Father Mbaka, Catholic clergy and politicians

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In terms of vitriolic and acerbic contents, the sermon by Rev. Father Ejike Mbaka on President Goodluck Jonathan is not different from what opposition elements have been saying about the Nigerian leader during this period. Therefore, the furore over Father Mbaka’s statements on the President has to do more with the fact that it came from a clergyman, more so a Catholic priest, than
its contents.

I have since come to the conclusion that Nigerian politicians generally are more sensitive to issues raised by Catholic clergymen than their counterparts in the other denominations. The reason is simple. Catholics, at least in the Nigerian context, are more doctrinal over views held by their clergy on sundry issues. For the average Catholic, the Rev. Father, Bishop or Archbishop does no wrong. What he says is the gospel truth which cannot be controverted. And, the more local, the more emotionally attached is the average Catholic to his priest and his views.

Thus, even when other Catholic clergy men outside have changed their views over a particular matter, local faithful would only yield grounds after their home priest has given a go-ahead. The point being made here is that the Catholic clergy exercises stronger influence on the parishioners and members than in other denominations. Differently put, Christians of non-Catholic extraction such as  Pentecostals, Anglicans, Methodists etc – seem to be more independent of their clerics and religious leaders than Catholics. Politicians and public office holders dread being on the bad side of Catholic clergymen for the mere fact that the views held by the clergy are upheld tenaciously by their parishioners. Put in plainer language, the Catholic clergy has greater influence on members than in other churches; so that once any politician finds himself in the bad book of the Catholic clergy, he is done for. The result is that in several parts of the country, especially in Igbo land, the fear of the Catholic priest, including Bishops and Archbishops, is the beginning of wisdom for the politicians.

The point being made here is that other than the fear of loss of political support of the Catholic clergy and their parishioners, the average Nigerian politician is not enamoured of the pontifications of the former. The question therefore is, for how long shall we continue to have sermons that yield to no change of hearts among politicians but instead acrimony and loss of faith? In other words, is there no room for change of tactics by the Catholic clerics? Why is it that the average Nigerian politician feels more at home with the clergy in the Pentecostal, Anglican, Methodist etc denominations?

Going back to the recent incident concerning Rev. Father Mbaka’s sermon on President Jonathan, my view is that it has merely pointed at the discomforting perennial fracas between Catholic priests (including Bishops and Archbishops) and politicians. The origin of this is outside the scope of this article but I think it is sufficient to state here that the frequency of clashes is not a healthy situation. In my view, the trend erroneously gives the impression that Catholic priests are becoming less and less altruistic in their charges against politicians. As a matter of fact, not a few Nigerians are beginning to see most of the interventions as mundane and driven by partisan proclivities.

Right or wrong, such perceptions rather than lead to a collective resolve to have a better society, instead results in mutual suspicion and even a vitiation of the ecclesiastical prestige of the supposedly well-meaning clergymen.

In the instant case, I shuddered at the allegation that Father Mbaka said what he said because he was paid money by President Jonathan’s opponents. And you ask: if priestly calling is mostly to help people to their salvation, are all these necessary for the divine assignment? In other words, could our clergymen, especially Catholic clergymen, for the purpose of this article at least, do without attracting to themselves jibes that effectively negate their ecclesiastical awe?

Not unexpectedly, Father Mbaka has been hailed by some as “fearless”,   given his antecedents. He had similarly exhibited such fearlessness in the past but the instant case might arm critics of the Catholic clergy, as aforementioned, to query whether the penchant for canonic diatribes has altogether elevated the collective image of Catholicism in Nigeria, regardless of the vices of the larger society. For example, there are those who point at the 2011 case in Imo State when Father Mbaka led a campaign of calumny against the then Governor, Ikedi Ohakim, on an allegation that the latter physically assaulted a Catholic priest. Although Father Mbaka has since confessed that he acted on false information and has preached a sermon to say that Ohakim did not do what he was accused of, another highly respected Catholic cleric, The Most Rev. Anthony Obinna, the Catholic Archbishop of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, insists otherwise.

At his New Year mass on January 1, 2015, Archbishop Obinna reportedly reminded the congregation, made up of top politicians and priests at the Assumpta Cathedral, Owerri, that Ohakim flogged a Rev. Father, stripped him and left him with only pants. Not a few were quite surprised or even shocked to hear that from the Archbishop, the reason being that just few months earlier, Fr. Mbaka had told a congregation of the same Catholic faithful that the Rev Father in question, Fr. Eustace Okorie, had told him, Mbaka, that he never meet Ohakim let alone being flogged by him. So, which does the world take from these two highly revered Catholic Priests, living less than three hours drive away from one other?

Clearly, this apparent lack of consensus among the elite of the Catholic Holy Order on a matter such as this tends to paint them in the same picture as the politicians they criticize. It is the same breakdown of elite consensus, the bane of Nigerian politics. From the same pulpit, Fr Mbaka raised the issue of dud check given to the Owerri Catholic Archdiocese by the current Governor of Imo State, Chief Rochas Okorocha. That matter raised so much dust, as some Catholics priests in Imo hauled invectives on Fr Mbaka, asking him to mind his own business.

At the end, the ordinary folk, the followers of the clergymen, went home with the following impression: It is all politics! Is that what these men of God really want? In my view, the Catholic clergy, especially in Igbo land, is making itself vulnerable to the mundane things that it seeks to correct, not necessarily because the clerics are guilty of the same offence but by sheer manner of approach.

Of course, there can be no doubt that not every Catholic priest holds the same view as Fr Mbaka on President Jonathan. As a matter of fact, Fr Mbaka is believed to have held a different (opposite) opinion of the president just a month ago. I have a hunch that before the elections, another fiery Catholic priest of Igbo extraction will pontificate on the virtues of President Jonathan and his good works

It is not that Igbo Catholic priests are more politically gullible than their counterparts elsewhere but it may well be that like their brothers in the outside world, Igbo Catholics riests are “republicans”: They say to one another: Are you feeding me? Where then lies the difference between the erring politicians and the angry clerics?

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