a name God has not given to him, and all because he has been a very outspoken man. I know him too well, he is a very down-to-earth person, and he doesn’t know how to hide his feelings. He is a very quiet and reserved person. But then when there is a need for him to speak about anything, he would rather confront things the way they are rather than hide behind his fingers. That is not him. I know quite a number of people have been very uncomfortable with that especially with the Boko Haram situation.
Let’s be frank, who would not be affected? You are leading a body and gradually, there seems to be an elimination of this same group of people. You would be a wicked leader not to react. So, he made every effort. He noticed that our government wasn’t really forthcoming with a lot of things; we seem to try to politicise a lot of things in Nigeria which is quite troubling. He went out of his way to address the US Congress. It was quite obvious that terrorism was being financed not just from within but from outside as well, whether to destabilise or in a way, indirectly force on Nigeria a particular religion which is quite shameful. And he was not comfortable with that. If you would know, this was injustice. So, he is now paying the price for being an outspoken man, defending his people, defending Christianity in Nigeria, and do not want Nigerians having to hide their heads later on in life because whichever way we look at it, history will tell.
Why do you think that some people would politicise a purely security issue like that?
Well it’s natural. Number one, it is the perception. By the special grace of God, a man who has lived a life that is worthy of note, a man with an integrity that is without blemish, who will never compromise his stand whichever way it is; automatically, that man has added so much value to Christianity and of course, the umbrella of Christianity in Nigeria which is Christian Association of Nigeria. So, a personality like Papa Ayo is a threat to anyone who sees him as one because they believe he has a voice, he has a clout, coupled with the fact that the present president of Nigeria happens to be a Christian who is also from the South-South. So, they believe that this man is definitely going to support his brother, he would want him to come back being a Christian as well. Without having to say too much, if I could say this, it is quite shameful. At a point, I was going to actually call some of the wives of these so-called people who were going outside saying a lot of things about my husband, having to engage them as well and see how it looks like, telling them to come out and look at the issue, how would they feel, how would people condescend so low? A lot of things I read in the newspapers, sometimes they amuse me, sometimes I’m a little bit surprised. But when people begin to fabricate stories and they are doing everything in their power to hang a man, it’s quite surprising to me because I would think that what we should be talking about should be the dividends of democracy.
We don’t even have what they call political surgery. In developed countries, they have surgery where there’s what we call town house where it is expected at the local government level, state level and at whatever level, where people would be able to ask certain questions from the leadership, and challenge them on how they are piloting the affairs of the nation. With what I have seen, Nigeria is yet to get to that level and that is why we look for every necessary means to pull down people instead of fixing the issues on ground.
At least now, we all know that it is the National Security Adviser who hired that plane out, who happens to be a relation of the defence minister and who happens to be an in-law to the Sultan of Sokoto. I had a lot of respect for the Sultan of Sokoto. Before this issue of Boko Haram and so on, himself and my husband used to be very close. I could remember every now and then when he wanted to talk to my husband; he would often ask how is mama? If there were issues in the newspapers and all that, he would call in to find out things and so on and so forth. I so much cherished his relationship with my husband. But I’m a little bit surprised because no matter how it is, you know your friend. We must not allow bigotry to take away our innocence, our integrity, our conscience in the name of what we are trying to get. We must not allow that to happen. We must always remember posterity because one way or the other, posterity will always judge. And we must not throw caution to the wind because of whatever we are trying to achieve. We must also remember that Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor is a husband of a woman who has children as well, regardless of whatever we are trying to do. This is a man that I know, and some Nigerians also know that this is a man who is so loving and caring. If there’s anything this man can do to impact the lives of the downtrodden ones in the society, he would do. He’s done many. Many times over and over again, he goes out of his way to buy brand new cars, tricycles, grinding machines and so on to alleviate poverty in this country. He is a person who decided to start a micro finance bank, not necessarily to make money, but to see how he can help lift someone’s head up; in bridging gap between the poor and the rich.
He believes the poor in our midst deserves every right to be somebody in life. This is a man who has sent thousands of people to universities through his Indigent Scholarship Scheme that he has in place over the years. This is a man who actively participated in the peace initiative of Delta State that we are enjoying today. As a matter of fact, but for a man such as this, I do not think that Delta State would have been what it is today. There was nothing he didn’t do. He went out of his way to the creeks to speak to the militants, confronted situations headlong just to make sure he brings about peace.
What some people don’t know is that we love the Muslims. We do not have anything against Muslims. A lot of people are sending wrong signals to a lot of people, particularly Muslims, thinking that Pastor Ayo is an enemy of Muslims. It is totally untrue. There is no iota of truth in it. He has a lot of them as friends. Papa Ayo’s relationship with Sultan of Sokoto is still strong as ever. When Islamic fundamentalists were killing his Christian brothers and sisters in the North, he was forced to urge their leaders to speak against the killings, let us find solution to this, you have a right to practice your religion, I have equal right as well to do same and we must not be at each other’s throats; and somebody being at the receiving end and having to keep quiet, I must speak out because I am the leader. That’s who we are talking about here.
When the Niger Delta crisis was so heavy, a lot of Warri were closed down. They took off when the gunshots and so on were such a very messy situation. But he stood his ground. We have all kinds of tribes in Word of Life Bible Church today; there are people from the North, people from all parts of Delta State even at the time of the crisis. During the crisis, the church was functioning normally because he has always been a detribalised man. He is man that deals with people based on who they are, not according to tribe or religion. He engages people based on who they are. He went out of his way to spend tens of millions of naira on internally displaced Ijaws at Ogbe Ijoh, shipping bags of rice, bags of clothes and all sorts of things just to bring succour.
And naturally, many Itsekiris grumbled saying he did not extend the same gesture to them and he asked them if the Ijaws were not our people too? Whatever is happening, peace will definitely reign, we must not go back at each other. It was later he had to balance the whole thing so that they won’t think he’s one-sided.
When you look at all these, when you look at a man who can do anything just to make sure that another man is comfortable, why should any man, all because of his disposition towards his people, go after him in this manner? It’s amazing. What that goes to tell you is that they have looked for everything; we have heard of one or two people caught in some unholy alliance and so on, thank God my husband was not involved. They have done everything they could do to try and pull him down. What they finally did was to use a gift that was given to him; he didn’t use his money to buy it.
Some people said President Jonathan bought it for him.
I wish he did. I have the list of the names of people who masterminded this thing on our record. Hundreds and thousands of people, church folks who said this man served us with every vigour in him, we could see in him a great man and he’s not getting younger anymore. He is ever on the road constantly doing everything he can for the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us try as much as possible to elongate his life by blessing him with this gift. He didn’t buy it or put down money to say this is what he wants. He didn’t even know anything about it. I was aware of it. What I would have loved for them to tell me is to show me the receipt of the plane that was bought by President Jonathan and the person who said he bought the plane. I have heard all sorts of lies that maybe somebody did it on behalf of somebody. There’s no human being that can stand up to say I bought this plane. It’s a complete lie from the pit of hell. Because of his person, realising the fact that what should he do with this plane knowing the amount of money that it’s going to cost to maintain it; if he was using church money to maintain it, they would have cried out to say he is using church money. You can see how foolish people can be. If President Jonathan bought him a plane, can’t the same President Jonathan maintain the plane? Why must it be hired out so as to sustain the maintenance of the same plane if indeed it was the president that bought this plane? They politicise a lot of things. It’s really annoying.
Is Pastor Ayo really that close to President Jonathan as his accusers allege?
I would love it if people can help me define that word ‘close’. Yes there’s a relationship that has to do with being in his position as the President of CAN and President Jonathan as the President of Nigeria. Automatically, whether he likes it or not, there will be some level of interaction and that is what Nigerians are calling closeness. Maybe they should tell us how President Jonathan gave him one naira to buy a plane.
I don’t really think that Pastor Ayo is closer to the president than the Sultan of Sokoto, the co-chair of NIREC. This is not to say that Papa hates Jonathan, no he does not. He is a Christian and so as a Christian father to the nation, he tries his best to provide a guard. He speaks out whenever necessary. He goes in to offer his own advice or suggestion as the case maybe whenever he is asked to. When he wants to see the president, he makes request just like everyone else. And mostly, it is to discuss the issue of the nation. Many times, he goes with his CAN executive council members to sit down with the president and confront him on certain issues all to see how the nation can be well piloted. What I have noticed is that whichever way you see it, if I say this man is not close to the president, they will say it’s because of what happened, if I say he’s close, they will say that is what we are talking about. I don’t even care what people might say concerning that because you can never please human beings. What I am saying is that please before you start giving this man a bad name, find out the true position of things. Do not go out there forgetting that he is a husband to a woman and he is a father as well. Besides, he is a man who has sacrificed himself. I think Nigerians even have him more than I do.
He is a very passionate person. When he believes in something, he’s driven by it. He goes all out to see how he can really push across whatever he is trying to bring in. That’s who he is. When he got the leadership, when he was elected to lead Christians in Nigeria, he made up his mind that he was going to do everything and anything possible to propagate what he has been given. And he sees it as an assignment. Many times, people see leadership just to bear a name and enjoy it. I think if this man had wanted to enjoy the leadership as it were, maybe by now his relationship with the Sultan of Sokoto would be waxing stronger. And maybe he would have been enjoying more from the government as well. But he has decided to sacrifice all that just like Moses. Moses sacrificed and said he was not going to allow the booty in Pharaoh’s house to override his judgment and so he shut himself out completely from the judgment at the palace and made himself a sacrifice for the liberty and freedom of the Israelites. That is what we are seeing now with our father as well. He has truly given himself out to the nation and, then of course, to the people who we call his constituents.
How did he receive the news of the plane saga?
He didn’t also know. When everything happened, according to what we heard, the plane was released immediately and it came back to Nigeria. They didn’t even bother to contact us to tell us what happened. No one said anything. It was when someone called him and asked ‘where is your plane.’ And he said he didn’t know but he would find out from his wife. I have been the one managing it. When everything happened, they put it on him, but I have actually been the one running it. So he called me and asked where the plane was, I said I didn’t know promising to call him back.
The person who called him told him the plane was impounded in South Africa. So the gentleman said something happened. It was at that point he said one John came to hire the plane to South Africa. That was what happened. The next they heard was they discovered this and that. However, since they knew that the plane and the crew members had nothing to do with the transaction, they let the plane go which is the normal practice. The only thing they do is that once that occurs, the next thing they do is to search whoever that is involved, pick the person and that’s it. No one is now going to start putting it on the plane or the owners or even the crew. The next thing he said was, ‘Oh my God’. He said these people are after something. I actually thought it was a joke because I wasn’t expecting anyone to condescend to that base level. I expect someone to be able to see between the lines. Please let us not belittle our government. Are you telling me that a whole Federal Government of Nigeria would need a pastor to help him move money to a location to buy arms? That is an insult on this nation. For anyone to even phantom it shows how small minded we are really, and that we don’t look at things holistically. It just does not make any sense at all other than the fact that certain people just said since it is his plane, let us just see how we can rope him with it so that we can malign him at the end of the day since we have been unable to hook him to anything.
We were also told that the same people leaked the transaction to the media…
They did. They leaked it. When we now did our own investigation, we discovered that by the time the plane touched ground in South Africa, the picture was already taken. And some people were already having a meeting in London, and coming up with all sorts of stories and so on and so forth about him even before everything finally blew open. So it was all orchestrated right from Nigeria. Whoever such people are, they are not true Muslims or Christians. These are enemies of progress. These are people who are doing their very best to cause unnecessary discord between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria which is very sad. To use an innocent man to throw this sling is very sad.
Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor is not the target; it’s every Christian in Nigeria. We are all the target. We are the ones they have targeted but, of course, they can’t get to everyone so they have to look for the person who represents Christianity in Nigeria and that is what we are experiencing.
It’s sad to see Christian leaders calling for the resignation of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor and so on when some of them don’t even know the details of what happened. It’s manipulation. And some of them too have betrayed themselves. We also know the lives they live. I don’t even see some of those people as Christian leaders. I want to use this opportunity to appreciate our brethren at Catholic, our brethren at Baptist and all of the five blocks of Christian Association of Nigeria who stood their grounds knowing who they have as their leader and, of course, standing to confront anything negative concerning him. When I read the communiqué after a meeting they had in Abuja, they said this jet wasn’t bought by President Jonathan, but if anyone has evidence to this effect that it was bought by President Jonathan, make it public. Number two, they also said that this particular plane was leased out before now. If anyone has an evidence to show that it was not, make it public. I’m still waiting. I haven’t seen anyone to do that. I think it is at that time they will know that my own is more than my husband. I have just been holding myself because of him. Otherwise, I would have loved to scream and shout and show up on television and call out to Nigerians to say that they should not kill my husband. The only thing this man has done is to sacrifice himself for you. So if you do not appreciate him, then what is the need for him making these sacrifices, putting his 42 years in ministry on the line just because of you and I? I think he is a man who is worthy of commendation, who is worthy to be praised amongst men. A lot of people chicken out because they want to appear in the good books of everybody. No one really wants to come out. Everyone tries to shy away from anything that has to do with things like Boko Haram or anything. He is the only one by the special grace of God, and no wonder God decided to put him in this position for such a time like this. If we had had a weakling there, I don’t know what would have happened to this country by now. It would have been a different ball game entirely.tweet Follow @@metrolens1