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Limits to religious blackmail

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An idea which needs weapons to survive will die.
A living idea conquers by itself.
– Jerzy Popieluszko

EVEN before the outrage that greeted the confrontation against the Anambra State Government, believed to be instigated by Bishop of the Anglican Communion and his wife had died down, a fresh wave of incitement against Gov. Willie Obiano administration has been launched from the same quarters.

On Friday, Nov. 2, ndi Anambra were woken, by jarring news that some pastors of the Anglican faith blocked the access into the Government House, the seat of Government in Awka.

The said priests were said to be protesting against Anambra State Government’s stoppage of a construction work at the Crowther Memorial Primary School, Onitsha.

On account of this, government and the diocese are currently locked in legal battle over rightful ownership of the school. Indeed, the matter is already in a law court.

After the Nigeria-Biafra civil war on Jan. 12, 1970, the then Government of the East Central State, from where the new Anambra State was carved out, under Mr Ukpabi Asika, as the administrator, took over all schools within its area of authority.

It is instructive that it was not the administration of Gov. Willy Obiano that took over schools; rather the government had been facilitating the handover of schools to its former owners, following a procedure. The plan to handover schools began with immediate past administration in the state.

But ‘there are protests and there are protests’. A civilised demonstration need not degenerate to infringement of the rights of others. A public expression of grievances is within everyone’s right but not so in this case of a predetermined quest to lock down Government House.

An attempt to lockdown a government is an obvious breech of the peace; indeed it is criminal offence and a treasonable offence at that.

A lockdown of the seat of Government obviously denies the governor, staff and even ordinary citizens the right of access into the facility – which was exactly what the assembly did.

They took undue liberties, when they should have been more humane and circumspect. And so, it was their word against that of the government on ownership of the school.

Above all, the matter had gone to court; and, therefore, the right thing to do in the circumstance is to await the court’s judgment, expected to establish rightful ownership of the school.

There were, perhaps, two possible reasons for the dramatised protest. The march was intended to influence court judgment; to convey a misleading impression that wide sections of the public are opposed to and indeed hurting from Government’s position on ownership of the school.

The carefully choreographed stunt of bringing chairs and sitting in tight formations at Government House and chanting confrontational songs was obviously designed to provoke Government into an action.

The anticipated reaction of the state government to this bait of challenging its authority could have elicited out cries of `persecution, persecution and persecution’.

The vain demonstration was complemented with a barrage of caustic propaganda and political sermons – which mercifully bore the Freudian slip of the real antagonism against the present order in the state. I will shortly return to this.

The state government and ndi Anambra in general are to be commended for taking these provocations in their strides.

It was hoped, naively, some would say, that time and continued demonstration of Gov. Obiano’s fairness to all religious groups, would lead the misguided activists to abandon their pranks of self righteousness.

This optimism appears to have been misplaced. If anything, the conspiracy against the Obiano administration by some leaders of the Anglican Church has gone notches higher.

To the utter shock and revulsion of the generality of ndi Anambra, an extraordinary meeting of the church hierarchy has just passed a resolution calling on the Anambra House of Assembly to initiate impeachment process against Gov. Willie Obiano.

According to the communiqué: ‘Willie Obiano is the governor of only Catholics and has abdicated his responsibilities to the Anglicans, Pentecostals and Traditionalists and by so doing, has declared himself unfit to govern Anambra State as an unbiased leader.

“The declaration went further to repeat claims of ownership of Crowther Memorial Primary School and one or two other perceived denials.’’

Perhaps, it is better to start the interrogation of this outburst by asking the authors if Catholics, Anglicans, Pentecostals and Traditionalists are the only religious groups in Anambra State.

Why have they consigned the Methodists, Salvation Army, Jehovah’s Witness, Sabbath Mission, Seventh Day Adventists, Lutherans, Bahai Faith, Deists, Atheists and a host of other groups with distinct doctrines and rites to the dustbin of non-recognition?

Are these other faiths not entitled to the special consideration that these Anglican clergy demand for their own? As conscientious objectors, who must be obeyed without question, do they not realise that they are bound by the same laws of infallibility?

But beyond the hypocritical, the grounds of Catholicism on which the resolution rests, reconnects us to the link I had earlier promised to return.

This whole persecution saga of deep seated prejudice might be against the fact that another Catholic emerged as the Governor of Anambra State.

We are faced with the discontent of promoters of religious hegemony that cannot live with the reality that Obiano is the third consecutive Catholic to assume headship of the Anambra State, since Dr Chris Ngige.

This intolerance to political reality has no doubt stunned observers as religious tolerance ought to be freely canvassed by all regions.

The 28th Synod of the Anglican Diocese on the Niger rose on June 3, 2011, with the same theme of state marginalisation of Anglicans.

The communiqué noted a litany of complaints: “we have noted the claim in some quarters that Anambra State is a Roman Catholic State.

“There are unacceptably fewer Anglicans as heads of tertiary institutions in the state as well as very few Anglicans in senior academic and administrative positions in those institutions.

“Similar situations exist in the Ministry of Education…The clergy feels that we have become politically marginalised in Anambra State.

“This view is supported by the fact that the number of Anglicans occupying sensitive positions in the three tiers of government, as well as the judiciary and other arms of government are relatively fewer.’

Why are we not told how the fewness of Anglicans in high public offices was determined? What was this perceived marginalisation based on? And why are we not told about the representation of other faiths for a rounded picture?

On August 2014, just five months into the inception of the Obiano administration, the Anglican Communion and the Nkwelle – Ezunaka community were locked in a struggle over ownership of Oyolu Eze Primary School.

Consequently, the state government set up a 6-man Committee to investigate the dispute and make recommendations. And this became a mortal sin of denominational marginalisation.

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