When the Very Reverend Festus Oluwole Segun, the then provost of the Christ Church Cathedral, Marina, Lagos, was consecrated the Bishop of the Northern (Anglican) Dioceses in 1970, he was succeeded by the Very Rev. Sope Johnson, formerly the Director of religious programmes, Nigeria broadcasting Corporation (NBC).
After five years as the Bishop of the North, based in Kaduna, the Rt. Rev. Segun came back to Lagos, and was enthroned in February 1975 as the Bishop of Lagos Dioceses. He had his seat at the Christ Church Cathedral, Marina.
However, while he was away in the North, the new provost had introduced the modern form of worship as was used in England. He brought in a new communal service with the introduction of “Series II” a book of shortened “Common Prayers”. This, the bishop did not approve of.
On April 7, three months after he was enthroned, Bishop Segun issued a decree which banned provost Johnson’s method. In the new directive, he ordered that only the book of “Common Prayers”, shall be used in conducting morning and evening services, the administration of sacraments, and other occasional service.
Also that there should no longer be celebration of the Holy Communion at funerals except with his permission. He also forbade the use of the “Missal” a book of worship containing a mode of worship. All rites and forms, having relationship, or similarity to the Roman Catholic form were also proscribed. Bishop Segun also wanted the third altar, erected at the foot of the chancery steps (an eastern part of the church reserved for the clergy), and in the cathedral removed. The altar in every church in the Diocese of Lagos was to revert to its statutory position, while the dresses worn by the priests for Holy Communion Services should be made optional.
The congregation rejected this changes, and denied learning towards Catholicism. They said, “We have neither burnt incense nor tinkle bells, and if there should be any change, it must receive the blessing of the church before it becomes law”.
These directives brought a cold war between the Bishop and the Congregation, with the Provost in the centre.
The crisis came into the open on May 6 1975, while Bishop Segun was addressing the 19th Synod. He re-stated his decree, and charged that Roman Catholic terms like Mass”, and “requiem” were forbidden. He said that morning and evening services should be conducted from the scribed it as a Vicar’s provost’s stall, and that there should be no celebration of the Holy Communion at funerals, unless approved by the Bishop.
A faction of church elders dissociated themselves from these charges, and departure from the normal practice of the diocese. The situation got out of hand how-ever, when on May 15, 1975, and during a ceremonial service conducted by the provost, the Bishop put off the candle. He did this to back his opposition to “all tendency towards Anglo Catholicism or Roman Catholicism in the Diocese of Lagos”.
This action was condemned by a faction of church leaders, and they promptly held an emergency meeting at the end of the service, to decide what steps to take. They appointed an eight-member team, to join the church’s standing committee in a peace meeting.
Members of the congregation chosen were Chief Dr. Akinola Maja, Chief Dr. E. N.O. Sodeinde, Mr. N.O.A Morgan, Mr. J.B. Daramola and Chief Mrs. Way, were also chosen to attend the proposed meeting. The congregation team was mandated to request for a meeting with the Bishop, and to also demand that the chancellor, Mr. Justice John Adefarasin be present.
The Bishop, however, maintained that the mode of worship, up to April 6, – 1975, be changed. At a meeting of the executive body of the Anglican Diocese of Lagos – the Diocesan Board, passed a vote of implicit confidence in the leadership and administration of Bishop Segun, for steps taken regarding the two-month old crisis. Copies of the resolution, sent to Synod members and which were pasted on notice boards of all Anglican churches in Lagos, affirmed that the Bishop had acted properly, in accordance with both the constitution of the diocese, and that of the Church of the Province of West Africa.
The resolution signed by the Lagos Synod Secretary, Mr. Femi Oyewole, expressed grave concern over the crisis, and assured all, “Gods people”, that the matter was well under control. The board expressed disapproval on the happenings in the Cathedral, and the Lagos Diocese in general. But this did not quell the crisis.
The congregation accused the Bishop of betraying a trust placed in him. It was said that prior to the Bishop’s Conference held in Lagos in 1975, the Rt. Rev. Segun was given a letter to the Archbishop of West Africa, The Most rev. M.N.C.O. Scott, who also attended. In the letter, the Bishops at the conference had been asked to find time to deliberate on the mode of worship crisis raging in the cathedral. The bishop was also copied. However, it was discovered that the letter was never handed to the Archbishop. Suspecting that their letter was not delivered, members of the “chapter House” personally took a copy of the letter to him.
Their suspicion was confirmed by the reply of the Archbishop. It was on the basis of, “this is a reply to the letter dated 4th August; which you handed to me last Sunday” that members of the chapter house brought up the accusation of the “Great Betrayal”.
During the 20th Synod meeting in May 1976, Bishop Segun defended himself over the 12-month-old liturgical controversy. He stated that there had been no betrayal in his action as claimed by the agitators. He told participants that the church was, “facing a trying period, and never in its history”, he added, “has there been such and inside hob of church demolition as is evident today”. “Evil forces are not merely living up against the church, they are forming a church. And evil seems to triumph, when good men do nothing. But sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, truth will prevail in the end, and justice will have its way”.
He lamented that since the crisis began a lot of libelous articles, fraught with great deal of untruth had been published on the subject of churchmanship in the Cathedral, but because the Diocesan board decided not to engage in any Press controversy, the public did not have facts of the matter.
In his voluminous address to the Synod the bulk of which contained a separate 27point, strongly worded statement subtitled “Very Rev. Sope Johnson”, Bishop Segun denounced the churchmanship or the traditional mode of worship in the entire diocese, and lashed at the intransigence of Rev. Johnson over it. He said that beside the mode of worship being evangelical, it is also a constitutional issue.
“That is why the constitution requires every clergyman to make and subscribe to and sign an oath”, he added. The Bishop spoke of the opposition on the retired Bishop, the Rt. Rev S.I. Kale towards Rev. Johnson’s tendency to Anglo-Catholicism, adding that when he notice same, he opposed it, and gave his directives on April 17, 1975. calling for a return to the Constitutional and traditional mode of worship in the entire diocese.
In March 1976, the congregation called on the Bishop and Provost to revert to the pre-April 7, 1975, mode of worship or quit. The call was also extended to other priests in the diocese. Copies of the letter containing this request was given to the Provost and the priests. The call was made when Provost Johnson declared he was bound to obey Bishop Segun’s directives.
They asked provost and the Diocesan priests to choose between them (standing committee), and Bishop Segun. The letter dated March 15, 1976, stated, “for ten months, patience has been exercised, until at the Annual vestry meeting, held on February 29, 1976. A resolution was passed by a show of hands (162 in favour, one against with seven abstentions), that the pre-7th of April, 1975, mode of worship in the cathedral, be restored with immediate effect”.
“We the accredited members of the Cathedral church, elected into the standing committee Diocesan Clergy, that they are obliged to carry out the wish of the congregation. If any members of the Clergy is not disposed to carry out the wishes of the congregation, in connection with the mode of worship mentioned above, we would urge them to make their exit, or be replaced by other Clergy, who are prepared to carry out our wishes”. The letter concluded “we entertain every hope that good counsel will prevail, and that the Clergy will give the fullest consideration of this matter, in the interest of church unity”.
As the crisis went on to the eleventh month, Bishop Segun reacted and instituted an ecclesiastical court against the Provost. He also suspended the Very Rev. Sope Johnson from office, until the case against him was cleared. The Bishop transferred the two Clergymen helping the Provost, Rev. S.O.M. Adebola, and Rev. J. K. Adekanye, from the parish to Iwaya, and Onigbagno circuits respectively.
The court action which contained a seven-count charge of breach of ecclesiastical order and disobedience of lawful order, given by the Very Rev. Sope Johnson. The court was to start trial on April 28, 1978, at the Bishop’s court, Marina. Members would have been the Bishop or Chancellor of the Diocese, Mr. Justice J. Adefarasin, as the president, the Rt. Rev. J.S. Adeniyi (assistant Bishop), Rev. canon J.T. Idowu and Rev. Ayo Odukoya. There would also have been a lawyer and secretary to take note of proceedings.
Under the church’s constitution, the Bishop has the power to set up the court to try any Clergyman accused of false doctrine, or unauthorized ritual, or breach of ecclesiastical order, but should furnish the defendants and court members with copies of the charges, but if there was no charge, the reason for constituting the count must be stated within 21 days.
The defendants had the right to call witnesses before the court, and a legal representation who should be a communicant member, and in respect of whom the Bishop’s prior consent should have been obtained in writing. The defendant could also challenge in writing, the presence of the two Clergyman appointed by the bishop to be on the bench. The constitution stated that findings of the court, where there should be an acquittal or sentence (usually by recommending defrocking or transferring a Clergyman) should be in a nature of confidential report, which should be laid before the Bishop, who in turn should place it before the Diocesan Board, after which the defendant should be informed in writing by the Bishop.
It also pointed that sentence in all the cases hall be final, except in the case of conviction of teaching false doctrine, when an appeal, if notified to the Bishop within 28 days after the reading of the sentence before the Diocesan Board, should be allowed to the provincial Synod, but the execution of the sentence should not be suspended pending the appeal.
With the institution of the ecclesiastical court against him, Provost Sope Johnson went to the Lagos High Court. In the civil suit against Bishop Segun and three others, the Very Rev. Johnson, asked the court to stop them from trying him. Joined in the suit against Bishop Segun were, Rt. Rev. J.S. Adeniyi, Rev. Canon Idowu and rev. Ayo Odukoya.
In his ruling of April 1976, Mr. Justice Boonyamin Kazeem ordered the ecclesiastical court to stop proceedings. He also ordered the Provost to continue his duties, until the case is determined by the Lagos High Court.
As the matter went to the Judiciary, the Anglican Archbishop of West Africa, the Most Rev. M.N.C.O. Scott, called for a ceasefire, his message was brought to delegation, sent to effect a settlement. They pleaded with Rev. Johnson to withdraw his court action, to lay a sound foundation for effecting peaceful solution to the problem.
Oba Oyekan II of Lagos, expressed disgust over the matter and told the Synod to do, “What you can, to keep the church going”. The Alake of Abeokuta, Oba Lipede also intervened.
The call for peace fell on deaf ears. Instead, Bishop Segun and three others, brought another application, asking that the court set aside the order of April 13, 1976, which stated that Rev. Johnson should continue his duties, until the determination of their grievances. The application was brought by Mr. Afolabi Lardner, the counsel who represented the Bishop and three others.
However, when the court resumed sitting on May 11, 1976, it received letter, written by Bishop Segun, informing the provost that all the actions taken against him had been withdrawn. The letter was read by Chief Rotimi Williams, leading counsel for Provost Johnson. It read, “in view of the appeal of my brother bishops, I have decided to, and do hereby discontinue the ecclesiastical court, which was contemplated in my letter under reference together with order of suspension, which is herby withdrawn. It is my prayer and hope, that you will on your part, uphold the provisions of the constitution of this Diocese, and the oath which you took”.
After reading the letter however, Chief Williams, told the court that Provost Johnson should have been consulted before the letter was sent to court, so that both parties could have met, to set out the terms of settlement. He stated that the Bishop had no power to have suspended the provost, adding that the constitution of the Diocesan Synod, on which Bishop Segun based his actions was illegal.
He submitted that there were many issues for the court to resolve, adding, for instance, that the constitution of the Diocesan of West Africa did not permit the Bishop to be a member of the ecclesiastical court, let alone allowing him prefer charges as he done. He told the court that legal representation by an aggrieved person, did not need the approval of the Bishop as he had claimed. He told the court that the case should go on, that it should not come to an end because of the letter.
In his ruling, on may 17, 1976, Mr. Justice Kazeem, said the matter must continue despite the letter. The judge noted the motion filed Bishop Segun and three others, challenging the jurisdiction of the court to deal with the matter. He also held that Provost Johnson had legal right to seek prohibition order, at the time he instituted the action, adding that the order would exist until such order had been set aside, or the prohibition proceedings had been substituted by a new procedure.
The judge held that the case could not be unilaterally terminated by the act of the Bishop, as contained in his letter. Moreover, he went on, setting up of the court was questioned in the prohibition proceedings on constitutional grounds, which were yet to be determined, secondly, the suspension of the applicant by the Bishop, had been stayed by the court, pending the final determination of the matter. “And it seems to me that unless that order of stay has been discharged, the suspension order by the Bishop cannot in my view be withdrawn by him”, Mr. Justice Kazeem ruled.
After three adjournments however, the case was both withdrawn from the court because both parties had agreed to settle the dispute out of court. This agreement was made with the intervention of other Bishops. But not until Bishop Segun had agreed to compromise with the congregation.
The agreement was that the controversial mode of worship should not be stopped entirely. Up to the moment, the book said to be “Akin” to “Roman Catholicism” is now used twice in a month as part of the agreement between the Bishop and the congregation.
•Culled from HEADLINE.