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The new president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor says he never deliberately set out to occupy the plum office. Speaking at his first media forum since his election a fortnight ago, the president of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and founding pastor of Warri, Delta State-based Word of Life Bible Church says he was drafted into the race against his will.

'The truth is that I wasn't even thinking about it. But what happened was that a lot of Christians in the north suddenly appeared in Warri and said they wanted me to run. They came three times. I kept insisting that I was not interested. At a point one of them said if you don't do this, when things continue to go wrong, especially in the north, God will hold you responsible.'

For the fiery pastor fondly called 'Papa Ayo' who never fails to visit any place where there is religious strife to give succour to victims, that was 'a heavy statement.' And it marked a turning point. 'At that point I changed my mind. I said, let me go and pray. I prayed and consulted with some of our other leaders and I felt a relief to do it. That was how I got into the race.' And against all odds, he defeated the incumbent to make history as the first person from the Pentecostal bloc to occupy the position.

But he says occupying the office is no joke. 'It is a high level responsibility,' he quips. But he has one consolation: 'I believe that God who enabled me to come into this position has also made provision already; provision for wisdom. Provision of strength and health. Provision of favour and grace. Provision of human resources because it is human beings that are the most important parts of any project. I believe if the church will be strong, if Nigeria will be strong, God would definitely give me people who will work with me to make the church strong and to make Nigeria to be great.

He says his dream as leader of the umbrella Christian organisation is to impact on the lives of every Nigerian, regardless of creed.

'I am not only after protecting Christians. My heart is to protect every voiceless, helpless Nigerian wherever they are. And I believe God will help us. We'd work together. Like I have always said, the Sultan of Sokoto is a good man. But you see, sometimes, you live ahead of your time. I don't want to comment too much on that, but he's a great Nigerian. And I know we're friends and we can work together to solve some of these problems. I see that coming', he declares confidently.

Toward this end, the new CAN boss says his immediate priority is to score a bull's eyes in three main areas. Call it 'Papa Ayo's three point agenda', and you won't be crucified-to unite the church, put an end to religious upheavals and help put in place an enviable political structure.

Hear him: 'First of all, I would want to work seriously for the unity of the church. The church is not as united as it ought to be. And that is why we don't make the kind of impact we ought to make on Nigeria. Bible calls us the salt of the earth. But when we're divided, when we have too many different voices, when we're saying too many things in too many directions, then it is very difficult for us to actually speak as one and make the kind of impact we ought to make. It is important for the church to be one because Jesus prayed that prayer: He said that they may be one. So that for me is priority number one-to bring the church together whether you're a Roman Catholic, Anglican, Pentecostal or from the Aladura sect. No matter the bloc of the Christian faith you belong, we must understand that Jesus Christ makes us one. And if we can come together as one, it will be easier for us to help Nigeria as a nation. If we can come together as one, believe me, it will be easier for Nigeria to come together as one.'

Besides uniting the body of Christ, he is quite concerned about the incessant religious crisis in the nation, especially in the northern part.

'It is a great concern to me and I believe to anybody who is a Nigerian that loves Nigeria. I love this country and I know there are many others that love Nigeria. I believe that God will give us grace to work with our Moslem brothers. We must find peace for this country. No nation can survive constant religious crises. It is too dangerous a thing to allow it to continue. We can end it. Yes through dialogue. We can deepen the dialogue. There are other things about dialogue we can look into. I believe that my very good friend, the Sultan of Sokoto (we're very good friend, most people don't know that), we'd work together more. We'd spend more time to look at areas where we can co-operate to make sure these things don't happen again. If we can't stop it completely initially, at least we can reduce it to the barest minimum. I believe it's possible. '

'The third agenda borders on the politics in the country. 'I believe that God will use me and use my tenure to begin to hold elected officials accountable for their positions. People elected them. I believe we're coming to the point where your vote will actually count. And the more the votes count the more it is important for those who have been voted for to be accountable to those who voted them into office. Even if they were appointed, they were appointed based on certain recommendations. So they must work for the people.

They're the servants of the people. We want to be able to remind them constantly. The bible refers to people like us servants of God. If you're servants of God, automatically you're also a servant of the people. You can't serve God without serving people. So we want to remind them, make them understand that they're accountable. The level of corruption in Nigeria is too high. It's too much. I believe we can participate in a very major way to find ways to reduce corruption and make elected officials accountable.'

Amnesty for kidnappers
Like a lonely voice crying in the wilderness, Pastor Oritsejafor had been canvassing amnesty for the Niger Delta militants long before the Federal Government thought of it. His reasoning then was that such a move would have a tranquilising effect on the then restive youths in the region, whose stock in trade among others was kidnapping. Now that the problem has become pervasive, would he also recommend amnesty for those who have taken it to another level, particularly in the South-East? His response is a loud no. If anything, he wants to see a stiff penalty for perpetrators of the act which has become a 'national embarrassment.'

'I don't know if I would think of amnesty for kidnappers. I' m sorry to say because that is a high level criminal offence.

It's so wrong. Look at what happened to your colleagues that have just been released. How do you do that kind of a thing? How do you kidnap people for money? Sometimes, a three-year-old child, sometimes 90-year-old man or 85-year-old great grandmother? I mean no conscience? I don't think what they need is amnesty. What they need in my own opinion is to first of all find a way to show them that if you've not been caught, you can change your ways.

I believe the church can participate in that. But the reality is if you're caught, there should be very stiff penalties for people who are caught in this act of kidnapping. The penalty should not only be for those who actually do the kidnapping, but those who associate with it. Even the communities where these kidnappers come from should be held liable one way or the other. Kidnapping is un-African and un-Nigerian. It's not part of us. It's unlike us. It's not who we are.

So I don't think amnesty is the issue. I think they should be educated more through the press and shown the dangers that such things will bring to them and even to this nation if they don't stop what they're doing. This is my take.'

Role of government and church
'Specifically, about kidnapping. It is not a good word. It's a wrong word to even use, but it's real. It's a problem and we're facing it. It's an unfortunate development in Nigeria today. But it is a reality. The problem of kidnapping is not something you just look at one way and solve one way. There are so many other dimensions to it. There are many things involved in this situation. First of all, if you're going to solve a problem, you must first look at the root cause of that problem. And I think, as bad as kidnapping is; and believe me, it is horrible (and to even hear that journalists are being kidnapped, I don't know what else is left or who else is left to be kidnapped.)

But as bad as it is, what cause this to happen? When you go deep into it you discover that the Niger Delta problem is also an issue that is at the bottom of all of this. If you go back some years, you'll remember that there were some kidnappings that took place there but not for the same purpose. It started with the idea of kidnapping people with the purpose of drawing attention to the problem of the Niger Delta. In other words, if the problem of the Niger Delta was not there, probably, kidnapping will not be what it is today. So I want to say that there is a problem with the life of the average Nigerian. There is a problem with certain region being marginalised.

There's a problem with not solving the unemployment situation among young people across these nation. I feel for President Goodluck Jonathan because he has inherited enormous problems. But I see him as a man that can tackle anything. I believe he's capable. I believe he can face it. I have a saying that it is important for government and the church to partner in the sense that we give the spiritual backing while the government takes the bull by the horn. By that I simply mean that we should begin to seriously look at the problem of unemployment, let us see how to engage the youths.

In fact, even those who have received the amnesty (that's fantastic) but let's go beyond that; many of them today are being trained for something and hopefully, as they're being trained they should immediately be able to find jobs. If they can find jobs, that would help. Now what happens is that when those who didn't come out before discover that their colleagues are now gainfully employed and their lives is going on, they will quickly also want to get involved and be trained. There's the area of training and the need to provide jobs for people across this nation. If we look at all these with the church giving spiritual backing, I believe we can solve these problems, by the grace of God.'

On 2011 Election
'Nigerians must understand that if they allow someone to give them money for their votes, they have thrown away their future. How much money can anyone pay you for your conscience? In fact, Jesus Christ put it this way: 'What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world?' in this case you're not gaining anything but a few thousand naira that you'd finish in a moment and when it's gone what happens next? You would have only allowed a man or a woman to occupy a position that they would use to oppress, deprive and marginalise you. At the end of the day, you're the loser. So I pray that Nigerians, somehow, will wake up and understand the value of their votes. Don't give it out anyhow. Think, pray and consider before you vote for anybody. But make sure you vote. Don't allow somebody take your vote or voter's card from you. Do the right thing. If we all decide to do the right thing, Nigeria will be the right place.'

'IBB is a Nigerian. We wish him well. But in my own opinion, it is a very big mistake he s making. He should not think of doing this (running). He should advise people. He should encourage others. He should find ways to be a statesman; a person that other Nigerians can go to for insight into what to do and what not to do to make Nigeria great. I don't think IBB should be involved in running for office at this time. That is my opinion.'