All seems not well in The Apostolic Church, TAC, as different factions have emerged and accusing fingers being pointed at will.
One issue that is threatening to tear the church apart, we learnt, is tribalism.
In a recent interview, one of the pastors accused leadership of the church in Nigeria of fuelling the tribalism crisis.
Below is an account of the crisis as reported by The Mail:
The last is yet to be heard on the crisis rocking The Apostolic Church as the United States of America branch of the church has been submerged by the crisis which originated from Nigeria.
It is learnt that, presently, there are more than six factions of the church in America controlled by diverse factions of Pastors and members.
The two leading factions are that of the Yorubas headed Nigerian National President, Pastor Gabriel Olutola and that of the Akwa-Cross controlled by pastors from Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Rivers States and Abuja.
Report has it that Pastor Udoiyak, Pastor George, Pastor Afia and Pastor Isaiah, all from Akwa Ibom, are in support of Yoruba section of the church for fear of being victimised by the Yorubas in the Nigerian National Executive Council, having (allegedly) been given huge amount of money each time they travel with Olutola to United States to attend convention organized by the Yoruba section.
Speaking on the church crisis, the National Secretary of the church in North America, Pastor Kenneth Udo Ibok stated thus:
May we know you Sir?
My name is Apostle Kenneth Udo Ibok. I am the National Secretary of The Apostolic Church, North America. I hail from Eket Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. I came to United States in 1982. I am a lawyer by profession but before now, I was worked as a Journalist. I was called into the Lord’s vineyard in 1999 through the National President of The Apostolic Church in Canada, Pastor John Kristianson and was later confirmed a Pastor in 2002 by late Apostle U. T. Offong. I was ordained as an Apostle in 2012 by Abuja Field Superintendent, Late Apostle J. R. Akpan which after I was posted to serve in United States of America under Abuja Field. In 2013 we organised the Apostolic Church North America.
Can you tell us the history of The Apostolic Church in United States of America?
The Apostolic Church came to United States through members of the church from Nigeria who travelled down here individually and then decided to continue worshiping God as members of The Apostolic Church. They then started conducting church service in their homes with family members. Historically, in the early 1970s, The Apostolic Church USA was registered with Pastor Adeyinka and Pastor Akilowo who were all LAWNA pastors here in the US. That was when Late Pastor Jemigbon was LAWNA Territorial Chairman of The Apostolic Church in Nigeria. As at then, with their belief that United States of America was given to them to evangelize, anybody from another Nigerian Field or territory that attempted to establish The Apostolic Church in the US without passing through LAWNA was considered as a rival. That was why it took Akwa Ibom pastors until late 1990s to early 2000 to be able to establish The Apostolic Church in the US. However, the Adeyinka/Akilowo group broke out from LAWNA because they needed independence and had already started moves to get independence before the death of Pastor Jemigbon. When they broke away from LAWNA, they left with the registration of the church as The Apostolic Church USA. That was when the remaining LAWNA group controlled by the Nigerian leadership registered ‘The Apostolic Church USA Glorious Vision’. Later, Glorious Vision group thought of unifying with other sections like ours but with secret agenda of taking control of all the churches since their belief was that Yorubas owned The Apostolic Church in the US. To achieve their ill aim, they needed Akwa-Cross members with the intent of passing through them to get the support of the then National President, late Pastor E. E. Okon. As such, they gave the Akwa-Cross members the impression that the church would be one; with such impression, members of the church from Akwa Ibom and Cross River States joined them. Those from other Nigerian regions like the Igbos refused to join the Yorubas because maybe they had already foreseen the future of the unionism not working. Originally, individual members of the church used to gather either in their homes or shopping centres to conduct church services.
[Cut-in] …So presently, how many sections of The Apostolic Church are operating in United States of America?
As we are talking now, the sections of the church that are in operation include: The Apostolic Church USA, The Apostolic International, The Apostolic Church USA Glorious Vision, The Apostolic Church North America, The Apostolic Church North America-Texas as well as sections controlled by the Igbos. All these sections are control by different group of persons. For instance, The Apostolic Church USA is the majority group led by Pastor Adeyinka and Akilowo. They were the first set of LAWNA leaders that broke out from LAWNA leadership to be independent; 80% of them are Yorubas while the remaining 20% are Akwa Ibomites. The Apostolic Church International operates majorly in Washington DC and Maryland. Majority of members are Akwa Ibomites and Cross Riverians and also The Apostolic Church North America comprising members from Maritime Field, Akwa Ibom State Fields, Canada and United States, which is the group I belong. The Apostolic Church North America-Texas is the Yoruba group that broke away from us. It is being controlled by LAWNA territory in Nigeria headed by Pastor Olutola and that is the group Pastor Udoiyak, Pastor Isaiah, Pastor George, Pastor Afia and other Akwa Ibom Pastors in Nigeria associate with. I don’t think there is any Pastor from Cross River State that associates with them including those that reside in the US. The Apostolic Church International led by Akwa-Cross members broke away from The Apostolic Church USA because when late Apostle U. T. Offong came to United States and gave Akwa Ibom and Cross River indigenes the spiritual mandate to establish The Apostolic Church in the US, the leaders of The Apostolic Church USA led by the then late Jemigbon confronted the late Pastor Offong and asked him why he came to US to establish The Apostolic Church without their authority. That was why the Akwa-Cross members broke away from them.
How did The Apostolic Church Canada joined your group?
Initially, Pastor Udoiwud had lived in Canada when he was working there as Criminal psychologist. Before then, he had already met Pastor Kristianson who is now the National President of The Apostolic Church Canada in United Kingdom during a church conference. That was when his relationship with Pastor Kristianson started. So, when we registered the Church as The Apostolic Church North America, the church in Canada also joined us because Canada is also in North America.
You said The Apostolic Church USA broke away from LAWNA because they needed independence. Similarly, your group, The Apostolic Church North America is also operating independently from Nigerian leadership. Why don’t these two independent-minded groups merge since they are pursuing the same cause?
Reason is that though they don’t want to be controlled by the Nigerian leadership as we also insisted, being Yoruba Pastors, they are still with tribal sentiment and selfish as the other Yoruba group. As I said earlier, that was what brought about The Apostolic Church International.
So far, what is the strength of the church in United States?
The Apostolic Church in the United States is not strong. Reason is that, until barely three years ago, the Yorubas did not allow members of the church from other Nigerian regions to be directly involved in the affairs of the church. As at then, any person from other region other than Yoruba that attempted to establish the church elsewhere was seen as either rebel or rival. So, as at then, the church was registered and operated as ‘The Apostolic Church International’. Like Pastor Oyetunji told me some years ago, they claimed that the entire United States of America was given to the Yorubas under LAWNA Territory for evangelism; by so doing, they whipped the cord of tribalism, discrimination and nepotism in the church. Consequently, we the Akwa-Cross members together with those from River State Nigeria decided to start The Apostolic Church that focuses on the true gospel of Christ and devoid of human interest. Our aim was and is to ensure that the Americans embrace The Apostolic Church because if the Europeans who brought the church to Nigeria operated the church as European church, then we Nigerians wouldn’t have the opportunity to become members of the church. ‘Church’ belongs to Christ and it was the same church that he died for on the cross. He died to secure freedom of worship for the church. So we all have the freedom to worship and express our worship to Christ. The church does not belong to any region or Apostle. We posited that The Apostolic Church in United States of America cannot be operated from Nigeria because they are two different countries. Beside, since you are not in America, you probably don’t know the ‘DOs’ and ‘DON’Ts’ of the American government as well as the American customs and tradition which is different from that of Nigeria. So, it is certainly difficult for the Nigerian leadership of The Apostolic Church to evangelize to the Americans. Those of us who are living here in the United States understand how and what it takes to approach the white and get them to embrace The Apostolic Church which is what they cannot stay in Nigeria to do or by a brief visit as the case is. That is why if you attend their annual convention, you don’t see any American; so, what then is the difference between the church congregation in Nigeria and that of America? In the section of the church we operate, we always strive to evangelise to the Americans so that they can embrace The Apostolic Church and by the grace of God, we have a good number of Americans that worship with us. For instance, in our last annual convention, the President of the Apostolic Church in Canada, a white man, was in attendance, we also had not less than 12 choir groups comprising of Americans in attendance. That was the first time such thing happened in the history of The Apostolic Church in the United States of America. Other participants who came from Nigeria only attended the convention as guests or Nigerian representatives and after the convention, they visited few assemblies and went back. They did not come to control or officiate the convention.
Sometime in 2013, there was a news report in the ‘Apostolic Gospel Herald Newspaper’ published by the church in Akwa Ibom State that the Nigerian National President of The Apostolic Church, Apostle Gabriel Olutola, on a bid to ensure national unity in the church in United State, had merged all sections of the church, therefore bringing the Yoruba, Akwa-Cross and other regional factions together and also constituted a National Executive Council. How true was the report?
What they called national unity was one of the biggest frauds ever. Why am I calling it a fraud? Let’s go back to history, when late Pastor E. E. Okon was the National President, the Yorubas under LAWNA didn’t want national unity such that they didn’t even accept the church annual national motto that was usually given by the late President through inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What they used to do was, each year a national motto was given, they will disregard it and choose their national motto separately. They did that because the national president was from another tribe. It was when the national president died that they suddenly knew that there should be national unity. And every other region up-large to that because some regions like Akwa Ibom are so dependent minded. That is why some of them who are in the National Executive Council cannot have the boldness to speak the truth at any time; they are the ones I am even angry with. The Yorubas used the acclaimed national unity as a ploy to control the Akwa Ibom section of the church. When you are talking about national unity, there are many things that should be considered to make it genuine; one of such things is the national headquarters. Where is the national headquarters of The Apostolic Church in Nigeria? They will tell you it is in Lagos; but why is it in Lagos when Abuja is the Federal Capital Territory? What you have in Lagos is LAWNA territorial headquarters, not national headquarters. The Yorubas only collected money from other regions to build their territorial headquarters. That was exactly what they came to do here (United States) in 2013 which they called national unity. In an attempt to deceive us that they were no more sectional about the church, the idea of registering the church as The Apostolic Church North America was brought. All that happened in the name of national unity was that the national president, Apostle Olutola came to America in 2013; upon his arrival, Apostle Udoiwud called me and informed me that the national president has come and that he wants to unify all section of the church. At first, I told him (Udoiwud) that I know what the Yorubas usually do and how tribal they are. I told him that they were looking for a way to gain control of all sections of the church here in the United States and that I don’t want to be a part of their acclaimed unity, rather that I will prefer to worship God in my congregation with my family. But Udoiwud convinced me that the national president was serious and opened for unity. To deceive us the more, they brought over $1.5 million (One Million, Five Hundred Thousand US Dollars) to build a church auditorium, national secretariat and pastors’ quarters. But I don’t know of any person from another tribe that lives there, yet they called it national headquarters. At that early stage, it was encouraging so I accepted the merger and I was appointed the Treasurer and the Legal Adviser for the church. Shockingly, when they brought the over $1.5 million for the national secretariat, I, as the treasurer and the church’s lawyer was not aware of how the money was spent, I did not see even a cent from the money talk less of the legal documents concerning the national secretariat project, yet, I was the church’s legal adviser. That aside, after some time, another issue came up; the Yoruba Apostle they sent from Nigeria to United State, Awojide, did not have the legal documents to live in the United States. Consequently, that affected his stay in the US. In 2015, when Awojide came for the convention, the American government deported him back to Nigeria. So we, at the leadership level wrote to the Nigerian National President and the Nigerian National Executive Council that there was no point sending another person from Nigeria to come so that we don’t keep creating wrong records and bad impression to the American whom we are hoping to evangelise to. We requested that since Awojide has been deported, his Deputy who was Apostle Udoiwud should take over as the national president, the Secretary who was Apostle Ayetunji should be appointed as Deputy, I, the treasurer should be appointed Secretary and then a new treasurer be appointed. Ever since we sent the letter, we are yet to get any response even till date. The next thing we heard after a long while was that one Pastor Fakun had been sent from Nigeria to become the national president. Why did they do that, it was because Apostle Udoiwud who supposed to have taken over as the National President was not a Yoruba man. That’s how tribal the Yorubas are; that is the level of discrimination they brought into the church. So can you call that national unity? Most disappointingly, they had the guts to tell us that National Presidency of the church in the United States of America is for the Yorubas. Those are the reasons we decided to return to our independency and good enough, those who were trustees of the church then were Pastor Alabi, Pastor Udoiwud, Pastor Awojide, Pastor Olutola and I. Following the deportation of Pastor Awojide back to Nigeria by the US Government as a result of his ineligibility to live in the US and the disqualification of the Nigerian National President, Pastor Olutola on grounds that he was neither a US citizen nor permanent resident, said there was need to effect changes in the incorporation. So, Pastor Ekwere and Pastor Yoka from Maritime Field in Nigeria were incorporated as members of trustees. As trustees of The Apostolic Church North America, our vision is to operate on anti-discrimination, anti-tribalism and anti-nepotism. Presently, we are the incorporators of THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH NORTH AMERICA. The Yoruba section which is controlled by the Nigerian Leadership operates under The Apostolic Church North America-Texas. From the name, one can easily see that they were the ones who broke away from The Apostolic Church North America.
What are those things that made you believe that The Apostolic Church in America was ready to be independent and not controlled by the Nigerian Leadership of the church which appears to be the nurturer of the church in America?
That is a very important question. The first thing is that before the Nigerian leadership become the supervisor or the nurturer of the church as you say, it must have been instrumental to the planting of the church. But it is not so. The leadership of the church in Nigeria was not instrumental to the establishment of the church. The church started from individual members as I earlier said. For instance, I started my own congregation the same thing happened with other congregations. Good enough that the Nigerian leadership of the church came in and corrected some flaws; having done that and overseeing the church for number of years now, they would have allowed us to continue and move the church forward. Secondly, you must also consider the academic background, exposure and administrative skill of those leading the church because these are the factors that will give you the room to approach and convince any American to join your church. You cannot claim to be nurturing or supervising the church here in America and then you come and operate on sentiment and tribalism which is what is happening presently in Nigeria. No, we don’t want that. We need a church leadership that will encourage togetherness and operate on sincerity, ingenuity and then pursue the gospel of Christ as the only goal.
You have not mentioned how financially strong the Apostolic Church in America is to operate on their own without Nigerian Leadership….
It is only the Yoruba section that the Nigerian Leadership do sent money to for the running of the church. To an extent, the Yoruba Pastors are being paid by the Nigerian Leadership whereas every Assembly in Akwa Ibom section is funded by either the resident pastor or few individuals. We don’t receive any money from the Nigerian leadership not even from Akwa Ibom Territorial Council. But we learnt that every time members of the church in Akwa Ibom are usually asked to contribute money to be sent to us for the running of the church. Let me use this platform to say clearly – We, the Akwa Ibom section has never collected any money sent to us as claimed. Any money coming from Nigeria usually goes straight to the Yorubas even without our knowledge. That is what they usually used to pay their Yoruba Pastors and run their section of the church. So, the Yoruba section gets financial help from LAWNA in Nigeria but we don’t have any other than ourselves.
So don’t you think that for Nigerian leadership to finance the church in America there is need for them to monitor and decided what is being done and how?
I don’t think Nigerian leadership has the ability to finance a church here in United States of America. But even if they were to be sending money, that doesn’t mean you should also take over control of the church because you don’t live here; the distance doesn’t permit that and besides, you understand the environment.
Could it be that Akwa Ibom Pastors who are in the Nigerian Leadership of the church are not aware of this?
No! It is not as if they are not aware; they are keeping quiet because most Akwa persons can never wish to see a fellow Akwa Ibom person succeed in whatever he or she is doing. So our Akwa Ibom Pastors back home who join forces with the Yorubas against us are doing so simply because of selfish interest; may be so that they will be relevant in the National Executive Council and also dine with the National President. They don’t know that what they are doing is self-destruction.
Are you implying that Akwa Ibom Pastors in Nigeria who are in the National Executive Council are induced financially or otherwise?
O-yes! O-yes! Of course you know how fun and how strong the lure of coming to United State is. Once the Yorubas promise to bring them to America for the convention with free flight ticket, free accommodation, feeding allowance and take home money, they can’t help than to join forces with them to fight and condemn us who decided to stand on the path of truth.
Of all the sections of the church in America, which group is widely spread?
Presently the commonly known sections of the church are the Yorubas, the Igbos, the Rivers and Akwa Ibom. Each section is formed by one or more families. So they are not as many as it is in Nigeria. Out of the 50 states in America, the Akwa Ibom section has covered about 10 states so far including Washington DC, Chicago and Texas though we are yet to cover top cities like New York, Los Angeles etc. But the Yoruba section have their churches in these cities and in all, about 40% of them are Akwa Ibom people.
[Cut-in] …meaning that there are other Akwa Ibom people who are still with the Yorubas?
Yes, off course; just like we also have Yorubas in our section. For instance, in my congregation, composition of members is: White and Black Americans, Yorubas and Akwa Ibom.
How is other Igbo and Rivers section of the church coping with the situation?
Rivers section is just on their own they are not with LAWNA. The Igbos have never associated with Yorubas, in fact, they are running their church as an independent ministry, some don’t even call it The Apostolic Church.
So what do you think is the reason other Akwa Ibom people still remain with the Yorubas despite your complains?
Two things are involved. First is the desire for independent in life and the second is knowing the truth and standing by it. There are people who are naturally dependent minded and also there are people who do not believe that their life should be tied to another person or group of people. Similarly, there are people who will stand up for the truth once they know what was right and true and there are people who cannot speak and defend the truth even when they know it. For us, we stand for the truth at all times because we are pursuing heavenly goal which is the gospel of Christ. We cannot be cowed or forced to belong to what is not right.
What is the reaction of members of the church who are Americans like Pastor Kristianson, the Canadian National President on the sectional conflict?
Americans who are members of the church are not happy with the Nigerian leadership of The Apostolic Church regarding their attitude and how they are fanning disunity in the church. Even right from when Apostle Olutola came to merge all sections of the church, the Americans insisted that after the amalgamation, Nigerian leadership should get their hands off the operation of the church in America. Possibly, it appeared that was the reason The Apostolic Church Canada turned down the invitation that was given to them during the 2015 convention which was tagged, ‘Unity Convention’. The National President, Pastor Kristianson and the National Prophet told Pastor Udoiwud that they did not receive approval from God to attend the convention despite their prayer. In 2015, they also turned down the invitation that was given to them by LAWNA group; in fact, they don’t associate with them in anyway. But during our 2016 convention in June, The Apostolic Church Canada willingly attended and also assured that they will fully participate in the 2017 Convention of The Apostolic Church North America that will be held in Chicago. They particularly told us that they do not appreciate what LAWNA is doing and stressed that to them, it is ungodly.
How is the acceptability of The Apostolic Church to core Americans and what is the level of recognition by the American Government?
For the fact that we have registered the church as a legal entity, the United State Government is aware that there is a church call THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH NORTH AMERICA. Freedom of worship is highly respected here in America even than in Nigeria. Here there is a law that separates church from government, as a result, government is always very careful on how they get involved in church affairs. If you have government official (be it at the local, state or national level) coming to your church it, is specifically on a personal capacity. However, you can have politicians coming to church may be for political interest base on how large the congregation is. But, The Apostolic Church in America has not got to that level yet. Talking about acceptability of the church, the first problem is that the all these while, the church was not even position to evangelize to Americans. For instance, the last convention that the Yoruba people hosted which some Akwa Ibom Pastors in Nigeria also came was attended only by Nigerians. Majority of them were visiting worshippers; therefore since they don’t live in America, these people don’t know who to approach for evangelism, where to go and how to go about it. This is because they don’t understand the tradition and the government policies regarding that. As such, they fly into the US, move straight to their hotel rooms and from there to church where they gather among themselves and again, back to their hotels; they continue like that till the convention is over and then they fly back to Nigeria. With such operation, it is obvious that the Americans don’t even know what it is going. Unlike when we had this year’s convention in Texas, majority of the participants were Americans both white and black. If you come to next year’s that will be in Chicago, you will know that we are on the right path to evangelizing Americans.
How will you compare popularity and stability of other Nigerian church denomination in America with The Apostolic Church?
We started The Apostolic Church in America long before some other Nigerian Churches we have today. But presently, all these churches have grown far above us; reason being that our people are so tribally-inclined and selfish compared to those from other churches. Some of them who often come from Nigeria don’t even have an iota of truth and evangelism in their spirit; I can tell you at least five of them now. Churches like Mountain of Fire, Redeem Christian Church and so on are all far ahead of us because they have some sort of independence from their Nigerian leadership.
What do you think can be done to ensure that all sections of the church are merged together without further issues?
First of all, our Akwa Ibom pastors back home should be bold enough to tell the truth. They should draw the attention of the National Executive Council to the attitude of Yoruba people here in America and then spell it out to them that it is not good. But when they come to America and see that Akwa Ibom people are being unjustly treated and discriminated by the Yorubas and yet cannot condemn it and tell them the truth, there will surely be no way out.
Should they call for dialogue on a round table, do you think all section would be ready to come together?
If such dialogue will be for a genuine purpose and with sincere mind, it will work out. But if it will amount to returning back to dependency and control from Nigerian Leadership, then personally, I won’t be a party to that and I can tell you that it will not work.
Do you have intention of going back to Akwa Ibom State or are you staying in the US permanently?
Wherever the Lord sends me, I will go. I am from Eket Field in Akwa Ibom State. I was born and brought up in Eket. I have a house in Uyo, the State capital. Everything in me wishes to return back to my home but the only issue is that my family is here in America together with church which I am overseeing in America.
What is your final message to The Apostolic Church both in America and Nigeria?
I have just one message to them: Let us know that The Apostolic Church was brought to us by people, therefore, let us not claim ownership of the church. We should all see ourselves as Apostles, ministers and flocks of God. Let us always place the church first and let go our individual interests, sentiments and tribalism so that the church can grow and spread across the world as Christ commissioned us.
Aproko247 Editor’s Note:
As at press time, we could not reach the church leadership in Nigeria for comments. However, we would appreciate and love to hear their own side too.