Before now, clerics were not actively involved in Ebonyi State politics. Only very few were given appointments. But over 500 of them are not only actively involved in the politics of the state presently but a handful are occupying exalted positions courtesy of the incumbent governor, Chief Dave Umahi, who promised to partner with the various churches for the development of the state.
Umahi gave the clerics a sense of belonging early in his administration when he instituted an organ of his campaign organisation during the 2015 electioneering exercise. His campaign organisation was christened Divine Mandate, while the clerics were named Divine Mandate Pastors.
The clerics played a major role in ensuring his success at the poll by mobilizing the people at grassroots. They were united in their course and the overseer of an inter-denominational worship centre in the state known as Power House of Prayer, Evangelist Ephraim Ononye, was made the leader of the Divine Mandate Pastors apparently because of his “ruggedness” during the political battle between Umahi, who was then deputy governor of the state and his boss, Elechi.
During the PDP governorship primaries held at the Abakaliki Township stadium, Ononye was the only cleric, who openly identified with Umahi, when he was declared winner of the party’s governorship primary. His open support for Umahi, political watchers said, was responsible for his transfer from the All Saints Anglican Cathedral, Abakaliki to a rural area.
The transfer came few days after the governorship primaries. Apparently worried by the church’s decision, Ononye established his worship centre located in OrokeOnuoha Mile 50 Abakaliki. A thanksgiving service he held in December last year, attracted top politicians in the state including Governor Umahi, who was represented by his deputy, Dr. Kelechi Igwe; Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Hon. Francis Nwifuru; former deputy governor of the state, Prof. Chigozie Ogbu; senator representing Ebonyi Central Senatorial zone, Chief Obinna Ogba, Chief Whip of the state Assembly, Hon. Chike Ogiji and members of the state executive council, among others.
In his remarks, Umahi commended Ononye, for being one of the few men of God who prophesied his victory and had the courage to say it despite persecution from different quarters. He restated the commitment of the state government towards partnering with churches as well as getting advice and constructive criticism.
While the cleric’s group has enjoyed relative harmony in the past one year, the peace crumbled last week when over 500 of the Divine Mandate Pastors gathered at Pastoral Centre of the Catholic Diocese, Abakaliki and announced that they have removed Ononye as their leader, citing general misconduct, unruly behavior and arrogance, among others as his sins.
In his stead, Pastor Ifeanyi Igwe was elected. But for the intervention of the Senior Special Adviser to Governor Umahi on Religion and Welfare Matters, Rev. Fr. Abraham Nwali, there would have been breakdown of law. It took Nwali’s intervention to save the rowdy session of the clerics from degenerating into violence as some of the pastors engaged each other in verbal war and shouting match.
Nwali had to use prayer to close the matter after several efforts to restore normalcy proved abortive. Addressing reporters shortly after meeting with the clerics, Nwali described the leadership crisis as a family rift. “It’s a family rift.
Since the Divine Mandate Pastors were founded at the discretion of the governor, there will not be reshuffling of any sort without his consent. But from indications, there are lots of dissatisfaction in the system, a good number of them are quite dissatisfied that since after the election, they have not actually converged to sing, to pray or to even discuss their affairs.
“They feel abandoned like sheep without shepherded and that bitterness led to their protest against their leader, who they said they have removed during the meeting. We have told them that since they are all partners in progress, they should remain calm until when his Excellency returns and interfaces with them.
Because of that family discomfort, we will not give them the money meant for the empowerment of the poor in the state.”In their resolutions addressed to Governor Umahi, titled “Our plight” and signed by Pastors Igwe and Ernest Anayo, who were elected chairman and secretary respectively and some coordinators in the 13 local government areas of the state, Ononye was further accused not calling for meetings since the 2015 general elections.
The resolutions read in part: “Your Excellency sir, we humbly wish to tell you by this medium once and again that the entire body of the Divine Mandate Pastors in the 13 local government areas in Ebonyi State have unanimously passed a vote of no confidence on Pastor Ephraim Ononye and that we have inaugurated a new leadership in the state with Pastor Ifeanyi C. Igwe as the Chairman and Pastor Ernest Anayo as the Secretary respectively.
“The reasons for the change are on the account of general misconduct and unruly behavior on the part of our past leader. He is arrogant, autocratic, hostile and the worst is that he abuses pastors of Ebonyi State origin that they are hungry pastors.
“We consulted him on several occasions to lead us to pay either congratulatory or courtesy visit to your Excellency so that we can find out why we are not remembered for Christmas, New Year and Easter packages like others but he blatantly refused and told us that the Divine Mandate Pastors group is dead and has been buried.
He also told us to go and mind our pulpit and that was the point where he called us hungry Abakaliki pastors. “More so, the two chances given to us by the state government for pilgrimage to Jerusalem last year was high jacked on the way by the former leader after we have worked it out.
He never consulted us about it, rather he gave one to his wife, who is never part of us and gave one to one of his partners. It was at this level that we decided to organise ourselves back in the 13 local government areas, so that we can take our place in the state because we worked for it and a labourer is entitled to his wages.”
But in a reaction, some members of the group including Dr. Tina Nwaeze, Rev. Ukoma Nnachi (Afikpo South), Ogbonnaya Inya (Afikpo North), Agwu Lawrence (Ivo), Okike Lawrence (Ohaozara) and Alloy Ogah (Ikwo), maintained that Ononye remains their leader and cannot be removed by anyone except Governor Umahi, who made him their leader.
They described the Ononye removal as rebellion, saying: “Some disgruntled elements cannot impeach our leader, Onoye, because they don’t have the locus standi to do that. They did not elect or appoint him to lead us. It is the governor, who made him our leader that has the right to remove him.
“Where were these disgruntled elements when the Divine Mandate Pastors were set in place? Some of these elements that are rebelling against our leader, Ononye, are the people that we brought into the group. Ononye personally called on some of them to be part of us and as a result of selfish interest, they started fighting him unjustly and the governor who constituted the organisation.
“We stand against such illegality because we as ministers of God should be salt of the world and tell the world how the leadership should go. We want to sound it clear that Ephraim Ononye remains the authentic leader of Divine Mandate Pastors in the state, it is the governor that has right to change the leadership.”
They regretted that despite the meeting between Ononye and some leaders of the aggrieved pastors on the need for unity, they aggrieved pastors went ahead to factionalise the organisation and called on Governor Umahi to call them to order to restore normalcy in the group. They also cautioned the group to desist from politicking and concentrate on their duties as clergymen.
A public affairs analyst, Richard Inya, who spoke on the crisis, described it as embarrassing. “There is hunger in the land. When a renowned gospel German preacher, Reinhard Bonke, visited Ebonyi sometime ago, he left this same crop of men proceeds from the offering and they fought over it.
To tell you the truth; money is the first substance that draws them. “In all, there is nothing wrong with a man of God being in politics. However, there is everything wrong with him not being decent, imbibing self-discipline, and causing the people to see reasons why the righteous should be on the throne.
In this case, Governor Umahi is well-intentioned, but the pastors, like the apostles, are now seeking who should sit on the right or left hand, seemingly forsaking the work of the kingdom,” he said. Another analyst, Godwin Ezaka, said: “The price Christians will pay for eschewing or abhorring politics is that they will forever be led by an anti-Christ. It is only light that can dispel darkness.
Politics is a beautiful game but our own politicians play it very dirty and crude.” As the leadership crisis rages, the two camps are hopeful of carrying the day but there is no doubt that Governor Umahi, who is the founder of the Divine Mandate Organisation will adjudicate on the matter.