From Chuks Collins, Awka
THE Laity Council across the nation has expressed worries over the reported gathering storm by the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria to sanction Rev Fr Ejike Mbaka over his recent comments on the state of the nation.
Their worry according to Dr Paul Obi stems from the erroneous impression the move would give to the public and the international community about the intolerant posture of Nigerian government on freedom of expression. That this would cast a big shadow of doubt about our democratic development and plurality of opinions.
Asking rhetorically, Dr Obi who was flanked by other members of the Laity Council, including Chief Christopher Inalegwu, wanted to know if we are now in Idi Amin Dada era, where ‘freedom of expression is free, but freedom after the expression would not be guaranteed’
The council members, in an interview with journalists in Enugu yesterday recalled that “our dear Anthony Cardinal Okogie had in the past bitterly criticized the administration of former Gen Ibrahim Babangida. No one attacked him then, or even now.
Also that Joseph Cardinal Onayekan, during the last election of President Goodluck Jonathan had openly expressed his support for the President, contrary to the position of the Justice, Development and Peace Commission(JDPC) of the church. Publicly he denied the opinion of the JDPC, to the shame of the international community. No one sanctioned him too.
The President of Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor’s private jet according to them was recently caught in South Africa with millions of dollars for whatever mission, which resulted in a bitter diplomatic row between the Nigerian government and that of South Africa. Today the matter is resolved, but no one thought of sanctions for him!
Again, Mr Ralph Egbuonu, the Principal partner at Equipment & Technologies in one of the reactions noted that priests in Central America have been daring to speak out on local corrupt practices, drug cartel activities as well as bad political administration. That if President Jonathan has done a good job within the past six years, he should run on his record, and no jupiter will stop him from winning. That what Nigerians are clamoring for is good governance – that’s all.
Today, Fr Mbaka has been accused of outrageous things, including allegation that he was offered money and oil bloc. What for, they asked? But that instead he gives abundantly to the flock and the non-members of his flock, Christians and non-Christians, giving out scholarships to many less privileged Nigerians. He undertakes hospital bills, widows support, foreign treatment, etc. He clearly has no use for earthly gains and acquisitions. They therefore urge clergies of all Christian denominations, citizens and political Christians who were believed to be behind the “crucify Fr Mbaka” chants, to mind their language, speak only what they know and desist from wild allegations and accusations. They noted ironically that Fr Mbaka has never had any contact with Gen Muhammad Buhari. Or has ever received a kobo from any political camp that would induce his prophetic utterance.
Chief Inalegwu opined that sanctioning Fr Mbaka would subtly invite a religious crisis which we may all regret later. According to him, “we are happy with Fr Mbaka. We appreciate his prophetic courage. He noted that all he said were the bitter truth. “We must always be ready to accept the truth no matter how bitter it tastes. Yes, some will say that Fr Mbaka is not Okogie, Onayekan or even Oritsejafor. That they are all heads of the church. That Fr Mbaka is only a Parish Priest. Of course this gives him opportunity of closer encounter with his more than ten million member flock, to know and share in their pains, worries and concerns. He is indeed God’s servant.
“We join him to maintain that if Jonathan cannot defend the church and the nation from insurgents that are clearly sponsored by persons which Jonathan confirmed that he knows them, he should humbly resign for whoever that can guarantee security for the Church and the entire Nigerians. We equally solicit for a committed war against corruption at all levels and facets of our national life. So, is this why Fr Mbaka should be sanctioned?
“Immorality is becoming a malignant growth in Nigeria, as well as joblessness and we are holistically supporting Fr Mbaka as they are some of the issues he commented on. He represents God’s voice for us. Note should also be taken that the present pontiff, Pope Francis has recently expressed his concern over the horrible position of the government of the day- the killing of innocent Nigerian souls. Let us not give the devil opportunity to mess up the Church any further. We believe no one is considering sanctioning the Pontiff.
He wondered why no one appeared ready or committed to giving the message from Fr Mbaka a serious thought and consideration, instead some political jobbers across the country have been pelting him with bitter words, hate, threats and all manners of un-Christian and uncivilized dispositions. They noted that the Bible stated that God reveals to redeem. Jonathan, as well as all these people now harassing Fr Mbaka should seek ways to redeem all that have gone wrong, not bitter words at all.
Another member, Otunba Olaleka Charles Balogun appealed to all to join in daily prayers for Fr Mbaka and to encourage him with whatever they could, for what God has been doing through him for humanity. That he is the voice of the voiceless, an unusual philanthropist; a priest for the poor and the less privileged. He admitted that they deeply respect him for his life of immeasurable charity and the adoration of the blessed sacrament.
Disclosing that he is not even an Igboman, but has become united with every Igbo including Fr Mbaka having known him for the past 18years as a priest, Rev Fr Johnbosco Williams described Fr Mbaka as a magnet of souls. “That millions of Christians are followers of Christ through him. So let us not allow the politicians to divide us, rather we should unite to speak out against injustice, insecurity, joblessness, embezzlement of public funds, sponsored insurgency, etc. Fr Mbaka is a solution provider not a problem! And any attempt to place any sanction on him will simply mean that the Church has now taken a questionable side with the government-choosing Barnabas and rejecting Christ.
Williams said they expect the priests and Bishops to exercise all their functions as priests, kings and prophets fully without any form of hindrance. Let them remain our spokesmen without fear or favour. Fr Mbaka never attacked the Church or insulted its hierarchy. Why then is the Church masterminding sanctions that may futuristically have a boomerang effect. Let the Church hierarchy face other serious and challenging issues that would guarantee a better Nigeria instead of getting itself busy planning unnecessary sanctions on Fr Mbaka.
We love our bishops and the Church. We love our priests also. There cannot be a complete Church without the Laity, the Lay and the Priests. We are speaking because we are involved. The Laity is the heartbeat of the Church. Our fears is that any attempt to sanction or punish him by the Church may tantamount to loss of faith in the Church by all. After all we all know that Fr Mbaka cannot join issues, reply or confront anyone! Not even the Church.
Fr Mbaka, Lady Eunice Okereke, a grandmother, disclosed that Fr Mbaka is well loved and respected by the Lay people, the children, the youth and the aged. She admitted that Fr Mbaka means for them “salus animarum”, literally meaning- salvation of souls. He wondered whether those calling for sanction want him to go and marry and join the Laity, or to begin his own church? To imprison him or to do what? Or are you sure the aim was not driven by jealousy? Because, there would always be many Fr Mbaka if we succeed to force him out? What of many such heavily anointed fiery clergies who have remained on fire for Christ even after being sanctioned by the Church. They all left with a large followers. All those who are playing both open and covert part in this act of sabotage against God’s anointed, do they have what it takes to bear the repercussion when it comes on them and their families. Fr Mbaka is not a problem. Let us look for the nation’s problems and solve it. Period! Because we are all ready and committed to join him even outside the church.
Another laity member, Lady Chigozie Ugwu who claimed that her family was saved from hunger and shame through the intervention of Fr Mbaka wondered whether all those clamouring for the head of Mbaka know the volume of charity works he does daily that is holding millions of life for God, the Church and the faithful by Fr Mbaka.
Ugwu who claimed to have attended the new year eve service when the cleric gave his new year message noted that the comments in question has four key dimensions. Number One- message of change.
Two-Prayer of commendation of Nigeria to the HAND OF GOD.He quoted the following verses without breathing, where hand of God were mentioned in the Bible-Ps 31:5; Neh 2:8; Neh 1:10; Ezra 7:6; Ezra 8:22; Ps 118:16; Ps 10:12; Ps 114:7; Acts 4:30; Matt 14:30; 1King 8:15; Is 14:27; Is 11:11; Luke 23:46; all these relating to the hand of God.
Three: Praise and worship to The Lord.
Four: New Year blessings.
Why must we then dwell on number One out of the Four and propose sanctions which some Bishops have reportedly already endorsed. Why do we ignore the other messages and hang the man of God for saying the truth. From the profundity of his humble and charitable prophetic courage
She noted that “we the Laity are happy with him. We are praying for more Fr Mbakas in the church. We need courageous, charitable, and selfless men of God, like the Moses of old who will tell pharaoh to ‘let my people go’. We need more Elijahs, Elishas, Jremaiahs, etc. we need priests like Christ who will challenge the existential forces with the spirit of God.
Remember that in our daily creed, the Church recites the name of Pontus Pilate, “crucified under Pontus Pilate”, yet there was no records to show that sanction was placed for mentioning the name of Potus Pilate who was the president of his time when Christ was crucified. Why then should Fr Mbaka’s case be an exception? And attract an unhealthy political brouhaha? Why are we trying to make mountains from a simple molehill? A stitch in time will save nine.
Lets us also consider the words of Prof Chinua Achebe in his popular novel, Things Fall Apart, ‘do not kill the child that calls you Father’. We the Laity jointly pray that God will guide The Church in their decision on issues affecting the universal Church; as Mbaka did not speak on behalf of or attack the Church or it’s hierarchy. Ps 105:15 states that TOUCH NOT MY ANOINTED, DO NO HARM TO MY PROPHET