These allegations have affected the credibility of the church badly. It undermines the primary responsibility of the church for the spread of the gospel. At the second Vatican Council, the church came out clearly that political powers should stay apart from ecclesiastical powers
Barr Ifeanyi Ossai, the deputy governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2023 governorship election in Enugu State, Friday, denied threatening Catholic priests in Nsukka senatorial district of the state under any guise.
Ossai was responding to a media report that he allegedly threatened the priests for preaching against PDP during the 25th February, 2023 National Assembly and presidential elections. It was alleged that the priests favoured a certain political party.
THE PUNCH of March 5, 2023, reported that some armed men ‘invaded several Catholic church parishes in Nsukka and threatened reverend fathers and their parishioners over their choice to vote against the candidates of PDP’.
The paper quoted an anonymous Catholic priest as saying, “He (Barr Ossai) hasn’t been elected and has started threatening fire and brimstone on how he will deal ruthlessly with priests and those who didn’t support PDP. When he became deputy governor, then he will be a terror to people of Enugu State. It is good that they are showing their colour before the election.”
Ossai told our correspondent in Enugu that, “Generally, our approach to this election is issue-based. We don’t malign people. On the allegations against me, I wish to be categorical that it is unfounded. I wouldn’t imagine doing such, being a Catholic myself. And even if I am not, I am a human being with conscience. Check my family background. The allegations are politically motivated. We are committed to delivering good governance if given the mandate. Hold me accountable.”
Findings by our correspondent show that Ossai is building a Catholic Church and a parish house at his Urukpa-Ezimo parish in Udenu LGA. “He took up the project last year,” a parishioner, who did not want his name mentioned, said, adding that, “Since then, the work has been ongoing. He has been assisting our people aside this project, but Ifeanyi is not the talking type. He is an asset to the entire Ezimo community.”
A priest in one of the parishes in the zone, who said he is not the official spokesman of the diocese, told our correspondent that, “I was never threatened. Politics should be played with caution. Unfortunately, what we see in this dispensation is campaign of calumny and maligning. Our bishop told electorate to vote according to their consciences, and that is where we stand.”
Moses Alumana, a media consultant, cautioned journalists against sentimental reportage. He said, “PUNCH is a reputable media outfit. Even if the priest did not want his name mentioned, it behooves on the reporter to get the reaction of Ossai. It is against our ethics.”
Meanwhile, Rev Fr Emeka Ngwoke, head of the public enlightenment desk of the Justice Development and Peace/Caritas Commission (JDPC), Nsukka Diocese, in an interview, advised priests to desist from partisan politics.
He said, “It is unconscionable for priests to campaign for one political party or the other. These allegations have affected the credibility of the church badly. It undermines the primary responsibility of the church for the spread of the gospel. At the second Vatican Council, the church came out clearly that political powers should stay apart from ecclesiastical powers.
“There is even a provision in the Canon Law on this. In certain circumstances, an exception is made, but it is not for individual priests to make that exception, it is only a diocesan bishop that can determine that such extra-ordinary circumstance exists. He is also to give direction on how that exception might be made.
“The church teaches that the ministry of a church in each diocese is entrusted in its entirety to the diocesan bishop. The priests are co-workers of the bishop. A priest couldn’t, in a clear conscience, be doing something in the name of the church when he knows his bishop will object. There was a violation of this in the absence of my bishop, and the victim called, claiming that he was being harassed, but he was actually the one in violation of what should be the boundary. I told him ‘look, understand that we have limits’.
“There are people who because of their positions must be politically neutral, otherwise society cannot function very well. They include High Court justices, priests and security agents. When people do not take this important and critical decision, they cause confusion that could lead to breakdown of law and order.”