Retired Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, explains why the clergy should not mix religion with politics. He speaks against the backdrop of the statement by the Enugu-based Catholic priest and founder of Adoration Ground, Father Ejike Mbaka, that members of his congregation should reject President Goodluck Jonathan in the general elections.
How do you see the statement credited to Rev. Father Ejike Mbaka?
Any serious priest will not speak the way he spoke. I am not saying that he is not serious. I will not agree with the things he said. According to what I read in the newspapers, a few weeks earlier, the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, visited his Adoration Ground in Enugu and he prayed for her. At that occasion, he was said to have lambasted the opposition party, APC, and now to turn around overnight and start lambasting President Goodluck Jonathan shows that there is something wrong somewhere.
Personally, I felt bad because it is not the place of a priest to go to that extent. He can have his personal opinion, but to go to the extent that he went is abnormal. I want you to know that he wasn’t speaking for the church. He said he was moved by the spirit, and I wonder what kind of spirit was that.
He said he was under the inspiration of the spirit. If he was under the inspiration of the spirit, I wonder if the spirit is that of God. I don’t think the spirit he’s referring to is the spirit of God. He must have been under the influence of another spirit. He must have been listening to a wrong spirit.
Is the statement not embarrassing to the Catholic Church as a whole?
Indeed, it is. But I must say to you that he was not speaking on behalf of the church. No! No!! No!!! Anybody with such opinion is in error. The man cannot hold brief for the church. Pardon me, but how can I say you are bloody fool and anybody takes that to mean that all journalists are bloody fools. It’s very funny.
In a situation such as this, what does the Catholic Church do?
Well, the Catholic Church is structured in such a way that there are dioceses where each priest belongs. This particular priest happens to come from Enugu Diocese, so it is left for the bishop in charge of that diocese to discipline him. If the priest fails to obey the discipline, then the bishop is obligated to report the mother to the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN.
You may have heard the Bishop of Abuja Diocese, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, who said that if the priest were to be in his diocese, he would discipline him straight. But he is not in his diocese. The best anyone of us can do is just to advise him that he had gone too far and he is free to take our advice and he may not. God gave every one of us a free will and we are at liberty to use the freewill as we choose.
What kind of sanction can be given to such a priest?
It depends on his bishop. You cannot dictate for his bishop. Don’t forget that this same man was at loggerheads with a former governor of Enugu State, Chimaroke Nnamanni, and it was the same Adoration Ground in Enugu. If I have my way, we should close that place because a lot of things have been happening there that are out of tune. I think Gov. Peter Obi also went there for prayers at one point. If I have my way, I won’t go there for anything….
Your advice for politicians who are currently jostling for votes….
One of them came out publicly recently to say that if you are a politician and you cannot tell a lie…how then that anyone wants to go into politics? If they can openly say such a thing, it means they have been deceiving the people all this while. So, I don’t really know. Any good politician must, first and foremost, must have the fear of God in him. A responsible politician, irrespective of the office you are vying for—because they say whatever has a beginning must have an end—must begin by developing the fear of God in him because by and by your tenure will eventually come to an end.
It’s because of greed that most of them are clamouring for second or more terms. Any politician that has finished his first term and is asking for a second term, there is something wrong with him. If we look at it critically, after four years what is he clamouring for a second term for? I cannot understand Nigerians. Some of us are damn greedy. They don’t have the fear and respect for the down trodden.
Now they are up and about the whole place…they can even lick your boot now because they are canvassing for votes, but as soon as they get the votes they begin to show you pepper. They don’t regard the poor citizens that are out there; forgetting that someday and one day they may return to the status quo.
Whatever has a beginning must have an end. This is the time you get them talking but they won’t look at their manifestoes, but because they want to get to power they are going to everybody. Some of them have come to me here and I told them off: one of the first thing you’ve got to do is get religion off your mind because it is like putting petrol in a fire. You don’t mix politics with religion and some people came to me, saying, ‘Look at the situation in Lagos, what are we going to do?’ What are you going to do? Are they your God? Do they own the nation? The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Any clergyman that mixes religion with politics is finished including their church because they will not be spared.
Politicians are taking their campaigns to churches. Is it a healthy development?
It is not! They should keep religion out of politics. Don’t forget each person has his or her own mind. During harvest, you have the priest and the assistant priest and you go out to invite another priest to preach, that will affect what I am going give, because I have already made up my mind on what I am going to give. They come to church to canvas for votes.
It should not be allowed by anybody. I don’t really know what to do because this election, hmm hmm hmm, I am afraid. Imagine their utterances! Look at what Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) said about Shariah in 2011, that is what they are harping on now in 2015. Why? When did you hear about Shariah last? This kind of thing is annoying. Look at the recent campaign launch that produced over N21 billion. Where did they get the money from when people are hungry? No water. No electricity. No roads. I just wonder what kind of government we have in this country. These are all corrupt persons and they will want me to cast their vote for them.