Those who can make you believe absurdity can make you commit atrocity (Voltaire).
was getting ready to send my article captioned "He Whom The Cardinal Has Blessed" to the Online News Outlet Nigeriaworld for publication when I came across the latest article of Monsignor Nathaniel I. Ndiokwere on Facebook. This latest Msgr. Ndiokwere's write up is titled "In Search Of Good Model For Episcopal Candidates-The Ahiara-Mbaise Story" and is part of his series on the Ahiara/Okpalaeke Bishopry Saga. Though I have been following his series for sometime now, I must confess that this article got me gasping for breath because of the magnitude of his submissions and their implication on the faith of the Nigerian Catholic Laity. I had to suspend the forwarding of my article to Nigeriaworld. My reason being that as an Mbaise person, my article could have been read and interpreted as one born out of clan solidarity and mutual sentiment with no objective credential.
My interest in Msgr. Ndiokwere's series stems not from the fact that no one else has alluded to his submissions. No. But it does seem that most of the "voices of truth" in this debacle have been priests and lay people of Mbaise Origin or Connection, thereby making the agitation for justice and equity one-sided. So the "voice of truth" coming from Msgr. Ndiokwere, an Orlu Diocesan Catholic Priest of great repute, is welcoming and assures me that all is not lost.
For some mischief makers, who believe that the Mbaise peoples' agitation for justice and equity in this episcopate saga is clannish and a clamour for an Mbaise-born priest to be consecrated as Bishop of Ahiara Diocese, I humbly suggest that they search up and read Msgr. Ndiokwere's Series on this Bishopry saga for unadulterated knowledge. In his neutrality, Msgr. Ndiokwere aptly defined the Son-of-the-Soil term in relation to the Ahiara-Mbaise/Okpalaeke Case, and proffered radical but sensible solutions which if followed could put an end to a recurrence of this inglorious drama we have witnessed in my hometown diocese for the past 5years.
CAVEAT: Before proceeding further in this essay, I want to state publicly that I have never met Msgr. Ndiokwere in person before in my life. My only knowledge of him came from reading his book on Inculturation (The African Church, Today, And Tomorrow: Inculturation In Practice) as a senior seminarian and the many tales of him by my former classmates who studied under him when he was their Rector at St Mary's Seminary, Umuowa, Orlu. Seminarians who studied under him loved and "idolized" him. My former classmates: Agodi Barthlomeon, Ngozi Chimezie, Ezeani Damian, Mbaoje Joel (late), Edih Vernatius etc. would go to any length to defend and sing the praises of their former Rector. Their respect and admiration of him years after studying under him would make one believe that he was the only Rector the seminary had.
The Orlu Diocesan Seminarians' admiration of Msgr. Ndiokwere reminds me of my former Rector, Msgr. Lambert Nwigwe (late), a disciplinarian of the highest order. I recall with gratitude and fun how during my junior seminary days, my mother would threaten to report me to Fr. Nwigwe for some "extreme misbehavior" from me while on holidays. The mere mention of Fr. Nwigwe, even at home, would send shivers down the body system of any seminarian studying under him and instantly catapult one to the path of good behaviour. My former classmates, Kingsley Anyanwu, Toby Ihejirika, Samuel Ukah, Emmanuel Ugokwe, Okorie Emmanuel, Kingsley Nwamkpa etc., can attest to this fact.
Till date, I still wonder the "magic of control" that man had on people, for he rarely flogged any seminarian. And when he did, it was mild and soft. To be honest, I would have preferred 24 strokes of the cane from the Rector than 3 hot lashes from Fr. Celestine Anyanwu, "Dee Nwu" (Ha ha ha, apologies to one of the greatest formators I schooled under).
I went to this length of caveat to buttress the point of fact of what the Catholic Church did for many of us, and is still doing till date. So any attempt to bring the image of the Catholic Church to disrepute via nepotism and perceived unholy brotherhood is bound to fire up intense reactions from many concerned quarters.
Back To Theme: Msgr. Ndiokwere raised two vital points in his latest article which I intend to dwell on. First, he questioned the silence of the man at the center of the saga. His article sought to know why Bishop Peter Okpalaeke has never thought it wise and honourable to tender his resignation or at least make a plea to the Vatican for an alternative posting for the sake of peace and unity of the church.
Not long ago, I posted a question on my Facebook timeline thus: "What is the difference between the Buhari/Osibanjo led administration and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria?", and it provoked a flood of divergent responses. One responder to the question, who described himself as a spirit-filled Catholic, described me as "an insane thinker who is now in the league with Satan". Whatever that his description of me meant and means I don't know and may never know.
I was able to forgive this individual in absentia, because presumably, he was never taught by Rev. Fr. Dr. Justin Ekennia (my former Ethics Lecturer). Any who passed through the tutorial guidance of Fr. Ekennia would readily remember his caveat lecture captioned "Who is a Critical Thinker?" One of the characteristics of a Critical Thinker, according Dr. Ekennia, is that he or she must be one who thinks before he or she acts. In this case, I suspect that the responder wrote before deeply examining the meaning and intricacy of the question. Carried away by emotion and spiritualism, he responded before giving the question a serious thought.
For if he thought very well before penning down his response, he would have known that my point of comparison was centered on Pres. Buhari's obstinate cling to power in the face of illness, and in the CBCN's case, Bishop Okpalaeke not resigning voluntarily or crave for an alternative posting.
This was the basis of my comparison of the Buhari/Osibanjo led government with the CBCN. I was hinting on the obstinate clinging to power by the principals involved. In the current Nigeria Government's Case, Pres. Buhari's refusal to relinquish power voluntarily, which many Nigerians suspect is as a result of the insistence of the Cabal around him. And in this Ahiara-Mbaise Bishopry Saga, Bishop Okpalaeke not voluntarily resigning or asking for alternative posting. His "stay put", even after 5years of rejection, may be just like the Cabal on Buhari's Case, on the insistence of CBCN to which he now belongs.
For me, the most troubling part in Msgr. Ndiokwere's article is his bold assertion thus, "Pope Francis did not issue any orders (written apologies one by one, and with one-month expiration date). The Pope did not threaten to "excommunicate" unbelievers and suppress Mater ecclesiae diocese of AHIARA-MBAISE! No Way! Such papal actions have never been recorded in modern church history, nor will they ever be pronounced in the future!"
This is contrary to what we have been made to believe by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Nigeria.
Msgr. Ndiokwere further posited, "It is in fact very humiliating ultimatums, unfamiliar to papal office. And it suits only Africa, never the western world. They were the "messengers" familiar with actions of dictators, who punish, degrade, and humiliate enemies and their subjects, who twisted the stories".
Msgr. Ndiokwere's assertions are in accordance with earlier submissions of Frs. Fidelis Agwulonu and Ben Ogu on this subject matter in their respective articles that these ultimatums were "Unpopely".
But some critical questions emanate from these Msgr. Ndiokwere's assertions:
1). Why would the "messengers", in this case, the hierarchy of the Nigerian Catholic Church, twist a papal message or directive into a dictatorial ultimatum similar to the African Political Setting?
2). If these "dictatorial ultimatums" were not from the Papacy as observed by Msgr. Ndiokwere, why hasn't the Vatican distanced itself from it or at least come up with a clarification?
3). Can obedience in the face of glaring injustice be counted as virtue?
I must submit that if these ultimatums were "fake", or at best doctored by the Nigerian Church's Hierarchy to publicly disgrace, cajole, and humiliate Ahiara Priests in order to force out discipline from them (paraphrasing Msgr. Ndiokwere's observation), then it carries a huge baggage of disappointment on the men who are supposed to be precursors of truth.
If Msgr. Ndiokwere's observations are true, then tell me on what moral grounds the leaders of the Catholic Faith in Nigeria would stand to criticize, chastise, and correct the corrupt political leaders of our land?
Our Lord Jesus Christ, whom we (Christians) strive daily to follow in His footsteps, was a vocal critic of the corrupt administration of the Pharisees (Matt 23:1-31). He was able to do so because no guilt was found in Him (Luke 23:4). And if Nigeria must be great, then we need men and women who would be partners to truth and courage. If not, our political leaders will continue in their jamboree of malpractice.
In closing, I say a big thank you to Monsignor Nathaniel I. Ndiokwere for a well written article. I must confess that his Informative Series have put a reasonable and soothing balm of pulse on a mind that was fast drifting towards agnosticism.