By Jude Atupulazi
On Friday, November 2, a strange thing happened in front of Government House, Awka. It was a day priests of the Anglican Communion in Anambra State besieged the state’s seat of power to protest what they believe was the plot by the Anambra State Government to forcibly take over their school, Crowther Memorial Primary School, located at Nkisi Road, GRA, Onitsha. Not just that, they were also protesting what they saw as lopsided political appointments by the Willie Obiano Administration. To buttress their point, they later produced a chart detailing the number of major appointees by Obiano.
They tried to prove that the number of Catholics were far more than that of Anglicans in Obiano’s cabinet. From the list they produced, of the 25 appointees, 22 were Catholics, with only three being Anglicans.
That was not be the first time they would be protesting such. It also happened during the Peter Obi Administration when they used a biro to circle the number of appointees that were Catholic and non-Catholic.
Well, having observed all that has happened since then, I would say that, while the Anglican Communion are within their rights to protest against any perceived wrong, the manner in which they did that was however wrong.
It came like a storm, without any prior warning, at least to the general public. It was as if there was a war going on between the government and the Anglican Communion. I would have indeed thought that the aggrieved party should have fully explored more civil options in getting their voice heard rather than the near hostile approach they took. One would have thought that the matter wasn’t what a strong but silent delegation to the government would not handle with better results. But the confrontational, pugnacious attitude adopted by the Church of Nigeria isn’t what will give room for a speedy, amicable settlement of the matter.
To make matters worse the next day at Ekwueme Square, Awka, during a prayer session they organized for the state, they were said to have used unprintable words against the state government, an act that certainly was not warranted. It was as though they were doing the bidding of unseen hands which I’m however loath to believe.
The thing about religious politics is that it is usually bitter, deadly and destructive. Once started, it quickly seeps into the marrows but takes a long time to be forgotten.
Anambra State is not at war, neither is the government at war with anyone or particular religion. But the recent actions of the Anglican Communion in the state have certainly painted that picture. I’m pretty sure that many of those passing that first day the priests were camped in front of the government house must have been wondering what the government had done to the Anglican Communion, based on what they read on the placards on display.
The vehemence of the protest is simply scary. It was like a declaration of war, a war that will surely leave deep scars at the end.
Now coming to the issues in contention, they said the government was taking a land that belonged to the Anglican Communion by force. I’m aware that the matter is still under investigation. If it is still being investigated, why take the rash action we all saw that Friday? Why invoke Holy Ghost Fire on the government the next day at Ekwueme Square? I was told by a reliable source that covered the prayer session that at a point they were commanding anyone holding their land or marginalizing them to die. Now, what would warrant anyone to die over the current matter? Has it come to that?
A more mature thing to have done would have been to wait for the outcome of the investigation and then explore other options, one of which will be to send a high powered delegation to the government house to jaw-jaw on the issue. It is something that will be done very quietly without the world knowing. But as has been seen, the priests of the Anglican Communion decided to jump the gun.
Now they have done that, tempers may have risen and no peace talk can have meaning when tempers are high. What the priests have only succeeded in doing is to incite their members against not only the government but the Catholic Church to whom they made some allusions. And that brings me to the next point.
This point is on the allegation of lopsided appointments. As I noted earlier, this is not the first time the Anglicans will be protesting about this. When they had done that years before during the administration of Peter Obi, that government had made a counter publication in which they showed the religious backgrounds of top appointees of government. It showed that the accusers were wrong in their accusation and portrayed them as people intent on fomenting trouble when there was no need to.
In the present case, I admit they have a point and a reason to protest the lopsided nature of appointments. Out of the 25 principal officers that include the SSG, Principal Secretary and the Chief of Staff, according to the Anglicans, only three are of the Anglican Communion.
If this be the case, they sure have a reason to feel bad; after all, are we not as Ndigbo, condemning Buhari for appointing mostly members of his religion from the North?
However, the intentions of Buhari and the intentions of Obiano may not be the same. Obiano may have innocently appointed those he felt would do the job without bothering to know their religious backgrounds. Still, it will be right and proper to concede that the Anglicans have a right here to feel done in.
But then, rather than go to war on the streets about this, they should have sought an audience with the governor to seek ways of addressing the imbalance. But they should have done this before the choosing of Obiano’s cabinet members, being that he cannot just remove them now because the Anglicans are not happy. It is simply too late to do that. However, in case the governor decides to re-shuffle his cabinet, he will do well to make amends as we are in a country where ethnic and religious sentiments run high and are placed above good governance.
There was also an issue that was raised in bad taste. It was about the allegation that the Catholic Church was interfering in the running of the government and also that of the ruling party, APGA. The report even accused our bishop, His Lordship Paulinus Ezeokafor, of personally deciding who gets picked or dropped.
Now, nothing can be farther from the truth. For them to have even alluded to this shows a certain degree of disrespect to our bishop who has demonstrated openness and fatherly disposition to all. At least journalists in the state, regardless of their religious faiths, can attest to this. It was also a direct attack on the Catholic Church known for her peaceful disposition.
The truth is that the Catholic Church enjoys vast numerical strength in these parts. It is also a fact that their members are more active in politics. For example, since the time of Gov Chinwoke Mbadinuju, how many Anglicans have been contesting for the governorship? Of the few that have done so, how many have been strong enough to win?
In the 2003 governorship election there were three strong parties: the PDP, ANPP and APGA. The PDP had Chris Ngige; the ANPP had George Muoghalu and the APGA had Peter Obi. It was clear that the other parties were only making up the numbers. Now, all the three candidates of the three strongest parties then, were Catholics, meaning that no matter who won, a Catholic must be governor.
In subsequent governorship elections from 2007 through 2010 and 2014 to 2017, the most visible Anglicans to have contested were Andy Uba and that good man, Godwin Ezeemo. They had contested against the likes of Chris Ngige, Chukwuma Soludo, Ifeanyi Ubah, Peter Obi, Uche Ekwunife, Tony Nwoye and Willy Obiano. And except for Andy Uba who contested on PDP’s platform in 2007, the other notable Anglican candidate, Ezeemo, did not contest on a strong platform.
So with the above examples, is it any wonder why Catholics have been producing winning candidates? Can it be said to be their fault that their strongest members have been contesting and winning? I’m not aware that any Anglican has been stopped from contesting. It is a democracy and the electorate have always voted who they want.
So the action of the Anglican Communion to always bring ruler and tape to measure who occupies which position and who does not, may look innocuous at first but a deeper look may just suggest something more sinister. That’s what people have perceived owing to the manner of their recent protests.
I advise them to have a re-think, cool down, go to the drawing board and map out strategies to compete better with others rather than casting accusing fingers at others if things do not go their way. We are all one family in the state and no one should try to sow seeds of discord, distrust and hatred at this point.