…As northern catholics take the gauntlet
By Sam Eyoboka
THE theatre of battle over the rejection of Bishop Peter Ebere Okpalaeke from Awka Catholic Diocese in Anambra State as the diocesan Bishop of Ahiara Mbaise Catholic Diocese to succeed the pioneer Bishop, Late Rt. Rev. Victor Adibe Chikwe appears to have shifted from the host community in Imo State to Kaduna in North Central geo-political zone of the country.
Since 2012, the clergy and laity of Ahiara Mbaise Catholic diocese have refused to accept the appointment of Peter Okpalaeke, because he is not of the Mbaise ethnic group or chosen from among the local priests. Following the impasse, on July 3, 2013, Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, was appointed Apostolic Administrator.
When that attempt failed to yield the desired dividends, Pope Francis, having received a delegation from the Diocese on June 8, this year gave all members of the diocesan clergy (priests and deacons) 30 days to personally write to the Vatican pledging obedience to the Pope and accepting Bishop Okpalaeke. Those who failed to write would be suspended a divinis (which would prohibit a priest or deacon from administering any of the Sacraments, save for a priest hearing the Confession of a person in danger of death), and would be removed from their posts. He had considered suppressing the diocese, but decided against that idea.
The papal text in English was posted June 9 on the blog of Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos, president of Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN. One month after, it was reported that while the letters of apology were sent, the appointment of Bishop Okpalaeke was still rejected by the local priests who insisted that the Vatican was enforcing racial discrimination in the country by hiring outsider priests to become Bishops.
And after recent cat-and-mouse altercations between the leadership of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN and one of its members, Bishop of Kafanchan, Most Rev. Joseph Danlami Bagobiri who broke ranks with his colleagues insisting on a local solution to the protracted crisis to include “giving Ahiara Mbaise a bishop close to their hearts,” many other “outsiders” have jumped on the fray throwing their support for Bagobiri.
In a letter addressed to the leadership of the CBCN and titled; “The Catholic Church faces Tsunami in Nigeria,” a Senior Pastor with the International Ministry of Christ’s Assembly in Kagarko, Kaduna with a branch in Kafachan, John-Henry Jatau called on the Catholic Bishops to adopt Bagobiri’s recommendation instead of attacking his person and threatening him.
Pastor Jatau, who left the Catholic Church because of certain circumstances beyond his control, maintained that he has followed Ahiara Mbaise saga since 2012, adding: “I was happy when I saw Bishop Bagobiri’s write up. I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that the Bishops in Nigeria would adopt a perfect suggestion from a brother. All of a sudden, I saw a follow up letter asking him to apologise.“
Jatau, a lawyer who has represented the Catholic Church in different capacities in the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN and still loves the Catholic Church and it’s doctrines including the attributes to Mother Mary, wondered why honest and truthful Catholics like the Bishop of Sokoto, Most Rev. Hassan Matthew Kukah has not intervened in the matter.
“I truly admire him (Kukah) and his courage. I also admire Bishop Bagobiri who I have met on few occasions though not at a close range but during a function organised by Christians in Response to Boko Haram. One thing very peculiar about him is his love for truth, outspoken character and ability to stand for justice.
”This is a character I see in Bishop Kukah too though his voice has not been heard at this moment of crisis. I believe he should be more involved in church matters than in Politics which is not the main reason for his ordination. However, my love for the Catholic Church cannot grow dim as whatever I am today and the qualities I possess are mostly gotten from the Catholic Church.
”I am, however, deeply troubled as a Christian about the events of the past few years and mostly the events unfolding in the past few days. The Catholic Church in Nigeria is made up of great minds who have studied from different parts of the world, I cannot forget to mention Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka who has been a veritable tool in the hand of God. But it beats my imagination on how the Nigerian Bishops have decided to handle a simple case that other denominations could handle in a twinkle of an eye. They have continued to destroy the Church of God!” the concerned cleric said.
According to him, this same orgy of apologies that has been used on the Ahiara Mbaise people is now being extended to members of the elite club of bishops. “God of Mercy!” he exclaimed. “Why can’t justice be allowed for once, what effrontery would you the Bishops have in solving the problems of the Nigerian nation that is undergoing great moments of corruption. Do you still have moral courage? Or is there no shame at all? I know that there are many men like Bagobiri ready to speak out but are still afraid.”
Jatau drew attention to John 8:32, saying: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. You are not yet free now because you know the truth and do not want the truth to set you free. It takes nothing from me, a father of four to say sorry to my little Eunice at home for forgetting to buy her the crayon I promised her yesterday. I cuddled her and made her to understand that I love her. Can humility not have its way?
”Do we have to allow the Devil to take charge of Nigeria and also get hold of the Church? We say No! One of our proverbs says: “Rua ba su yami banza”. Water does not get bitter without a cause. Ahiara Mbaise people have suffered for a long time and now is the time for liberation. God is sending prophets, do not look down on them, allow them to teach you the truths of the kingdom of God.
”Dear Bishops and heads of the Church, there is no point attacking the personality of Bagobiri who has just offered a fraternal suggestion different from what you have been running about many years back. Adopt his opinion or related ones, other than the voice of punishment. “If the Lord should mark your guilt and frailties; do you think you can stand? I tell my congregation, that being a senior pastor does not lead me to heaven, staying on the pulpit and shouting on those who some of us think are sinners does not get me a pass card to heaven, parading myself dressed in suit and collar as a senior pastor leads me no where except that my life becomes what I preach.
“I tell you too, that your robes, red caps cannot lead you to heaven, that is if at all you believe in Heaven. Yes! You are Lords and Masters on Earth, I only pray that you too see the Lord face to face in Heaven. Though I do not wish to judge but I see the difficulty. I do not wish to be derogatory, for I know that the Catholic Church has all it takes for one to attain Heaven, I only pray that the leaders follow a path of humility, justice and peace as fast as possible because I sense great danger. May God help us all,” Rev. Jatau counselled.
In a similar development, a Knight of St John International, Sir Julius Dauda, in his open letter to the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, lamented that the Church has fallen to the extent where members, in addition to the prayers for Nigeria in distress, are now weeping for the Nigerian Church…Weep for our Bishops.
In a letter addressed to the CBCN, Sir Dauda said it has become obvious that the Nigerian Church has really fallen into a mess and deep pitiable state that one would immediately say, ”Weep for the Nigerian Church…Weep for Our Bishops… One would say…Close the Seminaries! Convert the churches to Party Halls and Recreational Centres… God forbid! This would never happen. The kingdom of Hell cannot prevail against the Church deeply founded on a solid Rock with Christ as her head. Weep for the Bishops… Evil in the Name of God!
“How did the Nigerian Church degenerate so low as to be an institution of scandal, causing the faith of the too many to go into oblivion?”
According to the knight, “on December 5, the CBCN issued a letter to reprimand a man of honour, Bishop Joseph Bagobiri who has decided to say no to evil and enough to injustice, corruption and evil. What has this honourable man done wrong; that you should demand apology and that you should soil his name in the media? Truth has been buried for more than five years and behold it is crying and raising up its head.
”Who should apologise? Is it not Onaiyekan who has plunged the Church in Nigeria into a deep mess? The Church in Nigeria needs apology from you, for destroying the vineyard handed over to you. Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, the Church in Nigeria needs apology from you, for covering evil, while the Pope is making effort to reduce, to the barest minimum, scandals and corruptions that have bedevilled the church for years, under your watch the Nigerian Church is decaying,” he noted.
Continuing, Sir Jatau also asked the Bishop of Sokoto, Bishop Hassan Kukah, an activist and a man who is known for defending the poor, “when did you become so mute as to allow evil to unfold before your eyes? The Church in Nigeria needs apologies from you. The politicians who you are fund of reprimanding need apologies from you for not believing in what you teach them.
”Archbishop Obinna, the Church in Nigeria weeps for you! For ending your race poorly. A giant of the church in Owerri has fallen…no voice again even to address the evil politicians… you have lost your voice… the church in Owerri Province needs apologies from you, the church in Nigeria needs apologies from you for selling your office for a porridge of yam.
”Bishop Peter Okpalaeke too needs apology? A man that has been caught up by pride and arrogance, In fact the people of God in Ahiara Mbaise Diocese need deep apologies from you! For causing the vibrant Church untold harms, the Seminarians in Nigeria need apologies from you, dear Bishops for toiling with the future of the Church; like the hireling you have destroyed the church and may God have mercy on you all,” he stated.
According to the Catholic knight, the Catholics in the North will no longer tolerate any further destruction of the names of our noble Bishops including Bagobiri, warning any such debasement of worthy clerics would “lead to a total defence of the church which in effect would follow a different path altogether.
“May I wish to sound it as note of warning; enough is enough for you the Bishops who have soiled their garments in corruption, simony and desecration of the sacred. I think the Ahiara Mbaise people are very much godly and they have tolerated enough, we cannot and shall not tolerate this. We are mandating you the Bishops to arrest this ugly situation that tends to destroy the life of the Church in Nigeria, and we demand that you treat with respect our Bishops from the North, especially the men of dignity, the true Men of God…” he warned.
Revealing further plans to inflict more punishment on the people of Ahiara Mbaise and on the person of Bishop Bagobiri, describing the plot as “an irony of the Century. Hope you can dance the music you all are preparing to play. I believe the war is taking a different tone now. The people have suffered long in Silence…Evil in the name of God! Evil in the Name of the Pope!”