Death threats and social media attacks in South Africa: Nigerian pastor fights allegations of fraud, takeover attempts against his church

    Clement Ikechukwu Ibe, the Nigerian founder and head pastor of Bethesda Christian Centre (BCC), a mega church in Pretoria, South Africa, is fighting back against a spate of online and offline attacks against him and his family from a faction of locals who are alleging that he has appropriated church property for himself. The attacks have included death threats to him, his wife, and children, the pastor has said.

    Ibe, via a statement from his church headquarters, also denounced a recent “accusatorial” newspaper report which he believed was facilitated by this splinter group of his former church members.  The article by Sunday World, a widely circulated South African publication, called into question Ibe’s management of church funds and the true ownership of the church’s headquarters building while also alleging that the church property had been unilaterally sold by Ibe.

    The statement issued by the church leadership and co-signed by Ibe, remarked that the newspaper publication was “falsely accusing him of swindling our church,” while questioning the journalistic standard of the newspaper as well as the true intentions of the group, which has named itself the BCC Concerned Group task Team.

    They noted that the newspaper report was a culmination of a coordinated social media attack on the pastor by members of BCC Concerned Group task Team. Some of the public posts, according to Ibe, included personal attacks on Pastor Ibe and his family in which the former BCC members declared that Ibe should not be trusted because he was Nigerian.

    “But Nigerians, I will never trust them even if Jesus was Nigerian I will never accept him actually I’d be the AntiChrist if Jesus was Nigerian. We’d be scammed and they’d make us carry the Cross instead of him carrying the Cross himself (sic),” Larry Matlala, a South African Facebook user, had written.

    “At this point in time most of you are well aware that on 06 October 2021 a twitter post sparked all the falsehood, which continues to circulate claiming that Pastor Clement Ibe fled the country with no less than R300 million – the money he had supposedly looted for personal gratification. This is embarrassingly untrue! The article and social media comments impugned the status of the R90 million new church facility, falsely suggesting that the church facility has been sold. Yet, another inordinate belief,” the church’s official statement read in part.

    The BCC Concerned Group Task Team had earlier filed reports against the BCC and its leader with the South Africa Police’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) and the Social Development Department.

    As reported by Sunday World, the BCC Concerned Group Task Team’s letter to the department of Social Development, said that monies were laundered to fund a property project worth R90 million, allegedly registered under Ibe’s company, World Outreach, without the church members’ approval. They testified that that they were convinced that Ibe was “resolute to continue misusing the church’s resources and siphoning funds for personal gratification.”

    However, the church leadership responded that the continued death threats was partly the reason Ibe and his family temporarily moved to the United States.

    To prove Ibe’s innocence, BCC leadership in their official statement also pointed to an independent investigation by South African law firm Snyman Attorneys, which was engaged to authenticate the ownership of the church’s property in contention.

    Snyman Attorneys released their findings via a report dated November 16 2021, in which they concluded that “all registrations are legal and the ownership of the property has been done in a manner that would still make Bethesda Christian Centre NPO the true beneficiary of the property.” It also stated that “the property cannot be sold simply by the actions of the Director of World Outreach (Pty) Ltd.”

    Snyman Attorneys also concluded that, “In this regard, Bethesda Christian Centre NPO is the beneficiary of the property.”

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