Okotie accused a former keyboardist in his church of blackmail and extortion to the tune of N39 million .
There was mild drama at an Ikeja Magistrate Court, Tuesday, after a magistrate dismissed journalists covering a matter involving pastor of Household of God Church International, Chris Okotie, and a former member of his church.
Mr. Okotie, the flamboyant head of the church had accused Dafiaghor Okiotor, a former keyboardist in his church, of blackmail and intimidation in an effort to extort N39 million from the former.
In his defence, Mr. Okiotor stated that he was trying to recover the money owed him by the church after putting in 14 years playing the keyboard and producing music in the church.
Oshodi Makanjuola, the magistrate, told reporters to “leave her court” after enquiring the reason for their presence.
The magistrate’s action came after Kola Dopamu, a counsel holding a watching brief for Mr. Okotie, informed the court about the presence of the journalists.
On each of the case’s two previous sittings, Mr. Dopamu had urged the magistrate to bar Mr. Okiotor from his “publication of falsehood” on Facebook about the head of the church. And the magistrate had issued stern warnings to the defendant.
But Tuesday’s action elicited a heated verbal exchange between the magistrate and Robert Igbinedion, Mr. Okiotor’s counsel, after the latter voiced his disapproval of her decision.
“You cannot tell me how to run my court,” Mrs. Makanjuola yelled at the lawyer.
“If the journalists leave, then it’s no longer an open case. I and my client would lose confidence in the court and we’ll walk out,” Mr. Igbinedion fired back.
The magistrate eventually asked the journalists to return, adding that she did not “have a personal interest in the matter.”
The prosecution called their second witness, Adeolu Omotayo, the Head of Security at the Household of God Church.
Led in evidence by Samson Ekikere, the police counsel, the witness said that Mr. Okiotor had written two letters containing subtle threats to Mr. Okotie before the incidents of July 10 and 15, 2012.
“That prompted us to inform the Area F police. He was arrested within the church premises (on the 10th),” said Mr. Omotayo. “That matter was handled by the Area Commander and he was made to write an undertaking that he will not come back (to the church).”
Mr. Omotayo said that the defendant returned to the church on July 15 (a Sunday) but was stopped by the police from entering the church.
“He was standing right in front of the gate. But his behaviour and mannerism caused the pastor to stop service. He was shouting, singing songs in his language and the people around there were already getting upset with what he was doing,” said Mr. Omotayo.
“We had to call the police to take him back to Area F. The (police officer) spoke with him again and told him that if he had any grouse he should go to court. He warned him that he should not go back there.”
On the evening of that same day, according to the witness, Mr. Okiotor came back to the church and was arrested by the police.
Mr. Omotayo said that although the defendant never had a physical contact with Mr. Okotie, his “behaviour” caused him to abandon his sermon at the pulpit.
The witness, who said he had been working for the church since 1989, also said that all volunteers at the church, including Mr. Okiotor, are not paid for their services.
“The only people paid are those who work on a daily basis. So when he (Mr. Okiotor) said pastor is owing him, we were wondering how possible that could be,” he added.
Mr. Omotayo further told the court that it’s not possible for the defendant to have worked 14 years at the church since he worked “on and off.”
Harold Turay, the prosecution’s third witness, narrated a similar account of the events, adding that Mr. Okiotor wore a white shirt written ‘Reverend Okotie: Pay me or kill me.’
“After he was taken to the police station, he insulted the police officers and tore the paper given to him to write a statement,” Mr. Turay, a church volunteer since 2002, said.
During cross examination, Mr. Turay said that his duty at the church is to monitor the cars parked in the church.
“I’ve known him (the defendant) since 2002. He comes once in a while, when he is available, to play the keyboard,” said Mr. Turay. “I don’t know if he had a personal contract with pastor Okotie to pay him for his work.”
Mr. Turay said that none of the volunteers had entered a contract with Mr. Okotie “to the best of my knowledge.”
The magistrate adjourned till April 26 for continuation of trial.