OP-ED- The catholic church and Imo Politics: calling a spade a spade. – Onwuasoanya FCC Jones

question3There are many reasons why I have had to be careful in trying to comment on the recent face-off between the Catholic Church and Governor Rochas Okorocha. The foremost among these reasons is the fact that I am a devout Catholic, who believes that the Church is not a mere edifice, but the Body of Christ and the Womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But beyond every consideration, my Christianity and total loyalty to the Almighty Father, makes me a humanist, before being a Catholic, hence, I will do everything in total submission to the rules and will of the Almighty, placing paramount consideration to the upholding of truth and human dignity.

One does not need to be an analyst to understand that the marriage between the Catholic Church in Imo State and the present government has gone sour, neither do you need to be a politician for you to know that this soured relationship between Governor Okorocha and the Catholic Church will mean more trouble for the Imo Governor’s ambition to be re-elected for a second term in office. The Catholic Church and indeed, Archbishop AJV are prime on the log of many groups and individuals who made the Okorocha governorship a reality. It is easier to appreciate the Church’s frustrations with the Governor, if you followed the contributions of the Church and its leaders to the election and declaration of Okorocha as the Governor of Imo State. The Governor through its Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), started off by sponsoring prayers against any form of electoral injustice and manipulations. The Archbishop did not pretend about his total support for the election of Rochas Okorocha as the Governor of Imo State, and when the elections ran into a hitch and some people suspected that the PDP was going to act funny, the Bishop led his faithfuls to observe a vigil around the INEC office in Imo State. These things happened after the Catholic Church had allowed the falsehood that Ikedi Ohakim‚Äč flogged a Reverend Father Eustace Okorie, and their subsequent black mass and rosary procession across Imo State.

All these happened, despite the fact that Ohakim, though an Anglican, initiated and pursued policies and programs that were favourable to the Catholic Church more than any other Governor in the history of this State. Ohakim never disrespected the clergy, and he ensured that the Church was carried along in most programs of his government. For instance, he appointed the Late Bishop Chikwe of Ahiara as the Chairman of the panel that birthed Ohakim’s signature 10,000 jobs for Imo youths, the same Bishop Chikwe also chaired the committee that oversaw the plan to hand over schools back to the Missions. Ohakim also holds the record as the first Nigerian Governor, even before Peter Obi to have diligently pursued a program that ensured that a good number of schools were returned to the Churches. The Catholic Church is a prime beneficiary of this initiative. It must be noted that Ohakim did not only hand over these schools to the Churches, but also undertook to pay the salaries of the teachers who were employed by these schools. Ohakim did not only hand over these schools to the Church, but also ensured that the schools were returned to good state and adequate funding provided as subventions to these schools. Ohakim was to ensure that Mission hospitals were refurbished and adequately funded to enable the Church thrive in its bid to provide good health services to the people. I know that the Church did not fall out with Ikedi Ohakim, but they did not come out to tell the people that they didn’t. They allowed the people to misunderstand their actions as being targeted against the person of Governor Ikedi Ohakim. I do not know why they had to do what they did, but I am aware that the Church failed to show its neutrality during the campaigns and elections of 2011. So many people who opposed Governor Ohakim’s re-election bid in 2011, did so with the assumption that they were following the Church’s directive. I know they weren’t, but the Church did not make efforts to clear that to its teeming followers and sympathizers.

Today, the same Okorocha who benefited directly from the Church’s seeming displeasure with the Ohakim government has turned around to attack the institution of the Church. Ohakim was wrongly accused of flogging a reverend Father, but Rochas’ appointees have gone ahead to send in thugs to beat up reverend fathers, upturn God’s altar and desecrate the House of God in a most disgusting manner, and in the full glare of thousands of Imolites. Should the Church be pitied? Do we sympathize with the Reverend Archbishop AJV? I do not have an answer to give you. I have answered those for myself and I leave you to answer those for yourself.

I am not one of those who will tell you that the Church should completely keep away from politics. The Church has a responsibility to intervene when she feels that the ordinary man is being deceived or oppressed by those who are put in positions of power to protect and provide for them. Jesus Christ, who is the head of the Church did not keep quiet on issues of leadership during His earthly ministry. He did not spare bad leaders of His scathing remarks. He once referred to the Saduccees and Scribes as “scorpions and sons of the Serpent”. Christ even got physical with some church leaders who desecrated the House of God, by upturning their tables and throwing away their wares. He did not also shy away from commenting on political and leadership issues. When He was asked to state His opinion on what the role of His followers should be on issues of politics, He said; “Give to Caesar what belongs to Him and to God, what is His.” Those who criticize the Church, for ‘indulging’ in politics do not really read their Bibles well. Christ understood politics, and played it, though with obvious restraint. The Church should not be seen as keeping quiet in the face of any form of political injustice. They must speak out, but they must be fair in speaking out.

It is fair to assert that the Church in Imo State, and particularly, Owerri Archdiocese is being persecuted by its own creation and mistakes. The Church in Imo, has played into the hands of desperate politicians who feel no qualms about using whatever and whoever comes into their hands as pawns to achieve what is sometimes, Satanic goals. Like Archbishop Obinna rightly stated when Governor Okorocha led some APC national leaders to pay him a courtesy visit “Without us, this man here (Referring to Okorocha) wouldn’t have become Governor.” How he and the Church under his leadership succeeded in installing a man who has become their nemesis as the Governor of Imo State is known to all who have being following Imo’s politics since or before 2011. It will be helpful to the Catholic Church’s image that they come out clear on what really transpired between them and Ikedi Ohakim, that attracted such massive opposition from them to the former Governor.

As much as the governorship debate being organized by the Catholic Church is a wonderful idea, one wonders why there doesn’t seem to be stipulated rules on how that debate will be conducted and how it won’t be. A debate of that nature should not be an all comers affair, like what obtained recently. The Catholic Church in Imo should have learned how to organize such debates from the Nigerian Elections Debate Group, who takes the pains to streamline how it wants the debates to look like, including the kind of people that are invited and those not invited.

The desperation of some of Governor Okorocha’s men to scuttle this debate this time around may not be unconnected with their idea of how that debate was tilted to hurt Ohakim’s re-election chances in 2011, having been a part of it, and benefited from same, Okorocha’s men may be forgiven for going out of their way to protect their jobs, by ensuring that whatever may hurt their principal’s re-election chances are forestalled. Was it not in the same debate in 2011, that the Archbishop Obinna embarrassingly interjected while a then incumbent Governor was delivering his speech? It is safe to assume that Okorocha had some secret deals with the Archbishop in that 2011 debate, which his aides and appointees suspected would be replayed this time around, hence, their desperation to save the Governor such embarrassment. While not condoling any form of hooliganism as exhibited by some agents of the present government and their thugs, we must understand that there is no smoke without fire.It will be foolhardy to continue to struggle to stop a smoke without first putting out the fire, which is its source. The Catholic Church of Owerri Archdiocese must ask itself where the rain started beating it from, before it can really understand how it can stop itself from being embarrassingly drenched by this ignominious rain.



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