It is now recorded history that of all the Catholic bishops in Nigeria presently (over sixty), the late Bishop Joseph Danlami Bagobiri of Kafanchan Diocese was the only one who mustered the courage to voice out his support for the Ahiara Clergy and Laity over the irregular appointment of Bishop Okpaleke for the Diocese. This was in defiance of the official position of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, which was instrumental to the appointment of Okpaleke for Ahiara Diocese. His open position on the issue, disclosed on the 1st of December, 2017, earned him a “serious caution” from the Administrative Board of the CBCN which directed him to ‘apologise’ to the “Holy Father, CBCN, and Bishop Okpaleke” on 5th December for his “ill-timed” propositions. It is not likely that he complied with this directive before his death on 27th February, 2018. Before then, he was summoned to the Nunciature at Abuja for questioning. It is said that he seized the opportunity to confirm that “Bishop Okpaleke’s name was never sent to Ahiara for input before he was appointed to the Diocese”. This is an obvious irregularity which the authorities knew about and yet were disturbed that they were being criticized by the Bishop and Ahiara priests and laity.
However, unlike the other bishops, the late Bishop was happy that his public statement which was a burden he had carried for about four years was finally laid off recently. That is the quality of a man of good conscience and integrity. Since this crisis started, many bishops have died in Nigeria and all of them knew the truth about it but preferred to die with that knowledge rather than voice it out. In fact, they preferred to face God in judgement rather than embarrass their fellow bishops and the Papal Nuncio in Nigeria. They do not have any conscience on personal basis but a collective one which is controlled by the officers of CBCN (or so it seems). So for someone to break out of the pack to re-assert his personal conscience is an act of courage and godliness worthy of commendation, especially in religious and spiritual matters such as this. From the way it has carried on for some decades now CBCN is nothing but a PROFESSIONAL Association with its members angling and jostling for promotions to the next possible position.
Under such atmosphere, spirituality and salvation of souls are relegated to the background, while politics and nepotism sit on the front bench. This is very much in line with the saying that Professionalism is a ‘conspiracy’ against society. It is primarily to protect the interest of its members. I thank God that late Bishop Bagobiri cared enough about his personal conscience and the need to uphold the truth publicly before he died. If the teachings of the Catholic Church is used as a basis for judgement, he is a saint and a martyr, having endured persecution for propagating the truth. I therefore, recommend that the process of his beatification should commence immediately.
The current issue in Ahiara Diocese right now is the proposed coming of the new Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese, Bishop Lucius Ugorji, on the 10th of March, 2018. Every arrangement has been made to accord him a superlative reception equal to (if not more than) the one given to his predecessor, Cardinal Onaiyekan in July 2013. Priests, Religious and Laity from every parish are required to assemble at the Cathedral on that day for the great reception. He has instructed that a period of RECONCILIATION and FORGIVENESS should precede his arrival, and the priests are doing just that in every parish for the past one week. The Father Ekechukwu group of priests which rejected Bishop Okpaleke have at last met with the “SIX MUSKETEERS” led by Father Ebi who supported him. In the meeting, one of the ‘SIX MUSKETEERS’, Father Olekanma, was the one who talked about reconciliation and forgiveness which I know the Main group would grant easily, even though terms and conditions would apply. With this rapprochement at least a ‘no-love-lost’ relationship exists among the groups right now which is a good starting point for the new Apostolic Administrator.
On my part, however, I am yet to make up my mind whether to participate in the reception of the Apostolic Administrator or not. My reluctance stems from the fact that Lucius Ugorji is just like the other ‘professional’ Bishops of Nigeria who knew the truth about the Ahiara crisis but refused to uphold it. In fact, he owes his appointment as Apostolic Administrator to the fact that he is a typical CBCN team player and ‘Good Bo/. On this basis he is not different from Onaiyekan, his predecessor. Furthermore, the recent COMMUNIQUE issued by the CBCN secretariat in February shows that he has also been elected VICE PRESIDENT of CBCN. So what change are we to expect from such a person? Is he not going to move along the same CBCN inspired beaten track followed by his predecessor? Perhaps only time will tell. I also recall that his predecessor was given a wonderful reception in Ahiara when he arrived but within one week he squandered all the goodwill heaped on him by the priests and laity. Even his homily on the day of reception caused a lot of disquiet among the faithful who were expecting more positive statements from him on the crisis at hand. The homily made many ‘activists’ to retreat back to their trenches, jungles and creeks immediately with the result that when he started unfolding his nefarious agenda he met fortress situations wherever he went. He had to retreat to Abuja to continue his plottings from afar. I do not want to be disappointed twice. Therefore I may choose to watch things from some distance this time.
The change of guard recently announced by the CBCN also gives one a lot of concern. Bishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama (of Jos) has been replaced by Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubueze (of Benin City). My concern here is that Archbishop Akubueze is an Awka indigene who was forcefully installed with military and police contingents on the priests and laity of Benin City under the direct supervision of the former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi. Such a person is going to be the new face of CBCN for many years to come. Now, according to the tradition of CBCN, the most senior cleric presides over meetings while the President runs the secretariat. So the new situation would be that Cardinal Arinze (Awka) would preside while Akubueze (Awka) would run the secretariat. What does a place like Ahiara expect to get from that kind of setting? The ‘Good Boy’ sent to Ahiara as Apostolic Administrator was simultaneously elected Vice President. So, in all probability, the SCRIPT to be implemented at Ahiara would be written at Awka for a long time to come. Furthermore, the COMMUNIQUE under reference also announces that “from 14 April to 5 May 2018, we shall make our Ad limina visit to Rome to interact with the Holy Father and his immediate collaborators on the state of the church in Nigeria”; a very important meeting indeed where Ahiara Diocese would be represented by her ‘enemies’. Such a situation calls for concern because talking of ‘the state of the church in Nigeria’, Ahiara Diocesan crisis will top the list. That is the only place run by an APOSTOLIC ADMINISTRATOR in Nigeria. That may be the forum where decision for an indigenous bishop would be taken and, all things being equal, the CBCN will make their pick from among the SIX MUSKETEERS which will end up continuing the crisis. Something must, therefore, be done to stop that so that there will be peace in the Diocese.
In conclusion, let me say I have all good wishes for the new Apostolic Administrator and wish him resounding success in his mission at Ahiara. My advice is that he should concentrate on his pastoral duties and avoid politics for as long as his assignment lasts. He should immediately re-instate the administration of the sacraments of confirmation and Holy Orders which his predecessor abolished. If not, the goodwill being showered on him now will evaporate in a short time. For as long as he represents the best wishes of the majority of priests and laity, he will receive all the cooperation he needs for the job. We are all praying for him but he should also pray for himself by doing the right things.
This is Lent, and soon we shall start singing “blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”. With benefit of hind sight however, I now realize that it is one thing to “come in the name of the Lord” and quite another to do what He sent one to do; and like the popular saying goes: “All our visitors make us happy; some when they come, and others when they go”.
We do not like to say “Thank God” or “good riddance” when someone leaves us. It all depends on what he means to us. We hope that the tenure of Lucius Ugorji will end on a very positive note for the Diocese to enable the priests and laity have a sense of loss when he exits. It should not be like that of his predecessor whose exit was widely celebrated.
Indeed, it is not yet “UHURU”
Chief Nwakanma Diala-Uka writes fromUmuokirika Ahiazu Mbaise