After delivering his 2018 Easter Message at Assumpta Secretariat Owerri, the Most Rev. Anthony Obinna Catholic Archbishop of Owerri interacted with journalists, answering questions outside the Easter message.
Has the Church any role in politics?
Yes, the church has a role in politics. In fact, the Catholic Church has played key role in the politics of Nigeria and Imo State. After the cancellation of the June 12 elections, which were considered free & fair, the Catholic bishops of Nigeria issued a Prayer for Nigeria in distress and when Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1998, he joined us in saying that prayer. If you have time to look at the Catholic bishops communiqué between 1993 and 1998, before the transition in 1999, you’ll see how vigorous the bishops spoke about the state of the nation and the need for healing. I was part of the delegation of Archbishops that visited the then Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha on Sept. 26, 1994 to protest against continued military rule in this nation. And in Imo State, when the Military Administrator, Col Tanko Zubairu wanted to close down Alvan Ikoku College of Education and College of Agriculture, Umuagwo and fuse them into Imo State University, I had to get the Anglican Bishop of Owerri, Rt. Rev. Benjamin Nwankiti to protest the move. I drafted a press release, which I made Bishop Nwankiti to sign with me. It was published in the Community Concord newspaper, with the headline, – “Bishops Oppose Merger of Institutions in Imo.” It was with that public awareness that the fight was carried on which eventually ended with Zubairu addressing Imo people on the issue. I was at the Government House to represent the church and to insist that Alvan should not be closed down because education is our principal industry and if you close these two institutions, the number of those to be admitted would become limited.
You can now see the benefit of keeping Alvan which is now a federal institution and College of Agriculture Umuagwo which has also expanded to a renowned polytechnic in Nigeria. So, these are only indications of the kind of involvement we have been in, but particularly with the democratization of the nation. Also, through our Justice Development and Peace Commission/Caritas, JDPC, we have been conducting voter education, monitoring elections and outside of them, we have been taking care of so many people that government cannot take care of. That’s why we have the Eu-care programme through which we spend millions of naira to feed, to house and to clothe as well as give health to our people. So, we have programme for charity to cushion the effects of injustice. The reason we do charity is because there not enough justice. If there were enough justice, charity would become less. Though even when justice had been established there will still be need for charity incase some people are not getting their own level of justice as expected. So, the church has been there. With regards to education, the church is involved. We are there to restore the standard quality of education also.
At a time, the former governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim returned mission schools in 2010. The schools, like Holy Ghost College Owerri was a den of cultists. It was more known for cultism and some other schools. But now Holy Ghost College Owerri has been sanitized with some other schools. We’ve built a few new schools in other to obtain quality education. We’ve tried to even involve potential candidates for office, particular governorship. We’ve had open debate to interview some of the candidates to find out what kind of quality they had. But the entry of the present regime was a default more than an intentional desire. So, we had occasions for political seminars, inviting people from the national office of Church and Society Abuja, with certain international foundations. We’ve been in league also with some NGOs promoting good governance.
In 2006, we inaugurated the Prayer for Upright Voting, Accurate Counting and Impartial Announcement of Results, in the presence of the then INEC chairman, Prof Maurice Iwu. We inaugurated that prayer which also concientizes people because we are a praying people even though we are corrupt but we’ll continue to pray hoping that we shall become holier than corrupt. So, the church has never shied away. Even at the international level, the church has been involved, even from the Papacy. When Lech Walesa & Solidarity (the Soviet bloc’s first independent Trade Union that changed Poland and the world) was in motion in Poland, they got a lot of inspiration from Pope Paul II. And because of that, the KGB (Committee for State Security, the main security agency for Russia, and the world’s largest spy and state-security machine, involved in all aspects of life of everyday people in the Soviet Union), influenced the Mehmet Ali Agca’s (a Turkish terrorist) attack on the pope on May 13, 1981. The pope was shot as part of his prophetic reward. So, we take cue from the church’s social document; the church has social team, we encourage people not to sit on the fence and watch; and not to think that it’s only the Archbishop that can talk. In other places, citizens speak up and the media help also to project the truth but sometimes, the media are not courageous enough independently to tackle the powers that be, except when they report some of the strong words that we say, which are not directly from journalists, but indirectly from them anyway.
You used a funeral Mass at Ngwoma Obube to talk about politics. Why not find another platform? What other platform do I have, other than church platform? This is where I speak. And you need to read Msgr. Nathaniel Ndiokwere’s input in The Leader. It is also in the social media. Where did Jesus Christ speak? Synagogues and Temples. These were where he gave his message. What other platform do I have? Stadium? Heroes Square? Government House? It is in the church, in the Cathedral and through the parishes. These are my platforms.
Message to Catholics, especially those in politics
Some are not interested in the church. Some of them say, “Don’t mind the Archbishop, he should stop disturbing us.” They are interested in sharing the money! Some are like Judas, because of earthly things, they are ready to betray the church, deny Christ. They are weak Catholics. They don’t take life of holiness seriously – no confession, no communion. In the church they look holy; outside the church they’re something else. Desperation for power and money and desperation occasioned by miserable poverty are the double tragedy of our time. The miserably poor are impoverished by powerful criminals who use money and power to enslave them. They use money as a bet for the poor, to make them subservient and obsequiously submissive.