By Nicholas Ibekwe
The face-off between the Founder of Believers Love World (aka Christ Embassy) Chris Oyakhilome, and his wife, Anita, has taken a new dimension with Mr. Oyakhilome now removed as a trustee of a United Kingdom’s branch of the church.
With Mr. Oyakhilome’s removal, his wife, Anita, now presides over a seven-man Board of Trustees of the N8.2 billion rich branch, church documents reviewed by PREMIUM TIMES have shown.
The six other members of the board are Obi Chiemeka, Ifeoma Onubogu, Nkem Odiakah, Raymond Okocha, Tony Obi and Uche Onubogu, all pastors believed to be loyal to Mrs. Oyakhilome.
Mrs. Oyakhilome has for long headed the U.K branch of the church but her husband, before what appears his sudden removal, had since inception presided over the Board of Trustees of the charity.
The new development suggests that in addition to the matrimonial squabble the couples are having, an intense power struggle and battle for the soul of the U.K. branch of the church might be going on between the estranged lovers and partners as well.
In fact, Mr. Oyakhilome had dropped the first hint that there might be a hierarchical row in the church when he reportedly accused his wife of acting like an equal and wanting to overpower the authorities of the elders she met in the church.
PREMIUM TIMES’ review of documents filed by the church’s UK branch to the Charity Commission of England and Wales has now shown that Mr. Oyakhilome is no longer a registered trustee of a branch of his church with total asset worth over N8.2 billion (£31 million).
Until his recent but abrupt removal, Mr. Oyakhilome was consistently listed as a prominent trustee, since 1996, when the branch was established.
Contrary to the church’s practice of stating reasons for removal of trustees in the past, no reason has been given for the removal of Pastor Oyakhilome.
It is unclear whether explanation for the action would be given in the church’s annual report for 2013 which is yet to made public by the charity commission.
According to the church’s financial statement, in 2009, five pastors were removed from the church’s board of trustees after they resigned from their positions. That same year two others were appointed.
A Charity Commission spokesperson, Sarah Hitchings, told PREMIUM TIMES that it was not the concern of the commission to know why charities remove or replace their trustees.
The international office of Christ Embassy refused to respond to questions this newspaper sent through email neither did the international audit and accounting firm, Mazars, appointed by the Charity Commission to run the affairs of the church after it opened statutory inquiry into the finances of the church following suspicious payment it made to connected parties worth N941 million between 2008 and 2012.
However, church insiders claim the removal of the pastor was a plot by his wife to take total control of the affairs of the branch even as her relationship with her husband of two decades deteriorates.
With his ouster, those who should know said Mr. Oyakhilome has lost the locus to interfere in the affairs of that branch of the church.
“He has been effectively sidelined,” a church insider said. “The law in the U.K. does not recognise him as an interested party in that branch of the church anymore.”
Anita herself loses control
But even the seven-man board led by Mrs. Oyakhilome has itself lost control of the affairs of the church.
On August 11, the U.K. charity commission effectively sidelined her board and appointed an interim manager to take over the management of the church.
In what it described as a “temporary and protective measure,” the commission appointed Rod Weston of the international audit and accounting firm, Mazars, to take over the running of the church.
The Commission says it is investigating the church over “a number of serious concerns relating to the use of charitable funds, in particular large connected party payments and the potential misapplication of grant funding.”
Until investigation is concluded, Mr. Weston would preside “over the management of the charity, including its staff, assets, interests, and relations with third parties,” the commission said.
He is also expected to discharge the functions of the church’s trustees and take steps necessary to secure and take control of the assets of the church.
The commission however added that the activities of the church would not be suspended by the appointment as the Interim Manager is expected to work with the pastors of the church to ensure its religious and charity activities continue as before.
Mr. Oyakhilome is locked in a divorce battle with his wife, who has filed an action at a London court to end their 20-year-old marriage.
Mrs. Oyakhilome accuses her husband of “unreasonable behaviour”, a charge Mr. Oyakhilome has repeatedly denied.
At a recent church meeting, Pastor Chris, as he is widely referred to by Christ Embassy members, warned church members against analysing the squabble between him and Anita as the church is not a political party.
He reportedly described his wife as a “bitter and angry” woman who is being influenced by bad friends who are out to seek his downfall. He accused his wife of seeking to overpower the authorities of the elders she met when she joined the Christian ministry.
As the divorce battle rages, Mrs. Oyakhilome’s profile has been pulled down from the church’s website. Premium Times