As in some other churches, there are people holding high positions in the Anglican Communion, Church of Nigeria, who have little business being in its ministry of ordained priests. They seem driven by love of power and positions, rather than the task of saving souls. They engage in all manner of politics.
The post of the Archbishop of the Province of the Niger comprising all nine dioceses in Anambra State will soon become vacant. The current office holder, The Right Reverend Godwin I. N. Okpala, Bishop of Nnewi, is about to attain the mandatory retirement of 70 years. Consequently, a lot of people are doing different things to gain public attention. Some of these people were not known to have done anything to promote interests of the Anglican Communion, let alone defend Christianity in Nigeria which has in recent years been under violent attacks. With the election into the office of the Archbishop of the Province of the Niger getting closer, they have been grabbing news headlines with sheer theatricals.
It may be only coincidental that at the close of the 5th Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Aguata in May, 2019, Bishop Samuel Ezeofor dwelt on politics. His followers had expected him to use his exalted office to call attention to such issues as bribery and corruption, electoral brigandage and the unbearably high amounts spent on political leaders like National Assembly members who consume 25% of the annual national budget, according to the immediate past Governor of the Central Bank, Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, now the Emir of Kano. Some followers expected him to speak of measures to make Anglican schools as competitive as Catholic ones like Regina Pacis and Christ the King College, both in Onitsha, Anambra State.
In fact, Bishop Ezeofor could have used the opportunity to challenge Anglicans in the 55 dioceses of the church in the former Eastern Nigerian Region not to let their collectively owned higher institution, Paul University, Awka, collapse. Since Nigeria’s former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme, who was the university’s Governing Council chairman and benefactor, died in November, 2017, the university has fallen on hard times. The staff members have not been paid for the past 10months. The situation used to be worse. The result was that it lost its best researchers, teachers and administrators in droves. Even the student population is nothing to write home about. To worsen matters, the students have become restive. They rioted two weeks ago over what they called incessant robberies in the school. The robberies have been carried out because the security staff members are demoralized.
How one wishes that the current near comatose state of Paul University, Awka, had been brought by any of the bishops to the attention of wealthy church members in a way that would prick their individual and collective consciences. The pitiable state of this higher institution will remain to the eternal shame and disgrace of those who profess the Anglican faith. Their leaders should bear the brunt of this scandal.
Instead of Bishop Ezeofor, for instance, to raise matters like this at the Synod, he dived brazenly into partisan politics in a way no bishop in Nigeria’s history has ever done.
According to media reports, he heaped endless abuses on Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State for not supporting the John Nwodo-led Ohaneze Ndigbo to endorse Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the February presidential election. He also demanded that the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) zone its governorship to the southern senatorial part of Anambra State where he comes from, and that the gubernatorial candidate be picked from the Anglican Communion.
No Synod in Nigeria’s history is known to have been conducted so brazenly in partisan terms. There was, based on reports available to the public, no mention of the need for Anglicans to lead saintly lives, so that they can make heaven. No extortion to avoid evil and immoral deeds in Nigerian society. It was rather all about politics, power and position.
Some Anglican bishops are a threat to the faith. Engr Paul Erinne, who built the massive Erinne Hostel at Paul University, is out of the church on account of the conduct and utterances of some bishops. Together with another Anglican, Dr Ernest Obiejesi of Ernest Oil, he is bringing a campus of Loyola Jesuit College, the elite Catholic school based in Abuja, to their hometown of Okija in Ihiala Local Government Area. Engr Erinne, whose grandfather brought the Anglican Church to Okija, has just completed a rectory for the Christ the King Church at Ubahu, Okija, a Catholic parish. He may well be on his way to the Catholic Church, in the footsteps of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as well as a number of Anglican priests in England.
It is most embarrassing that some Anglican bishops are obsessed with power, position and politics. The Holy Bible wonders what will be our fate if we gain the whole of earthly power and possessions but lose our souls (Matthew 16: 26). The Bible also goes to warn against times like this when teachers could teach anything but sound doctrines. 2 Timothy 4:3 states: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrines. Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear”.
The Anglican Communion worldwide has faced enough scandals in recent years. The world was shocked when in 2003 Rev Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in the United States became the first openly gay bishop in the church. Bishop Robinson, treated for alcoholism in 2006, was to end his so-called marriage in 2014 to Mr Andrew after 25 years; he had earlier divorced his legitimate wife with whom he has two children.
As the church is going to elect a new Archbishop for the Province of the Niger, care must be taken to ensure that only the best is chosen. The church cannot afford embarrassing scenarios any more. A bishop, especially one elevated to the archbishop status, should be “a wholesome example to the flock”, as Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Primate of the Anglican Communion in Nigeria, put it in his statement in 2013 announcing the decision to make the Nigerian Anglican Province autonomous; the Church of England and the Anglican Church in Canada as well as the Episcopal Church in the United States have failed most Christians around the globe over the ordination of openly gay priests as bishops.
The Anglican Communion in Anambra State in particular needs an archbishop who can save her from some of her leaders. In the moving and most memorable words of Jesus Christ, “many are called but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:1). God bless us all.