• We’ll vote our member even if he belongs to spirit party – Anglican priest
• ‘PFN reads riot act to orthodox churches
• Politicians to churches: face pulpit, leave politics
Churches in Anambra State are at war over which denomination will produce the next governor of the state.
Development in the state show that denominational politics may go a long way in determining who wins the November 6, 2021 governorship election in the state.
Dominance of the political space by members of the Catholic Church in the state over the years has triggered feelings of dissatisfaction among other church denominations with the Anglican Church at the forefront. Members of the Pentecostal denominations, including traditional worshippers have also not hidden their disaffection with the dominance of the Catholic Church in the political affairs in the state.
The Anglican Church as far back as 2019, had started pushing for a member of its fold to be given a slot to become a governor in the state.
The church’s Strategic Committee for the Election of Indigenous Bishop of Nnewi Diocese made the appeal when they visited the bishop-elect, Diocese of Nnewi (Anglican Communion) Ven. Ndubisi Obi in his office at St. Augustine Anglican Church, Federal Housing Estate, 3-3 Onitsha. The committee said such demand, if granted would balance the equation since Catholic Church members had been in power for many years in the state.
The committee led by former President of Council of Knights, Diocese of Nnewi, Sir. Emeka Nzewi, his Secretary, Sir. Sunny Ijezie and Prof. Ben Ufodike reportedly said that the church had been marginalized in governance, infrastructural development and grants which they needed to be corrected when a member of the church becomes governor of the state.
Before the 2019 demands, about 200 Anglican priests in 2018 had staged a protest against the Willie Obiano led government, accusing the government of marginalising the church.
Leader of the protesting priests alleged that so many Anglicans in the state were denied All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) tickets for various positions in the party primaries that were held that year, describing such as a threat to peaceful coexistence. He said: “This present administration is turning Anambra State to a denominational state.”
The church, from every indication appears not to be leaving anything to chance in ensuring a member of its fold emerges winner at the poll.
A cleric of the church who did not want his name mentioned, told The Nation that any of their members that emerged as the candidate of any party will be supported by the church.
He said the decision was taken many months ago before the party primaries, adding that the Anglicans had been suppressed enough in Anambra State.
The venerable said, “we are going to hold another meeting before the election. Some of our leaders are playing hide and seek, but our decision is final, which is to vote for our member.
“We don’t care whether he or she is a cripple, a blind person or deaf and dumb. Our church has really suffered in this state when it comes to the issue of governorship.
“Any political party that has our member as its candidate, even if the person belongs to a spirit party, we will vote him or her. Enough is enough.”
Leadership of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, (PFN) is also talking tough ahead of the election.
The Chairman in Anambra State, Bishop Moses Ezedebego says, it’s time to stop other churches in the state from producing the next governor.
The PFN said they have played second fiddle in Anambra State for a long time, adding that it is time for the fold to take its rightful place in the politics of the state with the November 6 election.
The group also, declared that it has not endorsed any candidate in any political party, to replace governor Willie Obiano in the November 6 election as being speculated.
Ezedebego, said they had mobilized their members to arm themselves with their voters cards for the task ahead.
While congratulating all the governorship candidates, PFN warned that they should do issue based campaigns devoid of violence.
Ezedebego said, “We have emphasized that Anambra State needs a God-fearing man, a good manager of resources, a man of impeccable character and humanity.
“We need a governor for everybody; someone that will carry everybody along. We are praying for the right candidate to take over Anambra State on Nov. 6, 2021.
“We want to call on the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC to be an impartial empire by giving all the candidates equal and level playing ground.
“The INEC must resist the temptation of being used by anyone to rig the election. We are calling on all the voters to guard their votes after voting and resist any form of rigging in the coming election.”
One of the outspoken Catholic priests in the state, Rev. Dr Martin Chuks Anusi, told The Nation at the weekend that the church is only interested in a good man and not his or her religion.
Anusi, who is the Director of Social Communications, Catholic Diocese of Awka and the Director of Fides Media Limited (Publishers of Fides Newspaper), said it is the responsibility of religious leaders to hold to such tenets and not decide and rule.
According to him, “the Catholic Church is only interested in any person who is good and not where he worships or the party the person belongs
“In Fides Newspapers which is faith based, our employees are from Anglican, Mountain of Fire and other denominations and not only Catholics. What we need are good hands and not the person’s church.
“Our people should wise up and forget primordial issues. The electorate should look for that person who can give them what they want and not look at the church, this has been the message of our bishop all the while,” the priest said.
Face pulpit, leave politics- Politicians tell churches
Politicians in the state have expressed concern over the interference of religious bodies in political affairs.
The State Chairman of APGA, Sir Norbert Obi, while reacting on the matter, said the introduction of religion into politics has dealt a big blow to the society.
He said it was not like that before and after the Civil war, adding that late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Dr Michael Okpara, were picking people based on capacity.
“People were being selected on merit and not on religious sentiment and the person would go and work for the masses and lead the people aright
“In APGA, we are not bent on producing any person, but someone who will give good governance, but what we want is a person who will lead well no matter his or her political leaning.
“We don’t care about your religion, but someone who can carry everybody along, we don’t care whether the person is APGA or any other party,” Obi said.
National Vice Chairman of apex Igbo socio cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Ichie Damian Okeke -Ogene, expressed concern that religious politics is spreading like kerosene in the state.
He said no religion can take any one to heaven, rather, the person’s personal relationship with God.
“It is unfortunate and regrettable that our people have allowed religious politics into our system and if not checked, it’s capable of destroying the system.
“And it is a dangerous dimension in Anambra politics. Whoever is propagating it should desist from it because God is for all of us ” Okeke -Ogene said.
One of the chieftains of APC in the Southeast and Board member, Federal Housing Authority FHA, Nze Modestus Umenzekwe, told the Nation that the way to solve the issue is for stakeholders to condemn it.
He said both are separate groups,adding that politics should be left for politicians, while religious leaders should face the pulpit.
According to Umenzekwe, “bringing the two together in our society is setting a dangerous precedent in the society.”
Chairman of African Democratic Congress, ADC, Chief Ralphs Okey Nwosu, said: “the claim of anybody playing denominational politics has to do with the limitations of the individuals who were chief executives from the time this whole thing started. It is just their limitations; otherwise, there is no need for denominational politics. When you come to my family, you will see Anglicans, you will see Pentecostals, you will see Catholics. Why is it that when it comes to governance you see all this? It just has to do with the limitations of people who have become governors at different times.
“I have never played politics based on any form of dichotomy. We have deliberately put ADC out of anything that has to do with division and that is part of our DNA. Our DNA is for inclusion. I am a Catholic and as far as Anambra is concerned, from the beginning when we heard what our brothers and sisters in Anglican and other churches were inferring as far as the leadership of the state is concerned. When we discovered that, we made a policy to look for a good Anglican or a top quality Pentecostal to run our ticket in ADC.”
He continued: “For ADC, when we started, we went to the Anglican leaders, and we said to stop all these that are going on in Anambra State, we want you to screen and give us a quality candidate and we would run the person in ADC. I told them that I am a Catholic and I am going to talk to the Catholic bishops and say, this is what people are saying and it is not right.
“I was troubled when the Anglican committee selected somebody who they wanted to present in the APC. We even told them that the APC is not popular in Anambra State and requested that they use ADC as option B. They said no that they would rather prefer ADC team up to support their candidate in APC. We said we don’t want to play that kind of fiddle.”
He further said: “We then went to the Pentecostal. They had a candidate in mind but they lobbied their candidate to come to ADC to run but the aspirant still preferred to run under the APC.
“That was how we ended up not getting a candidate from this side. By then some top quality Catholics were coming to us and said no. That was why we were late in bringing out our candidate who now happens to be Akachukwu Nwankpo who happens to be a Catholic again.”
Genesis of denominational politics in Anambra
Religious politics was said to have been introduced in the state by the immediate past governor, Mr Peter Obi, and since then, denominational politics has taken firm root in the state and tearing the churches apart.
Since 1999, apart from former Governor Dr Chinwoke Mbadinuju, who was half Anglican and half Pentecostal, the state has never produced another governor of Anglican faith.
Even in appointments during Obi’s tenure, it was obvious that he was on a mission.
Such mission, made the former Archbishop on the Niger and Dean, Anglican Church in Nigeria, Most Rev Maxwell SC Anikwenwa to raise the alarm that such dimension was dangerous in Anambra State.
The sharing of offices and appointments were 60:30 and 10 percent and it has remained so.
It has remained a ritual in Anambra State for the Anglican Church to play second fiddle to the Catholics by producing the deputy each election year.
The reason, The Nation gathered is that the population of the Catholic Church in the state is quite intimidating and no one dares challenge them in anything.
However, such a trend almost ended in 2007, when Anglican bishops vowed to end such dominance by teaming up with other churches to bring about the emergence of Andy Uba who was then in the Peoples Democratic Party PDP, as the governor.
But that victory only lasted for 17 days, as Obi went to the Supreme Court to seek for interpretation of his tenure of his office, instead of who won the election.
The apex court ruled in his favour and he was returned after his impeachment by the State House of Assembly in 2006.
His unconstitutional impeachment gave his Deputy, Dame Virgy Etiaba, who is Anglican the opportunity to preside over the affairs of the state for just three months.
Uba’s 17 days in office as governor, was the last time a member of another church ruled Anambra State.
Today, the Anglicans and Catholics have renewed the battle of leadership in the state, with the religious leaders divided over who to support.
Apart from Andy Uba of the All Progressives Congress, APC, who is Anglican, the other major candidates from different political parties are Catholics.
Prof Charles Chukwuma Soludo, one time Central Bank of Nigeria CBN Governor, and the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance APGA is Catholic.
Also, the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party PDP and Ex – Chief Executive Officer CEO of Transcorp PLC, Mr Valentine Ozigbo, is a Catholic.
The same thing applies to Dr Obiora Okonkwo of the Zenith Labour Party ZLP , Dr Godwin Maduka of the Accord Party AP , Nze Akachukwu Nwankpo of the African Democratic Congress ADC and Senator Ifeanyi Ubah of the Young Progressive Party YPP.
Interestingly, they all picked members of the Anglican Church as their Deputies to garner votes during the November 6 election.
And, the choice of Soludo’s choice as Deputy, Dr. Onyekachukwu Ibezim, has not gone down well with the people of the state because of obvious reasons.
He’s the younger brother to the current Anglican Archbishop of the province on the Niger and Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev Alexander Ibezim.
Members of the Church including the knights, the laity and the bishops are not happy with such a decision.
They are of the opinion that they were not carried along in making such a choice and as a result, they will not key into it.
Besides, they contend that the young man holds some enticing positions already in governor Willie Obiano’s government, adding that such a decision was selfish.
Currently, before he became APGA’s Deputy candidate, Ibezim serves as Obiano’s Special Adviser on Indigenous Medicine and Herbal Practice, the Managing Director, Anambra Oxygen Plant, and as Executive Director, ANSACA, Anambra State Agency for Control of HIV/AIDS.
As a result, The Nation gathered that majority of the Bishops, the Council of Knights, the Laity and the women groups have vowed to work against APGA.
Again, the Catholics, The Nation, was equally informed that despite the choice of the their Archbishop, some Bishops, had deviated from what had become a norm in the State.
They claim their candidates are many and active and known members of the Church with pedigree, blaming some leaders of the Church for not coming out for a consensus arrangement.
The decision by the Anglican leader in Anambra to present his younger brother as Deputy to Soludo without consulting the other eight Bishops, is gradually turning into a suicide mission for APGA.
The Nation gathered that most of the defections into APC from the party, was as a result.