By Ugoji Egbujo
Father Mbaka is an ordained priest of the Catholic Church. He is revered in Enugu. He is a household name in Igbo land. Many cardinals aren’t that lucky. His adoration ministry meets the spiritual and physical needs of his poor and desperate flock. Father Mbaka’s sermons talk about heaven but they are known for their blistering political contents. Mbaka perhaps understands that bad governance is worse than all the Mosaic plagues that befell Pharaoh’s country men. His poor congregation therefore sees him more as a freedom fighter than a distributor of holy communion. If Father Mbaka has acquired many antagonists it is because of his rampant foray into politics from the shield of the Catholic Pulpit. His style is pugnacious. His bishops as a big head priest with a loose tongue.
Father Mbaka often seems like a man propelled by a strong personal god. He never fears a collision with the mighty , spiritual and temporal. I don’t know what he thinks of his superiors. But it’s enough that he feels that he is the true oracle of God. And never feels compelled to submit to them.
He had locked horns with Governor Chimaroke Nnamani. Then he said the Enugu governor wanted him dead. Nnamani won his re -election despite Mbaka’s prophesy. But those where the days of ballot box stuffing. Mbaka fans say the priest left Nnamani with mortal political wounds. Mbaka is an ordinary priest. But he dances where Arch Bishops fear to tiptoe. Mbaka makes pronouncements with the supreme confidence of an oracle. But often he leaves many wondering whether he knows the bounds of ethical priesthood.
Father Mbaka’s path has been littered with controversies.
In 2014 Father Mbaka threw a bombshell. Some say he loves the limelight more than ‘okpa’, a local Enugu delicacy. On December 31 that year he announced that then President Jonathan had been rejected by God. Two months before then he had pronounced Jonathan favored by God. The president’s wife led by Ekweremmadu had come to him. And he defended Jonathan against his political opponents. He had even wondered why people were demanding that Jonathan bring back the Chibok girls. He wanted the BBOG campaigners to direct their demands to boko haram.
2019: PDP chieftain wants Fr. Mbaka cautioned
The first lady left with the partial endorsement. She perhaps got home and forgot to tell her husband. Father Mbaka waited for a presidential phone call and show of gratitude. Nothing came. A jilted and angry Mbaka came out at the end of the year with a prophesy that matched his disappointment.
Not a few wondered how Mbaka achieved such a swift somersault. But Mbaka countered that he was a mere mouthpiece of God. He insisted that his prophecy was not the tantrum of an indignant benefactor. He said that Jonathan whom he had tried to prop had provoked God. And that he would be a stupid messenger not to deliver a bonafide message of his principal.. Jonathan and his people stared wide eyed. The Bishops most of whom had lined up behind Jonathan were not amused. They warned about priests getting involved in politics. And warned about the priesthood being desecrated in the pit latrine of party politics.
But Mbaka could not be restrained by mere men no matter the ecclesiastical crowns on their heads. He publicly warned any bishop who had not heard from God to keep his mouth shut. The public cringed at the apparent insolence. But an unapologetic Mbaka simply shrugged his shoulders and said he was doing the work of God and didn’t take orders from men even if they were giants of God.
Buhari won the elections. The Bishop of Enugu posted Mbaka to an obscure parish.
Mbaka announced to the world that he was being victimized. He declared that there was an attempt to truncate the huge work he was doing for God. It was difficult to know whom he thought the Bishop was working for. Father Mbaka dismissed the idea his transfer was routine, administrative. He said that he had been targeted and humiliated. His outburst made the church look like a Nigerian political party and all its skulduggery. Jonathan’s men dismissed Mbaka as a fickle merchant of dubious prophecies.
Mbaka resumed in his new, off-colour parish. Once , Buhari’s wife visited, and perhaps consoled him. Once in a while he stood for Buhari against mounting opposition in the southeast. At other times he had stood up against the IPOB and their hunger for secession when bishops chose to hide under their beds, when they kept conspiratorial silence. At some point, he said Buhari had failed .
But election season has returned . It was precisely this time last season he first laundered Jonathan before bringing out his pigeons to sully and sink him. In December 2014, Jonathan’s pigeons, according to him, refused to fly, signaling the end of his reign.
This time there are no pigeons. Mbaka invited big politicians to attend his Adoration ministry’s bazaar. At such Bazaar events the churches collect thanksgiving items and auction them to raise money. Generally people are invited to make open donations and pledges towards church projects.
In some churches a little gambling would be permitted in raffle draws and betting in games. When I was a child I used to think that Bazaar days were days when the world and its sinfulness were permitted to come into and frolic in the church premises. It always seemed that spirituality was on a timeout.
On this fateful day the god of mammon must have visited. Everything seemed to go well until the microphone reached the hands of Peter Obi. The Enugu governor and someone from Ebonyi had spoken and promised new projects for the ministry. Before handing Obi the microphone Father Mbaka curiously asked the congregation to pray over what Obi was going to say. He was hinting at Obi’s legendary stinginess. Peter Obi smilingly talked about his longstanding relationship with the priesthood and Father Mbaka. Then he hunted for votes by talking about extreme hunger in the land and need for a change in government. He concluded by promising to discuss with the priest in private about what infrastructural project he would execute for the ministry .
When Obi ended without being explicit, Mbaka , it appeared, thought of letting him off. He asked the people to clap for Obi the way Neymar sometimes cynically claps for referees when decisions go against him.What no one expected was what followed. Mbaka started prodding Obi to make a donation. Obi dithered and dithered. Mbaka chased Obi around with innuendoes and jibes. He left the perimeter of ethical priesthood and wandered into the open wilderness of commercial prophethood . It was initially the way a rude Tejuoso male trader would cajole a hesitant young female customer. But Obi stuck to his virtuous slipperiness.
Then Mbaka lost his temper. Then quickly , it came close to the switch to utter insolence ‘area boys’ make when they get nothing in return from a shower praises on a big man. With one hand on Obi’s shoulder, Mbaka warned him that if he and Atiku continued on the stingy path they were treading, he would not wait till December 31st before making the prohpecy. Obi shifted uncomfortably and tried to placate a seething volcano. Everything Obi did appeared slimy and irritated Mbaka . Obi’s wife nervously tried to push a bag full of money into Obi’s hand so that Obi could rescue himself from Mbaka’s predatoriness. Obi rejected the overtly cowardly move.
So when everyone thought the prophecy could still be days afar off, something happened. Mbaka after another failed attempt to get Obi to play ball, including telling Obi that he had brought the customary dishonesty of politicians to the altar, Mbaka announced that the Atiku ticket would end in shame. The congregation cheered. And mocked stinginess.
But everyone else must have been bewildered by the fickleness and the ruthlessness of the priest . He had started by praising Obi. He had called him the man who could save money. But once Obi wouldn’t name his donation publicly, the priest poured scorn on him. And spelt damnation on his ambition
The catholic church is built on tradition and moderation. But there was a priest of that church sounding like a struggling founder of a little riverside hosanna and fire church. There was a catholic priest wondering how Atiku could have sent Obi empty handed to a bazaar . He couldn’t understand how Obi could come with glib talk and nothing from Atiku to break kola nuts. He wondered how such empty-handedness could get him the vice presidency which in his words was not the headship of a Boys Scout.
And this catholic priest did all that surrounded by microphones and cameras.
It didn’t look cruel until Obi left. Everyone had laughed at the predatoriness and the elusiveness that had taken over the altar. With Ganduje by his side, with Obi somewhere in the crowd, Mbaka told the gathering that Obi left in disgrace.
That was petty and unscrupulous.
But the crowd was already delirious. So father Mbaka could be as absurd as he wanted.
Obi, it appeared , had sunk off, embarrassed. But he wasn’t disgraced. The disgrace must lie with the shameless. Except of course if all those who came to that gathering to exploit religion and grab votes were actually members of the shameless clan.
Obi refused to dance to Mbaka’s money rhythm. But Mbaka perhaps knew better. There was something in Obi’s dithering that was not particularly altruism. And the priest must have known. Obi wanted the glory of the identification with Mbaka’s ministry. And he wanted the votes that would come with it. Mbaka may be shallow. But Obi didn’t care. What held him back was what Mbaka tried to tell the congregation with the melodrama – that Obi is not a generous man.
Once the priest was fed up with Obi and his prevarication he dismissed him with a two second watery prayer. And handed over the phone to Uzodimma. It didn’t sound like a church. The congregation had loud names for the big politicians. Uzodimma who must have taken notes while Obi was being mauled went straight into specifics. With the ease of a man who understands opportunism he announced he was sent by President Buhari. He had heard the priest talk about need for a medical facility. So he announced that a contract for a world class medical facility on that ground had been awarded and that it would be completed in 2 months, by end of January. No one knows if that can be found in any budget.
But the congregation cheered.
He ticked all the boxes. Atiku hadn’t sent money for the breaking of kola nuts. Buhari wouldn’t make same mistake. So he announced that Buhari sent him with two million naira to break kola nuts. You could see he was restrained. Had he been representing someone else he could have made it 50 million. But Buhari doesn’t give out such money.
But nothing Uzodimma said mollified the experienced priest. There was something about him that showed that he understood the wiliness of politicians. He didn’t trust them. Uzodimma, on his part, showed that some of the politicians understood the priest’s appetite.
But nothing pacified the indignant priest. Holding Ganduje by the hand later, he wondered why Buhari was such an ingrate. He went down a long memory lane, driven by what seemed a shameless delusion of grandeur. He said he prayed Buhari into office. And that he was bullied and thrown out for defending and promoting Buhari. But Buhari got into office and forgot him and his members. Buhari never visited and never sent any project their way. And Buhari couldn’t even find people in his congregation to elevate to high office.
With Ganduje in his hand , his heart spoke.
They cooked for Buhari but rather be made to lick their fingers they were left to bite their lips. He said he prayed Buhari back to life from near death. And prayed him into a little fatness. But Buhari has shown no gratitude. So he left a warning with Ganduje – ingratitude kills too. Perhaps he could tell Buahri that ingratitude kills faster than corruption. And that perhaps no one should mess around with Father Mbaka. Because that father can lose his temper and undo a whole lot of things.