Catholic adherents are known the world over to be very obedient to their priests. But that seems no longer to be the case in Enugu, where devout worshippers are openly defying their priests over who to vote for during the Saturday, March 11, 2023 governorship election.
According to Reporter, what was hitherto considered unthinkable recently played out at the Catholic Church Assumption Parish, Nkwo Nike, where the Parish Priest, Rev Fr Celestine Nwogbu, was heavily insulted by church members for allowing a particular gubernatorial candidate to campaign in the church, forcing him to end the mass abruptly.
The Enugu State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate in Saturday’s election, Peter Mbah, had an awful outing at a major Catholic centre in the state on Sunday, March 5, when he went there to address them, on the invitation of some priests, to vote for him and other candidates of the party. As he was being introduced to the crowd of about 2,000 persons participating in the Youth Lenten Week at the expansive Ugwu Di Nso Pilgrimage Centre at Eke in Udi Local Government Area, the audience began to protest, screaming, “We don’t want the PDP”, “We want the Labour Party”, “We are Obidients”, etc.
Desperate efforts by priests to quieten the situation seemed to have worsened it, as the crowd went hysterical with abuses and protests. Two priests quickly spirited him away through the backdoor.
“Mbah is lucky that these are sacred grounds”, Gabriel Odoh from the neighbouring Abor community noted.
The young men and women who were attending a special youth programme at the pilgrimage centre under the auspices of the Catholic Youth Organisation of Nigeria (CYON) went after the cartons of water and soft drinks the PDP candidate brought, smashing everything to the ground in full public glare.
“We are thirsty and hungry, but we can’t taste anything from this man and his party because they are dangerous”, they explained to newsmen.
The scene was not quite different the same day at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Haven, Enugu City when Reverend Father Christopher Okechukwu attempted to canvass votes from congregants for Mbah. The congregants, including old men and women, protested vehemently, shouting on the top of their voices, “No, Father!”, “No!” “This is unacceptable!”, “We don’t want this kind of people in Enugu,’ “We don’t want Ebeano”, “Never again!”
The parish priest was forced to beat a retreat and apologise to the congregation, admitting that he was merely “carrying out an order from above” without explaining.
“I could not have possibly believed until today that there would be a day any priest would stay in the holy premises of the church, including the altar and before the Blessed Sacrament, and enjoin us to vote for the very persons in the PDP who brought Enugu State to its knees”, lamented John-Mary Eze, a participant in the Youth Lenten Week at Ugwu Di Nso Pilgrimage Centre who holds a B.Sc degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Nigeria at Nsukka, but is unemployed.
“Chief Oyibo Chukwu, the Labour Party candidate in the Enugu East senatorial district, was assassinated on February 22 and his remains burnt in his vehicle by the Ebeano group, a strong member of the state PDP. The PDP has also refused to condemn the widely reported harassment of popular priests in the Nsukka Diocese by the party’s deputy governorship candidate, Ifeanyi Ossai, because of their well-known criticism of bad governance in the state under Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. Still, some of our leaders support the party’s candidates.”
Obumneme Eneh, who also attended the youth programme at Ugwu Di Nso, subscribes to the view that the LP candidate was murdered by the PDP. When asked about the evidence, he asked journalists rhetorically, “Has the PDP administration condemned the killing or condoled the Chukwu family, even though Governor Ugwuany is the chief security officer of the state and touts a peaceful Enugu State as his most important achievement? Has Peter Mbah, who hails from Nkanuland as the late Chief Chukwu, condemned the assassination or consoled the family? Hasn’t President Buhari condemned the barbaric act, sympathised with the bereaved family and directed the police to arrest the killers, yet his so-called brothers have turned a blind eye to the situation?”
Mary Ani, popularly known as Ada Jesus because of her extreme devotion, proudly told reporters in Enugu that she was among the congregants who shouted Fr Christopher down when he tried to sell Mba’s candidature at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish. “I am afraid the last days are here. These people are turning the Lord’s Temple into a place of merchandise, as written in Matthew 21: 12 and John 2: 16. We have the rumour that some leaders have collected filthy lucre from the PDP which has governed Enugu since 1999 and has vandalised the resources of our people and the future of the youth”.
Geoffrey Onyefuru, an ex-seminarian and economics graduate who supervises a business centre in Nsukka, regards priests campaigning for the PDP as inelegant church ambassadors. He wonders why the same people who accuse the President Buhari government and their political party of “damaging the country are ignoring the mess in Enugu”.
The ex-seminarian accuses the “tiny band of priests of paying lip service to integrity, the public good, selflessness and other virtues they preach. “How can they support Peter Mbah who was arrested for 10 months by the EFCC for his role in vandalising Enugu’s resources when he was the Commissioner for Finance under the Chimaroke Nnamani government? Was he not arrested by the EFCC again for the role of Pinnacle Oil and Gas company in the scandalous petrol subsidy? If they do not change their way and embrace rectitude, they will cause many followers to lose faith in the church”.
Ikenna Agu, who has no gainful employment two years after graduating in philosophy from Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Anambra State, told his friends yesterday: “As frustrated Nigerians, the youth would have confronted the PDP candidate if the Youth Week at the Ugwu Di Nso Pilgrimage Centre had not been during the Lenten season. During Lent, Christians all over the world atone for their sins through fasting, prayers, body mortification, self-restraint, forgiveness, and a more holy life.
“In South America, church leaders through the liberation theology fight on the side of the masses, but here in Enugu State a handful of priests are toeing a different line”.