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Ahiara Diocese

The sordid state of post-independence Nigeria and indeed Africa might not be unconnected with a certain inherent mean gene running through the blood of the emergent political class. The primordial self-centred gene manifests in greed, avarice, materialism, envy, over-vaulting ambition, power-drunkenness, nepotism and everything that has to do with self. These blind, mute and deaf gene traits have prevented the political class from managing Africa’s socio-political and economic affairs well. The same that has also prevented the church leaders from managing the church well. The same way politicians have practically failed the people is the same way church leaders have failed the church in Nigeria.

There is fundamentally no difference between the politician and the bishop, pastor or priest on the pulpit. Both have a common African root, same gene factor and pursue the same selfish goals, though, on different platforms. While the politician, with unbridled egocentric impunity, imposes himself on the people with intent to enrich himself from the public till, the church leaders, also, pursue the same inordinate ambition. There is no consideration given to what the Word of God says nor are they interested in salvation. It is a sad irony of fate.

The same way the colonial masters handed over power to Nigeria’s indigenous politicians after laying the foundation for development is the same way the European missionaries handed the church over to our indigenous clergy. The predecessors thought, or should I say, expected, the Nigerian successors to continue from where they stopped on the path of equity, fairness and justice.

But the same way the politicians have undeveloped Africa by introducing discrimination, nepotism, injustice and all that, that is also the same way church leaders have left the main tenets of Christianity to pursue materialism, power, selfish ambition and all that. The church is the victim just as the polity is bastardised.

In a way, the politicians are better in the sense that from time to time, some of them are arrested, detained, probed and even jailed. But in the case of church leaders, there is nothing like that. Amid the injustice and materialism rocking the church, no church leader has been arrested, detained or jailed. Church leaders are not even criticised as politicians are daily subjected to. The trend gives the church leaders unbridled latitude to commit havoc and go scot-free.

This comment stems from what has been happening in the rural Ahiara Diocese in Mbaise Nigeria, where there has been no peace since 2012, when the leadership of the church in the Onitsha and Owerri Ecclesiastical Provinces, decided to impose one Bishop Peter Okpaleke on Ahiara Diocese against the wish and desire of the faithful.

Whereas, the impression has been wrongly created in the Vatican that the Ahiara Catholic faithful rejected the new bishop because he is not an indigene of the diocese, the truth is that there is a fundamental injustice that is being visited on the hapless faithful in Ahiara by the church leadership championed by Cardinal John Oniyekan, the administrator of the diocese, Cardinal Francis Arinze and others, who have a different agenda that is not in tune with the church. Truth is that Ahiara faithful are fighting the injustice and not Bishop Okpaleke. Ahiara Diocese is not against the Pope’s authority. It is the church leadership, from all indications, that has refused to say the truth, which is why the crisis has lingered.

The intervention of Pope Francis in the passing week to resolve the matter is commendable. As the head of the body of Christ, the body cannot be said to be healthy if any part thereof is troubled. However, that intervention would have been better if the Pope had first carried out an independent inquiry into the matter to get an unbiased picture.

Nigeria is corruption-prone in all levels of society and the church is not an exemption. This cannot be wished away. Like I said earlier, there is no difference between the church leaders and the politicians in Nigeria. They share the same stalk and root.

To rely on the same church leadership that is bent on imposing Bishop Okpaleke without even hearing from the Ahiara Catholic faithful through their priests is ill-motivated. There are no angelic beings in this matter who may know everything; we are all humans with finite capacity. Apostle Paul said all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The church leadership knows what they are doing. They know the ambition they are pursuing, which is divisive and unholy.

According to reports, during the audience with the Pope, comprising none-representatives of Ahiara Diocese, the Pope requested explicitly that “the diocese receive Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke, who was appointed to Ahiara by Pope Benedict in 2012”. That summarises the main objective of the church leadership that is instrumental to the meeting with the Pope – to impose Bishop Okpaleke on Ahiara by all means and at all cost.

Continuing, the reports say, Pope Francis asked “every priest or ecclesiastic incardinated in the Diocese of Ahiara, whether he resides there or works elsewhere, even abroad, to write a letter addressed to me in which he asks for forgiveness; all must write individually and personally…Whoever fails to do so within thirty days, the Pope said, “will be ipso facto (by that very fact) suspended a divinis (from divine things, such as the celebration of the sacraments) and will lose his current office.”

This aspect of the Pope’s mandate amounts to a threat and intimidation of Ahiara Diocesan priests for standing on the truth. What happens if all the priests refuse to write the letter; automatically, they will lose their power to perform priestly functions.

Thereafter, what becomes of the diocese, dissolved or what? After the priests are forced to accept injustice, what about the laity? Are they also going to be forced to do otherwise? What is the difference between imposing Bishop Okpaleke on Ahiara Diocese and imposing a president or governor on a state as is common in Nigeria?

Are the two not the same thing playing on different platforms – the polity and the church?
Just as it is difficult for an imposed political leader to work cordially with the people, I don’t see how an imposed bishop will work cordially among priests and laity who bear deep animosity. Since all the relevant Canon laws have been flouted in the Bishop Okpaleke case, the Pope should have created a new diocese for Bishop Okpaleke, even though, that again, won’t help the realise the unholy ambition of wanting to take over Mbaise.