Saturday, September 18, 2021

EXCLUSIVE: Catholic Church suspends Father Mbaka amidst Buhari spar; followers on rampage

As Ejike Mbaka’s political miring fodders a national spectacle, his superiors are coming to terms with either curbing his speech or preserving the pulpit.

• May 5, 2021
Rev Fr. Ejike Mbaka
Rev Fr. Ejike Mbaka

The Catholic Diocese of Enugu has suspended Ejike Mbaka from church activities for one month, Peoples Gazette can report, as the controversial priest’s political escapades continue to overshadow his theological obligations on a scale that nurtures unending concerns amongst his senior clerics. 

Mr Mbaka was asked to proceed on suspension with effect from May 3 after being summoned by Callistus Valentine Onaga, the diocesan bishop. Mr Onaga called Mr Mbaka in following his repeated clashes with President Muhammadu Buhari and warned that his conduct was smearing the image of the church, the largest of any Christian organisation worldwide, church officials familiar with the matter told The Gazette. 

Most Rev. Dr. Callistus Valentine Onaga
Most Rev. Dr. Callistus Valentine Onaga

Mr Mbaka sparred with Mr Buhari’s aides in a series of verbal fireworks that included the Nigerian presidency threatening to blackmail the priest as a political jobber and public contract racketeer. Mr Mbaka denied the allegations.

Still, Mr Onaga and other senior reverend fathers of the Enugu Diocese were compelled to step in and mitigate the unfolding public perception tumult that could have far-reaching consequences for the conventional but unofficial church and state relationship.  

The church leaders recognised that Mr Mbaka’s Adoration Ministry as an independent congregation that does not fall directly under the main church’s control, he could still be reined in as a priest under the Roman Catholic’s certification, officials said.

Following his suspension, Mr Mbaka returned to his ministry that lies north of the outskirts of Enugu city centre, where he subsequently incited his members against the bishop, sources said. 

Mr Mbaka’s followers claimed without evidence that he was kidnapped by Mr Onaga and handed over to the State Security Service. They subsequently marched on the premises of the bishop on Wednesday morning, looting and destroying assets therein.

The mob also descended on the Holy Ghost Cathedral, again looting and destroying items in the building. The members also went to town to allege that the SSS had arrested Mr Mbaka — generating widespread media reports despite lacking requisite corroboration. The Gazette did not publish the claim.

A spokesman for the SSS denied taking Mr Mbaka into custody or coming in any contacts with him when reached by The Gazette, contrary to his followers’ rumours. 

A spokesman for the diocese did not immediately return a request seeking comments. Mr Mbaka’s line was switched off when dialled by The Gazette on Wednesday night.

Before falling out with Mr Buhari recently, Mr Mbaka was an ardent supporter of the president. He endorsed his campaign in 2015 and claimed his blessings played a role in its success. 

But as Mr Buhari’s regime failed to tackle acute poverty and insecurity, Mr Mbaka said he was compelled to speak up and distance himself from his regime, describing it as evil and satanic and calling on the president himself to vacate office.

Buhari and Mbaka

Mr Buhari’s controversial spokesman Garba Shehu subsequently issued a statement, claiming Mr Mbaka’s comments were out of anger for his unsuccessful attempts to corner lucrative federal contracts. The priest denied the allegations but confirmed that he recommended a group of security contractors to the president whose proposals were not acted upon.

Church sources said Mr Mbaka’s latest suspension was being viewed as significant for its undertone, but not the first time the fiery priest would face administrative action.

“We know people will link this to his confrontation with Buhari, but he was once demoted from a parish priest to a deputy under a parish priest,” a church official said. “He had also been transferred from bigger parishes to smaller ones for his frequent infractions in the past.” 

Still, church officials admitted Mr Mbaka’s Adoration Ministry has been a cash cow for the Enugu Diocese, even though it was built by Mr Mbaka and not directly under its control. 

“The real problem is the Diocese has been financially dependent on Mbaka, collecting his millions,” a source said, adding that some of the senior clerics themselves have also been in bed with politicians whom Mr Mbaka has long railed against.

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