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Catholic Priests’ Assaults and Modern Imo Politics

By Prince Stanley U Okoroji
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Galileo Galilei, the 17th Century Pisa-born Italian monk and polymath, was in 1633 condemned by the Church’s Inquisition, which forced the physicist and astronomer to recant his classical scientific discoveries on April 30, 1633. He was kept in house arrest for 8 years and died in1642 at the age of 77, for scientific discoveries that faith declared erroneous to reason and science, as the sun was believed to be mobile.

Almost 350 years later, Pope John Paul II in October 1992 set up an investigation team to look into the condemnation of Galileo, and after 13 years of its conclusion, the Saintly Pope noted that “Galileo was imprudently opposed” and was right as in reality, the earth and all heavenly bodies orbit the sun. In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II issued a formal apology for all the mistakes committed by the Church since the past 2000 years of the Catholic Church history.

This apology certainly needs to be emulated in Imo State, since the Holy Pontiff’s apology precluded similar events after the Tertio Millennium celebration, and specifically those that happen in Imo State since 2011, as politics and faith preachers clash in same manners faith and reason clashed centuries past at Galileo’s time. Thus, the Priest or High Priest of a church, catholic or not, can falter in rational sociality, especially in the exhibition of political soft-spots and sympathy triggered by possible factors, and for the Church to err and apologise is a historic reality; what is necessary is the truth that vindicates, notwithstanding the time lag and damages done.

Following the end of Junta government in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the return of competitive elections in 1999, every State in the federation experienced nascent democracy. In Imo State, there was the quick recourse to a gentleman’s agreement on the Imo charter of equity. The recourse produced Chief Achike Udenwa from Orlu Zone, and he governed Imo from 1999 to 2007.

In 2007, electoral politics became competitive; some major political parties strived to dominate Imo politics, with an unstable exchange of baton on the status of the ruling party in the State. Thus, the PDP dominated the power steering of the State from 1999 to 2007, and PPA took over from 2007 to 2010. In 2011, APGA took over, and in 2011 the APGA-led ruling party metamorphosed into the APC. Each of these changes claims left wing.

These power shifts have not been without strong competitive opposition politics, complex political antics and gimmicks, which assaults and accusations on alleged assaults on Catholic clergies and Religious have played essential roles. As electioneering gimmick, image dinting and public disaffection are consequences of such alleged assaults whether true or false; as the message and impression about the targeted candidate have been projected and lanced to the non-discerning perception of the electorates, whose majority have no access to proper verification of such allegations to ascertain their truthfulness or falsity. Church pastors rest reliable authorities which assaults will expressly destroy any political aspirant, who is involved or enrobed into such. It causes mass disaffection on the candidate and destroys the politician’s public image.

It is evident that the Roman Catholic Church in Imo State has very significant role to play in Imo politics. First, there is no exaggeration in saying that approximately about 60% Imolites today is either Catholic or has sympathy for them, either as co-brethrens in the Christian faith or as one who was previously a Catholic before being converted to another denomination. Second, it is evident that about 55% of adult Christians in the State today were both born and grown as Catholics or still remain such till date, and thus the blood flows in their veins. Third, whether a Catholic, Anglican or Pentecostal priest and pastor, a priest remains a priest, and dishonour to him is seen as dishonour to God and the laics under his care.

Fourth, the Catholic Church in Imo State has ecclesiastical structures that still control the old Imo (and Abia State and some parts of Rivers State). It has the Dioceses of Aba, Umuahia, Okigwe, Ahiara, Orlu (which has some of its Parishes from Anambra State), and Owerri, all under the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, which has His Grace, Archbishop Anthony John Valentine Obinna in charge. Fifth, the fact that a priest is a spiritual leader, the shepherd of the Christian flock, and as such, alta persona Christi, make allegations of assaults on him so inciting unto negative emotional reactions from the electorates, especially in Christian dominated State like Imo.

Given these realities, the inaugural priest assault landed on the head of the then incumbent Governor Ikedi Ohakim on the verge of his second term bid in the State. He was accused of assaulting Rev Fr Eustace Okorie. The alleged assault really ruined his career and political fortune, as it was taken over by Catholics in neighbouring States and mostly slandered in the Adoration Camp of the revered Catholic Ministry of Rev Fr Ejike Mbaka, who sang “Onye ahu kuru Fada ihe, o gaghi achi anyi ozo! Onye ahu kuru Fada ihe, o gaghi achi anyi ozo!” (The person who beat our priest will not rule us again).

The song urged the electorates to vote out Ohakim for beating a Priest. It took the priest some years latter to ganger courage and intimate Rev Fr Mbaka that nothing of such happened. The two priests who made the allegation more credible, latter discovered that it caused Ohakim great political damages that cannot be undone as it was too late and far gone in destruction.

At this time, the heat of opposition was between Chief Ikedi Ohakim, the incumbent Governor, and the left wing gubernatorial aspirant, Owelle Rochas Okorocha. The revolution for change, coupled with some percentage of disaffection propelled by the alleged assault, gave Ohakim a thicker fight for survival, which he finally failed.

The charismatic preacher and leader of the Enugu-based Adoration Ministry at the end of September 2014 recanted on the accusation, and exonerated Chief Ikedi Ohakim from the former true allegation that he flogged Rev Fr Eustace Okorie in 2010 for blocking his convoy. It was then alleged that the priest was taken to Ohakim, who detained the priest, stripped him naked, and flogged him for defaulting traffic law. Ohakim thus became more sinned against than sinning.

In 2014/2015 electoral season, at the Odenigbo Conference Centre, another attempt to put old wine in a new wine skin came up. This one was on the incumbent Governor Rochas Okorocha, in the opposition heat tilting to the APGA gubernatorial candidate, Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho. There was a similar alleged assault during the gubernatorial debate, and rumours were wild again like on Gov Ohakim that Gov Okorocha assaulted a Catholic priest at the podium, while his supporters scattered decorations in the podium.

This was not enough. Suddenly a similar image-tarnishing allegation that is ‘an assault’ on Catholic clerics came up again; this time alleging the incumbent Governor, of giving the Catholic Archdiocese bounced cheque of N50 million. And again, the charismatic preacher and leader of the Adoration Ministry lambasted Gov Rochas Okorocha for the dud cheque he gave to the Catholic Archdiocese, insinuating ingratitude, even after having the members of the church voting massively for him in 2011 governorship election. This dud cheque ‘assault’ came towards the end of July and beginning of August 2014, when party primaries and electioneering politics were gathering momentum.

This year’s month of March 2018, it was also reported that the Imo State Government supervised the beating of the Catholic Archbishop Obinna, and that they were present at the physical attack of Okorocha’s supporters on the Archbishop, where Uche Nwosu and Mrs Nkechi Okorocha were present during a funeral in the Diocese. Thus, this 2018/2019, the same old Story of Priest assault has come up, now not on an incumbent, but on one that all , jitters, except few confident gubernatorial aspirants like Senator Ifeanyi Araraume and Barr Chima Anozie.

Given the two former historic events, the alleged assault on Chief Uche Nwosu triggers some reflections on some social analysts. Personally, I adjudge him an incumbent seeking for second term bid, as the former two assaults were on the incumbents- Ohakim and Okorocha. Given the fact that this very alleged assault is no longer on a catholic priest, but on the Priest of Priests of the Catholic Church in Imo State, then, Chief Uche Nwosu is invariably a historic incumbent, and the fight is to avoid his return for a second term.

Consequently, one is poised to ask, what is the rationale behind the Catholic priests’ dispositions to assaults by Imo incumbent Chief Executives, and only during Election Triduum (I mean, pre-election, election proper and post election stages)? Why are they not assaulted 4, 3, or 2 years before general elections. Why must the assaults come only during the proximity of the electoral calendar? All men are brothers, Mahatma Gandhi said. Let us all take our politicians and our priests as same brothers and live genuine Christian lives and conviviality.