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Of southeast prelates, politicians and ecclesiastical red lines 


Rochas Okorocha

Of recent, unwholesome exchanges between clerics and politicians are becoming the norm in the Southeastern part of the country.

The development becomes so worrisome when viewed against the background that instead of junior or younger priests engaging in these unbecoming practices, it is the elderly and leading members of the clergy that descend to the arena of partisan rabble rousing.

Not long ago, Nigerians were stunned by reports of ugly encounter between some supporters of a political party and a cleric in Imo State, during a burial ceremony.

Although accounts from that Owerri episode were conflicting, a similar occurrence in Ebonyi State left the people wondering what must have inspired an Archbishop to delve into partisan campaign at a burial ceremony.
Another very inauspicious time Archbishop Emmanuel Olisaeloka Chukwuma went out of his way to insult politicians, was during the burial of the late second republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme.

To this day, many people who attended that burial ceremony in Anambra State are still wondering what has changed in the Christendom.

The worrisome aspect of Archbishop Chukwuma’s tantrums and vituperations in Ebonyi is that as a Teacher, who obtained, the Teachers’ Grade II Certificate and a Master’s degree in Education Psychology, he should be exemplary in conduct, characterand candour.
Also, while the Governor of his home State, Delta debates the originality of his Igboness, Chukwuma has been behaving more Igbo than Igbo in Enugu. In the Christendom, all over the World, the population of attendance to any Church or Cathedral superintended over by either a Bishop or an Archbishop is usually unprecedented.
That is not only to show the level of their influence, but also because the quality of the Bishops’ delivery and rendition of the gospel message is usually of high standard. The Bishop must have spent years for Ecclesiastical trainings added to years of practical experience.
But the conduct of Archbishop Chukwuma in Ebonyi State, about two weeks ago was to say the least, unbecoming of a Cleric of his standing. That is, if, his actions could be weighed against the Biblical notion that, “by their fruits, we shall know them.”
Most of the people that attended the burial ceremony in Ebonyi did not fail to recall how the same Chukwuma behaved when the Federal Government delegation led by Alhaji Lai Muhammed visited the Southeast zone on a Town-Hall meeting early last year.
Restless in his incoherence, the man of God was rambunctious and uncouth as he descended on President Muhammadu Buhari with verbal attacks, such that most parents cringed at what example the 64 years-old prelate was setting for the younger generation.

Then, President Buhari had serious health challenges and every well-meaning Nigerian prayed the Almighty God for the special type of miracle bestowed on the life of a President, people have great hope on. To Bishop Chukwuma, that seemed a non-issue.
Could it be that some Prelates are now available for hire by rival politicians? The question becomes imperative, especially after one has seen and listened to anointed Pastors, Evangelists and Bishops like Enoch Adeboye, Bishop Nnachi Okoro of the Catholic Church, Abakaliki Diocese, Umah Ukpai, Bishop David Oyedepo, W. F. Kumuyi, Arch-Bishop Olubunmi Okogie of Lagos State and Venerable Bishop Mathew Kukah, to mention just a few.
That was why some of us felt great repulsion on Friday March 16, 2018 during a Church service preceding the burial of late Nneoma Blessing Mbam Nkwoagu at St. Phillip’s Anglican Church, Uwarem, Amachi in Abakaliki Eocal Government Area of Ebonyi State.
Abandoning spiritual or eschatological anecdotes that such sober situation called for, Archbishop Chukwuma gave greater focus to partisan politics and who should contest the governorship of the  state or not. And later, taking a cue from the remarks of the state Governor, Engr. David Umahi, Chukwuma returned to the microphone and began what would have in earliest church times earned him stones.
The governor had remarked that he would not say much since his major political opponent was in the service, whereupon the Archbishop took over, asking that the said major political opponent to the governor should stand up.

Convinced that he was the man being referred to, Sir Edward Nkwegu, who contested the 2015 governorship election, stood up.
To the surprise and chagrin of mourners, the ‘Archbishop’ then went ahead to erratically proclaim that Sir Edward Nkwegu, the man believed to have actually won the 2015 governorship election in the state should not dare to contest against the incumbent governor again in 2019.
It was said that the Archbishop was briefed how the said only opponent, Sir (Dr) Edward Nkwegu, formerly of Labour Party, but now a frontline gubernatorial hopeful in APC, had successfully battled the incumbent in the 2015 governorship election in the state.
Whether Archbishop was brought to render the warning to Nkwegu not to recontest against the incumbent in 2019 is not the issue. In the eyes of parishioners and laymen, the cleric clearly exceeded his boundaries to issue the political decree.
To worsen matters no sooner had the profane babble been made than some distraught youth believed to be agents of the state government and members of the Protocol Unit, took messages in brown envelopes to the ‘Archbishop’ and other clerics, there and then.

The whole episode was very disconcerting because it was a burial, which made people wonder whether the political sermons can be procured or programmed at burial ceremonies?
But that must have roused the people as they chorused a spontaneous murmur that gained crescendo in a booing rendition. The tremor of the murmur exacerbated at the point when the Archbishop warned Sir Nkwegu not to contest against the benevolent incumbent.
The entire scenario left in the minds of the congregation fears that the ‘man of God’ must have been deliberately hired to speak at the burial to serve a cheap political purpose.

How partisan can a prelate be? Has Nigeria come to the point that clerics cross time honoured ecclesiastical red lines of not mixing Church and Politics?

If Archbishop Chukwuma should tomorrow be appointed into a Campaign Committee of a Political Party, it would not surprise those who witnessed his mendacity that fateful Friday March 16.

A similar low was recorded by Bishop Chukwuma again in Enugu when he openly declared support for Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and ‘endorsed’ him for a second term.

• Ituma, a lawyer, wrote from Abakaliki

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