The Ahiara Bishopric Selection

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BY DOMINIC OGUGUO

The current crisis rocking the Catholic Church in Nigeria especially the selection or appointment of the shepherd (bishop) of the Ahiara diocese has greatly agitated the minds of many concerned Catholics. It is not the first time it is happening and will not be the last.

But the case of Ahiara diocese is a very peculiar one. What beats the imagination was why the pioneer bishop of Ahiara did not consider it expedient to get a co-adjutor or an auxiliary bishop given his age and failing health?

This would have made a succcecsion easy to handle. Another question was why the indigenous local clergy who had ample time at their disposal could not agree on an acceptable candidate amongst themselves? Could it be the situation of the unseen hand which later surfaced that thwarted that effort on consensus or was it greed and infighting within their fold, in which case, it was very regrettable? One would question why the interest on the appointment to the bishopric of Ahiara diocese (comprising Ahiazu – Mbaise, Aboh Mbaise and Ezinihitte LGAs in Imo State). This question should not arise.

As a Catholic and a son of Mbaise, one has a stake in the situation. Also building the church is a joint responsibility of the clergy and laity of the diocese. The church’s teaching of participatory Catholicism makes it imperative for one to take keen interest in the matter.

More so, the concept of the “Domo Ecclesia” (entire community of the clergy and faithful working together in roles , responsibility and rights for the common good to realize the mission of the church on earth); and the priesthood of the faithful make it pertinent for one to take keen interest in the matter. The forced indigenization of the church in Igbo land after the last Nigeria civil war made it possible for the local clergy and faithful to face the arduous task of taking leading role of an “independent” local church, albeit, with the known and acceptable cleavages to Rome and the rest of the Catholic world.

This was keenly taken in its strides; with good number of local clergy and committed laity, later emerged as a rural but remarkable diocese. The greater responsibility implied greater interest in the administration of the local church. So there was a thawing of the hegemonic hold of the old in terms of local administration. But as the church flourished some of the hegemonic tendencies began to prop up again through some ”powerful” clergies. One cannot claim to be privy to all the scenarios that gave rise to certain selections or ordinations of some individuals not indigenous by birth to certain diocese/archdiocese as bishops/archbishops. But suffice it to say that in certain circumstances some ‘grafting’ (my nomenclature) would have taken place resulting in such situations.

Where someone not indigenous by birth to a diocese had been ordained for a diocese other than his native diocese, having been sponsored and trained through the seminary by his new domiciled diocese, this new place becomes his home and is required to perform his priestly duties there; also enjoying the rights and privileges of his acquired diocese. They are thus ‘denizens’ in this new home. In certain situations the paucity of indigenous priest had necessitated such ‘grafting’ in the past.

But I doubt if there is any diocese in Nigeria today that very much lacks good number of local indigenous priests and if any, they must be in the very minority. In some other situation, some diocesan areas have become very cosmopolitan with catholic faithful from diverse parts of the country, if summed up, could outnumber the indigenous catholic population.

Lagos and Abuja could be good examples of that. The peculiar category of such areas may advise some different and radical thinking about who shepherds such mega dioceses. So many other factors come into play. But in the case of Ahiara diocese, the conditions are remarkably different. First the appointee Monsignor Okpaleke, of Awka diocese was not ‘grafted’ into Ahiara from his formative days in the seminary. Second you cannot talk of paucity of indigenous local priests.

I do not have the statistics but I challenge the catholic secretariat of Nigeria to publish the details of indigenous priests in Nigeria indicating their diocese of domicile and the diocese of origin to buttress this position. When you consider the Religious Congregations in Nigeria and apply the same criteria you would be astounded about the number of Ahiara diocese indigenes who are priests. The third factor of urbanization of diocese does not apply to Ahiara.

Ahiara is a rural diocese that is developing fast. It is made up of 100% local indigenous clergy and populated by 99% of indigenous local catholic faithful. Therefore urbanization as a factor affecting choice of the local ordinary (bishop) holds no water here. Again if the statistics of aborigine Nigerian diocesan priests in the Diaspora and those of other religious congregations in those countries are considered it might shock you to discover that another astonishing number of priests of Ahiara origin abound therein.

There could be other factors of being properly lettered in required church critical disciplines like Canon Law, Sacred Theology and other required disciplines. There could be issues of piety (morals), local acceptability and managerial ability. There could also be the ‘nebulous’ concept of ‘acceptability by Rome’ as a critical factor. I term this nebulous because Rome does not reside here and cannot decide in a vacuum.

Whatever Rome does very often is in consultation with the papal nuncio in Nigeria and the Nigeria’s bishops’ conference which still boils down to local Nigerian hierarchy decision. From the foregoing, I am not convinced about the appointment and so for any discerning person, to warrant foistering a ‘foreigner and stranger’ on the priests and faithful.

It is difficult to understand why Ahiara diocese with the sobriquet of “IRELAND OF NIGERIA” due to the great number of indigenous diocesan and Religious priests traceable as sons of Mbaise, could be so treated by the leadership of the same church.

This is sad, shabby, unfortunate, and obviously an obnoxious decision that is bound to have a lot of negative implications for the local church. The church leadership should not preach fairness to us because they have not exhibited it here. The territory of Ahiara diocese is made up of Ahiazu Mbaise, Aboh Mbaise and Ezinihitte LGAs which could be said to be predominantly catholic; it also has a very large number of older protestant denominations.

But in recent times many of the new generation Pentecostals are having great in road in the area especially among the youths. The current decision of the Catholic hierarchy will exasperate this situation with loss of future backbone of the local church.

The younger generation of this area is astound by this brazen position of the leadership of the church and are raising issues. There might be a protest of mass rejection of Catholicism by them to these new Pentecostals. Don’t wave it off. We know the terrain and are telling you what is likely to happen soonest based on this ugly decision. We must not destroy the legacies of our forebears in the quest for spheres of interest and control or playing out who is better placed to be listened to by Rome.

Definitely Monsignor Opkaleke is being foistered on the clergy and catholic faithful of Ahiara. Since this crisis erupted, I had strongly resisted the cry of ‘Anambranization’ of the church in Igbo land as some analysts posit. But on a hindsight one could be persuaded to seriously take a second look at that argument. This situation is likened to a conquest. In the eyes of the Ahiara clergy and discerning laity the appointee is a feudal lord who is coming to do his master’s bidding.

It is likened to Old Judea governed by appointed leaders from Rome, who were to do the bidding of Rome, irrespective of the peoples’ yearnings and aspirations. He would be regarded as the commander of a conquering army whose duty is to ensure obedience and compliance to his master who resides in another land. So where is the freedom of the local church?

If the appointment holds, soonest we may see the ‘grafting’ of seminarians of Anambra origin seeping into Ahiara. Who says that one of these may not grow to replace Okpaleke when another vacancy to the seat exists? It has even bigger implications for larger Owerri ecclesiastical province as argued by some commentators. The metropolitan archbishop is not getting younger.

Soonest the thought of retirement may be knocking at his door, if not already. If Okpaleke (mind you he is said to be 49 years) is foistered on Ahiara today, who says that the same forces at play today and their cronies may not move him to Owerri (think of Uromi to Benin ‘throne’ in recent times).

But the only case that distinguishes this from the Ahiara/Owerri situation is that the Benin Metropolitan was ordained for Issele -Uku diocese, which is part of the Benin ecclesiastical province. So in the case of the former it would be “stooping to conquer”. Is that the game plan? Please someone should provide an answer. Oguguo writes via [email protected]

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15 Comments

  1. COULD SOMEBODY PLEASE, TELL OGUGUO THAT HE IS NOT A CHRISTIAN BUT A POLITICIAN WHO HAS GONE TO CHURCH FOR SO MANY YEARS AND WOULD NOT RECEIVE THE SPIRIT OF GOD. I AM NOT IN ANY DOUBT THAT ALL THE PEOPLE IN AHIARA DIOCESE WHO ARE AT THE HEART OF THIS AGITATION ARE OF THE SAME TYPE AS OGUGUO. HAS GOD SPOKEN TO THEM THAT HE DOES NOT WANT THE APPOINTEE-BISHOP TO BE THE BISHOP OF AHIARA DIOCESE? WAS ST. PETER THE FIRST POPE AT ROME A ROMAN? WAS POPE BENEDICT THE SIXTEENTH, THE CURRENT POPE AT ROME A ROMAN? A SEMINARIAN SCHOOLING IN THE DIOCESE TO BECOME A PRIEST AND A BISHOP, TO POSSESS THE RIGHT TO THE POST OF BISHOP AND THE OTHER PERSON NOT HAVING THE RIGHT IS ARRANT NONSENSE. LET SOMEBODY TELL THESE PEOPLE IN AHIARA DIOCESE WHO THINK THAT THEIR DIOCESE IS ERUDITE AND THE BEST DIOCESE IN THE WORLD THAT THEY ARE ALL HEADING TO HELL FIRE BY THIS SENSELESS AGITATION, UNLESS THEY REPENT AND FOLLOW THE SPIRIT OF GOD TO WHERE HE IS LEADING THEM. A WORD IS ENOUGH FOR THE WISE!

    • John okatta esq. on

      My broda,God bless u,ur obviously on point! Its demeaning 2 push 4ward ds locality/indigeneship factor.Catholic priesthood ab initio is like d military service,train anywhere & serve anywhere.Ds is d ecclesiastical beauty!

  2. Don’t introduce politics into church. Bishop appointee -Monsgr Okpaleke is and will ever remain Bishop of Ahiara diocese. A catholic priest can be a bishop in any part of the world whether he is born, did his apostolic work or ordained in diocese A or B. Catholic churge is not a village politics and it will never be. Igbos are one family with common descent. Ahiara, Anambra, Enugu, Asaba or Oguta is a mere political administration only. Evangelism knew no bound it will spread to every part of the world. Catholic faithfuls in Ahiara diocese should stop fannig disunity in the church, catholic and Biafra at large. Biafran spirit, that is the philosophy of oneness that unite us to protect our land/territory during mid 60s should be echoed and resonated in all Biafrans at any point in time. Let pursue our common enemy.

  3. IF AHIARA DIOCESE PEOPLE DO NOT LIKE THE APPOINTEE-BISHOP, THEY SHOULD HAVE TAKEN TO THE OPTION OF PRAYER TO KNOW WHAT GOD WANTS. WITH FASTING AND PRAYERS GOD WILL SPEAK TO THEM ( ARE THERE NO CHARISMATICS IN AHIARA DIOCESE?). IF HE(GOD) DOESN’T WANT THE APPOINTEE-BISHOP, HE WILL HAVE A WAY OF CHANGING AND REPLACING HIM WITH ANOTHER PERSON OF HIS CHOICE. IF HE STILL WANTS HIM, HE WILL RETAIN HIM. THIS IS A SPIRITUAL MATTER THAT SHOULD BE RESOLVED SPIRITUALLY, INSTEAD OF THE BRAZEN IMPUDENT METHOD THAT IS BEING APPLIED NOW. AHIARA DIOCESE PEOPLE SHOULD UNDERSTAND THAT BY THIS SENSELESS AGITATION, THEY ARE EXPOSING THE SHALLOWNESS OF THEIR SPIRITUALITY TO THE WHOLE WORLD. REV. FR. STEPHEN NJOKU WAS STILL ALIVE WHEN THIS MATTER STARTED. DIDN’T HE SPEAK SENSE TO THESE AGITATING PRIESTS ( BEING A SON OF MBAISE TOWN)? I AM VERY MUCH ANNOYED WITH THIS MATTER, BECAUSE THIS IS TELLING GOD WHAT HE SHOULD ACCEPT, WHERE THEY SHOULD BE ASKING HIM TO SAY WHAT HE WANTS. AHIARA DIOCESE PEOPLE SHOULD BE CAREFUL. THEY ARE COURTING THE WRATH OF GOD BY THIS SENSELESS AGITATION.

  4. Oguguo is a discord sower and witchcraft agent in the church of God,now operating in Ahiara. He needs deliverance or MFM.

  5. I very strongly agree that spirituality is not “kparakpo” affair. Accordingly, the writer of this acidic article has at best laboured to put a square peg in a round hole. Certainly, Catholic Church both in history and modernization cannot be administered by peoples’ sentiments. Therefore, in vain my friend has laboured.

  6. Wht I no is dat, any tin dat hs beginning must hs an end. Let us no depend on wht pple post,but wait for Gods time, Bcos, Gods time is d best. And as we Catholics, we hv 2 stand firm and pray hard. Dis is nt d time ofargument/blame but 2 stand on our feet and pray 4 interver’n. Otito diri Jeso Christi, na ndu ebe……………! Amen.

  7. DOMINIC WHEN YOU DEFFECT TO THOSE PENTICOSTALS WILL YOU DICTATE FOR THEM ALSO? I PRAY YOU DO COS YOU ARE SPIRITUALLY DEAD. AND YOU BETTER DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, YOU AND YOUR CO-HORTS. YOU PEOPLE SHOULD SEEK GOD’S INTERUENSION.

  8. i no blem u 4 ur article na bcos of vatican 2 wey bring problem com 4 d church u 4 no get mout dey talk dis rubbish. Mek una tank God sey Rome no appoint bishop 4 una wey com 4rm kaduna archdiocese..

  9. Emmanuel C Duru on

    Those priests,Ogugua and co who are opposed to Bishop Okpaleke are carnal,they should give their lives to God.Why are they bringing ethnicity into the church.That is why all these orthodox churches are not making headways because of all these mundane issues.Our saviour is from Nazareth but worshipped worldwide.Reverend Fathers demostrating shows shows their level of spirituality,endtime endtime even in the church.

  10. I strongly doubt that this man Oguguo is a catholic. It is sad that the faithful- religious, priest and the laity of Ahaira Dioceses has allowed this issue to degenerate to the extent that politicians and non Catholics who are bent on seeing that the gate of hell prevail against the church of Christ to be having their field day. The church is ruled by theocracy and not democracy. Since the demise of Bishop Chikwe the ahiara people have not agreed on who to succeed him. There were petitions here and there and infighting and backbiting this precipitated to the appointment of a catholic priest from another Dioceses to head the Dioceses.

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