By Emmanuel Aziken
If anyone needed proof of the damage politics has done to the spiritual orientation of Nigerians, the recent encounter between Father Ejike Mbaka and Mr. Peter Obi would certainly be a good referral.
Famed for what many have termed as his meritorious stint as governor of Anambra State, Mr. Obi had visited Father Mbaka perhaps to seek his blessing for the torrid political battle ahead.
Few would doubt Mr. Obi’s need for spiritual fortification ahead of the 2019 presidential election. That is especially given his circumstances. Though applauded for his Spartan dispositions as governor, he, however, has been unable to win the majority of the political elite in the Southeast to himself.
In fact, it could be deposed that his popularity swings in an inverse relationship between the grassroots and the elite political class among whom he is seriously loathed.
With devotees running into the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, Mbaka had become something of a phenomenon whom many politicians had repeatedly courted to boost political capital or cause harm to opponents.
So, Mr. Obi’s visit even if it may have been couched in spiritual undertones, was undoubtedly a political mission.
Such spiritual interventions had become a pattern of late.
Not too long ago, Bishop Matthew Kukah, Bishop David Oyedepo, and the Islamic cleric, Sheik Ahmed Gumi were at the centre of controversy over their roles in the reconciliation of Atiku Abubakar and Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo. The controversy was especially fanned by political actors in the country who saw the reconciliation as a threat to their political interests.
The clerics, in that case, took cover under the claim that they were pursuing God’s desire for peace, albeit between Atiku and Obasanjo.
Even Mr. Obi had gone to Rome for papal blessings ahead of the PDP national convention. It was perhaps also not surprising that Mr. Obi’s closest political rival in Anambra, Governor Willie Obiano has also weaved Roman Catholic fervour to further his politics. The governor is today receiving an award for his contributions to the church.
So, when Mr. Obi visited Mbaka, and the priest demanded that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP presidential running mate publicly announce his offering he opened a totally new chapter in the delicate relationship between church and politicians.
The viral video of the encounter has distressed many, including many of his devotees. If Obi went to Father Mbaka for spiritual blessing, he got more than what many politicians can ever desire with the political mileage that his simplicity and seeming political naivety portrayed. His refusal to bent his principles at Father Mbaka’s altar was sound wisdom.
By refusing to announce whatever gift he would offer, Mr. Obi simply heeded scriptural injunctions that stipulate that your right hand should not know what your left hand is offering. (Matthew 6:3)
As Obi insisted on giving his offering in private, Father Mbaka simply blurted: “God hates stinginess. What I am saying is not to please you, but what will save your life. Otherwise, you and Atiku will fail.”
Many have said that Mbaka’s assertion was not in line with Roman Catholic tradition easily bouncing it off as an offshoot of the indiscipline among the supposedly Pentecostal genre. But was it Christian?
Mbaka’s fate has not been helped by his inconsistent and perhaps opaque political judgments, gyrating from a pro-Buhari advocate to critic.
Religious leaders had in time past intervened in the political space to project and protect the interest of the people. When King Herod who married his brother’s wife and also beheaded John the Baptist turned into a terror on everyone, Jesus was unmoved. His response to entreaties to stop doing good was “Go and tell that fox; I will continue with my good work,” Luke 13:32.
The Central American clerics who shaped the course of Liberation Theology three decades ago were inspired by the rudderless governance around them.
The difference between Jesus and today’s seemingly political clerics is the way in which they had put their political callings well behind the good work that they are supposed to be doing. As Father Mbaka told Mr. Obi, bring money otherwise you will lose the election! That was certainly not in line with the calling of Jesus!