- On Saturday, September 13, 2014, Bishops in the Anglican Communion in all dioceses in Anambra State defied the heavy downpour of the day to march in the streets of Onitsha to protest against the furtive demolition of Ebenezer Church being built at Nkwelle Ezunaka in Oyi Local Government Area by and also to announce their rejection of the six-man committee set up by the Anambra State Government to find out the cause of the destruction, the persons behind the action and recommend appropriate steps to end the bad blood arising from the sacrilegious development. The Bishops were led by The Most Rev Christian Efobi, the Archbishop of the Province on the Niger.
- This was no ordinary protest. Their lordships had taken some time to denounce what they called the systematic marginalization of the Anglican Communion by the state government, despite the fact that the Anglican Church was the first Christian sect to arrive in the state. According to news reports, the Bishops pointedly accused the new administration of Chief Willie Obiano of responsibility for the demolition of the church at Nkwelle Ezunaka, the hometown of such personages as Cyprian Ekwensi who was Africa’s most prolific writer, and the late Chief Patrick Nwakoby, an eminently successful lawyer, politician and chairman of First Bank of Nigeria plc.
- Frankly, anyone who has followed Anambra’s politics in recent times should not be taken by surprise by the simmering sectarian politics, with all its extremely dangerous implications. But my conscience as a practising Christian and knight of the Catholic Church would not permit me to keep silent when a grave but mistaken allegation is being made against the present governor, who ran against me in the November 16, 2013, gubernatorial election in Anambra State. Chief Obiano belongs to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) while I am a founding member of the All Progressives Congress (APC). I was until a few days ago in the Supreme Court against him over the conduct of the vote.
- The person solely responsible for the growing religious politics in the state is Mr Peter Obi, the immediate past governor of the state. Anambra State was a quintessential homogenous society until his ascendancy a little over eight years ago. I was blind to sectarian differences when I was the state governor. I did not know that I appointed more Anglicans than members of other Christian sects until it was pointed out to me years after I had left office. Anambra people did not care about the faith public office holders were professing but in their competence and commitment to the common good. This was why Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, a member of the Salvation Army which does not constitute up to 1% of the population, was popularly elected governor in the early 1990s in a state where, I am now told, Catholics are in the overwhelming majority. Dr Chinwoke Mbadinuju, a Pentecostal preacher, was elected governor overwhelmingly in 1998.
- But with Peter Obi’s emergence we lost our innocence. Take, for instance, his widely publicized statement on November 13, 2014, at the inauguration of the Widows and Less Privileged Foundation at the Holy Trinity Basilica, Onitsha, where, without any sense of embarrassment, urged the Catholic Church to “maintain its grip on the state leadership” by ensuring that only Catholics are elected governor. You can access some of the media reports today at www:punchng.com>News or www:nairaland.com/1510455/anambra-obi-campaigns-catholic-governor.
- Mr Obi would not mind Anambra State becoming Africa’s Northern Ireland where Catholics and Anglicans were at each other’s throat for decades until the Good Friday Agreement of April 10 1998. In fact, it was the strong desire to deescalate the Catholic-Anglican tension that made the Ukpabi Asika government take over numerous primary and secondary schools inEast Central State in 1970 which turned out to be a particularly wrong move. Asika was fearing that the schools had become vehicles for mobilizing sectarian ideolology.
- It is disappointing that in 2014 when the Catholic and Anglican Church have gone far in ecumenism, which is the noble and concerted effort to bring the churches together, that our beloved Anambra State should be the hotbed of Catholic Anglican fight. Why wouldn’t Mr Obi remember even for a moment that our Lord Jesus Christ prayed “for all shall be one” ( John 17; 21)?
- Any person surprised at Mr Obi’s parochial extremism does not know the ex governor at all. He could well have nominated Chief Obiano as the APGA candidate based on his credentials and achievements, but not Mr Obi. He argued that he was supporting Chief Obiano because he is from the northern senatorial zone! Must Anambra State be balkanized permanently for short term private ends? Did Obi himself become governor on the basis of his senatorial zone? My position has always been that Anambra State is an excellent example of a homogenous community: one people who speak about the same dialect of the Igbo language and profess one religion; we are not encumbered by primordial differences or any feeling of inferiority complex by any section of the state. Therefore, let the best in our midst be chosen for public office. We are now in a very competitive world. Anambra State should be in a hurry to develop—in fact, to leapfrog.
- Mr Obi’s parochial politics has no limits. To ensure that I did not win the 2013 governorship election, Mr Obi mounted a most vicious propaganda war against the Yoruba by any public officer; he called them mortal enemies of Ndigbo. He mobilized traditional rulers, town unions, trader unions, the media, etc, in a frenzy of anti-Yoruba sentiment. It did not matter to him that he was endangering the security of Igbo people and their investments which are found in Yorubaland more than any other part of the world. Obi himself made his money in Yorubaland and cannot point to any Igbo person killed or his assets destroyed in a politically motivated action in Lagos or any other part of the Southwest. Ironically a majority of the media persons he uses for image laundering are Yoruba journalists. Interestingly, when on Sunday, May 31 , 2009, policemen, acting on a tipoff from Governor Obi’s police guards, caught an Anambra State Government House SUV with N250million raw cash, it was not in Agulu or Onitsha or Awka but at Peter Obi’s private office at 7, Aerodrome Road in Apapa, Lagos! Need one add that the biggest private mall in Abuja today is owned by Mr Obi’s Next International and was built when Obi was governor?
- Back to the aggrieved Anglican bishops. My appeal to them is that they should not take out their anger against an innocent person, Governor Obiano. Let them cooperate with the state government to get to the root of the sacrilege of the destruction of a holy place. My next appeal is from the Holy Scripture, taken from the lips of our Lord: “Be reconciled !” (Matthew 5: 23-24). We are admonished to abandon our gifts for the Lord and first reconcile with our estranged brother. I urge the bishops to approach the state government with brotherly love. Let us collectively save Anambra State from the present and imminent danger of religious politics. Sectarian politics is the worst calamity that could befall any people.
Dr Ngige, OON, is a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.