Friday, 1st December 2023

Some sacristy noise and the Benue Political “healing mass”

By Paul Utser
13 March 2023   |   3:33 am
Father Hyacinth Alia has become an enticing flavour of contemporary Benue politics. As the All Progressives Congress flagbearer for the 2023 governorship election, Alia has proven to be an irresistible household name without an expiry date.

Father Hyacinth Alia has become an enticing flavour of contemporary Benue politics. As the All Progressives Congress flagbearer for the 2023 governorship election, Alia has proven to be an irresistible household name without an expiry date. In the early 1990s, Father Alia’s healing ministry attracted large crowds of Catholics and nonCatholics to Mass. Among the Tiv Christian communities, Holy Water commonly became known as “Mngerem ma Alia,” meaning “Alia’s water.” Testimonies of peaceful night sleep and relief from challenges of several kinds, following the sprinkling of homes with water blessed by Father Alia, traveled around Benue villages and towns.

The late Catholic Bishop of Makurdi Diocese, Most Reverend Athanasius Usuh, who ordained Father Alia into the priesthood on 7th July 1990, once shared a personal experience regarding his mother and Alia. The Bishop’s mother had visited him in Makurdi. While he was giving her a ride to the motor park, mama Bishop requested a stop by St. Theresa Parish, High Level, so Father Alia would bless water for her to bring home to Mbagen in Buruku Local Government Area. It was interesting that the Bishop who ordained Alia was being asked by his mother to convey her to Father Alia to bless water for her. The spirit blows wherever it will.

In the ongoing Benue political debates, both supporters and critics of Alia have been unable to avoid referencing the priest’s healing ministry. Nonetheless, while his supporters have codenamed his gubernatorial contest as a preparation for a political “healing Mass” for a sick State, Alia’s critics continue to question his antecedents with a forgery of dismissive pretense. A recent Daily Post publication, “Benue healing mass and the ‘poisoned holy communion,’” by one Dave Ogbole, represents such dismissive pretenses. I have undertaken to review the article mainly because of its reference to the Eucharist – the source and summit of the Catholic faith.

As the article indicates, a prevailing trend has deployed “religious tokens, protocols, and symbols” in the ongoing political conversations. Accordingly, specific questions require immediate answers to overcome a blindfold of “religious sentiments and emotions that will do more political and socioeconomic damage than good.” Three unique analysis points follow this promising and clear thesis statement that the author has unfortunately treated below average.

First, “The preparation process of the communion celebrant.” In a paragraph of eight lines, the writer refers to the two cycles of rerun primaries and litigations that followed the emergence of Alia as the governorship flagbearer of his political party. He queries the integrity of Alia’s win by contradistinguishing the APC primaries with “the rancor and litigation-free primaries” of the Peoples Democratic Party. The author concludes that the so-called political “healing mass is a death trap” without a celebrant of excellence.

My take. In line with the heading of the paragraph, the author or presenter should have been aware that a “preparation process” is a time of checks and balances. Thus, good preparation examines every detail to ensure an excellent outcome. The saying also goes that “nothing good comes easy.” Hence, the rancor and litigations that greeted Fr. Alia’s victory in the primaries may not necessarily translate into a lack of excellence in the priest. As I have suggested elsewhere, years of Benue captivity by the political elite has been a pus-filled bump that can not be broken without a piercing cry. On the contrary, the rancor-free primaries by the PDP could be a contracted agreement by a self-serving group of political oppressors.

Second, “The integrity of the Officiating Priests.” With an aura of decency uncharacteristic of Father Alia’s critics in the opposition camps, the author notes, “Alia may be a good man who means well for Benue.” However, he raises concern about his handlers in the APC camp, whose “character baggage” may disrupt Alia’s overall goodwill and intention. I am somewhat tempted to agree with the writer on this point, especially on the grounds that the lack of independent candidacy in the Nigerian electioneering process remains a political liability.

Some of the unhealthy sociopolitical arrangements of the major political parties often cast a strain on national development and peaceful coexistence. For example, the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC and the PDP’s prospect of a Northern Fulani succeeding a Northern Fulani as president created much anxiety among the electorates regarding the presidential election. Nonetheless, it would be foolhardy for any aspirant of political office in Nigeria to expect to join a party of people without sin. There is no evidence that any of Nigeria’s political parties is without people with “character baggage.”

Furthermore, likening Alia’s governorship election win to “the free entrance of the criminal Fulani entities” depicts a conjunction fallacy. Such an assertion is porously served with unconvincing evidence, especially when one considers the continued attacks of Benue farmers by marauding Fulani herders, despite the political romance (from APC to PDP to LP) by Governor Samuel Ortom. Besides, suppose, based on the author’s statement, the Fulani attacks in Kwande and Gwer West were a celebration of Tinubu’s presidential election victory. In that case, one wonders what has been the current administration’s responsibility in providing security for citizens. Where does the writer place these attacks that precede Alia’s election win?

Third, “The Homily of the Healing Mass.” The writer alleges that Father Alia’s manifesto (homily of the healing Mass) is a plagiarized copy of a defeated PDP Governorship aspirant, Mr. Terver Akase, which leaves Alia without an original action plan. Interestingly, the author exalts Peter Obi’s statement on “process” and “excellence.” I hope the author also remembers that Obi was accused of plagiarizing the PDP manifesto. The question is: What is in PDP manifestos that they attract so much plagiarism? Again, does it not beat every imagination that a senior aide of the Benue State government could be credited for having a testable manifesto when the administration in which he is employed has failed in almost all indices of good governance? Moreover, are the everyday needs of Benue people not in themselves the original contents of any relevant manifesto?

Quite diappointing is the concluding paragraph of the opinion piece, as it completely shifts from its title and overall content. I do not believe in judging a book by its cover. However, the misfortune of being deceived by a catchy title of a political essay speaks volumes about the culture of falsehood in our politics. Benue professionals must better educate the masses on civil matters instead of weaponizing public ignorance for political mischief.

Above all, Christians believe “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4), and the Catholic Church recognizes the gratuitous endowment of her members with various spiritual gifts and charisms. Thus, while some people may not believe in Catholic faith practices, the continued disparagement of our religious faith practices by the Benue political critics of Father Alia in political discourse comes across as an assault on the religious sensibilities of many Benue people. In this context, Dave Ogbole’s opinion piece on the Benue “healing Mass” appears to me as just some noise in the sacristy.

Paul Utser

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