Emotions ran high at the Chapel of Christ the Light, Alausa, Ikeja, on Wednesday, as the Lagos State Government honoured a former presiding Chaplain of the chapel, Venerable Femi Taiwo.
The congregation, consisting of church members, family, friends and well wishers of the cleric, sang songs after songs as they celebrated the occasion.
The state Commissioner for Home Affairs and Culture, Mrs. Uzamat Akinbile-Yusuf, who was joined by top officials of the ministry, presented a gift to Taiwo on behalf of the government.
PUNCH Metro learnt that the special service, which held for about 30 minutes, was kept under wraps, as many church members were not informed.
In May 2017, PUNCH Metro had exclusively reported that Taiwo, his wife and their two children were evicted from the vicarage after being given a 24-hour notice to quit.
Church members contributed money to buy cooking utensils for the family, even as a new accommodation was sought for them.
Taiwo had been accused of not according Bolanle, wife of then-governor Akinwunmi Ambode, preference and recognition during an anointing service.
Bolanle, with her entourage, was reported to have stormed out of the Sunday service in a fit of rage.
Efforts by women leaders in the church to persuade them to stay on were said to have been rebuffed.
Shortly after they left, the priest was served a dismissal letter by the chapel’s governing council.
The incident had generated outrage from Nigerians, who criticised the former governor and his wife for humiliating the chaplain.
Head of the African Church, Ifako Diocese, Rt. Rev. Michael Adeyemi, who seconded the cleric to the chapel, had said Mrs. Ambode committed a sacrilege.
However, Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in the state, Apostle Alexander Bamgbola, justified the government action, saying the priest was a government employee and therefore could be fired by his employers.
Bamgbola also dissociated Bolanle from Taiwo’s sacking.
The Christian leader, however, parried questions on the propriety of the 24-hour eviction order.
Two years and six months after, the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration, through the Ministry of Home Affairs and Culture, honoured Taiwo.
A member of the chapel said the special service was kept secret, adding that officials of the ministry, including the commissioner, special adviser, permanent secretary and some members of staff were present.
“Everything was done very quickly too. We started with a hymn, followed by an address by the special adviser to the governor. After a brief remarks, the commissioner presented a gift to Taiwo,” he stated.
The source said though the government’s action was commendable, the Church wanted the priest to be honoured in a bigger way.
A senior official of the chapel said he got a text about the event around 2.00 p.m. on Tuesday.
He insisted that the programme was an initiative of the state government.
He stated, “I got a text stating that the ministry was coming to the chapel to honour Venerable Taiwo. Some members started sharing and spreading the message till late last night (Tuesday).
“When we arrived, the special adviser to the governor was the first to talk.
“He said something like, ‘Since I have been in Alausa, nobody has told me that you (Taiwo) stole money; nobody said you are a womaniser.’
“It was a very brief remark testifying to the integrity of the priest and I believe that was all Venerable Taiwo wanted.”
Our Correspondent learnt that the female group in the church turned out in a colourful aso ebi to mark the occasion.
The source said despite the short notice, the women mobilised and organised to wear the uniform to honour Taiwo.
A video clip sent to PUNCH Metro by the official showed the priest singing several songs of praise as he was joined by the church members in a dance.
While thanking the state governor for the honour, he appreciated Nigerians for their kind words.
Taiwo said, “I thank God for His faithfulness and the uncommon grace and rare privilege He has given to me.
“I thank the Lagos State Government and Mr. Governor, Aduramigba Iyanuoluwa Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
“I appreciate you and everyone. In the midst of the storm of life, you stood by me.
“The day I was to leave here, I saw angels coming down in the form of men.
“Spontaneously, I saw members of this church come around me and providing all a man could need to survive.
“What happened that day, nobody prepared for it; nobody thought of it. But God went ahead and made the crooked way straight.
“I thank and appreciate all of you and I pray that the glory of God will shine on your lives.
“Throughout the time I spent here, I had no regrets, because you were all around me.
“That is why I cannot forget this place; I cannot forget your beautiful faces.”