Mbaise: The Unveiling Of the Secrete Of Stigma – By Rev. Fr. Ben Ogu





I am aware that if people are asked to compare in superlative relativity, the potentiality of the degree of danger in war and propaganda respectively, many would certainly ascribe more danger to war than propaganda. This is perhaps in the obvious external visibility of the effect of war as against propaganda which is merely ideological with hardly visible damage.  The temptation to see war as greater evil than propaganda hinges on the judgmental convention, “with evidence before me”, associated with court procedure, which places the weight and pendulum of verdict on the quantity of facts and effectiveness of linguistic efficiency of the lawyer, even when the facts and evidences are doctored and artificial as against common sense reality and truth.


It is true that no war has ever been prosecuted and none successfully fought without the arsenal of propaganda machine and  the ideological insinuations which provoke, incite and sustain the physical arsenal. Not even Hitler’s war could succeed without first stigmatizing the Jews. The insinuation that Saddam Hussein and Iraq had the capability of mass destruction was the only propaganda that guaranteed American war against them, whether they actually had it or not. The Nigeria-Biafran war was first fertilized by Gowon by neglecting the remote or proximate antecedents of the war and effectively substituted this with the propaganda of unity and secession, and by holding that the Biafran people were threatening the Nigerian unity (even as it has never been), he incited Nigeria and the world against Ojukwu and the Igbo with separatist insinuation which was rather secondary and consequential. Propaganda and blackmail thrive on the axiom of giving a dog a bad name in order to hand it.


Propaganda is usually fermented by the negativities of prejudice, hatred, jealousy and competition instinct, which at the end, tarnish and damage the image of the opponent.  The essence of stigma on the opponent, whether an individual or a community, is to turn a hero into a villain and a totem into a taboo, to discredit the credential and falsify the image and change his friends to adversaries. He might eventually loose self-esteem, and credibility and become timid to ask for his right, even of the right to life, or contest his oppression, but rather surrenders to self-guilt, self-pity and all forms of injustice and humiliation and see them as deserving of his own action. This is the  situation the Mbaise people have always been confronted and saddled with and currently in the on-going crisis surrounding the selection of the Catholic Bishop.


The imposition of injustice through the imposition of guilt and the spread of false propaganda could be malicious and malignant, inadvertent or unpremeditated, but in the long run, it leaves a socio-moral character dent of indelible discredit and impression which people tend to believe about the person with the passing of time. It then leaves the tendency of seeing every act of the person or people in question, including their good and heroic acts in the bad light and magnifies their commonest mistakes to a worse evil. But it lacks the capacity of proving any evil such a person or group has done which no other people have not done, or even worse. What can only be proved is the establishment of a mannerism and convention of belief against such a people which always instinctively looks for the commonest frivolities to justify the entrenched belief and prejudice about them. The individual or community may at times, be saddled with unusual dilemma-bound temptations and tests so difficult to wriggle out of in order to indict them and give credence to the bad name they have already been falsely and maliciously identified with.


One recalls here the beginning and history of this blackmail on Mbaise people, when a musician of non-Mbaise origin cheated a fellow  Mbaise musician with wicked and unjust oppression.  When the Mbaise man had the opportunity and retaliated him in return, the former, now feeling the pain, decided to blackmail, not just the individual opponent, but his entire kinsmen by playing a music in which he said that whoever sees a snake and the Mbaise man should first kill the snake before the Mbaise man. Those who today see even an Angel from Mbaise with hateful suspicion and mistrust based on this blackmail, hardly know the truth of this scenario.  Perhaps, the Mbaise people need further to be blackmailed, this time, in a global and religious dimension. It is therefore saddled this time with the test of the highest dilemma in the current imbroglio in the Catholic church in order to try their gut and strengthen the stigma.


For more than two years of the death of the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Ahiara Mbaise, the people remained fixed in a long frustrated longing for a successor Bishop. Within the period, speculations and suspicions were rife that something could be amiss and unusual. From Owerri, Okigwe, Aba, umuahia, Orlu, Port Harcourt, and currently, the Catholic Diocese of Makeni in Sierra Leone, all these Dioceses had relative degrees of internal scuffles and ruffles in the selection of their Bishops.  Each probably nipped in the bud the appointment of one Bishop before it was announced or rejected it when finally sent. This is not to say that it is the ideal, but it is at least, the human face of the spiritual church.


Ahiara Diocese is by popular ovation known as the Ireland of priests in Nigeria and is so proclaimed by the estimation of the numerous quality priests it has, their dynamism and that of the  entire church. It is therefore unusual why the selection of a successor Bishop in such a Diocese would a frustrating long time and surrounded with heightened suspicion and speculations, including the fact that some persons outside the Diocese are posing simultaneously for the post along with the indigenous priests. To explain the foot dragging and suspicion, it was alleged and bandied about that the priests of the Ahiara had destroyed and damaged their candidates with malicious petition.


Sooner or later, the allegation of petition gradually gave way for another dimension of suspicion, when the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Ignatius Kasuja, on visit to the Diocese, concentrated his pastoral and diplomatic sermon on the universality of the Church, to undermine the prospect of indigenous Bishop for a Diocese. In response to the priests’ curiosity, he said the Diocese needs and would be given “a Catholic Bishop”. Only unintelligent people if any, were unable  to understand his mental trend. Smelling a rat, the priests and lay people emphatically insisted and reminded him of the peculiarity and uniqueness of the rural nature of the Diocese and the need for indigenous Bishop for effective pastoral work. They did not mince words in insisting on their demand on the issue. But the surprise that brought a premonition was his maneuverings and diversions on this fundamental issue and his emphasis on universality. It should be reminded that the late Bishop had submitted an accumulated names of prospective candidates with relative qualifications to Rome for a period of time, among whom one could be selected even if something happens among the first three. There are still other uncountable and qualified Mbaise indigenous priests outside this list and many more in religious congregations within and outside the country serving in different parts of the world.


On 7th  December, 2012, a Bishop-elect, Msgr. Peter Okpaleke from Awka Diocese in OnitshaProvince was surprisingly unannounced for the Diocese. This provoked a spontaneous odour of resentment that fouled the entire social air. The sense of rejection was total and universal, not just by Mbaise people but the entire reasonable and informed majority of Dioceses within Owerri province and other provinces who know Mbaise and her galaxy of qualified Catholic priests of more than 500 in number. The rejection was not on sectional, ethnic or parochial reasons, being that he is of another Diocese. The rejection was basically on pastoral reason and perceived obvious injustice, heightened by the creeping sense of domination by a section of Igbo land with arrogant impunity.


But the resentment of the Catholic clergy and lay faithful of  Ahiara Mbaise sooner or later received a bang and bouts of blame by their own people, who, given the orchestrated propaganda of petition, ignorantly believed their priests are the cause of the imposition and are deserving of  the humiliation, having calumnized one another and destroyed their candidature and for two years were unable to select a candidate for the Bishopric. Every other person, including the Bishops, became glued dogmatically to this one excuse.  It was the most devastating and demoralizing propaganda. The priests nearly gave in to self-guilt and pity. While trying to be resilient in the rejection, their spirit were still waning and sagging under a vague guilt of this allegation.  While struggling under this confusion,  the propaganda and allegation got boosted further, yet by another stronger criticism by the holier than Rome chauvinists who blamed the priests of the Diocese for not only disregarding the universality of the church in which any priest from anywhere could be a Bishop of the church elsewhere, but also disobeying the Pope against their priestly vow of obedience.  For them, it is the height of scandal to disobey what the Pope has pronounced. The priests were now agitating with a mixture and added burden of imposed guilt for disobedience and the challenge of injustice, but contented with the conviction that they are not disobeying the Pope but disagreeing with the unjust selection given to the Pope to confirm. This revolt and rejection sooner attracted the higher authority of the provincial Bishops who could not ignore the wave of agitation.


On Friday, 21 December, 2012, a cream of Owerri provincial Bishops paid a visit of persuasion, understanding and calming of the agitation against Peter Okpaleke’s appointment. But the meeting eventually became a revelation and vindication of the clergy and now fired the gut of the agitation the more.  This is because in the meeting the Archbishop could not but acknowledge with regret and pity that he wished it had been otherwise and informed the people that he himself and his statutory input as the provincial Archbishop were undermined and that “the ball was played over his head” by a higher power, hence, he only “acted within the reach and limit of his powers”. On the issue of the universality of the church, he said he wished it were not a one way traffic in which one area or province would monopolize the process by a monopoly of the selection of the Bishops for the rest. The meeting with the Bishops ended with obvious fiasco, resentment and rejection in view of the obvious confession and perceived high handedness in the appointment.


There was a second meeting between Archbishop Obinna and Bishop Lucius Ugorji on Monday 14 January, 2013. The meeting must have been necessitated by the obvious signal that the priests and laity of Ahiara Mbaise were justifiably and reasonably indignant and still  resisting the appointment, but may be placated with a mixture of more appeal and pleading, explanations and intimidation that may elicit self-guilt in them or forgiveness for  the obvious arbitrary selection. This led off the cat from the bag in a bid to further please the people and make the priests friendly.  Mbaise people were happy to have what they believed to be the most unprecedented “privileged information”. The kernel of this revelation became most crucial to the whole controversy. This was the only information that revealed that it was not just because the priests of the Diocese destroyed each other’s candidacy with petition or the alleged in-fighting and struggle that caused the appointment of Peter Okpalaeke, even if they might have done what any other Diocese had not avoided doing in their own selection of a would-be Bishop. The revelation showed that Okpalaeke could have been fixed ambitiously from the earliest time after the death of the Bishop. Strangely enough, at a time he was the second person to the only Ahiara candidate in the list.  It means he was only waiting on the wing of the slightest excuse to displace Ahiara candidate(s). But we were not told who the third person was and from where. The needed excuse  to dislodge the first person was also supplied by those who arranged the fixture with the only one candidate of Ahiara Diocese being unavoidably implicitly vulnerable and precarious, believably by obvious fact of age or health challenge or both. According to the Archbishop, the number one candidate of Ahiara declined honourably in good conscience.  Consequently, the Bishops  saw this as a convenient excuse to impose Peter Okpaleke, perhaps, implicitly as a punishment  and then hang the blame on Ahiara priests. This explanation made the people and any man of integrity to praise the priest who was honourable enough to decline a position which his conscience did not accept than playing the African and Nigerian power drunk mentality.



Mbaise: The Unveiling Of The Secrete Of Stigma (2)


Some sitting Bishops today declined on approach for Bishopric but were strongly persuaded before they accepted, while some were allowed their decision to decline and were replaced by another candidate from the same Diocese. There was no evidence of persuasion, though at the end he has a right to his moral conscience and principle.  The Bishops did not contest whether it is honorable, uncanonical, against the doctrine and faith of the church and human freedom, or if it is stupid to decline in good conscience in such an exalted office, either for age, health reason or on principle.  Was the priest that declined the last priest in Mbaise either in the Diocese or congregations?  If a priest could be imposed from outside the Diocese and province out of anger, why could they not in the same anger impose one indigenous Mbaise priest, even a religious outside the first list?  If the few proposed candidates were petitioned out and the rest outside the list could not be considered, what of the priests of Owerri, Orlu, Umuahia, Okigwe and Aba in the same province? The information also implied that at a time, Ahiara had two or more candidates from outside the Diocese contesting simultaneously against one Ahiara priest. It was this intrigue and more that prolonged and protracted the pronouncement of the Bishop-elect of Ahiara and made the prayer for the Bishop for more than two years a resisted or controlled result. This great revelation and vindication now angered and fired the lay faithful who had before now myopically castigated their priests for in-fighting. Everybody saw that instead, a pre-mediated and pre-empted ambition to deliver somebody’s candidate at all cost blocked the view for other Ahiara alternative candidates. At the end of the costly revelations, the Arch Bishop said our resentment was understandable and begged us to submit, while insisting that he had a statutory obligation and mandate to install the Bishop-elect within a given canonical period.  They only wished Ahiara Diocese could be compliant with the Pope’s appointment.



The defiance to the appeal is however based on the injustice and inequity established around the concept of the universality of the church and concealed with the secrecy of the selection of the Bishops which makes us believe that the Pope personally nominates and approves the would-be Bishop for dioceses. Onitsha Ecclesiastical province has mastered the shrewdness and pro-activeness  of keeping in readiness Bishops to take over vacancies in other provinces, including Owerri.  there are two already, with Peter Okpaleke as the third if it worked. While there is none from other provinces in their province, hardly is any priest or religious sister from Owerri province head any religious congregation, men or women in their province, even as a Carmel through the eye of the needle. Meanwhile, not less than two priests of Ahiara Mbaise origin still alive today were rejected and stopped from being the Bishop of some dioceses in Igbo land even before they were pronounced. Perhaps the church was not universal then and today, it is and Mbaise must accept it at all cost. This lop-sided universality can only be rectified by a simultaneous and massive transfer of Bishops in Igbo land in the spirit of equity, justice and true universality in order to demystify the suspicion, superiority signal and colonization which it has turned out to connote in the disguise of universality.


It is true that the Roman pontiff did not personally know or select Msgr. Peter Okpalaeke or does so for any individual for the bishopric. The approval is only an administrative stamp and procedure and not his choice, nor is it a dogma or article of faith from the Pontiff.  He only approved the person selected and given to him, and in the case of Msgr. Okpaleke, there was no attempt for the last resort to avoid arbitrariness.  The priests and people of Ahiara therefore refused so that in future the bishopric should not be politicized by the powerful and privileged against the unprivileged and imposed as the action of the Pope to cause the Pope and the Church embarrassment in future.


One is surprised that two months after the eruption of resentment in the Diocese and the province, the  Pope might not have yet known what is happening in the church concerning the Bishop he appointed. While the Archbishop and other Bishops of the province have tactfully avoided making official representation to Rome on the issue, reliable indications show that they are bent on installing the Bishop-elect by all available means and at all cost.  If it is a statutory duty to install the Bishop-elect by all means, why not embrace the same sense of responsibility to inform the Pontiff that there is a crisis as the candidate was rejected? Whose embarrassment are they avoiding and for what reason?


In a similar situation playing out in the Diocese of Makeni in Sierra Leone in the rejection of the appointment of Fr. Henry Aruna, the Vatican delegate was sent from Rome to the Diocese for dialogue and appeal.  In the course of the appeal the Roman delegate said, “as we continue to appeal to the priests and lay faithful of the dioceses to heed to the Pope’s decision, we will not impose; which means the Bishop elect (Fr. Henry Aruna) will be an impeded Bishop and the Diocese (Makeni) becomes a vacant seat”. On what basis and presumption do they believe Ahiara Mbaise do not deserve the respect of the pontifical delegation and dialogue but rather should be imposed? Makeni Diocese that has only 35 priests as against Ahiara Diocese that has over 500 priests, rejected their Bishop elect and were respected by Rome. Why would the Igbo and Mbaise man be a group that should be treated as pariah?  The institution behind the insistence in favour of Okpalaeke think it is better insisting and enforcing the installation than reporting the rejection so that Rome and the Pope would not question the appropriateness and circumstances surrounding his selection.


But why this ambitious desperation to install a shepherd  against the will of the flock and the biblical principle of shepherd and flock relationship in John 10:7-15?  Is it to place the superiority of universality and obedience over justice and equity?  The desperation has been proved by the Knight of St. Mulumba with the leadership at Onitsha Anambra state, coercing their Mbaise subordinates to carry out robot propaganda against their people in order to facilitate the imposition under the guise of obedience to the Pope and their Order. The target was for a calumny and stigmatization which would make them blush and blackmailed into surrender. Rather than reporting to the Pope and his representatives, they all prefer to presume the gullibility of the Mbaise people to achieve the imposition or sustain the propaganda, stigmatization and blackmail against them as bad people if they resist. But the church in Mbaise know that they are not disobeying the Pope but are fighting a battle of injustice and imposition to sanitize the church against future politicization. They are therefore poised for the intended blackmail while standing on the side of Christ who came to liberate the oppressed.  They are not primarily fighting against the person of Peter Opkaleke or Anambra their Igbo neighbours either, but against the presumptuousness of obvious injustice, domination of one brother over the rest with impunity at the flimsiest excuse. They still believe in the university of the Roman Catholic church and avowed obedience when it is not unjust.


Once, I saw a boy putting on a T-shirt with the inscription “why me”. That immediately provoked an intuition in me about the coincidence of the present struggle as it affects the Mbaise and Igbo stigma. Britain made the Nigerian leadership the birthright of the North, invoked on them the superiority complex over the rest and with a pampering partiality induced them into the Nigerian union against their will. This became the dual enabling tools which conditioned their response to the coup and counter coup and motivated the war as a means to retrieve this birthright from the South through Yakubu Gowon. But Ojukwu became an obstacle. Then the propaganda of secession engineered the war, and the stigma that the Igbo fought a war against Nigeria has remained in place to intimidate and oppress them permanently.  Since then, the rest of Nigerians have been ruling and sapping the country at the exclusion of the Igbo for over 40 years.  The Igbo would certainly become evil if any day they say it is enough and either insist on their turn or to be on their own. Similarly, once the musician had maliciously blackmailed the Mbaise people some years back, many have, like robots enshrined it in their mental category to see them as bad people even before they act. Even Imo state has been ruled from its inception without an Mbaise man being a governor for once. Perhaps the entrenched propaganda would surface if for any time they say the relegation and domination is enough.


One then ruminates in the same line of thought the coincidence which seems to have foisted itself on the Ahiara Mbaise Catholic church, the urgency and imperativeness of halting the Anambra presumptuous, steady and gradual imperialistic hegemony on the rest of Igbo land both in the Nigerian politics and church relationship.  While others have always taken it with the sense of innocence and faith, believing naively that everything is happening at the discretion of the papacy, our Anambra neighbours know they are consciously and astutely weaving their net of control of the Igbo church in a consistent and systematic trend.  But why, one may ask, should it be Mbaise, with its already burden of imposed jinx, that the sword has to pierce her soul so that this secrete thought and plan of Anambra is laid bare and the challenge of checkmating it has to coincidentally fall on them? The reason is simply the obvious fact that nature takes its course. Certain people are made in a certain way, with a certain trait and for a certain purpose, and that purpose goes with its own cross and cost. Perhaps the Mbaise clan has the clout, the courage, the bravery and Obama audacity to break the jinx of monopoly and bear the cross of stigma for others.  Yes, they would certainly be branded Mbaise ndi Ojoo, (Mbaise, the bad people) for daring to open the scroll which no other dared to. That trait has always been there and unknown to many, is the secrete of their bad name, not that they do anything worse than any other people. As the Igbo is in Nigeria, so is Mbaise in Imo state in every sense. That was why Dora Akunyili had to say it when the rest kept quiet in dubious sycophancy and hypocrisy. That is why Ojukwu dared the truth and became the leper and rebel even among his brothers until he was acknowledged a saint after death. But God perhaps has bestowed on the Igbo the burden of the courageous elder who would not be there and watch the goat dies in the rope. But the elder must pay the price of his audacity of the sage by the stigma which scares the rest from him while bearing the collective infirmity like Jesus, from whom everybody looks away as he bears the collective brunt of salvation.  Part of that price is persecution and stigmatization.

Re. Fr. Ben Ogu.




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