• Members divided, exchange blows
Every Sunday, two worship services are held at Victory Pentecostal Ministries International Incorporated in Enugu. While one holds in the morning, the other takes place in the afternoon.
The church is divided into two factions. Members who belong to the camp of Pastor Ralph Okebu (47) turn up in the morning while those who hold allegiance to his wife, Prophetess (Mrs) Caroline Okebu (51) attend in the afternoon. Before the worship arrangement was arrived at, congregants on both sides had fought physically over the use of the church auditorium located at Km 1 Enugu – Onitsha Expressway. According to a source, it took the intervention of the police to restore some form of order in the church, adding that policemen were stationed in the premises for two Sundays to avoid bloodshed.
“The leaders of the church and some of the members were regular customers at various police stations in Enugu, as they made allegations and counter allegations against one another. In fact, the pastor and his wife traded punches and ended up at the police station,” the source stressed.
The reporter attended a Friday evening service held in the Church auditorium by the Prophetess Caroline faction on April 11, 2014. The Ralph Okebu faction said to be in the minority kept away although some movements were noticed in and around his office.
But how did the church come to this ugly pass? Inside sources linked the crises rocking the church to allegations of inappropriate relationships, greed, money mongering, deceit and quest to convert church auditorium into a warehouse.
Tracing the genesis of the crises, a member of the Church, Chuks Okonkwo, a lawyer, who described himself as the Church administrator, said: “A problem arose in the Church about last year. There could have been problem brewing but it came to the fore about January 2013 and it followed a prophecy that was released by the prophetess in the ministry, Prophetess Caroline Okebu. Part of these prophecies touched on the general wellbeing of the Church while a part of it touched on certain members of the Church, including the head pastor, Pastor Ralph Okebu. But the personal message that touched on Pastor Ralph Okebu could be seen to be what led to the factionalisation of the Church because in his own thinking, such a message shouldn’t have been revealed on the pulpit and the message had to deal with his amorous relationship with some female members of the church. And it was a warning. Basically, the ministry is a prophetic ministry and when there are prophetic revelations, they are taken very seriously. But where we were concerned was that part of that instruction was that we should, for 21 Sundays, have our services on the Mount of Challenge. Mount of Challenge is a place we normally go to make special prayers. There are usually people who have challenges in business, marriage and whatever. We go to the Mount of Challenge. We call it Mount of Challenge because that is where we challenge our challengers. It is a spiritual praying ground, which has been there as far back as 1979. After that revelation by the prophetess of the ministry, the whole church attended worship service on a Sunday there under the leadership of Pastor Ralph Okebu. But after the first Sunday, he reneged. The rest of us went to church the next Sunday thinking that after the normal Sunday school, we would retire to the mountain to have the service proper but that was not to be. So, we were surprised and his reason was that it was not going to be possible, especially considering that the rains would come, for people to go and worship in the open air or in the bush, according to him. But by the third Sunday, a lot of people had said that the ministry has a foundation and whatever the Lord says is what the people are going to do. So, on the third Sunday about 80 percent of the members relocated to the mountain for Sunday services. I want you to note that every other weekly activity of the church still held in the church and as scheduled. These include the Monday faith clinic which is usually presided over by the prophetess. The faith clinic was actually designed to cater for those looking for the fruit of the womb or for some form of business development. It is a ministry she started a very long time ago. The mid-week service still held at the church premises. Counselling on Thursdays done by Prophetess Caroline still held at the church premises and the Friday prophetic meetings in the evenings under the same woman was still being held in the church. The only thing was that Sunday services should be held on the mountain for 21 Sundays. And three reasons were given for that charge from the Holy Spirit. One was that God said that we should go and cry to Him so that the calamity that is about befalling this nation would be averted. The second is that He wants us to keep off the church for Him to rearrange and sanitize the it by Himself so that the evil things that are seen in other churches will not be noticeable in Victory Pentecostal Ministries. The third is that we should pray against sudden deaths and such other calamities.
“So, every right thinking person, that’s what I choose to call them, and those who know the foundation of the ministry, chose to go and Pastor Ralph refused to join. And a few others who preferred the comfort of worshipping in the church auditorium with clean chairs and air-condition and all that remained with him. It wasn’t quite two months after this happened that Pastor Ralph started feeling the impact of the factionalisation because there was going to be a drop in income because you will not expect that the offerings and other finances accruing from the mountain will be brought to him. It wasn’t going to be. So, one day, Prophetess Caroline was summoned by the State Security Service (SSS) accused of engineering something that would likely cause the breach of the peace and I happened to be among the team that went to SSS. And after their investigation, they found that it was not entirely the way it was presented. We continued on the mountain. The problem assumed a different dimension in July 2013 when we came back from the Mountain; we called it triumphant entry back home because the instruction was ‘go and pray and after this come back.’ So, we were rejoicing, we felt and knew God had heard us and we were coming back home. But we were prevented from entering the church auditorium. Before then, we had always known that the Ralph Okebu group would normally dismiss at about 11.00am on Sundays. But we came in at about 12noon but they refused to vacate the hall or even allow us access. And avoiding bloodshed, we stayed outside. At the end of all this, it was going to be a problem and a member of the church said that with the kind of grace we were coming with, we wouldn’t engage in anything that will pollute what we were carrying. She offered us a part of her office at Ogui Road for our Sunday services pending when the issue of usurping the place on Sundays will be resolved. At this time, the police came in and the Enugu State Commissioner of Police personally took over the matter and was mediating. So, as this lasted, the police at some point, about three months ago, decided with the leadership of both factions that the Ralph Okebu led group should be having morning service to dismiss at 12noon while the Prophetess Caroline led group should have their own service thereafter. Not minding the inconvenience it might cause because people are used to going to church in the morning, in the interest of peace and while believing that God will intervene and a permanent solution will come, this was accepted and services have been operating that way. But unfortunately, Ralph Okebu feels that the church is his personal business and is determined to chase anyone that does not agree with him out. So, the first thing he did was to go to his village in Odekpe in Anambra State and brought in his siblings to live in his office attached to the church auditorium. What this people now do is that whenever the other faction is having a programme, they would open the door in the attached building which opens into the auditorium, playing music at loud volume, banging doors and all that just to distract worshippers or cause a fight. But this has been contained by constant pleading by the leadership of that group so that there won’t be a fight. Dissatisfied that he is not getting what he expected, because he always describes the church as his, he now sued Prophetess Caroline Okebu and Deacon Uchenna Ani. By the way, the incorporated trustees of the church are four persons namely; Raphael Okebu, Prophetess Caroline Okebu (who is Raphael’s wife), Deacon Uchenna Ani and Deacon Thomas Okebu, though he (Thomas) has not been in the ministry for about five years.”
Okonkwo further said: “The action in court was brought in the name of the incorporated trustees against Prophetess Caroline Okebu and Deacon Uchenna Ani who are also trustees. Our position is that the suit is incompetent. We took a preliminary objection to the competence of the suit because we feel the incorporated trustees are four and if you must bring an action in the name of the incorporated trustees, it must be with the common seal of the incorporated trustees. If not, it should be brought as a minority action. So, it is like saying that you are suing yourself; that is one. Second, we looked at the process they filed, our argument is that the Federal High Court that has jurisdiction on matters that relate to Companies and Allied Matters Act would assume jurisdiction if the matter before her is related to such issues covered therein. But we are saying that the subject matter, the interest of the initiator of this suit is on land or property. So, we are asking the court to consider whether that subject matter falls within the court’s jurisdiction. That is where we are today in the court. They brought a motion on notice, seeking interlocutory injunction saying that Prophetess Caroline Okebu and Uchenna Ani have ceased to be members of the ministry and should not have access to the property of the ministry and we are saying no. The constitution and the bye laws of Victory Pentecostal Ministries, which is an association, and the Companies and Allied Matters Act Part C under which the trustees were incorporated is clear on how to appoint and remove trustees. In the absence of any evidence of resignation, they still remain members and if you want them removed, it should be a different kettle of fish. They should follow what the law prescribes. So, the matter is before the court. We’ve been there twice before Justice M. Shuaibu who advised that we explore out of court settlement but he gave an adjournment for May 21 but the learned honourable justice was elevated to the Court of Appeal. But the matter has been transferred on the application of the counsel for the plaintiff to Court Two. So, for the purpose of not falling foul of the law, I’m only giving you the historical facts of this matter. We believe justice will come out of the court.”
Asked how they worship now, Barr Okonkwo said: “In fact, the Ralph Okebu led group has stretched their service; atimes they leave at about 12.45pm. As they leave, we get in, worship and exit at about 4.30pm; that’s how we’ve been worshipping in the last three months.”
Disclosing that as a result of the crises, Pastor Ralph Okebu and Prophetess Caroline Okebu are no longer living together, Okonkwo said: “As a matter of fact, if I must go down memory lane, the ministry was started by Prophetess Caroline Okebu in her father’s house in Iva Valley, Enugu as a home fellowship more or less. She was born a Catholic but she just had the gift and people went for prayers. As the number increased, it was her brother, Deacon Uchenna Ani that assisted them get a bigger place of worship, using the Coal Corporation hall in the same Iva Valley. At this time, Ralph hadn’t come to join the ministry. It was at a crusade ground that he met her and said that he had heard about her. After sometime, they got married and the ministry later moved to the Red Cross near Ogbete before moving to its present location on Kilometre 1 along Enugu-Onitsha Expressway. We are not interested in the family squabbles but it will be difficult to extricate the squabbles from the ministry because the people involved have been part and parcel of the ministry. At the onset of the factionalisation, we began to hear certain things we didn’t know before. Primarily, Ralph Okebu said in the petition he wrote to the Commissioner of Police that he felt his marriage to the prophetess was flawed because the prophetess hid certain facts from him from the onset; that some of these facts were that she was married before. And the prophetess found this laughable because she had told him that she had been into a marriage but it didn’t work out and that she wouldn’t be in any marriage that would affect God’s calling upon her life. She told him that she had children and the children from the onset of the marriage had been with them. She had four children from her previous marriage. The account from Prophetess Caroline is that Ralph feels that he has arrived, having run the ministry solely more or less financially for 13 years and found love in another woman, a widow who came to the church and was being presented to everyone then as his sister. He calls her Nwannem Nwanyi (my sister). And all of a sudden, they began to go on frolic together; they travel within and outside the country together. Maybe he found more comfort in the arms of the widow. He started by not sleeping in the house for some days until he practically moved out of the house. It was at the beginning of the crises and for the security of the prophetess that her group found an accommodation for her outside the church accommodation where they were staying. Ralph brought his mother and siblings, at least, to express his act of ownership of the property. That was one of the reasons the faction led by Carol had to find her accommodation. Ralph’s mother and siblings chased her out of the kitchen and she had to be cooking in her room which we considered as very dangerous. By the grace of God, the church found her a befitting accommodation outside the church premises. The marriage between Ralph and Carol produced two daughters aged about 18 and 16 years respectively. We understand their father rented an apartment where he stays with them but shuttles between the apartment and the apartment of his new found love.”
I registered the Church alone – Deacon Ani
Deacon Ani corroborated Okonkwo’s submission on the crises rocking the church. He said: “Honestly, the situation became so explosive that there was physical scuffle. The police were invited and we’ve been moving from one police station to the other.”
Offering insights into the history of the church, Ani, who informed Sunday Sun that “I registered the ministry exclusively with my fund,” added: “He (Ralph) came later after my sister had started the ministry and decided to marry her. We felt it was abnormal for a woman to be above the husband in a ministry, so we just gave him that tag of being the leader, and the prophetess of the ministry is my sister. She is the only prophetess and there is no other prophetess or prophet in the church,” he volunteered.
“For six years, he wore clothes that I discarded. When they started having children, he used to carry them on the shoulder walking about. The suffering was too much, so I gave them a Volkswagen Beetle car. After two years, the car was in bad shape and I gave them a Santana car.
“One Njeze and I were the chief financiers of this ministry and it is on record he is operating eight bank accounts and the constitution of the ministry said that there must be a procedure of appointing secretaries and treasurers but all the eight accounts he is operating are in his name. He has been doing this for the past 20 years of this ministry. He has been running the church like his personal estate.”
Pastor Ralph pestered me for marriage-Prophetess Caroline
Going down memory lane, Prophetess Caroline, in a chat, affirmed that she started the ministry in her father’s house. She said that she met Ralph at a Bible School, explaining that he used to visit her clandestinely and whenever her brother, Uchenna Ani returned home, he would jump out through the window.
Reacting to Ralph’s claim that she deceived him into marrying her, Prophetess Carol said that was a lie from the pit of hell. According to her, Ralph pestered her endlessly and even engaged certain persons to persuade her before she accepted to become his wife. She claimed that he was aware of the fact that she had four children from her former husband, insisting that the relationship was duly terminated before Ralph came on board.
“Don’t mind him. The first husband I married was way back; he didn’t pay dowry on my head and he is married as we learnt. We went to the welfare and the welfare officer judged the matter and said it was his fault because he didn’t pay any bride price on my head and he said that he would go back to the Idodo woman he had married and I didn’t know. He didn’t pay my bride price; all he did was the introductory drink he brought. I had gone to many churches and I was told that if I do not leave the man’s house I cannot marry and that I should not marry someone who had married before. The man was also a womaniser, I was running from temptation and I ran into the worst. There was no time I deceived him. He used to beg me and whenever he was in our house and he heard the sound of my brother’s car, he would jump out through the window. Ralph used to wear one green slippers. Then he started asking me to marry him but I told him that I was not interested in marriage, all I wanted was to concentrate on the assignment given to me. He started going to my people, disturbing them and begging them to prevail on me to marry him. I didn’t even know his village and I didn’t know anybody to ask any question about his village. He even begged my children to allow him to marry their mother and they usually told him that the decision is their mother’s. Only one of them, John, does not get close to him and there was a day he pursued the boy into the bush and people were alarmed. The boy had dada (dreadlocks), he is also a messenger and I think he had seen or known the sort of person Ralph is. Ralph used to beg me for money and I would give him. My brother, Uchenna was feeding us and buying clothes for us. He also bought Beetle and Santana cars for us. Whatever we asked of Uchenna, he provided for us even if we didn’t ask, he would provide. It was Uchenna who registered the church; I didn’t know and Ralph didn’t know until he brought the documents from Abuja for us to sign. In fact, when he brought the documents, Ralph was not around and we waited for him since he had become one of us. Uchenna bought the instruments with which we started.
“Ralph was always in my father’s house, begging me to marry him. His father and mother came and they said that they liked us. They saw my children and his father who is still alive asked if the children would stay with them and my mother told him that the children like to stay anywhere they are well taken care of. We got married in 1997. At the time, he said he didn’t bother if I had children for him or not afterall his mother had 11 children. But by God’s grace, we had two children,” she explained.
Mum from pastor
At 10.46am on April 11, 2014, Sunday Sun called Pastor Okebu on his mobile phone to fix an interview appointment with him, so that he can state his own side of the story. But he said he was in the village because his children were on holiday, promising to call the reporter when he gets back to Enugu the following day.
Having waited for his call till 5.30pm the following day to no avail, the reporter called his number again without response. At 5.32pm, the reporter sent him an SMS but he did not reply. The SMS reads: “Good evening sir. Are you back? I’m still waiting for your call.” He is yet to call.
Battle in the temple of justice
In the suit instituted by the Pastor Okebu (on behalf of the incorporated trustees) against Prophetess Caroline Okebu and Deacon Ani at a Federal High Court in Enugu vide Suit No: FHC/EN/CS/9/2014, he is seeking “an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the defendants/respondents by themselves, principal, agents, servants, privies or any person or persons howsoever called or designated from interfering with, trespassing on or entering into the plaintiff’s church building and premises situate at Km 1, Enugu/Onitsha Expressway, GRA, Enugu pending the hearing of the substantive suit.”
In an affidavit in support of motion on notice dated February 10, 2014, Pastor Okebu said that “prior to my founding of the plaintiff/applicant (Victory Pentecostal International Ministries Int. Inc.), I was a pastor with New Life Winners Church until I got a revelation from God to open up and or establish the plaintiff/applicant for the purpose of winning or converting souls to God.”
He also averred: “That in the course of my pastoral mission at Obeleagu Umunna in Ezeagu Local Government Area, Enugu State under the New Life Winners Church that I met the 1st defendant/respondent who approached me and informed me of a message she claimed to have received from God that I am her husband.
“That as a man of God, I did not doubt the message and I quickly got married to the 1st defendant/respondent whom I then believed was a true servant and/or a minister of God.
“That during the registration of my new found church (the plaintiff/applicant) I included the defendants as members of the Board of Trustees of the Church.
“That I broke up with the 1st defendant/respondent as my wife following my discovery of some concealed facts about the status of the 1st defendant/respondent and her children including the fact that she is still legally married to another man who up and until date is still alive.
“That sequel to my above discovery, I took certain domestic decisions which did not go down well with the 1st defendant/respondent hence her decision to destabilize the plaintiff/applicant.
“That barely two to three months after she took some worshippers to Milken Hill to worship every Sunday, the defendants/respondents and their cohorts came to Km. 1, Enugu/Onitsha Expressway GRA Enugu being the place of worship of the plaintiff/applicant and disrupted severally the Sunday and weekly activities of the members of the Church.
“That the defendants/respondents told members of the plaintiff/applicant in the church that they should disperse, that the plaintiff/applicant is no longer in existence, that they have formed a new Victory Pentecostal Ministries and that they will make sure that the plaintiff/applicant is disbanded.
“I am aware that the defendants/respondents went as far as telling the plaintiff/applicant’s members present in the congregational service that I am a fake pastor, an adulterer, a thief and so many other unprintable words all aimed at destabilizing the applicant/plaintiff.
“That when the defendants/respondents could not succeed in their planned antics, they invaded the church premises on 13th day of May, 2013 at about 10.20pm, attacked me and beat me up saying that I should leave Enugu State and go to my hometown Anambra State. It took the intervention of God Almighty for me to escape from being killed on that date.”
He further claimed that though he survived being killed, his car parked in front of the church was destroyed. He added that the defendants/respondents have ceased to be members of the plaintiff/applicant having formed a new church by name Victory Pentecostal Ministries Int’l Inc. (Hill Top).
But in a counter affidavit in opposition to the motion for interlocutory injunction dated and filed on February 10, 2014, Deacon Uchenna Ani stated that:
“The suit has not been brought by the Incorporated Trustees and having been initiated by one out of four trustees, is tantamount to minority action for which leave of court must be sought before the said suit is instituted.
“Ralph Okebu who initiated the suit has not been given any leave by the Incorporated Trustees or leave of court to sue, so he lacks locus standi to bring the suit in the name of the Incorporated Trustees.”
He also raised other objections ranging from non compliance with the Rules of Court, Companies and Allied Matters Act and the Administrative Bye laws of Victory Pentecostal Ministries Inc to the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court to entertain the subject matter.
He added “that Ralph Okebu who initiated the suit and who also brought this application has since derailed from the cause of the plaintiff having transformed into a businessman. He needs us to be chased from the church auditorium in order to convert same to a warehouse for his business needs. I attach and mark as ‘Exhibit RO 1’ a copy of his e-mail visa to Dubai wherein information from his international passport noted him as a businessman and not a clergyman.”
Consequently, Ralph Okebu filed a counter affidavit in opposition to the defendant’s motion on notice dated February 11, 2014.
• Members divided, exchange blows