NIGERIA is not alien to activist priests. The best known of them include the emeritus Catholic Archbishop Olubunmi Okogie; Bishop Matthew Kukah; and Rev. Father Ejike Mbaka of the Catholic Adoration Ministries. It is like it has become the exclusive preserve of Catholic priests to be activists here while the Pentecostals, Anglicans (with the exception, perhaps, of emeritus Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi), and the white-garment priests mind their own business, as it were.
The most outspoken of them make occasional forays and retreat speedily into their shell. It was, thus, a pleasant surprise penultimate week when an Anglican priest, Reverend Canon Uche Chinamerem, of the Diocese of Owerri, Imo State, decided to dramatically draw attention to the failure of governance in neighbouring Anambra State. Chinamerem chose to celebrate Nigeria’s 56th Independence Day anniversary at a refuse dump on Douglas Road, Onitsha, a city famous for its market and entrepreneurship.
To start with, the expansive refuse dump, right in the middle of the road and in the city centre, so to say, is an embarrassment. That we can have such a sorry sight among homo sapiens, notwithstanding the multiple layers of duly designated authorities, is sad indeed. I did not know whether to cry or laugh as the priest, with the assistance of an aide, took out a glass cup, popped champagne, poured himself a drink, and thereafter sat cross-legged on a chair to enjoy his drink; with the refuse dump serving as photographic montage in the background. I felt like throwing up!
Chinamerem, who is also said to be the Chaplain of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Imo State University, had this to say: “I went to celebrate in front of the refuse dump, because what is there is shameful. Let us accept that the government refused to clear the refuse, how can a normal human being go to the market every day, trade within that dirty environment, and think nothing about the refuse? Don’t we have market women association, community groups or vigilantes in the area? Obviously, they are waiting for the government to clear the refuse. In Igbo parlance, we say a rejected man does not reject himself. Why have we decided to reject ourselves? Why can’t we clear the refuse and tell the government that if it cannot be responsible, we are responsible citizens? So, this is not just about spiting the government but (also) telling our people to wake up and do the right thing when the government has failed.” The priest’s sophistry notwithstanding, his action was a scantily-concealed spite on the government of Anambra State; and not only the governor of that state should bury his head in shame or descend heavily on those who have failed him in this regard, the local government chairman, the senator, House of Representatives member and Anambra State House of Assembly members representing that constituency also should all be ashamed of themselves. This is what we mean when we say councils collect Federal allocations with not much to show for it; and that constituency allowances\projects of federal lawmakers hardly benefit their constituencies.
Now to the priest: I tried to fathom why Chinamerem left Imo to come look for trouble in Anambra. Is he a native of Anambra? He must be careful not to be termed busybody and meddlesome interloper, to quote a judge, or be accused, like Mbaka, of harbouring political motives. Douglas Road in Anambra State cannot be the only dirty road in the whole of the South-East. Is the priest saying there are no dirty roads or refuse dumps in Imo State where he is based? Number Two: He claimed to be drawing attention to the dirty habit or lifestyle of the people – which is right – but did it not also occur to him that popping champagne and settling down right under the refuse to enjoy his drink was also a dirty habit? It was loathsome – an eyesore – seeing him enjoy a drink under such condition. Number three: He took umbrage against government; market women association, community groups, and vigilance groups in the area. Why, he asked, did they not take up the challenge when it appeared government had shirked its responsibility? Good question, but the same question also applies to the priest – why did he not take up the responsibility of clearing the refuse instead of simply drawing attention to it and using it to launch himself into the limelight?
And this is the crux of the matter: In pointing finger at others, the remaining four fingers pointed at Chinamerem himself. What he should have done was, go to the refuse dump with shovels and wheelbarrows, come along with as many of his congregants as possible, and then mobilise everyone on Douglas Road to join in clearing the refuse. Once that was done, he could settle down to pop champagne and celebrate whatever and however he so desired. Not doing that, he failed in his duty. What he did qualified him simply as an attention-seeker and, like a blame-pusher. There is a problem, solve it first before any other thing. Leaving the problem and playing to the gallery; searching for scapegoats when you should have rolled up your sleeves and got the job done is time-wasting and counterproductive.
Chinamerem should have known better than he did. In Luke 10: 30 – 37, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ told the parable of the “good” Samaritan: “And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” I am sure Chinamerem is familiar with this parable; therefore, we should allow him judge: Who out of the three – the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan – did his action on the Douglas Road refuse issue imitate?
The Samaritan got the problem solved whereas the priest and the Levite felt it was none of their business and left it unattended to. Possibly, they, too, felt, like Chinamerem, that it was for government; market associations, community groups, and vigilantes to solve! The important thing is, they did not touch the problem with a finger, just like Chinamerem did not touch the mountainous refuse with a finger. He simply drew attention to it or, put differently, he used it to draw attention to himself, and then went his way – like the priest and Levite in this parable. That was not good enough then; it is still not good enough now. If any of those Chinamerem left this problem for has not risen up to the challenge; it is not too late for the priest to make a quick return trip to Douglas Road and personally lead the effort to clear the refuse.
…And the shenanigans of Edo governorship election
“I thought we would just allow the sleeping dog to snore. It was the same candidate of yours who accosted the CO (Collation Officer) in Unit 11 with about six guns and drove him (CO) to the corner of the collation centre, forcing him to mutilate. I did not mutilate any paper; my papers are here. Number two: this same candidate went to the office of INEC to repeat the same thing on the electoral officer and later came to the collation centre, where I served, with 10 gun-toting men, threatening to kill all of us. I want to say that this same candidate several times told the man who handled that Ward 11 that he was a dead man. He repeated it three times and that was why we managed to put him (electoral officer) on the security vehicle to get him to Benin City here…For the case of the man who handled Ward 11, all the security men deserted him. For the EO, he was locked up in his room. In our own case, we were rescued by the men of the Quick Intervention Force who drove the Auchi vigilante people out of the place. They were actually coming for me when the men of the Quick Intervention Force came in. So the Police are aware of it”
Above are the words of Professor Adewole Atere, Collation Officer for Etsako West Local Government Area, in the just-concluded Edo State governorship election, which the Independent National Electoral Commission declared was won by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), declared by INEC as the runner-up, has kicked against the verdict, insisting it actually won the election. The report by Prof. Atere is scary indeed; you would think we were talking of election in Bayelsa or Rivers states. This cannot be election but war; it is a dangerous business for any decent person to come near. The “candidate” referred to in the statement above by Prof. Atere is none else than the APC governorship running-mate, Philip Shaibu, who is now deputy-governor-elect and, barring any upset, would soon become “His Excellency” and have immunity from arrest and prosecution. Many questions beggar answers. God willing, we shall return to pose them next week. As they say, stay tuned!