Limits of Religious Blackmail

An idea which needs weapons to survive will die. A living idea conquers by itself. – Jerzy Popieluszko

By Ifeanyi Afuba

Even before the outrage that greeted the confrontation against the Anambra State Government instigated by a Bishop of the Anglican Church and his wife had died down, a fresh wave of incitement against the Willie Obiano Administration has been launched from the same quarters.

On Friday, November 2, 2018, Ndi Anambra had woken to the jarring news that some pastors of the Anglican Diocese on the Niger had blocked the entry to the Government House, Awka.

The said priests were supposedly protesting the State Government’s stoppage of building construction by the Diocese at Crowther Memorial Primary School, Onitsha. The State Government and the Diocese both claim ownership of the school, which matter is already in court.

But there are protests and protests. A civilized demonstration need not degenerate to infringement of the right of others. A public expression of grievances is within everyone’s right but not so, a predetermined quest to lock down Government House and deny other citizens the right of movement – which was exactly what the assembly did. They took undue liberties when they should have been prudent; more so when it was their word against the Government’s on the school’s ownership. Above all, the matter had gone to court and the right thing to do in the circumstance was to await the court judgment.

There were two main reasons for the dramatized protest. The march was intended to influence court judgment; to convey the misleading impression that wide sections of the public were opposed to and indeed hurting from Government’s position on the school ownership. The carefully choreographed stunt of bringing chairs and sitting in tight formations at Government House and chanting confrontational words was obviously designed to provoke the State Government. A frontal reaction of the State Government to this bait of challenging its authority would have elicited cries of persecution! Persecution! and persecution!

The vain demonstration was complemented with a barrage of caustic propaganda and political sermons – which mercifully bore the Freudian slip of the real antagonism against the present order in the State. I will shortly return to this.

The State Government and Ndi Anambra in general are to be commended for taking these provocations in their stride. It was hoped, naively some would say, that time and continued demonstration of Governor Obiano’s fairness to all religious groups, would lead the misguided activists to abandon their pranks of self righteousness.

This optimism appears to have been misplaced. If anything, the conspiracy against the Obiano Administration by some leaders of the Anglican Church has gone notches higher. To the utter shock and repulsion of the generality of Ndi Anambra, an extraordinary meeting of the Church hierarchy has just passed a resolution calling on the Anambra House of Assembly to initiate impeachment process against Governor Willie Obiano. According to the ridiculous communiqué: ‘Willie Obiano is the Governor of only Catholics and has abdicated his responsibilities to the Anglicans, Pentecostals and Traditionalists and by so doing has declared himself unfit to unbiasedly govern Anambra State.’

The declaration went further to repeat claims of ownership of Crowther Memorial Primary School and one or two other perceived denials.

Perhaps, it is better to start the interrogation of this outburst by asking the authors if Catholics, Anglicans, Pentecostals and Traditionalists are the only religious groups in Anambra State. Why have they consigned Methodists, Salvation Army, Jehovah’s Witness, Sabbath Mission, Seventh Day Adventists, Lutherans, Bahai Faith, Deists, Atheists and a host of other groups with distinct doctrines and rites to the dustbin of non recognition? Are these other faiths not entitled to the special consideration that these Anglican clergy demand for their own? As conscientious objectors who must be obeyed without question, do they not realize that they are bound by the same law of infallibility?

But beyond the hypocritical plane, the ground of Catholicism on which the resolution rests, reconnects us to the link I had earlier promised to return. This whole persecution saga is simply a deep seated prejudice against the fact that another Catholic is the Governor of Anambra State. We are faced with the discontent of religious hegemonists who cannot live with the reality that Obiano is the third consecutive Catholic to assume the State’s governorship since Dr Chris Ngige. This intolerance to the political ascent of Catholicism has become pathological and it may stun observers that the same sins Obiano is accused of today were also foisted on Peter Obi.

The 28 Synod of the Anglican Diocese on the Niger rose on June 3, 2011 with the same theme of state marginalization of Anglicans. The communiqué stated among a litany of complaints: ‘We have noted the claim in some quarters that Anambra State is a Roman Catholic State. There are unacceptably fewer Anglicans as heads of tertiary institutions in the state as well as very few Anglicans in senior academic and administrative positions in those institutions. Similar situations exist in the Ministry of Education…The clergy feels that we have become politically marginalized in Anambra State. This view is supported by the fact that the number of Anglicans occupying sensitive positions in the three tiers of government as well as the judiciary and other arms of government is relatively few.’

Why are we not told how the fewness of Anglicans in high public offices was determined? What was this perceived marginalization based on? And why are we not told about the representation of other faiths for a rounded picture?

In August 2014, just five months into the inception of the Obiano Administration, the Anglican Communion and the Nkwelle-Ezunaka Community were locked in a struggle over the ownership of Oyolu Eze Primary School. Consequently, the State Government set up a six-man committee to investigate the dispute and make necessary recommendations. And this became a mortal sin of denominational marginalization. For failing to submit to the clamour of Church ownership, the Obiano regime was branded church biased and discriminatory.

Promptly, protesters took to the streets with very instructive placards: ‘Major State jobs are for Roman Catholics’ and ‘Catholics Favoured in Appointments’.

First, we see a condemnable refusal to wait for due processes run their course before trying to appropriate disputed property. We also see a trend of putting administrations headed by Catholics on the defensive as a strategy of exacting undeserved advantages to the Anglican constituency. It is therefore difficult to believe that these same activists of denominational apartness, competition and covetousness can find it in themselves to accuse others of promoting religious division in Anambra State. Nothing could be more hypocritical. With such religious leaders, is it any wonder that as churches mushroom in our society, piety and spirituality are on the decline?

Why do these champions of denominational rivalry who see even the recesses of a Governor’s mind fail to see the numerical superiority of Catholics in the State which stares them in the face everywhere? From Google to Wikipedia Encyclopedia, the majority status of Catholics in Southeast Nigeria is spelt out unambiguously. By the Mathematical Law of Ratio, it simply means that Catholics will have greater visibility in this environment. This explains why even in the Chinwoke Mbadinuju regime, Catholics led in the membership of the State Executive Council.

To seek denominational parity through forced equalization as the extremists in the Anglican fold are attempting is oppressive, absurd and futile. The leaders of the Anglican Church know too well that equality of religions does not mean uniformity of growth.

Governor Willie Obiano has been fair to the various constituencies in the State. The authors of the infamous impeachment resolution should apologize to Obiano.

Ifeanyi Afuba writes from Awka