The church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, is one of the most vibrant religious establishments, with millions of adherents across the nooks and crannies of the country. As the next synod of the church approaches, some issues about its leadership have arisen. Some have posited that, as a church, it should uphold a higher standard of equity and fairness as the ground and pillar of truth as described by Apostle Peter and show a good example to the world.
Against this backdrop, they are calling for more inclusive leadership for the church, which would ensure that other parts of the country that have not tasted the topmost leadership of the church, which is the Primate’s position, should be given an opportunity to do so.
For instance, brethren from the South West held the post of primate for over 30 years, before the emergence of Archbishop Nicholas Okoh as Primate of the Church at the end of the tenure of Primate Peter Jasper Akinnola.
The South East, which has shown uncommon commitment to the church over the years, is an area that the members and leadership of the church should look towards this time in choosing the successor of Primate Okoh, who hails from Ika, Delta State.
Before now, It had been alleged that the outgoing primate, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, was a south-easterner but it has been proved that he is from Ika, the non-Igbo speaking part of Delta State, which has even declared that they do not belong to the Ohanaeze, the umbrella socio-cultural organisation of the Igbo.
Why doesn’t the church, therefore, look towards other eminent archbishops from the South East and the Igbo-speaking areas of Delta and Rivers states who are also high-ranking archbishops with morality and sound spiritual commitment as a way of ensuring equity and rewarding the Igbo who have contributed immensely to the growth of the Anglican Church, including assisting the legendary Bishop Ajayi Crowther to spread the Church in Nigeria?
If the church wants to reward the Igbo, they should look in this direction because, as things stand today, we have high-ranking archbishops from the area. These archbishops from the South East are eminently qualified for the position of Primate in terms of experience, age, exposure, intellect and spiritual sagacity.
There is also an eminently qualified candidate from the North who is already the dean of the Church and, according to the constitution of the church, the Primate and the dean cannot come from the same geopolitical enclave, except he quits the post of dean.
Now, for the Anglican Church to continue to thrive in peace and unity, the forthcoming Synod in Asaba and Abuja at which a new primate will be chosen must be based on the need to give other parts of Nigeria the opportunity of serving in that high capacity.
Since the South West has occupied the post for over 30 years and the South South has enjoyed it through Primate Okoh, it will be fair and just to now give it to an Igbo-speaking priest of high caliber. This will give such parts of the country a sense of belonging and ensure greater harvest of souls and Church growth. This is important, especially if someone from the South East is given the opportunity.
The North should have also been considered but for the issue of the deanship, which someone from the area occupies.
One other important task before the Anglican Church today, which is threatening the unity and peace of the church, is the issue of the selection of the Archbishop of the Niger Province, which was formerly held by Bishop Efobi from the Aguata Diocese and Bishop Anikwenwa, the Archbishop Awka Diocese. Both were elected as Archbishops of the Greater Anglican Province, which covered many parts of the South East.
It must be recalled that the Niger Province is the mother of the Anglican Church in the south-east of the country, from where many provinces and archbishops have emanated, without the Onitsha Diocese producing an archbishop.
As things stand now, the Bishop of Amichi is Ikeakor, Bishop Owen Okeke is of the Niger Diocese, while Bishop Ibezim is of the Awka Diocese. Bishop Efobi who occupied that position in the past was a product of Aguata Province. Bishop Anikwenwa who also occupied the post was a product of Awka Diocese. Therefore, it will be of natural justice that the Niger Diocese, which is the pioneer Diocese of the Niger, should now be given a chance to occupy the office. Bishop Owen Okeke of the Niger Diocese is, therefore, an ideal priest to occupy the office. Bishop Ikeakor may want to continue at Amichi as the Bishop of the Diocese, as he is a younger priest.
Many parishioners are already excited about the possibility of Bishop Okeke occupying the office as he has been described as God-sent to the area and the majority of the church members in the area have welcomed the idea.
Some bishops of the area now eyeing the seat have been accused of getting involved with politicians. These should be watched closely to avoid the emergence of anyone with political interest.
Bishop Owen Okeke’s high sense of morality, discipline, spirituality and love for church members have been roundly hailed. He stands shoulders high above others.
It must be empahsised that the church cannot jettison the major qualities for one to occupy such a sensitive spiritual office. There are over 10 dioceses under the Niger Province and it is, therefore, a big area. The ideal priest must be spiritually sound, long after the things of God, be decent, must not be materialistic or mercantile, and must be able to manage his diocese properly.
So, as the 55 dioceses of the Anglican Church east of the Niger meet tomorrow on these issues, they should be properly guided by the need to pick the best and most qualified on the altar of equity and justice.
Though the final selection is to take place on July 3 in Lagos, these ideals should guide their decisions for the progress of the Church and glory of God.
The new Archbishop of the Niger Province must be above board.
This season of crucial meetings should be a time for of sober reflections, when the clerics should allow the Holy Spirit to help them choose the next Archbishop of the Niger Province. As they converge, they should focus on the spiritual, and the choice that will bring blessings and revival to the church. It should not be a choice based on carnal and wordly standards.
The church must march on and the gates of hell cannot prevail!
•Okpala is a commentator on national Issues