BY UCHENNA NWATU
I have just read Fr. Ike Odigbo’s rather trenchant piece on the unfortunate death of Rev. Fr. Paul Offu, a Catholic priest brutally shot dead on August 1, this year, by as yet unidentified persons. As a Catholic faithful, I can relate with his pain as I have since the sad occurrence been very distraught, especially having worshipped at a parish where the deceased once served as a parish priest.
The death of a beloved one is usually quite an emotive issue. But I’m worried, nonetheless, that Fr. Odigbo has allowed his emotions to cloud his judgement. As he must have learned in his philosophy lectures, such scenario will only produce an outcome that can hardly stand any rational test.
This should not be perceived as an attempt to hold brief for the Enugu State governor particularly on a tragic incident that affects us all. My motivation is the fact I’m a Catholic and, also, a resident of Enugu. Besides, I believe it would be uncharitable to judge a man’s stewardship on the basis of few isolated incidents, and to cast aspersions on our reverred traditional institution in the way Fr. Odigbo did in his essay, making outright libelous allegations in the process.
Of course, religious leaders are often regarded as the moral compass of societies and their exhortations could actually inspire positive changes. But there is a very thin line between interventions motivated by the common good and those driven by selfish, partisan interests.
The language of the clergy is mostly clerical, uplifting and somewhat restrained. Reading Fr. Odigbo’s piece, I do not see any of these. Rather, what a discerning reader would find is a work written by a politician who has deftly – albeit poorly – masked his partisanship by donning a clerical robe.
What, for example, does Fr. Odigbo mean by this puzzling statement: “The way he is going, with rising insecurity in the land, I doubt if he will complete this second term.” Is there any odious plot to scuttle a democratic mandate of which he is aware? This question becomes even more pertinent given the explicitly sinister tone on which he rounded off his vitriolic commentary: “If the people can’t get peace, why should the governor expect to have it?”
By virtue of their calling, priests wield enormous powers that are not merely limited to their congregation. Yet, it is important to emphasize that clerical privilege is no license to make inflammatory comments, particularly of the kind that the essay seethes with.
It is instructive that Fr. Odigbo made reference to the protest march embarked on by priests one day after Fr. Offu’s tragic death. However, it is curious he ignored mentioning the constitutional irony that recognizes governors as “Chief Security Officers” of their states, but whose powers are, in reality, curtailed by the fact the security agencies are not answerable to them.
Despite this limitation, I’m aware the governor has taken several proactive steps to ensure the safety of everyone in the state. Although, there is an existing anti-kidnapping bill in Enugu State, he recently sent a fresh bill to the Enugu State House of Assembly to broaden the scope and make the sanctions much stiffer as a deterence. Not many people will be aware of that because the governor is not the headline-hugging type, which Fr. Odigbo apparently prefers as evident from his call for a “combative approach” in dealing with matters of security.
The governor has been earning results without applying the extreme measures Fr. Odigbo is canvassing, and it is the reason Enugu State is arguably the most peaceful state in the country. That is not merely partisan perception; it is a position that has been validated and reaffirmed by the country’s police chiefs.
Temperance and being circumspect in utterance are priestly virtues which the bible recommends. But none of these traits is embodied by the writer who callously incites the vilification of an ethnic group. If the writer had not been too hasty in his conclusion, perhaps prodded by some extraneous motives, he would have realized that even the states on which he showers praises for their “regular denunciation of herdsmen antics in strong terms” are not immune to insecurity. They do, in fact, experience a greater degree of violent attacks.
It is disappointing that Fr. Odigbo has already ascribed responsibility for the killing of Fr. Offu and other heinous crimes cited in his write-up to Fulani herdsmen even though the police have yet to conclude their investigations. This is sheer bigotry, an irresponsible narrative that a religious leader should not be promoting.
Nwatu, a public affairs analyst, resides in Enugu