•‘You’ve acted like King Saul who tore the robe of Prophet Samuel’
GEORGE ONYEJIUWA and STANLEY UZOARU, OWERRI
The Biblical scene in which King Saul held tightly to the garment or robe of Prophet Samuel (who had come to deliver a divine message on his half-hearted disobedience to God’s commandment to wipe out the Amalekites), until it tore in his hand (1 Samuel 15: 1-27) turned out to be quite a tragic one as it marked the beginning of the end of Saul’s theocratic rule over the nation of ancient Israel.
According to the Biblical account, “as Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore.” Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you.”
Rochas Okorocha’s first or second name is not Saul. He is a democratically elected leader not a divinely appointed monarch. He is a governor, not a monarch. All the same, this did not stop Enyinnaya Onuegbu, former Council Chairman of Ngor Okpala and a knight of the Anglican Church, from seeing a parallel between the two, and even Eli. He made the allusion while commenting on the alleged open verbal attack on Most. Rev. Anthony Obinna, Catholic Archbishop of Owerri Diocese, by political supporters of Governor Rochas Okorocha, led by one Jeff Nwoha.
“The unfortunate twist in the saga has been ignorantly situated on whether His Lordship was assaulted or not,” he said. “This is non sequitur. The satanic reaction and aggression of the Jeff Nwoha-led invaders not only inside the church but also at the altar equals to the transgressions of Hophni, and his brother, Phinehas, in the Old Testament for which Almighty God removed the priesthood from the lineage of Eli.”
He added that the invasion of the altar of the Catholic Church during the requiem high mass of a departed Catholic mother whose daughter is dedicated to Christ as a Rev. Sister is not only an assault on the Catholic priesthood but also on God. It is immaterial whether the Archbishop was physically manhandled or not, he explained.
“I am sure commentators are missing the point,” he insisted. “By forcefully taking away the microphone from his hand and compelling him to go and sit down, the assaulters have committed an offence. I know that our modern-day leaders or public officials are like the priests of the times of Eli of old and this sacrilege took place in God’s temple. I have no doubt that the priesthood has been removed from the lineage of the Chief Priest of Imo State. The robe of the Archbishop ruffled and disorganized will be like the robe of Prophet Samuel torn by King Saul, hence the kingship shall be torn away from the traducers of Imo State.”
Archbishop Anthony Obinna who reacted through an official statement issued by the Archdiocesan spokesperson, Rev.Fr. George Nwachukwu, also likened his alleged assault by APC members loyal to the Imo State Government, to the humiliation of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Although Nwachukwu disclosed that no physical contact was made with the Archbishop, he was “verbally” attacked, he said, adding that the Archbishop and the archdiocese have decided to take no action against the APC members who were involved in the alleged assault in the church.
“We have taken the assault on the archbishop the same way Jesus was insulted, assaulted and humiliated on the cross of Calvary,” the statement noted. “We have left it in the hands of God. The assault on the church and the archbishop was very painful, provocative and highly unwarranted; but we have resolved to press no charges but to leave it in the hands of God.”
Mixed reactions on the incident
Reacting on the incident, Mr. Collins Egegbara blamed the prelate for the commotion. “The bishop should not have delved into politics knowing full well that the church service is mixed with politicians from different parties,” he said.
Edith Uchenna described the Archbishop’s speech at the church service as inciting. “Thank God, the chaos did not go beyond that, we know our bishop is highly respected and speaks his mind, but he should not have spoken the way he did even when he was aware that the governor’s wife was seated in front of him.”
But Chidi Odunze believes that “no matter what the Archbishop has said, he remains a man of God, the two parties should have respected him, they should tender an unreserved apology to him.”
Speaking in similar vein, Hon. Uche Onyeagocha, former member of the House of Representatives, noted that the governor cannot dictate to the church what sermon to preach as it is the duty of the church to point to those in government the feelings of the masses, arguing that any governor that does not want to be criticized should do the right thing for which he is elected.
He stressed that using thugs to harass the Archbishop for being critical of his bad governance is not only a sign of desperation but also an affront to the Catholic Church which he claims to be a member.
“It is high time that Okorocha called himself and his thugs to order,” he fumed. “I understand Governor Okorocha’s desperation to run for third term hiding at the back of his son in-law, but there must be a limit to the madness. Priests are entitled to their sermon/homily from the altar to the church. Imo state has not and cannot be allowed to degenerate to dictating sermons of men of God.”
He added: “If Okorocha can unleash his thugs on the church and Archbishop Obinna for a critical sermon, homily; he will kill priests, if given the chance. Governor Okorocha and any person who cannot tolerate critical sermons/homily from men of God should please keep away from churches. Priests must be allowed their space to deliver their sermons/homily as inspired by God. May I remind Gov Okorocha and Uche Nwosu that he, Okorocha, rode into power on the back of Governor Ohakim’s rough handling of a catholic priest.’’
History about to repeat itself?
The verbal attack which took place last Saturday, during the burial of the mother of Alex Mbata, Pro- Chancellor of Imo State University, at Ngwoma Obube in Owerri North, has again raised the spectre of the alleged manhandling of a Catholic priest by the security aides of former Governor, Ikedi Ohakim.
That particular incident was to become the major campaign of the people against the Ohakim-led PDP government and ultimately cost him his re-election bid in 2011, as the church had given its full support to Owelle Ethelbert Anayo Okorocha.
Is history about to repeat itself? That’s the question many people are asking in the light of the alleged public verbal attack and denigration of the hallowed office of the archbishop.
Over the years, the Catholic prelate has become not only the moral compass of the state but also the spokesman of the masses and has been doing that for decades even during the military era. He has been outspoken against bad governance in the state and has always encouraged the people to be active participants in the political process.
Hon. Damien Opara observed that it has become the hallmark of the Okorocha-led APC government and its officials to physically attack their perceived critics. “To have attacked a highly revered cleric like Archbishop Obinna under the supervision and in full glare of Governor Okorocha’s wife and his Chief of Staff is a pointer to what Imo people should expect in the days ahead as 2019 general elections draw nearer. The Archbishop’s crime was that he echoed the minds of majority of Imolites by urging the people to acquire their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) and be ready to vote out the incompetent, visionless and anti-people APC government in Imo State”.
He further argued: “the Archbishop incontrovertibly spoke the minds of Imolites who are fed up with the APC administration. It is not in doubt, that the APC has become jittery of its imminent exit from Douglas House, Owerri, and like a drowning man, is willing to clutch on anything within its reach to remain afloat including resort to brutality against perceived enemies.
“We are convinced that like Ahab, the prophet of Baal in the Holy Bible, the Imo State Government officials and their paymasters, who delight in indulging in reprehensible attacks against anointed men of God, will soon be visited with the wrath of God. God is not a man that can be mocked by mere mortals.”
Capt David Mbamara (rtd), a knight of the Anglican Church recalled that this would not be the first time that the archbishop is being assaulted by Governor Okorocha and his APC members. According him, before the last general elections, the Governor allegedly employed the use of thugs to stop the gubernatorial debate organized by the Catholic Church and to manhandle the priests. But he noted that Okorocha’s ascendancy to power was made possible by the institutions he is working so hard to destroy.
“The governor must remember how he became governor and that power is ephemeral,” he said even as he joined Okorocha not to take the patience and magnanimity of Ndi Imo for foolishness or cowardice as the people always know what to do at the right time.
“It is sad that the Governor of Imo State is determined to turn the state into a theatre of war and not of peace through his constant resort to thugs and violence. The mayhem recently unleashed on traders of Ekeukwu Owerri, Akokwa, his Deputy and now the Catholic Archbishop is a pointer to what to expect from the outgoing Governor of Imo State in his failed ambition to install his puppet as his successor.
“As nobody has monopoly of violence, let me use this opportunity to call on the Federal Government and the All Progressives Congress, APC, to call Governor Okorocha to order. Imo people have been patient enough and can no longer stand by and allow their revered institutions and resources to be continuously raped and rubbished by a man who became Governor on a platter of gold.”
More views on the attack
A member of the Imo APC who pleaded to remain anonymous said that the latest face-off between the Archbishop Obinna and the state government has put the party in a blind as Catholics who have over 70 percent of the state population regarded the insult on the Archbishop Obinna who is the head of the Owerri Catholic ecclesiastical province which includes Aba, Umuahia, Orlu, Okigwe and Ahiara as a collective insult on the church.
“It is quite unfortunate that the face-off between the church and government is coming at a time when the party is trying to put its house in order over the current internal crisis as a result of the insistence by the governor on making his son-in-law a governor,” he pointed out. “It is quite sad that those who have brought this problem are nothing but touts and not real members of the party. They have created the wrong impression that it was a premeditated attack on the Archbishop. The implication is that whoever the party presents in 2019 will have it extremely difficult to win the support of the people and that is the major reason why some prominent members of the party had earlier this year decamped to APGA’’.
Some political watchers in the state have pointed out that the latest harassment of Archbishop Obinna by supporters and officials of the government may be the beginning of the end of the party in the state.
One of them said: “If what sent Ohakim packing from the government House was the alleged beating of a priest then the insult on the Archbishop by APC supporters will even do more. In case you don’t know the Archbishop is a revered citizen of the state who people see as moral compass who has been speaking against bad governance. I think that Okorocha already knows his poor governance of the state has affected his popularity, which has declined terribly and eventually affected his party and may not really care since he is an outgoing governor. Otherwise he would have not allowed what happened.’’
In defence of Okorocha, APC
But the media aide to the Chief, Government House, Chikezie Nwadike, who said he was at the church service, absolved the APC supporters of any blame. He heaped the blame on the PDP member who collected the microphone from the Archbishop to campaign for his party.
Governor Okorocha’s Chief Press Secretary, Sam Onwuemeodo has maintained that the alleged assault was intended to blackmail his boss and the APC. In a statement he issued in Owerri, Onwuemeodo reiterated Governor Okorocha’s support for Nwosu to stand as APC candidate during the forthcoming elections in 2019. He said that no amount of intimidation or blackmail would make the youths and vast majority of the people of the State deviate from their total support for Nwosu who he added is the major headache of the opposition.
“Now seeing Uche Nwosu as the guy to beat in the 2019 election, they now think that there is no other way to stop him than through unwarranted blackmail. That is the reason, such a quintessential gentleman and an embodiment of decency should be associated with whatever that transpired at the event in question.”
He also noted that the issue of being an in-law to Governor Okorocha has refused to fly, hence the change in their tactics. “For weeks now, they have flooded the social media with one ugly story or the other against the young man, but to Imo people, such elements are wasting their time,” he stated. “They do not know that when God has said yes to any project nobody can say no.”