by Rev. Marcel Divine Emeka Okwara, CSsR is a Catholic priest and he wrote from Baton Rouge, LA, USA
The Catholic priest, Father Ejike Mbaka, of Enugu Diocese does not need any introduction in Nigeria. He is by far, the most popular and well known priest in the country. His fame, ministry and preaching style are well known. There are very few Catholic clerics in Nigeria and Africa that can attract the type of mammoth crowd that follows him to his Adoration Ministry ground and wherever else he goes to. When it comes to fame and popularity, he does not need any introduction; so, I would not spend my time doing that. But I want to share my view on the most recent controversial sermon he delivered on New Year eve.
From the onset of his ministry, Fr. Mbaka has been known for his fiery sermons. From time to time, he usually goes after corrupt politicians in Nigeria and attacks them from the pulpit. He has attacked their selfishness, greed, and moral decadence. Fr. Mbaka is not just a preacher of the gospel, he is also a passionate and fearless advocate for change, a voice for the voiceless, a fighter for the poor and a tireless man of God.
Aside throwing punches on irresponsible leaders, he has also made comments that supported some politicians in Nigeria. It is on record that at a certain time, he did throw his support behind President Goodluck Jonathan. It is on record that he prayed over Mr. Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate President and even said some kind words in his favor as he seeks another term in the senate. It is also on record that when Dame Patience Jonathan, the wife of President Goodluck Jonathan, came to the Adoration Ground, Fr. Mbaka prayed for her and her husband. He even rebuked those antagonizing her husband, called her husband “Good President” and also said that God would make him great. Before his controversial New Year Sermon, he had praised the president for “doing well” and defended him against those who criticize him for failing to rescue the abducted girls.
Now, when Fr. Mbaka praised President Jonathan, there was hardly any criticism against him. When he called him “good president,” no one accused him of taking bribe from the ruling Party. When he said that the president was doing a good job, the opposition Party, APC did not call him names or threaten his life. When the man of God strongly defended Mr. Jonathan for his failure to rescue the kidnapped girls, no one asked his bishop to call him to order. When he prayed and uttered that Jonathan should continue in office, and that he would be great, there was no vitriol against him.
But immediately he lampooned and lambasted the president, and called him to resign, all hell was let loose. Some have accused him of taking bribe from Buhari and APC. Some said he is angry because he was not given any oil block. Some said he went after the president because the First Lady did not fulfill the monetary promise she made at the Adoration Ground. Some Lay Catholics and some Catholic priests are urging his bishop to sanction him. Two notable Archbishops in Nigeria had already emerged to quickly and publicly distance the Nigerian Catholic Church from Fr. Mbaka’s messages. Some commentators on social media are urging men of God to focus on the preaching of the gospel and leave politics alone.
But in the past when he supported Jonathan and spoke in his defense, his life was not threatened by the supporters of the opposition political parties. In fact, little or no criticism was thrown at him. I did not see, read or hear any Catholic hierarchy stepping forward to immediately denounce him for supporting the president. But as soon as he expressed his dissatisfaction with the performance of the president and called on Nigerians to embrace change, all sorts of people are leveling bitter and cruel criticisms at him.
If I may ask, why are these people mad at the Reverend gentleman? Why are they crucifying him? Why would anybody want him suspended or dead? I have carefully listened to the so-called controversial sermon of Fr. Mbaka and I must say that I agree with him 90% of the time.
The suffering of the working class he described is true. The plight of ordinary Nigerians he pointed out in his sermon is true and verifiable. His description of the performance of President Jonathan is accurate. The joblessness of the Nigerian youth he talked about is right on point. Apart from other satirical comments he made, every other thing Fr. Mbaka said about the performance of President Goodluck Jonathan since he was elected in office is true.
It is true that the president has failed to effectively tackle the noticeable problems of corruption. In fact, during his media chat in 2014, he shocked the entire world when he said that the looting of the nation’s wealth is not corruption but stealing. It is true that the government of Jonathan has not made any serious dent on unemployment. It is true that sectarian insurgency has continued unabated. It is true that some churches in the Northeast, including Catholic Churches have been shut down due insecurity.
According to Fr. Mbaka, “In the year 2014, we have a lot of bloodshed in this country. People were dying like rats without anybody asking about them. This country suffered a lot of blood experience.” Those comments are true and verifiable. Several months after our girls were kidnapped from their hostels, President Jonathan is yet to visit their community. Any American president who demonstrates such lack of empathy will be finished politically.
It is also true that the Nigeria’s decaying infrastructures are not being repaired and updated. It is true that the construction of the second Niger Bridge has not even started. The old one is weak and is being overused. One wonders if the government is waiting until it collapses and kills scores of people before something can be done about it. But as the presidential campaign gathers momentum, Jonathan would go to the Southeast and rehash the same old and tired promises he made four years ago. Instead of attacking the messenger, people should examine the core of the message. Truth be told, this president has failed the nation. His policies are not working. The looting of the Nigerian wealth has hit and shot off the roof. It is so bad that some are already speculating that the corruption happening under him makes that of IBB and Obasanjo a tip of the iceberg. The president may be a good man (some people, including Fr. Mbaka, have suggested that), but the issue here is that after six years in office, he has not been able to change the trajectory of the country. The nation is still heading to a disastrous wrong direction.
Election is next month (February 14, 2015). Fr. Mbaka has warned that “the continuity of Jonathan means ‘disaster’ to Nigeria.” Four years ago when he was campaigning, I predicted that if he got elected, Nigerians would regret it. Today, I have been vindicated. If the Nigerian voters are like the American voters, then, Jonathan would have no viable path to being re-elected. But in Nigeria, our people play by a different set of rules. A candidate is hardly voted for based on competence or achievement; and most Nigerian people would still line up to vote for a failed leader, irrespective of their own economic woes and that of others. Voting is done largely on ethnic and religious lines.
Jonathan may be reelected. Fr. Mbaka did not say he would not. He never prophesied that Jonathan would lose. So, for haters and rumor-mongers who would be first to accuse Fr. Mbaka of false and fake prophecy, the priest of God did not say that Jonathan was certainly going to lose. He only said that if Jonathan was re-elected, many are going to lose their jobs, and those complaining of hunger now would see the real hunger. Those are predictions based on observable conditions. Fr. Mbaka did not tell us that God had told him or shown him in a vision that Jonathan would lose. Rather, he has called on Nigerians to stand up and embrace change. That change according to him means, voting Jonathan out, so that, his office, another can take.
Nigerians, elections have consequences! If you like the current state of Nigeria, then vote for the incumbent president. If the infrastructural decay across the country makes you happy, vote for Jonathan. If the pitiable state of the Nigerian roads gladdens your heart, then re-elect the president. If the near worthlessness of the Naira is good for your business, cast your vote for Jonathan. If you are happy that after several months, the over 200 school girls kidnapped from their hostel are yet to be rescued, then stand in line and re-elect Jonathan. If you believe with Mr. Jonathan Goodluck that the looting of the nation’s wealth is not corruption but stealing, then vote to return him to office. If it pleases you that several smaller African countries with less natural and human resources experience uninterrupted power supply, meanwhile, Nigeria, the so called “Giant of Africa” is yet to enjoy one day of steady supply of electricity nationwide, vote for Jonathan Goodluck. If the high cost of living in Nigeria, high cost of doing business, high cost of building your own house etc. does not bother you one bit, then vote for the incumbent president. If the constant threat to human life and property posed by the activities of Boko Haram and kidnappers does not perturb you, vote for Jonathan. If you are generally pleased with the ruling party, PDP (Peoples Democratic Party), then vote for their presidential candidate. If you are frustrated and jobless, and you are pleased with your condition, vote for the incumbent president.
During his recent campaign in Lagos, Mr. Goodluck said, “We have plans for employment generation…I have set up two bodies headed by the Vice President made up of people in government and the private sector. We call them Presidential Job Creation Board and Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises Council, working very hard to ensure that every year, two million jobs are created.” Folks, this president has been in office for six years, and after those years, it is just now that he is putting together a plan to create jobs for Nigerians. Where has he been for six years?
Nigerians, when Mr. Jonathan was asked why he has not declared his assets, his response was, “I don’t give a damn.” May be, he does not give a damn about you and your welfare. Come February 14, 2015, the choice will be yours. Like I said before, elections have consequences. If President Goodluck Jonathan is re-elected, then you deserve whatever leadership he provides.