An out pour of eulogies was showered on the late preacher, Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, when he passed on last year December 7, 2019. The death of the German Evangelist, who devoted his entire mission work to the salvation of the Africa continent, attracted tributes across the globe. Nigeria, where Bonnke, held his last and farewell crusade in 2017 felt his passage more. Many of his proteges in the country paid glowing tributes to the preacher when he died in the U.S at 78 years.
Evang. Reinhard Bonnke, founder of Christ for All Nations (CFAN) was described as a special blessing to the world by the Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Lagos State chapter, Apostle Alexander Bamgbola, when he confirmed to the media the death of the famous preacher, “Yes, I have confirmed from his Africa team in Abeokuta; that he passed on this morning (December 7, 2019) in Orlando in the United States of America. We thank God for his life. Some people are special blessings to the world and he is one of them,” Bamgbola said.
The Lagos CAN chairman was just one of millions of people across the globe that paid tributes to Bonnke for his outstanding global evangelistic accomplishments, significantly in several African countries including Nigeria. Until Bonnke retired three years ago he had reportedly converted over 79 million souls across the world for the Lord. However, one striking tribute that lots of people paid to him was his handing over of the leadership of his huge ministry to a successor two years to his passage. Church growth expert, Dr. Francis Akin-John in his lessons on the life and ministry of Evangelist Rehinhard Bonnke, on his demise, commended the late evangelist for appointing and handing over to his successor before he died. Akin-John described this as uncommon with lots of church leaders who he said prefer to die on the seat.
His words: “He (the late Evang. Reinhard Bonnke) handed over to his successor on time. Bonnke was able to know when to hand over to a loyal, faithful and capable successor. Almost two years before his death, he had publicly identified and handed over to his successor and the work has continued powerfully. That’s uncommon with lots of evangelists, pastors, apostles and modern general overseers. They will rather die on the seat; even when age, health and circumstances are asking them to hand over to a worthwhile successor when they are still around. I strongly believe that this is going to be the greatest legacy of Bonnke to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in Africa,” Dr. Akin-John hoped.
Leadership succession often raises serious challenges in most churches. Both the old and new generation churches in Nigeria engage in bitter feuds at the death of their founders or leaders over a successor. And not a few churches in Nigeria have been disintegrated or blown out of existence as a result of dispute over a successor.
Most churches embroiled in leadership disputes often resort to litigation by seeking adjudication in the courts of law over their leadership crisis. Two most prominent Nigerian churches that have been in and out of courts severally over leadership disputes are the Celestial Church of Christ (C.C.C) and the Christ Apostolic Church (C.A.C). There are several relatively unpopular churches that are seeking solution in the courts over the leadership crisis in their folds. It is often alleged that the contestants in church leadership power tussles use charms and other diabolical means. Some contestants in the leadership disputes sometimes pay with their lives.
For instance, in 2000 the wave of the storming leadership crisis in the Celestial Church of Christ (C.C.C) swept the life of one of the two contestants to the stool of the church leadership, Pastor Alexander Abiodun Bada, who was until June of that year, the Supreme Head of the church. Pastor Bada, whose headship of the C.C.C was early July quashed by a court in a judgment instituted by Rev. Pastor Josiah Kayode Owodunni, died in London on Friday September 8, 2000; two days to the 15th anniversary of the death of the church founder, Pastor Joseph Bilewu Oshoffa, who died on September 10th, 1985. Immediately after Bada passed on, the Board of trustees of the church reportedly selected Superior Evangelist P.H Ajose of the C.C.C (Overseas Diocese) as the new Supreme Head of the church; a selection which may have overthrown the court judgment delivered in favour of Owodunni, who was still poised to head the church. Owodunni had reportedly remarked on the death of Bada that, “There is no vacuum in the leadership of the church.” The then 15-year-old leadership imbroglio in the church may not be over yet despite the sudden demise of Bada going by the statement of Owodunni on the former’s death.
The genesis of the crisis started from September 9th, 1985, when the Founder & Pastor of the Celestial Church of Christ (C.C.C), Pastor Joseph Bilewu Oshoffa was admitted at First Shadrack Hospital, Lagos, to receive medical treatment for a sudden sickness. Unfortunately, the second day, 10th of September the man died. The exit of the man of God immediately created a vacuum of leadership in the church as there was the need to select a new pastor to succeed him as the new head of the church. Incidentally, Alexander Abiodun Bada was the next in the hierarchy of the church leadership. Automatically most Celestial faithful believed he should step into the shoes of the Late Pa Oshoffa as the new leader of the flock. However, precisely the day he was admitted at the hospital, as if he was aware of his imminent death next day, It was claimed that the Late Pa Oshoffa on his sick bed held a discussion with some of the elders of the church on his successor. It was gathered that during the discussion he explicitly stated that his successor should be chosen by divine and spiritual message and the person must not come from the top hierarchy so as to avoid a split in the church which he founded by “Divine Order” on September 29, 1947 in Porto Novo , Republic of Benin.
In spite of this instruction late Pa Oshoffa laid down on how to select who succeeds him, Olatunji Ajanlekoko and Josiah Kayode Owodunni, two other senior members of the church joined Alexander Bada in the contention for the stool of successor an confusion was created. And in the midst of this confusion, a certain man, Olu Adekunle Amu; a non-celestial member, surfaced to inform the church that the Late Oshoffa appeared to him and gave him the name of his successor. Adekunle Amu’s account of his encounter with the Late Oshoffa was reported in the media, saying, “At a time, I was given a contract to clear the weeds in a farm settlement. I was on inspection on the farm when I suddenly felt a very powerful thing dropped on my left shoulder from behind. I thought it was a chimpanzee. But when I looked back, I saw a very tall figure in full marine coloured regalia and I saw that his face looked like one that I had seen in the paper as that of Oshoffa. I ran but I couldn’t. So, I had to stop. It was then he told me that he wanted to send me to his church. He bade me to write the message down, which I did in a loose sheet of 2B exercise book. He said the writing must not be duplicated neither must it be copied; that the only copy should be given to Bada. He told me that Bada should be anointed pastor, that the mantle would have fallen on Ajanlekoko but the man would soon join him. He said if any other person was made the leader, there will be series of death (Akufa) among the leadership of the church.” Amu added that the late Oshoffa then gave him a cross, a candle and a cowry.
And to confirm the truthfulness of his claims that he encountered late pastor, Amu was allegedly taken to the Imeko graveside of the deceased by members of the church to swear. Thereafter, On December 24th, 1995 Alexander Abiodun Bada was proclaimed by the Board of trustees of the church as the new Pastor and Supreme Head of the Celestial Church of Christ (C.C.C) worldwide. Fifteen years after, Ajanlekoko had truly joined Oshoffa but Owodunni contested the decision as far as to the court at which he won the case as the rightful successor to the late Pa J.B Oshoffa while the court quashed the selection of Bada. Owodunni was allegedly contesting the post on the strength of his claims that the founder had through signs and actions openly anointed him as his successor before he died. His contention for the post was strengthened by the succession statement credited to the late founder in an OGTV interview programme before his death that, “We have a host of dignitaries in the church hierarchy. However, the one to succeed me in this post of pastor is not the dignitary immediately next to me in the hierarchy of the church. My successor will be chosen by the Divine Holy Spirit. The chosen one may have been a member of the church as short a time as 6 years or 5 years or 20 years.” This statement stirred confusion. Though Owodunni was not expressly proclaimed in the statement as the successor, It was however glaring that the now late Pastor A.A Bada, who was “immediately next” to the late Oshoffa could definitely not have been the “chosen one”
Christ Apostolic Church (C.A.C) founded in 1940 by the Late Apostle Joseph Ayodele Babalola is another major church already fractionalized by leadership crisis. Though the leadership tussle in the church, unlike in Cele is not over who succeeds the late Apostle Babalola, it was clearly a case of alleged insubordination by one of the front line pastors in the church, the now Late Apostle T.O Obadare, which torn into two major factions the acclaimed Nigeria’s first indigenous Pentecostal church. At the height of the church leadership crisis, one of the factions was headed by the now Late Pastor Dr. E.H Olusheye as the President of Christ Apostolic Church (C.A.C worldwide) while the other faction was headed by the also late Apostle Dr. Timothy Oluwole Obadare as the President of World Soul Winning Evangelical Ministry (WOSEM) under Christ Apostolic Church (C.A.C).
Before his death amid the crisis, Late Pastor Olusheye traced the leadership crisis in Christ Apostolic Church to 1970. He stated, “Inwardly the problem started in the early 70s after the death of Apostle Babalola. After his demise, Prophet T.O established what he called World Soul Wining Evangelistic Ministry (WOSEM). The authority of the church though it was going to serve as an arm of evangelism within the church. A meeting was summoned early 80s where Obadare was asked to everything he had into the church ford or take WOSEM out of the church because people felt that WOSEM would take over the church. Then in 1990, the problem snowballed. People rose up and wrote a letter that he should either come fully or take WOSEM out. Then some people who have been feeding on this thing, at a meeting in Ilesha in September of that year were furious about it. Then a handful of people left us and some who were dismissed decided to follow him.”
Keen watchers of the crisis in Christ Apostolic Church (C.A.C) hinged that crisis in the front line church to petty jealous. But why are there always incessant crisis in most Nigerian churches, especially over leadership succession or power tussle? Investigations have revealed that the main cause of church proliferation in Nigeria today is movement of worshipers from one church to another or to establish new churches as a result of irreconcilable leadership crisis in their previous churches. Many large church organizations in Nigeria have been dismembered or scattered to form splinter assemblies or start entirely new churches over leadership crisis. The crisis in most of the troubled churches often end in courts for legal adjudication as the cases were in both Celestial Church of Christ and Christ Apostolic Church.
At times some of the leaders embroiled in church crisis allegedly use diabolical powers or join occult societies in order to outdo one another. The allegations of the latter were more prominent among the leadership of Christ Apostolic Church, when the crisis in the fold reached the boiling point with some leaders and elders involved in the crisis accusing one another of joining the Ogboni confraternity or some other secret societies. The decision to select a new head on the death of the founder of a church is one major decision that sparks off crisis in most churches. If it is not a disagreement over the decision to select either the spouse or any of the children of the deceased founder as successor, it may be a decision to select among the church hierarchy like in the case of Celestial as successor of the dead founder or to rely on the Holy Spirit to decide who the successor should be among them.
However, where available, the constitution of a church may be the determiner of the successor to a late leader. But the constitution of some churches many be laced with some disputable ambiguities. What then should be the best way of deciding the successor to a late church founder or the immediate past dead leader of a church? While highlighting the differences in the succession approaches between Pentecostal and orthodox churches, Odunirepo Osunfisan in the reports he anchored on the succession of the Late Archbishop Benson Idahosa, the founder of Church of God Mission (CGM), observed that the issue of succession in the Pentecostal churches is an issue that needs a proper definition unlike orthodox churches where there are structured procedures through which a need head is appointed after the death of the founder or leader. “Most Pentecostal churches are yet to determine a patterned structure of succession,” Osunfisan had observed.
Bishop Dr. Taiwo Akinola, Presiding Bishop of Rhema Christian Church & Tower Ogun state, believes that succession procedure should be constitutionalized by every church. “Almost all churches now have a constitution; a written interpretation of the mind of the spirit. There must be a written down interpretation of the mind of the spirit, which provides the frame work for enduring revolution,” Akinola advised. A former National Secretary of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) Bishop Moses Oba-ladele in an interview with Christian Benefits subscribed to the leading of Holy Spirit in the selection of a successor of a deceased church leader though he agreed that every should have a constitution wherein the procedure for the selection of a successor when the leader dies is clearly spelt out.
In her view Mrs. Chioma Ozere of the Redeemed Christian Church of God said “the Holy Spirit cannot be restricted to a constitution. A constitution that was written several years ago may not be applicable in the current situation of the church today.” She however believes that church leaders should prayerfully trust in the Holy Spirit leading in the selection of their leaders.
And relying on the Holy Spirit to take the decision, the selection of Pastor E.O Adeboye as the successor of Rev, D.A Akindayomi, the founder of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) has always been a reference point and a model of how a church can continue to grow from strength to strength if the decision to select a new leader is absolutely allowed by the Holy Spirit to take.
Adeboye’s selection story reportedly goes thus, “At a prayer meeting in a hotel room in the United States of America, God told the founder, Pastor Akindayomi a.k.a Baba Alakoso that his time was getting to a close and that he would be succeeded by Pastor Adeboye, his interpreter. Then Pastor Adeboye was still a lecturer at the University of Ilorin. When he was told, he resisted. He went into marathon fasting and prayer with his wife so that the cup could pass over him. But God has spoken and His will must be done. Baba Alakoso told the elders about the choice of a successor before he died.” The success of the smooth and spirit directed transition is in the testimony of the global strength of the RCCG worldwide today.
One other area of conflict over succession is the propriety of the wife or any of the children of a deceased founder, particularly a son, succeeding him. Oba-Ladele believes that the wife must be in the same spiritual channel with her husband before she can succeed him. He adds: “A son that doesn’t follow the same spiritual path with his father cannot be considered to succeed his father.” For Bishop Peter Okodua of Dispensation Gospel Ministry “The Bible does not talk about sons taking over the gospel ministries of their fathers. If at all a son would succeed his father, God would have told the founder of the ministry before passing on. It is not for man to choose his deputy or successor unless God expressly told him to do so”
Rev. Dr. Mrs. V.M Balogun, General Overseer of He’s Alive Ministries, who succeeded her husband in 1991 believes a woman can succeed her husband. Mrs. Balogun is one woman who has been able to successfully take over from her late husband. When late Bishop Victor Iloputaife of Victory Christian Church, Lagos fell to assassins’ bullets, his wife, Rev. Nkechi Iloputaife, took over but some of the late Bishop’s followers broke away to establish new assemblies. Also Bishop Margret Idahosa was ordained as successor of her late husband, the flamboyant minister, the late Bishop Benson Idahosa of Church of God Mission International Incorporated when he died on March 12, 1998. Although Prophet T.A Aboluwarin of Christ Apostolic Church (C.A.C Agbala Adura) recognizes the spiritual virtues of some women, he believes “It is improper for a woman to lead a church of God.”
The Celestial and the C.A.C leadership tussles attracted the attention of the courts of law. Most clerics, like Oba-Ladele and Balogun, for instance, condemned the action of church leaders going to the courts to settle disputes among them. Oba-ladele describes that step as “a stain on the name of the Lord because the scriptures says we should not take ourselves to court.” Balogun adds: “They are downgrading the spirit of God and allowing the devil to oversee the people of God,” she opined.
Rather than dragging one another to court, Wole Olufon, International Director of Full Gospel Business Fellowship is of the opinion that church leaders should humble themselves for one another and pick one of them to lead since, “It’s God who appoints a leader. If those in succession line are truly born again, there should not be any problem. Promotion is by God” he said. Olufon also does not think it is in line with the Christian faith to struggle for posts. “We should not be like the heathens who struggle for posts. People should be ready to serve and not struggle for posts. Those who create succession problems in churches are planted by the devil in churches to cause confusion. Balogun buttressed Olufon’s view, “The scriptures posit that before you can be a leader; before you can be able to serve others, you must be genuinely born again.” Rev. V.M Balogun urged church leaders in succession line in order to stall the incessant crises in the house of God.