The Preponderance of Religious Denomination in Anambra Politics
By Ebuka Onyekwelu
I have met people who often wondered why one’s religious denomination is important in Anambra state politics. Before now, it was a covert conversation reserved only for those who are already conversant with the spoken and unspoken rules of political mainstreaming in recent times, in Anambra state. The origin of this religious denomination dominance of Anambra’s political space is traced to the visit of Pope Johnpaul 11 around 1998, though hardly supported by incontrovertible evidence. However, after the visit, Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju held sway as the governor of Anambra state between 1999 and 2003. But between 2003 and 2021, Anambra state is yet to have a non-Catholic Governor. In any case, the mere fact that this has even become a public discourse is embarrassing, but ironically speaks to the main preoccupation of Anambra’s populace and political leaders alike, in recent times.
The reality though is that human beings are defined in terms of their identities. Religious denomination being one of such features of the identity of an Igbo man and woman, more or less, constitutes certain ingredients of equitable distribution of political positions especially considering the near absence of decency, content and rigor in our political process. As a natural consequence, attention is often moved from core issues to some primordial loyalty.
In Anambra state, the first time the Church was drafted into politicking was during Peter Obi’s tenure as governor. In 2010 when he contested for second term in office, Obi exploited and courted the support of his Catholic religion denomination to a telling point, relying on his close affinity with the Catholic Church leadership among others, to reach voters and it worked. While it is to his credit that he was the one who brought the Church into open political partisanship, Obi himself had a sense of balance and so while he used the Church to advance his own political agenda, he made efforts to create semblance of balance in the government. In the House of Assembly for instance, he supported Chinwe Nwaebili a Catholic to be Speaker, but he also supported Chukwu Orizu an Anglican to be Deputy Speaker. Still, Peter Obi remains largely responsible for the kind of meddlesomeness the Church has assumed in state affairs. To understand why Peter Obi saw in the Church a viable partner is very simple; Obi himself talks like a Priest, in corollary, his often idealistic posturing cum messages were more acceptable in the Church than elsewhere. Seeing a potent political partner in them, he moved and quickly closed in on the Church. On the other hand, for the Church, they have never been separated from the state in practice, so it was an opportunity for an open comeback. Looking at it one sees it was a clear mutually beneficial partnership. The point really is that because Obi did not exactly fit into the kind of pragmatic and demystified leadership style of Ngige whom he succeeded in 2006, it was not easy for him to convince people that he has equal ambition for good governance, just a different approach to the issues of governance facing Anambra state. If Obi had not played that Church politics, perhaps, he may not have been able to return in 2010 against a more popular and accepted Chris Ngige.
Today, what Obi started has reached another level and people are beginning to talk about it. For instance, in the same Anambra state House of Assembly, the Speaker is Catholic, the Deputy Speaker is Catholic and the Majority Leader is Catholic. This has never happened before. In fact, before anyone is considered for a position in the state, he is first asked his denomination. This used to be for creation of balance in power distribution, but doubts abound what exactly it is for recently. There are so many instances of people whose appointment where dismissed because of their denomination, however, it is left for those who have experienced it to tell their own story. Obiano’s government has not done so well in ensuring balance in government administration. Closely related to this is the accusation that the governor deliberately favours his kinsmen over all others to a point that raises public concerns. For instance, almost all key positions in the government are occupied by people from Aguleri. Take for example the Chief of Staff, Commissioner for Works and the Executive Secretary of Joint Account, just to mention a few. These strategic positions and much more are occupied by the governor’s kinsmen since beginning of Obiano’s administration till date. So if considered from this standpoint, the kind disposition towards Catholic faithful by the government can be interpreted as a consequence of the governor’s own personal bias to what is known to him. However it is seen, the facts overwhelmingly suggest that the government lacks balance in its appointments and in distribution of political and governance favours, and that is not without notice on the general public perception of the government. It certainly goes without saying that when members of a particular denomination or people from a particular village are politically empowered, the rippling effect of the empowerment can only trickle down to those in their circle who most likely share those identities with them. If a Catholic Priest is appointed into the government, it is likely those that will benefit from his appointment are Catholics. If a Catholic Bishop is asked to bring people for employment or for political appointment, Catholics are more likely to benefit from those. No doubt, a situation where Bishops have formidable stake in government, recommending people for strategic appointment and being given slots to bring people for one appointment or another, is a situation in which the Church is now in a joint venture with the ruling class.
But on the other end, the influence and involvement of the Church in partisan politics is problematic at different levels. What is seen in Anambra state today is a state of affairs where aspiring public officers are divided into Catholics and Anglicans. The more serious and weightier matter of readiness for governance is swept under the carpet, completely forgotten. The Church’s interest is only to the extent that their member is at the apex of the political chain. In actual fact, the Church has lost its place in governance. The government is no longer held accountable because the Church is also a beneficiary of the political corruption and rascality perpetuated by their members who are in government, needless to say that many of these people were appointed on the Church’s recommendation. Hence, while it may be convenient for the Church to criticize the government at the centre, they simply look away from the mountainous misdeeds of the state government. The reason is simple; the Church has become beneficiary of state power. It is, matter of fact, easier to have a Priest stand on the alter to campaign for a candidate of the Catholic or Anglican faith, than to have the same Priest comment on the state of poor governance, poor roads, or ineffective government policies in Anambra state. Since they have been joined in secular politics, Anambra Churches are simply playing politics, but that is not even the biggest disaster. The greatest tragedy is that the people who are the victims, played by both the government and the Church, are the pawn on the board. They are the same people aligning with the Church as if any particular denomination has an exclusive preserve of producing a good governor.
Moving forward, Anambra State government must exercise restraint and be circumspect in its unholy alliance with the Church. On the other hand, the Church must rescue its image from the murky and dirty waters of partisan politics, while effectively taking its place in advocacy for good governance which will benefit the society. Before the government drags the society into needless religious tension and unnecessary division, the government must live up to its full meaning as government, while the Church remains the Church. As for the people, they must refuse to be used in advancing parochial political interests.
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