9th October, 2013
Four years after its conception by some members of an Abuja parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, a housing scheme for members of the church has taken the appearance of a fraud in the hands of three pastors and two sidekicks
Just as doctors occasionally need doctors when ill, pastors sometimes need deliverance when in the grip of an affliction. Deliverance–from the clutches of the law–is what Peter Imonhiosen, Adeola Oluwafemi Johnson and Cosmas Mbanu, all pastors of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, currently need. Quickly. In the same boat with the pastors are Mr. Sunday Adeagbo, a lawyer, and Mr. Femi Shobola. The five men were arrested last month by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, following a petition that accused them of diversion of funds paid by church members for a housing scheme.
Back in 2009, members of the Resurrection Chapel, a parish of the Redeemed Church of God in Lugbe, Abuja, were presented with the prospect of owning property in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. The project was initiated by a group, which calls itself Excellent Men Fellowship. The group kicked off the process of acquiring plots of land from the Federal Capital Territory Development Authority, FCDA, which has a series of mass housing development schemes as a response to the acute accommodation shortage in the country’s capital.
The Excellent Men Fellowship, EMF, which is made up of adult male members of the Resurrection Chapel and led by one Pastor Bisi Akande, urged the entire congregation to support the scheme. Like prospectors at a gold rush, members jumped at the opportunity. Financial contributions followed.
But before the process was completed, Pastor Akande was transferred from the parish during the routine transfer exercise of the RCCG. His successor was Pastor Imonhiosen. Before Akande left the parish, he turned over the bank statements for the contributions for the scheme to Imonhiosen. Shortly after Akande’s departure, the FCDA granted approval for and allocated parcel of land for an estate at Pyakassa in the Abuja Metropolitan Area Council, AMAC.
Things were looking skywards.
The progress being made attracted members of other RCCG parishes in Abuja. A bigger rush to benefit from the initiative followed. Intending beneficiaries speedily made requisite payments into the account opened by EMF for the purpose. Then came a hitch. The church was unable to take possession of the land because of the demand of the original land owners, the Gwari people in Pyakassa, for compensation for their farm crops. This, though, was quickly resolved. By early 2010, the acquisition was completed and the church called a meeting to give members who had paid an update.
At the meeting, which held in March, 2010, subscribers were told that each of them was entitled to a plot measuring 600 square metres. They were also told that no member, whatever his position in the church, would own more than one plot. This was to ensure that the plots, to be allocated on first-come-first-served basis, went round.
Each subscriber was to pay N250,000 net of all taxes. Subscribers were directed to pay into an account at the defunct Oceanic Bank (which has since been swallowed by EcoBank). The account name was RCCG-RC-EMHS (Project), the acronym of Redeemed Christian Church of God, Resurrection Chapel, Excellent Men Housing Scheme. The account number was 0421701200113.
Within a short time, the account started bulging with money. Other meetings on the scheme were held at the Resurrection House along 21(F) Road, A Close, Federal Housing Authority Estate, Lugbe, Abuja, where the project was conceived and initiated.
That was as good as it got, as crisis began to brew shortly after. Imonhiosen, under whose tenure the land was handed over to the church, was transferred from Resurrection Chapel to another parish. He was replaced by one Pastor Adeleye. Imonhiosen was said to have been piqued by his transfer. Sources within the church told this medium that Imonhiosen, abetted by Shobola, EMF President, and Johnson, the chapel’s assistant pastor, who doubles as the Chairman of the Resurrection Chapel’s Land Board, launched a plot to wrest the control of the scheme from the church.
Church sources said the handing over notes Adeleye got from Imonhiosen were devoid of information on the scheme. Adeleye’s efforts to take over the leadership of the scheme, as it is customary, were thwarted by Shobola and Johnson.
Adeleye was angered by Johnson’s involvement in the plot to take the scheme from the church and responded by sending him on transfer to a “small” RCCG parish in the Kuje Area Council of the FCT. It did not achieve Adeleye’s aim, as Johnson, Shobola, who still remained at the parish, and Imonhiosen hung on to the scheme. Shobola proceeded to register the scheme as Redeemer Excellent Men Housing Foundation, an entity with trustees, at the Corporate Affairs Commission. It was issued a Certificate of Incorporation No. CAC/IT/ NO. 0502. Shobola and his cohorts, naturally, emerged as members of the Board of Trustees. This was done with neither the knowledge nor consent of subscribers, whose contributions were used to procure the land. With this move, the pastors and church leaders removed the project from the control of the church.
Their whims began to dictate the direction the project would take. The first sign of this came via the alteration in the previously announced size of the plots. From the 600 square metres initially promised, the size was reviewed to 500 square metres.
Initial offer letters given to those who had paid the N250,000 were withdrawn. Subscribers were told to return the letters to the EMF executive council, which announced an upward cost review to N500,000.
Subscribers were also directed to pay another N200,000, which was said to be 30 per cent of estimated infrastructure levy. These directives left very little wriggle room because it gave a deadline of 30 June, 2010, barely one month after the changes were announced. Acceptance of the new terms, subscribers were told, was to be sent to Johnson, Chairman of the Land Board. This inevitably ensured that the control of the process was effectively taken from the Resurrection Chapel, initiator of the scheme. Despite not being a member of the parish any longer, he curiously still retained his position as head of the project.
The fresh terms and conditions notwithstanding, members hurriedly completed payment and collected new offer letters dated 30 June 2010. Last year, Augustine Eigbe, subscriber with File No. 0451, who left the RCCG in anger over the matter, told TheNEWS that subscribers, who had completed their payment and had been issued new offer letters, were taken to the land for the first time towards the end of 2010. According to Eigbe, they were informed that their plot numbers would be sent to them via sms on completion of clearing, demarcation and identification of plots.
Eigbe claimed that he expected the text message till sometime in April 2011, when he was informed that some subscribers had received their plot numbers through that medium and had even moved to site to commence development. “I was shocked to hear from one of us that some people had already moved to site and had started construction, while I was yet to receive the sms for my plot number though I had completed my payment of N1,030,000 and had been issued with all the receipts,” he said.
It was the same with Mr. Oluyemi Ojudu, subscriber with File No. 0744. Both subscribers as well as many others were excluded from the allocation process. A worker in the church, who was neither given a plot number nor allotted any plot despite completing payment, said: “My brother, what can I do? As a worker in RCCG, I cannot take them to court or even involve the police. It won’t speak well of us as members of the church. I leave them to God and surely, God will expose them.”
His wish appears to have been granted.
In 2011, the pastors invited subscribers to another meeting, where it was announced that the cost of the plot allotted had risen to N1.5 million. The steep rise was attributed to what the pastors claimed was the high cost of infrastructure facilities planned for the estate. All the former allocation letters were again withdrawn, with a promise of reallocation upon payment of the new rate.
Despite having been tossed up and down in the past, subscribers retained hope and went to look for money to meet the new terms to avoid losing out.
That turned out to be the last time they would acquiesce to the demands of the pastors. Upon full payment of the new rate–for the plots already reduced by 100 square metres–many subscribers were denied allocation of plots on the excuse that the plots on the estate had been exhausted. It did not escape subscribers’ attention that non-members of their parish and persons not involved at the beginning were allocated plots after paying N4 million per plot. At that time, the pastors had decided to sell the land at a commercial rate. Those willing to pay N4 million were said to have been allocated more than a plot each, with payments going into an entirely new account opened by the pastors.
The pastors and their cohorts justified this with the claim that they had to sell some of the plots at the commercial rate to enable them fund infrastructural development on the estate. They explained that members whose plots were not reallocated to them would be considered first in another scheme that was in the pipeline.
At one of the meetings between subscribers and the management committee, Pastor Johnson informed them that his committee had spent N162 million on the estate. He claimed that N80 million went into the acquisition of the land, while N82 million was expended on perfecting the title. These claims were not accompanied by any proof.
On the sale to non-RCCG members at the commercial rate–at the expense of fully paid up original subscribers–Johnson told his audience that his committee spent N300 million on the provision of roads, boreholes and erosion control. Evidence on the site declined to support these claims.
He then pushed his luck too far when he told allottees that they entered into a contract with the management committee upon the acceptance of their allocation papers and warned them against speaking to the press on matters relating to the estate. He then told those who believe they have better ideas in the management of such a scheme to go and set up theirs.
With that, subscribers flew into rage, yelling and violently demanding evidence in support of the claims made, especially that of infrastructural development.
The matter spilled into public domain via the press.
Following media reports, the General Overseer of RCCG, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, dispatched a team led by one Pastor Pitan Adeboye from the church’s headquarters to investigate the matter and audit the accounts of the project.
To the subscribers’ chagrin, the investigative panel did not invite them. They were also not issued audited reports of the scheme’s accounts or copies of the panel’s investigation report.
The panel was said to have met with only the pastors and worked with their narration of events. Upon the presentation of the report of the panel to Adeboye, the General Overseer recommended, among others things, the suspension of the “management committee” or “Board of Trustees” of the scheme and the borrowing of money from a financial institution to make refund to those who paid but got no plots.
Adeboye also directed that a caretaker committee be set up to take over the management of the scheme.
The leadership of the church in the North implemented Adeboye’s directives and set up a caretaker committee under the leadership of Pastor Amos Dele Babade, Provincial Pastor of FCT Province 4, with Mr. Sule Paul, a legal practitioner and church leader, as secretary.
With the sacking of Imonhiosen, Johnson and their gang members, the caretaker committee recovered some of the scheme’s properties. These include a brand new Toyota Hilux truck, certificate of incorporation used to severe the scheme from the church as well as documents relating to the project land and bank statements.
However, the caretaker committee displeased subscribers when it announced that funds had been sourced to pay off those who missed out on plots, as directed by Adeboye. Subscribers angrily asked how the borrowed funds would be repaid and by whom since the church had washed its hands off the scheme. They also wanted to know how money realised thus far was spent by the sacked board before real progress could be made. They feared that successful subscribers at the housing scheme would later be asked to contribute more money for the repayment of the loan and as such, demanded to know how and where the funds were sourced and at what terms such would be repaid.
This necessitated another meeting, which was attended by a Deputy Inspector-General of Police from the Force Headquarters, who was invited by the caretaker committee to forestall the outbreak of violence.
At the meeting, the caretaker committee explained how members of the ousted management committee frustrated its efforts to resolve the crisis by their introduction of an outstanding bill of N75 million, which they claimed were owed to contractors for work done on the estate. The new bill was submitted by Imonhiosen’s team after the caretaker committee said it had secured N40million for the reimbursement of those who completed payment, but were not given plots.
The caretaker committee accused the sacked board members of deliberately frustrating the church’s genuine efforts to take over and resolve the issues at the scheme and suggested the arrest of Imonhiosen and his gang.
The police duly obliged. But upon their arrest by policemen from the Lugbe Police Station, the caretaker committee handed back all the recovered items, including bank documents, to the sacked board without any explanation.
This irked the subscribers, who accused the church leadership of abetting the pastors. Thereafter, the subscribers set up a committee to fight their corner. The subscribers’ committee challenged the caretaker committee’s handling of the issues and demanded a copy of the investigation report as well as the audited report sent from the church’s headquarters.
Threats of legal action followed, prompting a disclaimer from the church.
On 15 May 2013, the disclaimer published in THE PUNCH warned the general public that RCCG Region 10 has no hand in the Redeemer Excellent Men Housing Foundation (the new name the project was given) and warned that the church has no liability for the activities of the operators of the scheme. The disclaimer, signed by Sule Paul’s law firm, also warned that the use of the name of RCCG on the letterhead and receipt of the scheme as well as on the signboards of the scheme’s various sites, was done by the operators in their bid to misinform the public. The church, however, kept the Toyota Hilux truck it recovered from the ousted committee.
It was on account of the dissatisfaction with the way the church leadership has handled the matter that some subscribers petitioned the EFCC. The petition, signed on behalf of over 200 subscribers by their lawyer, Rotimi Adalumo, accused the ousted board of embezzling about N600 million through series of accounts opened and managed by Pastor Johnson and his friends.
It called on the EFCC to compel them to render full and detailed account of their stewardship from 2009, when the scheme came into being, and retrieve the original land documents of the housing scheme from the church officials.
Acting spokesman of the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, confirmed receipt of the petition, but declined further comments because the allegations are still being investigated.
An investigation or even prosecution of the accused may not deliver the reprieve that subscribers desperately seek. This is because the Federal Capital Development Authority deems the estate an illegal development and has marked it for demolition. This development has provoked further questions on the N82 million the pastors claimed was spent on regularising the title to the land.
As at press time, Pastor Johnson, who had earlier been fingered in an N8 million scam at his former post in Calabar, has been released on administrative bail. So have Imonhiosen, Adeagbo, Shobola and Mbanu. They have been directed to report daily at the EFCC pending conclusion of investigations.
When TheNEWS met Johnson last year, he made light of the brewing disenchantment over the project. He said there was no way a project of that magnitude would not feature dissensions, which he attributed to disgruntled elements.
On the refusal to refund money to subscribers that demanded such, Johnson said he and his team were working on giving them their money back. He pleaded that those concerned should give him and his colleagues more time to enable them sell off some of the remaining plots at commercial rates to raise more money to refund.
Adeagbo, who functioned as the scheme’s legal officer, also told this magazine last year that they received letters from some subscribers asking for refund, but maintained that their inability to refund just yet was not enough for some of the “disgruntled elements” to want to tarnish the name of the church by rushing to the press. He warned that as a lawyer, he would not hesitate to go to court if he felt maligned in the press. He is likely to be in court–not to fight defamation, but to answer charges of corruption.