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For more than four months now, the people and the church of the Catholic diocese of Ahiara Mbaise have been on the fire of religious tension and threat incited by some highly placed church hierarchies in the Vatican and Nigeria. Unfortunately, the advantage of hierarchical superiority, the propaganda of ?it was done by Rome?, ?they are rebellious and disobedient? and ?they want only a bishop from their diocese?, have turned a wrong verdict on the neck of Mbaise people in the mind of few biased and uninformed people.  It is pertinent therefore to break the Emmaus bread in order to open the eyes of those either ignorant or biased regarding the truth of the current episode of Fr. Peter Okpaleke, why the people of Ahiara Diocese are resisting and why Okpaleke and his cohorts are still deadly daring and insisting. This excurses is necessary because of the few who have been biased to brand the Mbaise people ethnic or rebellious because of indisposition to the truth.

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Before the Okpaleke saga, there has been a history of systemic, silent and consistent marginalization and suppression of Mbaise in the Catholic Church and a power play in and against the entire present Owerri Ecclesiastical Province and which has always at the long run boiled down to the detriment of the Mbaise church. This charade of organized discrimination and relegation machinery was instituted and pioneered by a single personality force in the Church since the 1950s. It is an imperial religious fascism which has long been parceled, garlanded and ornamented beautifully in such a presumptuous religious creed that has rather sanctified and made it sacrosanct and hidden its sin in the pious docility of the people and deceptively applied papal infallibility.  It is said in Igbo that aru gbaa afo, o buru omenala (when evil is allowed unchallenged for a whole year, it becomes a tradition).  But when evil is challenged and questioned for once, those who challenge it rather become evil themselves in the eyes of its beneficiaries and the uninformed.

The history of the manipulation of the bishopric succession in Igbo land and the constant shoving of the Mbaise right with complacent impunity has been a recurrent datum from the earliest time.  There was the incident in which Rev. Fr. Edward Ahaji of Umuokirika Ekwereazu Mbaise who was considered one of the best and was expected to be a bishopric candidate of the then prospective Umuahia Diocese, was eliminated in favour of Fr. A. Gogo Nwedo of Umuahia in 1945 even to the surprise of Fr. Mark Unegbu. But ?There was no cry of anit-Mbaise sentiments or stereotype then when Ahaji was not selected?. Again, history had it that Fr. Nwedo was supposed to be transferred from Umuahia to succeed Bishop Heery in the then Onistsha Diocese in 1967 as the Holy Ghost Fathers did not want Arinze to succeed Bishop Heery.  But Nwedo was frustrated and prevented  from being the bishop of Onitsha by the combined forces of Bishop Mark Unegbu and Fr. Francis Arinze. Arinze personally insisted that only the son of the soil could become the bishop of Onitsha Diocese. Bishop Unegbu being his mentor, fought tooth and nail in his favour and helped Arinze enthroned on the Onitsha Episcopal seat.  Another most favoured Mbaise priest, Rev. Fr. Ignatius Okoroanyanwu was again denied the bishopric of old Owerri Diocese in favour of Rev. Fr. Mark Unegbu. This time, Bishop Arinze had to ?pay off?  Fr. Mark Unegbu for giving him the Episcopal seat of Onitsha. Thus, another favoured Mbaise priest was stopped against the will of the predecessor. This Same act was initiated, superintended and achieved, in the words of erudite Fr. David Iheanacho, when, ?In non-subtle manoeuvre, Archbishop Arinze cornered the Episcopal See of Owerri Diocese to his mentor, Fr. Mark Unegbu while blocking the will of Whelan and the missionaries that stated quite clearly they wanted Msgr. Ignatius Okoroanyanwu to shepherd the Episcopal See of Owerri Diocese?.  It is not surprising that this accumulated vendetta annoyed Mbaise people and soured their relationship with Bishop Unegbu for long. It was this relationship of victimization and animosity that resulted in the long refusal to create the Diocese of Ahiara until after a long drawn fight.

But the greatest shock came when on the creation, yet another person outside the new Diocese was being eyed for the Episcopal seat of the diocese but was bluffed. It is also on record that not less than two Mbaise priests still alive today have been denied being the bishops of other dioceses in Igbo land some years back. The plan to appoint them were immediately nipped in the bud before it was ever pronounced, in spite of the fact that they are usually qualified and marketable.  One wonders why a people so treated like this for years by an institutionalized and unjust hierarchy in a civilized and spiritual institution like the church, should not react once to liberate themselves from an entrenched and unjust structure. It is only a pity that the blind Timeus of our time who see human beings as if they are trees walking around, never know these paganistic dealings fraught in favoritism, son of the soil sentiment and despotism meted to Mbaise people in the past and intending to continue it in this age of enlightenment. It is unfortunate too, that they and the papal Nuncio have rather preferred to tag the Mbaise people clannish and ethnic in other to intimidate, blackmail and oppress them further.

The blackmail of the people of Ahiara Mbaise is only a defence mechanism to hide and sustain the holy apartheid against a people and continue the domination trend already institutionalized by those who have shot themselves up to the Vatican by the same sharpness.  Their plan is to extend this colonization beyond the Mbaise church and continue to mystify it with holy obedience to the Church and the Pope when the Pope is not part of their clandestine skirmishes. But embarrassed and shocked that it is now demystified and once resisted, they become hysteric, aggressive and resort to all manner of intimidation, threat and blackmail to transfer the guilt they are supposed to bear on the defenders and discredit them for blocking their prodding ambition. An information reached us that on the rejection of the appointment of Okpaleke, some priests from Awka Diocese said, ?Mbaise people have divulged and exposed this thing we have been managing to do for ourselves for a long time now?.

We are therefore bound and forced to tell our story to the world, of the imminent threat and possible clamp down intended to hatch on Mbaise on a date they have fixed and imposed for themselves in order to cause mayhem and blackmail the people for not submitting to their fraud and arbitrariness.

It would be recalled that before the death of the former Bishop, he was supposed to have actually submitted ?only names from his diocese? as his prospective successors according to tradition, and this is renewable as directed and demanded by the Canon law and the Vatican. In the event of a sudden death those priests whose names were submitted or other persons outside the list, but who are from the diocese by incardination or as indigenes, would be screened for appointment to the bishopric.  Coincidentally, the bishop died around the time Awka Diocese also needed a replacement for the retiring bishop, Eze Okafor. Rev. Fr. Peter Okpaleke from Awka Diocese was attempted by the godfather(s) to take over Awka, in spite of the then sitting auxiliary bishop of the diocese.  But he was rejected in his own diocese for untoward and unbecoming desperation and other reasons best known to them. It was then that, impelled by frustration and urged by the forces of distorted and unholy ambition and power, he and his allies started manipulating for Ahiara Diocesan succession with great audacious intrusion. It was this hidden and dark interference that made the two year prayer and attempt for smooth selection of the bishop of Ahiara diocese a huge frustration.  Unaware of this, the lay faithful started embarrassing Ahiara priests for their delay in selecting a bishop for two years, ignorant of the fact that it is not the priests themselves that should directly appoint the bishop and that the appointment from those submitted was being compounded by something yet unknown.

Ultimately, the obsession of Fr. Peter Okpaleke and his godfathers is purely a problem of settlement.  There is an accumulation quagmire that might logjam to a frustrating alley if he fails to cling to Ahiara Diocese unstopped. The greatest aggression of a man would always come from the frustration of accumulated and unbridled ambition that trespasses beyond his capacity and the none availability of personal resources. But such aggression could be transferred to whoever becomes the obstacle that neutralizes and brings to vanity an erroneously concluded enterprise. This has been the secrete behind their battle of survival in Ahiara Diocese and Owerri province, making Msgr. Peter Okpaleke, a supposed spiritual priest of the Church saying, ?over my dead body? that he should resign the bishopric of Ahiara Diocese, in spite of all persuasions by some wise advisers.

The settlement problem choking up those masterminding the crisis of Ahiara Diocese is obvious. It should be noted that a big shot in the Vatican power broker is alleged to be choked up with the dire urgency of settling Msgr. Jonas Benson Okoye who was once his secretary and personal aid, as well as Denis Isiuzor and Peter Okpaleke, and perhaps others. It is learnt that these have been flown for the bishopric of some dioceses, for instance Awka in 2010 and the attempt met a brick wall.  Nsukka Diocese also failed to yield because the bishop emeritus warned the Nigerian bishops never to attempt to do in his Nsukka Diocese what they have done in Ahira Diocese. Therefore, Nsukka was recently given an indigenous diocesan bishop.  But there is an impending urgency to create Ekwulobia Diocese from Awka where Okpleke rightly belongs. Many wonder why Okpaleke should not have been announced for his new Ekwulobia Diocese to stop the long raging battle for Mbaise.  The obvious reason is to safeguard Ekwulobia for the settlement of the remaining others born for bishopric. Hence, it became necessary and strategic to hurriedly announce Okpaleke for Ahiara Diocese and install him at all cost to create room in Ekwulobia for the remaining lining up for settlement. If Okpaleke is militarily imposed on Ahiara, he becomes the third from Onitsha province in the seven Dioceses of Owerri Province without one from Owerri shepherding in Onitsha and till date no religious from Owerri is heading any religious congregation in Onitsha province. What a Holy Spirit and universality! If Mbaise must continue to obey the Holy Spirit and the Pope against them and in favour of a certain group since the1950s, then the Holy Spirit must have her maternal home with those people. Why then did the same Spirit not continue to allow the Papacy remain in Italy but decided to change to Germany and now Argentina?

The rejection and resistance of Ahiara Mbaise therefore stems from both the history of  suppression of the people of Mbaise in particular, Owerri province,  as well as the above chess play of vain ambition by those who see the episcopacy as their exclusive vocation in Igbo land.  But this is not an Anambra collective action. Although ?Anambra?  has been used in the course of this struggle as a matter of illustration, it is never an issue of Anambranaization. The diocese is not fighting against Anambra, the papacy, his infallibility or that it must be their own son, but against injustice by one man, who is coincidentally, from Anambra. It is not a struggle of clannishness or ethnic either on the side of Mbaise people. It is purely a battle against religious imperialism and suppression of a people, who must fight for self-survival and preservation in spite of using the name of the Pope to blackmail and sedate them. Apart from these, have those who preach selfish universality asked themselves the type of justice where the people of Mbaise scattered through out the churches in Nigeria, and one of the first Diocese to loan their priests to almost all the dioceses in Nigeria to start their new dioceses and even now feed them with human, religious and financial resources, not have an indigenous bishop in the midst of the Nigerian bishops in the name of a lop-sided universality?

To crush this resistance against their huge handedness, privileged Church hierarchies have to be employed in sophisticated manners to execute the imposition and conjure up blackmail and stigmatization to indict their challengers.  Like Judas Iscariot, the Papal Nuncio, who seemed to have long perfected the act of external imposition with a grip to an offer in cash or kind, unknowingly betrayed his mind on visit to the Diocese in September 2011 in their midst of anxiety for a new bishop. He was on visit for a thanksgiving reception of a friend in Mbaise, to which he attached ?accidental pastoral visit?. He personally enquired from the priests and lay faithful their pulse for the delay in the announcement of the new bishop and to know the type of bishop they would want for their Diocese. He was told. Surprisingly, he told the priests in a sophistry of language that they would be given a ?catholic Bishop?, as if they were expecting a muslim bishop. He again unusually emphasized and exaggerated the ?universality of the church? without regard to the local regard of the church, thereby adding to the suspicion and scare.

The suspicion for treachery came to limelight when the ordour of blackmail and accusation fouled the air that there was petition and counter petition among the priests of Ahiara. Meanwhile, the papal Nuncio was the only one to whom the documents of enquiry were passed under very high and exclusive secrecy. In a twinkle, the rumour of petition was followed with another strange rumour of a strange name as strong contender among the proposed candidates of priests of the Diocese. Up till today, the bishops and the Nuncio have not answered the question of who put the name, for what reason and when all the possible candidates in the diocese and province were exhausted before extending the search to Awka.

Following the rumour, the Nuncio was immediately warned and appealed to in writing that this suspected imposition ?would mean that none of all the Ahiara Diocesan priests is trustworthy now and implicitly poses the question of whether any could become trustworthy in the future. This could cause a big rift between people and priests in this Diocese for a long time because suspicion of sectarian in fighting would have been admitted if not approved. And if this happens, political considerations would have been respected? And on a very serious note, this would make late Bishop Chikwe?s twenty two years? efforts in correcting the false image of Mbaise among her neighbours and through out the nation come to nothing; and believe me, I know my people they will fight it at the level one may least expect. Let it be clear that any decision based on fabricated, false and unproven information is bound in and by itself to be false and wrong and, as such, may be resisted to the detriment of faith and morals?.  This letter was written more than one year before the announcement of Fr. Peter Okpaleke. But the battle of conscience between letting Fr. Okpaleke go uncompensated since the stealth and craft had been exposed and warned against, having also already committed themselves with a ?promise of settlement?, and insisting to select him at all cost, urged them on.

On the 7th of December, 2012, the strangest thing happened. Flying news on the internet, of the appointment of a new bishop of the Diocese held sway in the air but was taken for a joke by those who know and believe that such appointment should not be made in the internet without being officially related  to the Diocese in hard copy. But the internet information was not inadvertent.  It was a highly sophisticated and calculated action typical of the Nigerian election tactics of, ?just announce it first, let them go and contest it in the court, the court belongs to some people, and we will win them in the court?. But unlike in the political court, the perpetrators of this kangaroo act never expected that Ahiara people would contest the appointment ?made by the Pope?. They only thought, they would as usual be contented to believe the appointment was done by the Pope. But they underrated their knowledge of this past marginalization, their  intelligence and ability.

Few days to the announcement of the manipulated selection, the Owerri provincial bishops made the first and several other visits and tasted an unprecedented bitter water of resentment. Each tried to wash his hand from the blood of innocent Jesus like Pilate. But they ended up revealing their contradiction in the act. The secrete they wanted to cover up was expunged. It became clear that it was no longer that the Ahiara priests destroyed themselves with petition but that an elderly Ahiara priest was purportedly put conditionally in the first position, surrounded by Fr. Peter Okpaleke, the youngest and second in the list, and another third and non-Ahiara candidate for screening. The highlight of the information was that the purported Ahiara candidate and the first in the list declined ?in good conscience? in consequent to which Fr. Okpaleke, the second in the list was nominated.   This was the information the  bishops considered a ?privileged information? from  Cardinal  Philoni. They intended to use this information to both indict and make the priests feel guilty and give up the fight. Till today the veracity, specification and authenticity of that insinuation has not been proved. What a holy religious politics! How came a person from a different Diocese and province to be the second person? Again, who put him and why? Why was an elderly priest possibly with age and health challenge put as spare part for indictment?  Is it true that such a person was actually consulted? Was it after all not more honourable and noble for him to decline in good conscience for personal reasons than Okpaleke who today want to die for power? Why was the Diocese not imposed with another priest from the diocese but outside the list the way Okpaleke was imposed? Why could no other person be imposed from Owerri province?

With the raging of the rejection of the appointment and the revelations of power play which has pervaded and suppressed all the Onitsha Ecclesiastical dioceses and now traversed to Owerri province, the Nuncio came to spiritualize and palliate the fire of tension he was probably paid to ignite in Igbo land. But he rather aggravated the insult and betrayed his deliberate intension by a pedagogy, in which he made a theological synthesis of the priesthood and the bishopric, when he told the priests that the vocation of the priesthood is different from that of the bishopric. Did he imply that the bishopric is exclusively for some people? It was then clear that the Dunukofia people of Awka from where Cardinal Arinze and Okpaleke came and whoever they chose have the monopoly of the bishopric on behalf of the priests of Onitsha Ecclesiastical province and Owerri could dictate and distribute it gratuitously at will. The priests did only one thing after listening to his new theology. They read to the embattled and terrified looking Nuncio, the forewarning letter written to him more than one year ago on hearing the rumour of the strange name for imposition. He tacitly acknowledged receiving such a letter but confoundedly lacked words to contradict or challenge it. He was also reminded that all the documents of enquiry and investigation for the candidates were passed under high and holy secrecy through his office and yet there was rumour of alleged and unsubstantiated petition heard even in overseas countries. He was indicted for personally and deliberately conjuring and acting up something one way or the other in order to create a loophole to satisfy the gratification with which he must have been influenced to enthrone the son of somebody in the Vatican and incite the crisis of Owerri-Onitsha provinces and further compound the divide in Igbo land.

Almost with tears, the priests reminded the Nuncio of the damage done to the credibility of the entire Ahiara priests who now worth nothing before their people because of the blackmail of petition and that none of them qualifies for the bishopric. It was based on this dangerous calumny that the Priests of Ahiara told the Nuncio and insisted that no other solution could repair their image before their people other than ordaining one of their own the bishop of Ahiara Diocese. Ordaining Peter Okpaleke or any other would sustain and validate that stigma. This is the beginning of the insistence that it must be Ahiara indigenous priest or nothing else.

Before their visit, the Papal Nuncio, Augustine Kasujja had thought that Archbishop Obinna could not effect the ordination of Okpaleke up to that day. But he saw to it himself that it was their collective blunders  and injustice that made the acceptance impossible and why it met with such hardened resistance. Unable to break the impasse of the crisis by the provincial bishops, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria took the debate to their conference and ended up in a logjam. The matter was finally left exclusively to the Owerri provincial bishops to settle as a provincial matter. Embarrassingly, few weeks after the transfer of responsibility of settlement, the bishops merely gathered in Owerri and without any attempt for dialogue, declared a week prayer for the ordination of the bishop-elect even as the canonical period for the ordination had already expired two times within the raging tension. Scandalized by this insensitivity, some priests wrote and explained to the world what has been happening in Ahiara Diocese. This was necessary because of the false propaganda that the appointment was ?by the Pope? and that the Mbaise people are merely disobedient, clannish and are insisting that only an Mbaise indigenous priest can be the bishop in their diocese. Consequently, one of them who was forced to enlighten the world about this covering propaganda and insincerity was invited and warned to stop writing the issue on public news papers. Why are they afraid of letting the world know the truth of what they have been doing with innocent Mbaise people and the lies they have been telling from Owerri to Abuja?

At the end of the one week purported prayer which was never prayed faithfully in any diocese, the ordination failed to hold. But Peter Okpaleke was disclosed to have, under an obsession and addiction for power, personally prevailed over the desperate authorities to grant him another extension of date for the Episcopal ordination. They met and hurriedly gave a date. Note that the umbrella of Igbo Diocesan priests called ANIMAEE, after listening to Ahiara priests, went to tell Archbishop Obinna to suspend the ordination for the moment given the situation and circumstances. But he was quoted as saying, ?the date has already been fixed, go and meet Bishop Ugorji?. It is the Ahiara Diocese that is supposed to fix the date of the ordination and print the invitation card, but they fixed the date themselves as another imposition.

It is obvious by the attitudes of the bishops that they are under the burden of guilt and bad conscience to push on the Okpaleke ordination and are impelled to do so for face saving and survival instinct. This is why in spite of the forewarnings to the Nuncio that any attempt to foist an orchestrated and corrupt institution and desperate person rejected by his home diocese on Mbaise would be resisted to the end, they insisted. They now resorted to force by the involvement of the Federal security allegedly through the alleged auspices of Governor Peter Obi of Anambra state and the Episcopal seat in Abuja in order to achieve the invasion.  The Federal security and the Anambra state governor which would be used as a disguise for order  is actually intended to subdue, intimidate, suppress and scare the people of  Ahiara Mbaise and Imo state to effect the enthronement of one man produced under suspicious circumstances against the wish of the whole church. The Anambra state government security entourage is believed to have supplied such a security deception for a similar jamboree Episcopal ordination in Benin Diocese and is strongly believed to be on hand again to supply for Peter Okpaleke in Ahiara.

The ordaining prelate of the Hitler power and questionable installation is Cardinal John Onaiyekan, who information discloses, has since been verbally battering and castigating the people of Mbaise for rejecting an ostensibly obnoxious process of selection through a corrupt and unjust means. But to the greatest shock of the people, the ordaining prelate who visited Ahiara on Saturday May 4, 2013, was said to be yet unaware of the date of the ordination, and until the day of his visit, had no clear information of the politics and arbitrariness that produced Okapaleke and why he is being rejected.

While the clergy of the diocese would not personally initiate violence, they may not guarantee that the visiting power drunk security force would not initiate their own Nigerian crude brutality to scare their opponents, who would certainly react and resist. The youths of Ahiara Mbaise have also vowed not to watch this immoral rascality and arbitrariness succeed in the holy church of Christ by the hierarchy of the church. But by their insistence to invade Mbaise with Anambra and Federal security, the bishops and Fr. Okpaleke have tacitly appropriated responsibility for whatever would be the result of a possible physical conflict during, months or years after the ordination if they succeed on the ordination. Unfortunately, their insistence is hinged on the claim that, in the words of the Archbishop of Owerri, ?the appointment is a papal one. The pope appoints whoever he wants, despite our feelings. So the appointment stands?. They are working on what they call ?Roman Locuta?, when Rome speaks, it is final, an axiom that is at times abused and exploited by the powerful and the privileged and imposed on Rome even before Rome speaks and at times lacks humanistic sensitivity.  Their other source of desperation is to avoid setting a precedence of succumbing to further rejections in the future even when they act curiously and arbitrarily with impunity or to avoid the same Rome what happened to query the process. The question is, does the Pope come to any diocese and pick somebody for appointment or just impend his signature on the person given to him by those at the corridors of power even in deception, since he does not personally do the selection?  Is it true that the Pope appoints ?despite our feelings? and yet inquiries are done before the appointment to know our knowledge of and the feelings for the person to be appointed?  Was it why Okpaleke was forcefully given for appointment in spite of the fact that the inquiries about him rightly said, ?we do not know who this person is? as certainly, not even one person knows him in the diocese in any sense expected. Was the appointment of Matthias not preceded by this foreknowledge ?Out of the men who have been with us the whole time that the Lord Jesus was living with us, from the time when John was baptizing until the day when he was taken up from us ? one must be appointed to serve with us as a witness to his resurrection? (Acts 1:21-22).  If the hierarchy of the church is afraid of setting a precedence of rejection, is it better to set a scandalous moral precedence of arbitrariness, injustice and force in order to save the face of some people and condemn the innocent Mbaise people?

There is now an intended blackmail of the innocent people who have the right to refuse and resist injustice and wicked act that lack spirituality.  The Mbaise people only wish to  inform Nigerians that the hierarchy of the Church from Abuja to Owerri, have accepted  responsibility of enacting the precedence of moral and physical force without any dialogue in order to achieve the inordinate and desperately asserted ambition of one man over a people for their own office security. The provincial bishop of Owerri and the rest have accepted a priori any hurt or lost of life that may be directly or indirectly involved in their application of force. When did the church start using the government, police and military force to install their spiritual leaders? Would the government of Good Luck Jonathan, Anambra and Imo states actually allow the use of their security to interfere in religious ordination either for attack or defence?  Would Peter Obi smear and dent his already noted catholic piety and cherished achievement in governance with the debasing style of Nigerian political hooliganism and vandalism by dabbling into this mess because of one priest? Will the bishop-elect continue to use the same security force to celebrate mass on daily basis till he retires from the diocese or takes over Owerri province? At the end, what would remain of the morality and ethics of the hierarch if they now prove that the morality of force in ascending to power is superior to the morality of humility and dialogue and justice? The world is watching them to strike.

RE. FR. BEN OGU, AHIARA DIOCESE

08037233611

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