By Joyce Mbviefa
Yaoundé, Cameroon-July 5,2017- 7:40 pm Local Time(Cameroon News Agency) Following the theft of church money, FCFA 7 million, which took place at Presbyterian Church (PC) Nsimeyong on June 11-12, investigations were opened and the case sent to the State Council. This situation has led to a continuous unrest in the church premises among Christians, Session members and the Pastor.
On Friday, June 16, the candidature of Sister Fotung Winifred and Elder Achu Eunice were carefully examined in replacement of the outgoing treasurer, Elder Ebah Daniel, on instructions of the Presbyterian Secretary and hierarchy of the church for East Mungo.
Elder Achu was chosen among other things, the need for the post to remain within elders of the Church.
Information unknown to the session reached the pastor that the latter is/was a promoter of the Buea-based Ark of God’s Covenant Ministry (AGCOM) of Apostle John Chi. This is in contradiction of Article 11 verse 4 and verse 5 of the Book of Orders which states that elders engaged in practices which are in contradiction with those of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC) shall be relieved of their leadership positions.
On Saturday, June 17, the pastor invited Elder Achu to discuss the matter. She said she once attended a retreat organized by the said ministry in Yaounde in 2014 and has since then had nothing to do with this ministry. On the advice of the PCC hierarchy, the pastor resorted to the 2nd nominee of the Session.
On Sunday, June 18, the announcement of Fotung Winifred as interim treasurer of PC Nsimeyong was made. An explanation was given to the elders on why Elder Achu’s candidature could not stand yet, 2 of them; Elder Che Philip and Elder Kunde Godswill refused to wear their gowns on grounds that they were embittered and could not take part in the communion service.
The third elder, Kebila Agnes, who did not wear her gown obtained permission from the pastor on grounds that her gown was locked up in the sealed office of the treasurer. Some other elders, who wore their gowns, did so grumbling. Acording to Elder Achu she expressed her disgruntlement not because she was not made treasurer but because her name was listed as one of those who go to other churches.
She was then promised proper investigation into the matter for her name to be cleared if evidence proved that she is innocent of the charges. It was emphasized that the issue of elders holding membership and promoting other churches has not stopped. But weeks ago, amidst the crisis, one elder openly declared that “We have the right to go to other ministries and bring in spiritual powers to strengthen the PCC” and that it is in relation to the Moderator’s call to be “transformed transformers”. Another elder said “they should send people to John Chi to prophesy who has stolen the church money”.
Drama in Church
Last Tuesday, June 27; there was violence in the church compound perpetrated by Elder Ebah’s family and some church members particularly the CWF (Christian Women Fellowship) and CMF (Christian Men Fellowship) members. During this violence in the manse (The Pastors House) Mrs. Ebah Julie (the treasurer’s wife) could be heard shouting; “The God of PCC has failed me! The God of John Chi save me! The God of TB Joshua save me!” They rained insults on church authorities notably the Moderator, the Presbyterian Secretary and the Parish Pastor.
The group led by Mrs. Ebah stormed the Session meeting room, disrupting the meeting, pulled the pastor’s wife by the hair and gripped the pastor by the neck bolt. This caused commotion around the church premises. An SMS is said to have been sent by someone claiming to be Elder Ebah’s son in Brussels promising to kill the Pastor (the message has been recorded with the police for proper explanation whenever the young man returns to the country).
Under such enormous pressure, the Session decided that all legal procedures be stopped and the matter returned to the elders for a solution. Unfortunately, no decision was taken in relation to the violence on the pastor and in the church compound.
The elders were asked to show proof that stopping the legal procedure will lead to peace and to give a tangible plan on how the investigations were to continue taking place. The Session was reminded that only the Ebah’s family and some few Christians were mounting pressure whereas a thousand others were waiting for the logical end of the story, with the culprits found and arrested.
The Synod Clerk, Rev. Fochang Babila George, also sent a letter on the same day requesting for the case to the withdrawn from the state council.
After two weeks of investigations, the gendarmerie officers found 4 persons as suspects: Elder Ebah Daniel (as prime suspect),Kum Fidelis (an unofficial assistant to Elder Ebah), Kebuh Bernard and Agbor Mbi.
They were summoned at the State Council last Tuesday. While Fidelis, Bernard and Agbor were detained at the Efoulan gendarmerie office, charges were never pressed for the arrest of Elder Ebah. At the State Council, the four had a chance of requesting for an out of consent bail which they did not.
The State Council then handed over the case to an examining magistrate with the option of trial before an open court. In the course of this, all four suspects were detained for less than 48
hours. The case is not yet in court, giving hope that it will be solved out of court amicably.
So Who Stole Church Money?
A team of internal auditors from Buea, sent by the Moderator of the PCC,the Rt. Rev. Fonki Samuel, ascertained the following points:
The sum of 7 964 812F CFA is the total amount stolen. The auditors after due examination, asserted that the thieves were people very versed with operations in the treasurer’s office.
The treasurer is grossly irresponsible for the management of church funds in breach of Article 14 Paragraph 2 Sub 3, Article 8a and d of the Finance Order of the PCC. This article states that the treasurer is responsible for the money in their keeping and the money will be kept in a safe place for at most 24hours. The outgoing treasurer kept money collected since May 14 thus, at the moment of the theft, more than 21 800 000F CFA were in his keeping.
Another breach of the Finance Order, article 19 Paragraph 1 Page 42 which states that the maximum cash flow should be FCFA 100,000 for a congregation like Nsimeyong. The question which goes is why did the treasurer keep more than 21 million kept in a zinc trunk meanwhile the congregation owns a safe?
The Presbytery executive held on June 28 at PC Bastos from 11 a.m to 5p.m and resolved as follows: a chronicle of the crisis was established and the importance of calming down the tension was seen; it was agreed that legal proceedings should continue either proving the accusations of the congregation to be true or acquitting the accused of the charges levied against them. This was referring to the Financial Order of the PCC Article 21 Paragraph 3 page 44 stating that legal actions could be taken on anyone accused of misappropriation and is not willing to refund.
Following the decision of the Session and the letter from the Synod Clerk, it was agreed that while investigations continue, efforts should be made to withdraw the case from the State Council with reference to Article 16.5 Paragraph 4 sub-paragraph C page 39 of the Finance Order stating that those who have misappropriated church funds or are prime suspects may sign acknowledgment to refund the said amount.
In this wise, the accused persons were contacted through their middlemen (Prof. Moise Agwara and Mr. Ojame – both CMF members) to officially engage themselves to pay the money. According to Mr. Ojame through an unrecorded telephone call, Elder Ebah proposed to pay 1 million each year for the next 7 years.
The Financial Secretary and internal audit director were then contacted to engage the PCC lawyers for negotiations with the lawyers of the accused. Unfortunately, by 7p.m, the accused referred a day for the negotiations to be worked out and as a mark of respect, the church didn’t press for a date not to be given.
Until last Tuesday, all suspects were cooperating with the gendarmerie inspectors but the moment the State Council was involved, the same persons started crying foul.
History of Theft in the Church
Similar occurrences of theft in the church include:
- Kang Denis Tem, one time youth pastor of the North West Province (now, Region) in 1999 suffered theft of church money amounting to 1.5 million. He was relieved of his function as youth pastor, asked to pay and was thrown at the back of the yonder in one interior village.
- In 2013, the Development Secretary of the PCC led 5 hanging officials to church lost 7 millions. He was detained and summoned to court. The PCC withdrew the case on the Development Secretary only after he committed himself to paying the money, what he fully did.
- Some years back, the treasurer of PC Bonamoussadi was short of 14 million F CFA. He was locked up and only released after he paid the money through the sale of land.
Some Christians have been saying that the pastor planned this on the eve of his departure (since he was recently transferred to serve in Bafoussam) and should be arrested as well but, investigations showed that he is not a suspect. As Parish Pastor, he’s entitled with the supervision of everything happening in the church and as such, Rev. Kang received a query letter requesting him to explain his lack of supervision of the treasurer.
If the Synod evaluation finds him guilty of having neglected his duties, he’ll be charged a certain percentage of the money and in an extreme case, the pastor may be stripped off his administrative position.
Does this mean the church is inhuman to volunteers who keep church money? According to the church, once the loss of money is due to an unavoidable occurrence, the PCC will not punish the treasurer.
Does legal action tarnish the image of the church? Officials say it rather shows the church as being open to the truth. Where is the place of forgiveness for those who have voluntarily served the church? Forgiveness and reconciliation is said to come after repentance. Authorities say the judicial process will be even more beneficial to the accused as it will prove them innocent and if any of the accused confesses knowledge of the whereabouts of the money, they will be forgiven and justice will be tampered with mercy.