By Wale Akinola, Editor and Kennedy Mbele
Rev. (Dr.) Samson Ayokunle wears two caps. He is the President of the Nigerian Baptist Convention as well as the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). He is retiring as head of the Baptist Convention, after 10 years in office, in a few months time but his tenure in CAN continues until 2022. In this interview, Ayokunle shares his perspectives on the state of the nation and life experiences. Excerpts:
You are the first Baptist person to become the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria. How did your background prepare you for the high office?
More than my background, it was God that prepared me. It started in Texas in October, 2015 when I went for annual leave with my wife. One day, as I was sleeping, I saw a revelation, CAN President-elect. Five blocs with boxes and I saw the name of each bloc written on the boxes and the name of the candidates. So, I saw my name on one, Christian Council of Nigeria.
Then, I saw people from other blocs crossing over to vote for me. I couldnt understand, I thought they were making mistake and I shouted at them, Why are you coming to vote for me and not vote for your bloc? As I was saying that, I woke up. It was a dream and I said Lord, I am already the President of the Nigerian Baptist Convention and it is a big denomination. I cant cope if CAN is added. I called my wife, told her there was a problem, that I just had a frightening revelation.
She jumped down from the bed and said, I cancel the revelation, it cannot stand in Jesus name. You cant be CAN President. They will spoil your name, they will destroy you. Then I told her, Have I already become your enemy because I told you about my dream? We slept on the same bed. Did I know that I will dream? And I asked her if it was a sin that I shared what I saw in the dream with her. I said, I agree with you that we should cancel it.
Lets go into prayer and fasting. Praying let the cup remove from me, that this dream should not come to pass. Up till now I didnt apply for CAN Presidency. Well, people saw that I didnt apply and went behind me to apply. They presented me to the national body. That was how it started. So, the first thing that prepared me was divine power because whenever God wants me to do anything for Him, He speaks to me. I have lived by remaining so even before entering the seminary, and when I was in the federal civil service, there was a revelation to me that I will go to the seminary.
It was by revelation that I went to my first church. He showed me the size of the church, how not fanciful the church was and said that was the place he had for me. I spent 16 years there, pasturing. By the time I was to be the President of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, I also didnt apply. He came to me in my pastorium where I was sleeping and said begin to pack your load from here because you have been made a principal. I rebuked it, saying I will not be a principal. I thought He was talking about being the principal of a secondary school. He said follow me, and I followed Him. He drove the car which we had entered into a compound, opened the two front doors, He boarded from the drivers side and asked me to board through the other side, we connected Lagos/Ibadan expressway and went towards Ojoo, then to the University of Ibadan and we went straight to the Baptist building.
When we got to the gate, it opened itself and we entered. The Baptist building is the head of the Nigerian Baptist School. On the way to the building, He said this is your new office, you will be the principal and I asked, The principal? And I woke up. I went to the toilet.
Some minutes later after sleeping again, He came again, took me to my church and showed me the send-off service they were doing for me and how people were rejoicing from there to the reception hall. I was confused because a man was made a principal; people were celebrating it like this and I thought they were being careless.
I thought it was a spirit of back-sliding because I was a teacher after I left the university. I taught in two secondary schools. So I thought I would go back to teaching again and that if I was relocated to a nearby residence, they would send me packing from the pastoral.  So, I thought it was back-sliding.  In that reception hall, He came to me again and I said show me the person that put me in that position. He said no, they dont put people in positions by promotion. Nobody can unilaterally put people in that position. Let me show you, stand up.
As He touched me, I had strength and followed Him. He showed me a man who was standing alone at the reception hall, he was in white Yoruba agbada and He said that is the person. I didnt see His face. So I said somebody I didnt know put me in the position?. He said wait for ten months, it will be clearer to you and I woke up.
When I told my wife she said it was not a spirit of back-sliding, that if it were a case of back-sliding, the church wouldnt have been celebrating it, that the church will not celebrate a back-slider. So, the issue of back-sliding was taken out of it, that you will be a principal officer in a church organization.
That was the 23rd of December. So I asked mummy to allow us to start praying and fasting immediately because I didnt want to take it for granted that it was not spiritual back-sliding. Mummy declined and said I am not going to fast, this is Christmas season. Let me celebrate Christmas first.
What you saw is not about back-sliding but the next thing God will do in your life. He is preparing your mind ahead of time but after Christmas we can go into prayer and fasting and we instituted an intercessory group which I have not disbanded till today. Seven months after, I opened my e-mail and saw that I had been nominated by someone to be considered as the General Secretary of the Baptist Convention. They sent me a form which they said I should complete.
So I completed it and sent it back to them. That was how it started. We were 82 nominees across the federation. They started screening. We wrote examinations. Our wives wrote examinations and they screened us until we were five who then went for comprehensive medical check-up before they finally arrived at me because I led in the examinations. So it is what God wanted to do. However, God first prepared me; my first degree was in sociology at the University of Ibadan. Then I did a Post Graduate Diploma in Education when I found myself teaching. Later, I did a Masters of Education in Counseling Psychology .
When God called me I went to the seminary and did Masters of Divinity in Theology and, after pasturing for some years, I went to England and did another Masters in Christian Religious Studies and Theology at Liverpool University and, after that, I did my PhD in Theology, specializing in Liturgical Studies in the same university.
You have come a long way since when you first became the Vice President of CAN and then President. It must have been tough leading about 150million Nigerian Christians. How has it been?
You must have read blackmail about me in newspapers. Hardly will you see me respond to any because they were meant to distract ones attention from facing the reality. Among the people blackmailing me was a candidate to occupy that position when they didnt know me because they had another person in mind and they felt that my CV was intimidating.
How did you manage to outsmart them?
We contested. CAN works in accordance with its Constitution and not by intimidation from anybody. They will allow all the blocs that were qualified to present candidates to do so. And the candidates will go through an electoral college of 15 people; three from each of the five blocs with the highest vote, two people came out and from there we went to the NEC election which has about 105 church leaders. After that, I won overwhelmingly. I had 59 votes while the second candidate had about 28. That was how that case was settled. Blackmails here and there, we Christians dont investigate; we believe liars but the righteousness of the righteous
Lets go into the issues in the polity; insecurity, kidnapping, banditry, killings, even of pastors, etc. What reports are you getting from across the country, especially concerning Christian brethren?
Not me alone, you are also getting reports. You know how deplorable our security situation has become. Before the advent of this administration, it was Boko Haram but now Boko Haram is still there, sacking military formations in the North-East, especially in Borno, they even attempted the life of the governor two or three times. Now it has spread to the North-West which used to be peaceful, bandits have taken over.
These bandits are also Boko Haram that changed strategy and, instead of concentrating in one part of the country, they are spreading all over the country. Their system of attack is almost the same, except that the bandits decided to commercialize their act of kidnapping which has seen them focusing on schools. Schools are almost closing down in the North-West and North-East. These people are almost succeeding in their mission that western education is forbidden.
The security situation is very worrisome and has reached a very dangerous proportion which government must do something about. Herdsmen are rampaging and this government has not thought it wise to investigate the source of the illegal ammunition they carry. Rather, government is always defending them in one way or the other. The hand is that of Esau but the voice is that of Jacob. What is making government not to take a wise step of investigating the source of the ammunition they carry and have them arrested? It is only of late that the President said that any herdsman caught with illegal firearms should be treated as a criminal.
That was after we had gone to Aso Rock to tell him to take a decisive action. If that advice had been taken, as a stitch in time saves nine, we wouldnt have been at this level. Nobody hates the Fulani. I cant hate them because they are Nigerians but when your business is roaming about all communities and you are violent, then you have come to do more than business; the expansionist philosophy that you want to implement, nobody is going to watch you do that.
How long ago was the meeting you said you had with Mr. President and how did it go?
It was during his first tenure, we were also there again to re-present our concern. We have been making newspaper publications almost on weekly basis. We have been crying about the lopsided appointments, ethnic and religious calculus in the scheme of things. Politicians pitch religious leaders against themselves.
When we criticize this government for lopsidedness in terms of appointments along religious and ethnic climes, it is not government that replies us, it is religious leaders, further polarizing the society and heating up the polity. We are adults and, as such, cannot deceive ourselves by saying we want peace while we live in falsehood. Peace cannot come by falsehood and insincerity. It is by telling ourselves the truth and doing something about it, upholding it with justice, mutual respect and fairness in the distribution of things that we can stay together, peacefully.
Do you share the same view of Sheikh Gumi that government should negotiate with bandits?
If they have been negotiating with armed robbers, drug pushers and those who embezzled public funds, let them go ahead and do that because criminality is criminality.
Gumi also made a statement that it was Christian soldiers that were killing bandits and insurgents. How did you see that statement?
You must have seen our response to that and the response of the military; that we should keep quiet and not polarize the army into Christian and Muslim. The warfare has never been based on religion or ethnicity. Military warfare is one and no religious leader should be making unguarded statements capable of dividing the military or dampening their morale. How can you be talking about deployment of the military in terms of religion? If you are bringing out an audio to justify your claim, who do I know is behind the voice? Why cant you show us the video clip? That audio was manipulative and deceitful.
At the peak of the crisis in Southern Kaduna, you visited Kaduna State and tried to mediate on the issues there. If you can recall, what were your findings because the issues in that state appear to be a continuous thing?
My findings, I didnt carry out a research on what was happening there. Rather, I encouraged the governor to do his utmost best to put an end to what was happening. We were made to understand that the attacks had been on both sides. It was ethnic between the Fulani and Southern Kaduna people but now it has gone beyond that. It has turned into banditry.
So the situation requires a drastic approach. I am on the side of the governor who said there should be no negotiation with bandits. Criminals are to be brought to book. Who offended those bandits? This is the question we ask. The people they are kidnapping, have they met them before? What offence did they commit? The bandits kidnapping people are insane, mentally deranged.
They are different from the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and Odua Peoples Congress, OPC. I was very sad when I heard a former Army chief comparing those two groups to Boko Haram and bandits. In what way are they the same? In fact, he should never make such a statement again. Otherwise people will see him as one of the brains behind banditry and terrorism in the country. IPOB is fighting against marginalization.
The wealth of the nation is coming from them and they feel they are being marginalized in their own land and that their water is being polluted. Their children are not being employed. Although I think they ought to have taken a more civil, legal and constitutional way in making their voices to be heard. One may ask, why did they take up arms?
They are taking up arms on economic matters; that billions are carted away and their lands are left devastated. There is infrastructural decay, their roads are impassable and they said if you cant attend to these issues, you cant take our wealth away again to serve the entire nation. The same thing with OPC, they are agitating that they are left out in the scheme of things. What they should do is not to take up arms against government but government should invite them for a round table discussion. Dialogue is better than carrying arms.
But Boko Haram doesnt deserve dialogue because we dont know who offended them; neither do we know what they are fighting for except for religious madness. People will leave objectivity for sentiment along religious lines. Nigeria cannot survive that way. Those of us occupying positions are expected to know better, think better and speak better. It is by confronting the issues that we can be out of logjam.
A serving minister has been accused of having links with terrorists and people are asking him to resign. What is CANs position on the matter?
That question should have been directed to the DSS and NIA. If it is people that are bringing out such information, what has DSS been doing? The minister owned up saying he made those controversial statements when he was younger. I wonder how he survived DSS screening before the appointment. On what basis was he appointed by the President in the first instance?
Why should he pick somebody with such a lacuna? When people are quoting you, it is no longer fake news. They are quoting you, what you said. The DSS kept quiet. These people should have doused the tension if they had come out with empirical evidence that this man did not say it …this man said it and this is the action we are taking. People have been saying that there are some people in government promoting terrorism. And for them to think there is no danger and keep quiet speaks volumes about such a government. He who lives in a glass house should not throw stones. People that are in the position of leadership in any setting, especially in Nigeria, should be people of exemplary character.
The data of Nigerians are committed to the hands of these ones. When he was saying that he made the controversial statements when he was a teenager and the year he made the statement, he was no longer a teenager, he was almost in his 30s.
Do we still say he was very young and didnt know what he was saying? Then if it was naivety that made him make the statement before he was exposed, did he ever regret saying such things? How will I also believe the apology he tendered? When he was first accused he was threatening to sue a newspaper. All these things look more confusing and dont allow any right thinking person to see him as a straightforward person.
Somebody just wants to manipulate the intelligence of others to escape. Honorably, with all these facts, I dont see anything to justify his continuous existence as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The President should do the needful, otherwise people will see him as not serious about fighting terrorism and radicality in religion and people will not respect him. Anything he says is just like playing to the gallery. There will not be a sincere statement.
If this one should be allowed to be thereall these videos lying around, are they videos about him? Did the statements he made come out from him? Was it his twin brother that made them? That is what we are looking for and I am ashamed of our National Assembly that passed him because he appeared before them.
What research did they do about him? Up till now, we have not heard a statement from the National Assembly about the matter. What is the Senate President doing? What about the Speaker of the House of Representatives? Didnt they hear or read the news? Are they not embarrassed? What about the media? What is the position of the media?

  • Next week, Rev Ayokunle speaks on the controversy surrounding the restructuring of Nigeria among other issues in the polity

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