Following the deliberate disruption of the 2015 debate for Imo State gubernatorial candidates and the desecration of the venue – Obiri Odenigbo, Assumpta Cathedral, by corporate political thugs, some people, especially supporters of the desecraters have been asking the Church and indeed Archbishop Anthony Obinna to hands-off politics and face the spiritual needs of the people.
It is unfortunate that many, who hold this opinion are among the beneficiaries of Archbishop Obinna’s vocal and visible presence in the socio-political affairs of Imo State as stipulated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2032). Since the aborted debate, some self-acclaimed opinion moulders, praise-singers, political hangers on, boot lickers and ignorant commentators have been abusing the Archbishop, the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, and the Archdiocesan Newspaper – The Leader.
The purpose of this article is not to respond to the insults and vituperations on the person of the Archbishop or attack on the Archdiocese and The Leader by governor’s aides, because, according to the Book of Wisdom 2:1a, 12-22): “Ungodly men reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions… He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others…. Let us test him with insults….”
Having said this, let us go down memory lane to show that Archbishop Obinna’s vocal presence in the socio-political affairs of Imo State did not start with the present civilian – democratic dispensation or the holding of public fora for Imo gubernatorial candidates. No. It dated back to the military era when many were scared to talk or raise the alarm over the excesses of the army. But not with people like Archbishop Obinna and very few others in Imo State for example. It would be recalled that even at the peak of the dreaded regime of the late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, Archbishop Obinna was among the few who summoned courage and took the risk of condemning the dictator’s self-succession bid. Here, in Imo State, Archbishop Obinna engaged fearlessly the then Imo State Military Administrator, Col. Tanko Zubairu. The background to the confrontation was the plan by Col. Tanko Zubairu administration to merge Alvan Ikoku College of Education (AICE) and Michael Okpara College of Agriculture Umuagwo with the Imo State University, Owerri. Government’s reason for the merger was to save cost as it claimed that it did not have the financial resources to run the three institutions separately.
The plan for the merger which began in April 1998 was largely opposed by the Imo people. Angered by the opposition to the merger, the Zubairu administration began to starve the institutions of funds, to bring them to their knees so that they will acquiesce to the merger.
Worried by such developments, Archbishop Obinna issued a Press Release titled: “The Facts About Imo State’s Finances”. The Press Release, dated 9th February 1999, was published in The Leader of Sunday, February 21, 1999 and Champion Newspaper of Friday, February 12, 1991, with the caption “Cleric wants Imo Finances Probed”.
The Archbishop’s Press Release for which he was queried by Col. Tanko Zubairu reads:
“The sudden closure of the Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri by the Imo State Government, with an armored outfit mounted in front of the college gate to deal violently with any refusal by students, to quit the campus brings up not only deep pains and ugly conjectures but searching questions about government’s attitude to higher education in Imo State and government’s application of funds to tertiary institutions. It is on record that the students of Alvan made a peaceful request for attention to the college.
“When in April and May 1998 Imo citizens rallied together as one man to oppose the merger of Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri and the Michael Okpara College of Agriculture, Umuagwo with the Imo State University, it was believed that the Military Administrator and his advisers would respect the reasoned and seasoned positions of Imo citizens on the proposed merger and do their utmost to keep these institutions properly and financially afloat. The reluctance to rally adequate financial aid to these colleges once slated for a merger has given cause to believe that they are being intentionally starved of funds because of Government’s failure in its merger bid.
“Given the Special Grant of almost one billion naira made available to Imo State, as to other states, in 1998 apart from the statutory allocations, VAT and other funds flowing into Government coffers, it was expected that arrears of staff salaries could thereby be liquidated. Unfortunately it has not been so. Besides, pensioners in varying degrees of helplessness continue to moan and groan for their just wages.
“As the Professor Sam Aluko team comes to visit Imo State to check on real and radio claims about how the Special Grant of N750 million and the Ecological fund of N200 million were used to shore up our failing education, health-care system, agriculture, roads and environment, it would be necessary for this team to also address the increasing allegation of its application and diversion of funds by Government functionaries and their colluding agents, so that Imo people may truly know the facts about Imo State’s finances.
“Indeed a more judicious and compassionate application of funds in the state would have saved us the continuing concern with the fall-out of the failed merger of higher institutions in Imo State. It would have prevented the closure of Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri. It would have prevented the violent posturing with an armored car before Alvan Ikoku College of Education gate.
“Imo citizens wish to enter the transition to civilian rule with smiles, not with intimidation and bullets. Those who are depriving them of their rights and dues should be forced to release them.
“The official manipulation of the judicial system and the delay in appointing a chief judge for Imo State are matters compounding an ugly situation. Let justice be done and seen to be so, speedily”.
As expected, the above Press Release did not go down well with the Imo State Security Council headed by Col. Tanko Zubairu. So, on February 14, 1999, the Security Council handed a strongly worded query to the Archbishop. The query was titled: “Threat to the Internal Security of Imo State”.
(Read details of the query and the Archbishop’s response in our next edition).
– Emeka Ani