AHIARA CRISIS: Governor Okorocha’s lesson to catholic church

My recent writing on this crisis dwelt extensively on the inability of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) to manage crisis satisfactorily. I attributed this inability to its command system of management which depends on military-type obedience to work without provision for credible avenues for ventilation and consideration of grievances. Such a system,(I said) lends itself easily to abuse and leads frustrated complainants into open rebellion, as is the case in Ahiara Diocese right now. I also called for appropriate changes in the management system to include the devolution of more powers to the local chapters and dioceses particularly in the management of their own affairs and selection of their leaders. If the Roman Catholic Cardinals, for instance, assemble occasionally in CONCLAVES to democratically elect Popes without much ado, one wonders why the same system cannot be used in the dioceses so that Priests can assemble in SYNODS to elect Bishops, even if under supervision. Well, the reason is that “what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander”. The big boys in the system want to be in complete control all the time. Hence they prefer a system that provides for their final approval or selection of candidates for all offices in the church. All that has been enshrined in the CANON LAW which governs the administration of the church. So what is the problem now since it is clear that priests do not have any role to play in the matter? The big boys are no longer satisfied with the powers they have
accumulated for themselves under the law; they, in fact, do not want the laws anymore, so that they can do whatever they like. The law, at least, provides that the local Bishops should nominate the candidates to be considered for their replacement by the Papacy. But the big boys now think that even this modest role of Bishops is too restrictive to their own peculiar interest. Consequently, they have largely ignored that provision over the past decades with the acquiescence of their”Holinesses”, the Popes. The result is the mega-disaster we are witnessing in the Nigerian church today in which two or three parishes in one diocese (Awka) have produced over seven Bishops while many bigger Dioceses have not. This may also be happening in many other countries. The difference now is that Ahiara diocese is determined to end this fraud or, at least, stop its implementation in its territory without minding what it would cost. I guess this defiance is a scenario the church authorities never factored into their calculations very seriously before now.
But instead of engaging the Priests and Laity of Ahiara diocese meaningfully with a view to settling the problem amicably without attracting much attention, the church authorities resort to cheap blackmail, intimidation and their usual IIMUMBO-JUMBO” argument about obedience to the Pope, all with a view to diverting attention from the real issue of serial Episcopal racketeering in the church.
Salmon Rushdie was right when he said that “when Mumbo-Jumbo gets in through your door, good sense leaves by the window”. The church authorities know this very well. So when ‘good sense’ exits, Mumbo-Jumbo (like total obedience to the Pope) would dominate the space and the rest would be a victory for them. It happens like that sometimes, but not all the time. All situations are not the same. I witnessed the visit of Cardinal Tucson (a special envoy from the Vatican) last year to Ahiara in the company of Archbishop Obinna (Head of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province). Most people were in high expectation of a detailed engagement of the visitors with the priests and laity on the issues involved. Rather than do this, he just read a prepared speech directing everyone to accept Bishop Okpaleke, took a few questions and then re-mounted their ‘high-horses’ and left. On their part, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, after a meeting also last year decided to impose flPENANCE” on the diocese for complaining about the fraud in question instead of coming to discuss with them the issues raised. As for Cardinal Onaiyekan, who is supposed to have oversight presently in the diocese, anything that will not result in the installation of Okpaleke in Ahiara does not interest him. He is an absentee­ overseer.
The only meaningful engagement with the Ahiara people on the matter was done by Governor Rochas Okorocha himself on Saturday, 1st of July at the Cathedral of Ahiara Diocese and this is a typical example of how a responsible leader should react to serious issues like this. Prior to his visit, however, the laity members who had scheduled a prayer rally at the Cathedral met the gate locked and secured by the Ahiazu police on the orders of the Police Commissioner (an Awka indigene possibly deployed for this kind of hatchet job). This action was not permitted by the Governor. The Zone 9 Police Command gave instructions for
the gate to be opened. This order was not immediately obeyed and it took a special team from Zone 9 Police Command for the gate to be opened to traffic. The Governor later arrived the scene in the company of the same Commissioner of Police, the Head of the State Security Services (555), a representative of the Brigade Commander, Artillery Brigade, Obinze, the Chairman, Imo State Council of Ndi Eze and some aides. He first held a separate meeting with the priests at the Bishop’s office before meeting with the laity inside the Cathedral. He first of all gave the assurance that no force would be used by the security agencies against the priests and laity in the religious dispute, provided there was no resort to violence by the parties. He appealed to everybody to maintain peace, law, and order so as to enable government and security agencies to face other security issues like the IPOB/MASSOB, kidnappings, Boko-Haramism, Fulani-herdsmen, and the Niger Delta militancy, which also affect the State. He gave his personal advice on how to end the religious crisis, but at the same time made himself available to be properly briefed and educated on related issues. The Diocesan Laity spokesmen restated their unequivocal rejection of Bishop Okpaleke, stating that the Bishop they would accept would meet any of the following basic criteria, in the order of preference:-

i.        A son-of-the-soil ordained priest of Ahiara diocese.

   ii    Any non-son-of-the-soil ordained priest of Ahiara diocese
  iii.        Any priest from within Owerri Ecclesiastical Province (comprising Owerri Archdiocese, Orlu, Okigwe, Umuahia and Aba dioceses).
They made it clear that they would not accept any Bishop appointed from outside Owerri Ecclesiastical Province. Although they would prefer an indigene, they would also not accept any of the seven (7) priests who are currently opposed to this diocesan cause since that would be administratively counter-productive. The exchange was cordial and frank and everybody went home happy.
This is what the church authorities should have done many years ago to end this crisis instead of bluffing around and speaking from their ‘high-horses’. An institution whose authority is based on moral suasion should always endeavour to stand on solid moral grounds in order to retain its ‘raison d’etre’. Above all, it should be realized that the ratification of a fraud by a Pope, (King, Emperor, or President) does not cure the fraud of its illegality. Instead, it compounds and magnifies it and then transforms it into “an abomination standing in high places”.
On our part, we congratulate Governor Okorocha for being alive to his official responsibilities as Governor of Imo State by making effort to keep peace, laws, and order within his domain. He should, however, know that his state is under invasion. Of the four Catholic dioceses of Imo State, Okigwe has been captured by the marauding fraudsters. Ahiara was supposed to have been in their kitty long ago while they prepare for the MAIN OBJECTIVE: Owerri Archdiocese.
As Shakespeare would say in ‘MACBETH’, Ahiara is merely a place on which they must step or else overlap, for on their way it lies (by virtue of proximity) to Owerri. They know that OBINNA would retire soon and they have since completed arrangements to snap that position up also. They are already in control of Onitsha Archdiocese and need Owerri to consolidate their total hold in the South-East alone. The clergy in Owerri Archdiocese know this, and that was what propelled them to seal off the Owerri Cathedral and all Parish Churches against the ordination of Bishop Okpaleke and ensured he did not spend the night in the Archdiocese after his fraudulent ordination. One is sure that this Clergy would do more than their Ahiara counterparts whenever their Archdiocese comes under direct attack.
The only thing spoiling business for the fraudsters is this AHIARA IMBROGLIO. So by solving the Ahiara problem, the Governor would be preventing a much bigger one in Owerri Archdiocese which could explode before he leaves office, if not properly handled. He should, therefore, do everything to ensure that his name is written on the right of the history of this struggle as he leaves the scene.
Nwankpa Diala -Uka wrote from Ahiara Mbaise