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Fraud allegations rock Seventh-Day Adventist Church

By Job Osazuwa

Some members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church from Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Osun, Delta, Edo and Kwara states appear to have drawn the battle line with the president of the church, Western Nigeria Union (WNU), Pastor Oyeleke Owolabi.

Their grievances are not unconnected with allegations of embezzlement of church fund, abuse of office, harassment of members with police, attempts to take over Babcock University, extortion through honorarium and illegal production of official church materials.

Based on that, some aggrieved church members, on February 13, organised a protest on the premises of the church in Ogba/Ijaiye Housing Estate, Lagos State. They said they were crying out to the world to be aware of the oppression and attacks that they have been going through over the years.

Displaying placards with different inscriptions, they said they were also drawing the attention of the church’s leadership in West Africa to the decadence in the church in Nigeria. They urged the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate Owolabi concerning the ADRA case, instead of limiting their prosecution to the dismissed ADRA director.            

But Owolabi, who spoke with the reporter on the telephone, laughed off the allegations, describing them as baseless, old rhetoric. He expressed shock that the issues that were investigated by an independent committee, which exonerated him years ago, were being resurrected by some disgruntled members of a division of the Lagos conferences.

He said there was no point joining issues with members of his own church. He, therefore, directed the reporter to speak with the executive secretary of the WNU, Pastor Adeleye Ezekiel, and stated that whatever the secretary said on his behalf would remain the position of his office and the church.

The church president said: “He is in the best position to answer your questions.  Seventh-Day Adventist Church is a highly-organised Bible-believing Christian organization. Going through all the so-called allegations, none is personal. I am the head of the church but God is the rightful owner of the church.”      

Part of the report supplied by Ezekiel to Daily Sun read: “ADRA Nigeria and Adventists Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Germany had a project implementation agreement from 2017 to 2018. The projects were duly implemented in accordance with the approved project proposal and guidelines. The reports of the implemented activities were sent to ADRA Germany, including narrative, financial and original copies of the supporting documents. This ADRA Germany attested to in their response to the Delloite forensic audit carried out on ADRA Nigeria operations.

“A careful examination of the Delloite audit report shows that neither the board nor the board chair (Pastor Oyeleke Alabi Owolabi) was indicted. All ADRA Nigeria project activities were implemented in accordance to humanitarian best practices, reports provided and audited by external auditors. The records are in the public domain for verification.”

On Babcock University’s ownership, he said, “The issue in question bordered on the ownership of the university. It has nothing to do with any takeover. The busy-bodies who are calling themselves concerned laity have no idea of who owns Babcock University. The university belongs to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Nigeria. The incorporated trustees of the church in Nigeria represent the SDA Church in terms of property acquisition and ownership.”

The protesting members, in a statement jointly signed by Friday Aniekan, Lagos, Prof. Oluseyi Oduyoye, Ogun, Elder Kunle Falade, Ondo, Elder Adediran Emmanuel O., Osun, Elder Folorunsho Ako, Kwara, Elder Onoruvie Okpako, Delta, Elder Samuel Ogbu, Edo, and Elder Asekunowo John Olanrewaju, Ekiti, raised the alarm that the trustees of Seventh-Day Adventist Church, as presently constituted, were premised on fraud and Owolabi had no legitimate grounds to remain president of the WNU.

“We are calling on the Inspector-General of Police to stop his officers’ harassment, intimidation and illegal arrest of members and pastors of the church,” they said.

According to the aggrieved members, “Sometime in 2015, lay members of the church wrote a petition to the General Conference (the international headquarters of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church located in the United States), which bordered on many observed atrocities of the Western Nigerian Union Conference president. This led to a 16-man commission of inquiry, which was set up on September 14, 2016, and headed by Elder Karnik Doukmetzian, general counsel to the General Conference president. Twenty-six allegations were investigated. Though the Karnik commission could not be described as thorough, Pastor Owolabi was, however, indicted on a number of allegations.”

They alleged: “Owolabi fraudulently reconstituted the trustees of Seventh-Day Adventist Church in 2016. He falsified minutes of meeting that never took place, appended forged signatures on it, lied oath and applied to the Corporate Affairs Commission for reconstitution of the trustees of the church. Pursuant to the fraudulent application and misrepresentation to CAC, the commission erroneously issued the certificate of incorporated trustees of Seventh-Day Adventist Church, dated June 23, 2016, to Owolabi.

“It is on this premise that Owolabi parades himself as the chairman of the board of trustees of the church till date. The investigations conducted by church members show that a number of those who were listed as being present to take the decision on the reconstitution of trustees denied attending such a meeting.”

The statement further read: “We are imploring the police to stop harassing, intimidating and illegally arresting members and pastors of the church who are against Owolabi’s nefarious and sacrilegious activities.

“On September 11, 2020, armed policemen stormed the church’s headquarters, Oyo Conference, at Oke-Bola, Ibadan, to arrest the officers: Pastor Ezekiel Oyinloye, Pastor Cornelius Ajani and Elder Tunde Afolabi of the conference in a gestapo manner. Fortunately, Elder Tunde Afolabi was not in office when they arrived but the duo of Pastor Ezekiel Oyinloye and Pastor Cornelius Ajani were not so lucky; they were whisked away to Abuja, where they were detained under horrendous conditions at the SARS detention camp for not less than three days. In the long run, it turned out that the pastors were unlawfully arrested and detained on a purely civil matter.

“When we thought that it was over with police harassment of our pastors and members, on January 26, we received calls that police from Force Criminal Investigation Intelligence from Abuja, with reinforcement of armed policemen from Lagos, laid siege at about 4am on our conference headquarters in Lagos to arrest the conference’s acting president/secretary, Pastor Umezuriuke Uchegbue, and others.”

But Owolabi countered and told Daily Sun: “How can I harass them with police, am I a police officer or is my job that of policing?”

The president said he was taking every legitimate step to ensure that everything was done in accordance with the rules and regulations of the church.     

The members who demonstrated in Lagos also said they were poised to restore sanity to the church and stop the violation of its policies with impunity.

“The public is to remain assured that, as a church, we condemn, in very strong terms, every form of fraudulent practice and mismanagement and stand in unwavering solidarity with ADRA Germany and the German Federal Office in ensuring that everyone involved in the scandal is brought to book.

“The general members should remain calm, trusting that God is in firm control of His church and believing that the gates of hell cannot prevail over the church,” they said.

They also clarified that, though there were irreconcilable differences and dissenting voices, there were no factions in the church. 

The aggrieved members also prayed for their alleged oppressors to repent so that they would all make heaven together at the end of their race on earth.

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