President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, on Monday for the first time spoke on the controversial $9.3m cash allegedly smuggled into South Africa by two Nigerians and an Israeli using his private jet.
The money which has been confiscated by a South African court was meant for the purchase of arms for the Nigerian Intelligence Services.
Following the use of his aircraft to convey the money which was not declared in South Africa until immigration officials discovered it, the CAN president was linked to the arms deal with critics condemning his role in the arms deal.
Explaining his own side of the story at an emergency meeting of the expanded National Executive Council, NEC, of CAN in Abuja, Pastor Oritsejafor denied any involvement or knowledge of the deal to buy arms in South Africa, noting that enemies of Christians were fuelling the division of CAN.
“The media has been awash in the past few days about an unfortunate incident involving the movement of funds from Nigeria to South Africa.
“In the unfortunate news reports, attempts have been made to link me directly with the transaction. So far I have refrained from making any direct public statement pending the time that I would have briefed the leaders of the church and explained my position on the issues to them.
“I believe that the primary institution that I owe any explanation to is the church. Permit me to thank everyone who stood by me these past days by ways of prayers, as well as strongly defending me even though I have not undertaken any public defence of myself.
“I am particularly appreciative of the valuable support of the Catholic Church in refuting a distorted news item by mischievous elements in the media. I wish to assure you that I will not do anything to tarnish the image of Jesus Christ or compromise the divine standard of the Church.
“At the risk of being seen to be defending myself, I wish to confirm to the distinguished leaders of the church that the Bombardier Challenger 601 aircraft in question is mine.
“The aircraft was presented to me as a gift by members of our congregation and ministry partners world wide at the 40th anniversary of my call into the ministry. May I be permitted to stress that the aircraft was not given to me by the President of Nigeria, neither was it a settlement for any political favour or patronage.
“With the benefit of hindsight, the President of the country was a guest in our church during the anniversary celebration when the Jet was presented to me and this has been construed to imply that it was a gift from the President of the country.
“The President of Nigeria has nothing to do with the gift of the aircraft. By the way, I still wonder why all those saying this, still cannot come out to show proof so that the matter can be put to rest once and for all. Let me say that this might be an issue of the court in the near future.
“In order to ameliorate the cost of maintenance of the aircraft, I sought and got permit to allow the aircraft fly in and out of Nigeria.
“Based on this, I leased the aircraft on August 2, 2014 to a company to run it. It was the leasee that entered into an agreement with the people who carried out the transfer of funds. Having leased the aircraft to the Green Coast Produce Company Limited, any transaction undertaken with the aircraft can no longer be attached to me.
“In as much as I am shocked and distressed by the incident, I wish to appeal to Christians in Nigeria to remember that a war has been waged against the Nigerian Church. This war is being fought on many fronts and this unfortunate incident is another dimension in the assault against the Church.
“It is clear that those who manipulated this conspiracy desire to create a schism in the Church. The media hype and the deliberate distortion of information that followed it confirmed that forces that desperately desire to cause division and disunity in the Church are at work. Even the devil knows that a house that is divided cannot stand.
“As Christians, we need unity in the Church now more than ever. We are witnessing inhuman attacks by religious extremists against Christians in the northern part of the country while Christian infrastructure is being destroyed in hundreds.
“If we permit the enemy to divide us, our chances of corporate survival shall be severely threatened.
“Distinguished leaders of the Church, please permit me to state clearly before God and before all of you here present today, I am not a party to the movement of $9.3 million from Nigeria to South Africa to purchase arms and ammunition. I am not part of the deal. I know nothing about it.
“Let me make a passionate appeal to our heads of blocks, heads of denominations and Christian leaders at different levels and spheres of influence to please use your good offices to caution and control your subordinates and followers from making public statements that will further polarise the Church and strengthen the arms of the enemies of the church.
“If I offend you or you offend me, instead of talking to media, let us talk to each other within the house of God.”