By Olugbenga Salami
Catholic church members in the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, have accused the Archbishop of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, Valerian Okeke of using priests under his administration to ditch their primary assignment of preaching the gospel to publicly campaigning for the Labour Party, LP candidates and disparaging others, who belong to the Catholic and other churches.
In a letter addressed to the Vatican’s Roman Catholic headquarters led by Pope Francis and dated 19th March, 2023,
the group identified as “Concerned Catholics and Members of APGA”, alleged that the Archbishop colluded with Reverend Fathers to abuse their priestly powers while engaging in fierce public campaign for the LP and its candidates in the nearly concluded 2023 general elections.
According to them, he allegedly refused to call the affected priests to order “which further emboldened them to throw caution into wind by launching serial attacks against candidates of political parties in clear favour of those flying the Labour Party ticket.”
The group, in the four-page letter addressed to the Holy See and signed by its coordinator, Sir. Peter Okeke, alleged that the Rev Fathers “disregarded competence and merit by taking advantage of their presiding positions on the altar to abuse the minds of their flock to vote for only candidates of the Labour Party without recourse to capable Catholic candidates and non Catholics in other political parties.”
It said the deluge of attacks orchestrated by priests on non LP candidates was traceable to the refusal of the Anambra State Governor Chukwuma Soludo to continue with the norm set by one of his predecessors, Peter Obi which requires that the Catholic church must have a strong say in whoever becomes governor in the state as well as other top political positions.
The group added that the refusal of Soludo to disregard the norm and insisted on merit as the benchmark as opposed to the old ways of doing things which they said opened up a deluge of attacks from priests in the archdiocese who currently view his disposition as a sellout and irritating deviation from the norm.
Urging the Pope to investigate the Bishop, the group further alleged that during the campaign window preceding the February 25th general elections, gullible parishioners in various parishes, were weekly treated to the unholy spectacle of South East Parish priests attacking and vilifying candidates other than Peter Obi, those of the Labour Party.
The letter read in parts;
“We write in our capacity as concerned Catholics and members of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), who are no longer comfortable with the prevalent abuse of priestly powers, to strongly and most respectfully, register our deep disappointment at the obvious collusion of Archbishop Dr. Valerian Okeke to address the very shameful actions of priests under his care, who threw all caution to the wind in serial attacks against candidates of political parties in clear favor of those flying the Labour Party ticket.
“For starters, previous APGA governments have always ensured to carry the church along in terms of providing candidates for various positions, both within the party and government but this unwritten rule set by former Anambra Governor Peter Obi was naively jettisoned by Gov. Soludo who insisted on Merit as the benchmark as opposed to the old ways of doing things.
“To be clear, the argument that the litany of priests like Rev. Fr. Nwokedi Ezumezu and Fr. George Adimike (who is incidentally, the press secretary to Archbishop Valerian Okeke) whose weekly tirades against candidates not flying the Labour Party ticket, did not enjoy blessings of their Archbishop, cannot be sustained when one considers the impracticability of a large swathe of priests going publicly rogue against the clear dictates of the Canon law which forbids them from exhibiting partisan tendencies.
“Infact there is no way these number of priests could openly solicit support for political parties whilst castigating others without the express approval of their Archbishop and if it was ever under dispute, Archbishop Valerian Okeke himself, laid every doubt to rest in a recent February 15th thank-you visit by the Labour candidates in the just concluded Anambra North Senatorial and Onitsha North & South Federal House of Representatives, Dr. Tony Nwoye and Engr. Idu Emeka, where he celebrated the duo and thanked them for recognizing the significant roles played by the church in ensuring that the Labour Party won resoundingly in the Feb 25th general elections.
“The Holy See must note the unfortunate import of such a public declaration of His Grace’s collusion especially when juxtaposed with the fact that well over 90% of candidates from other political parties whom they worked against, are bonafide Catholics.
“In our estimation, this action by Archbishop Dr. Valerian Okeke, was reckless, an abuse of power and the trust of the people and it is sad to watch as the church under his care, is currently being run solely on personal insatiable interests because the sorry sight of beholding priests being thanked and applauded by their Archbishop for misleading and misinforming parishioners on whom and who not to vote, is nauseating and goes against everything the church stands for.
“Simply put, these priests would not have dared take such publicly odious actions without the express approval of Archbishop Dr Valerian Okeke who as you know, wields total influence over their lives and every action or inaction they take and there remains no doubt that the Archbishop was the chief instigator and orchestrator of the entire nefarious actions by his priests.
“In Anambra Central Senatorial District, the case was the same as priests were under strict instruction from Archbishop Dr Valerian Okeke to make favorable announcement for the Labour Party, in church on the Thursday and Friday leading up to the February 25th general elections and it was sad seeing our archbishop thanking priests for what he termed “a job well done”.
“This open letter stems from a place of disillusionment, disappointment and shock at how low the Onitsha Archdiocese was and is, willing to go in pursuit of a partisan agenda which definitely, is at variance with the spirit and letter of the Canon law which forbids priests from converting the most holy altar of God to campaign soapboxes.
“It should interest the Vatican to know that Archbishop Dr. Valerian Okeke uses his powers of rampant postings and trainings to whip priests into line to do his dealings and it is common knowledge that disobedience to carrying out his direct orders that should be repulsive to their priestly calling, earns such priests a form of banishment to very remote areas while obedience elicits compensation.
“The Vatican may wish to ask Archbishop Valerian Okeke why and how he believes that openly projecting candidates of the Labour Party, who are mostly opportunistic career politicians that lost primaries in previous political parties and who may not necessarily possess the requisite pedigree and proven track record of service to humanity, somehow confers on them the toga of infallibility to the outright repudiation of possibly far more qualified Catholic candidates flying other party tickets?
“It is this sorry state of affairs which has led most priests to live under a climate of fear which has invariably led to the conspiracy of silence, with priests snitching on each other with a view to attracting favors from the Archbishop, that currently afflicts the Onitsha Archdiocese.