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The president and the priest

Published by The Nation on Wed, 05 May 2021

By Festus EriyeA political divorce is an ugly thing to behold. Last week, Nigerians witnessed one such nasty breakup when charismatic Catholic priest, Reverend Father Ejike Mbaka, took to his pulpit in Enugu to denounce Muhammadu Buhari as a failed president who should resign, or be impeached if he wont go quietly.Mbaka and the president go some way back. In the Southeasta region noted for the aridity of its support for Buharis political aspirations in times pastthe priests endorsement turned out to be a prized pick-up in the 2015 election cycle.Back then he declaredbased on prescience we concede to religious leadersthat the president was Gods solution to move the country from its juncture of disappointment under then President Goodluck Jonathan.Now, full of divine insight one more time, the priest is singing lustily from a different hymn book.It leaves you wondering how someone receiving intelligence from the God who sees the end from the beginning, can so abruptly and calmly edit the epistle he fed Nigerians not too long ago. Could these declarations really be from the God whos not the author of confusion'Actually, the priest isnt noted for his consistency. In November 2014 when then First Lady Patience Jonathan visited his Enugu church, he declared that her husband had done well and deserved a second term. He said the president could have done more if not for distractionsreferring to security challenges his government was battling.Barely two months after, on New Year Eve of that same year, Mbaka with all holy authority called on Jonathan to quietly resign for failing to deal with corruption, insecurity and youth unemployment.In 2019, the cleric offered fulsome praise for the man he backed four years earlierhailing his agriculture revolution among other things. He said: We urge Nigerians to vote President Buhari in order to complete his eight years tenure and after which he will hand over to younger candidate.From advocating two full terms to canvassing tenure abridgement, significant differences must have cropped up in this marriage made in political heaven. Little wonder the recriminations have been so entertaining.After recovering from the shock of the sucker punch, the presidents spokesman Garba Shehu hit back with the claim that Mbaka had once shown up at the villa with three individuals seeking contracts as payoff for his support back in the day.The priest and his pals were reportedly fobbed off by a president who wasnt going to bend rules to favour any supporterno matter how eminent or strategic.This hitherto hidden information was meant to paint the priest as embittered by the snub and a cheap hustler who was no better than those he regularly slags off.Read Also:Why I introduced contractors to Buhari, by MbakaDid it work' I doubt very much. Firstly, theres no evidence of attendance being down at his Adoration Ministry services because of the revelations about his entourage on that visit to Abuja.Nigerians have become quite cynical when it comes to their perceptions of interactions between big players on the sides of the church, mosque and the state. Weve been regaled with tales of how some past civilian and military heads of state wouldnt take a step until they had consulted their marabouts.Even if Mbaka were indeed a briefcase contractor not too many would be shocked. It was not much different under Jonathan who arduously courted clerics of every stripe. Under him eminent pastors were regular visitors to the villa.Many would remember how the private aircraft linked to a powerful pastor was trapped in an arms-purchase expedition gone wrong in South Africa. So, its nothing extraordinary if a big pastor was actually wheeling and dealing in high places. After all, as the man has suggested those being patronised with contracts are not more deserving than himself!On the other hand, the revelations havent drawn much sympathy to the president either. Hes still being challenged to deliver on the multiple fronts Mbaka pointed out.Theres massive bloodletting across the land without any signs of a let up. Not since the civil war days has there been such an upsurge in secessionist agitationseven in parts of the country where they were unheard off.Across the land symbols of state authority like soldiers, policemen men and their stations, courts, prisons and their wardens, even Customs officers have become objects of target practice for rampaging gunmen.In different parts non-state actors are assuming responsibilities that only agents of state should perform. In some areas bandits and insurgents have planted their flags and are levying taxes on the hapless locals.On top of it all you have an economy thats on the ropes, with many states in danger of being ground under by a mountain of unpaid wages, pension and gratuities. It just leaves you wondering whos really in charge.Even if the messenger isnt as angelic as we thought, it doesnt detract from the relative accuracy of his message. You may quarrel with his prescription but admit also that the defensive reactions didnt do the president cause much good. After all, but for the U-turn, the presidency wouldnt be dry-cleaning Mbakas dirty cassock so publicly.One more reason why the Presidencys reaction was over the top is people asking presidents and other officer holders to resign is nothing new. We all know Buhari isnt going to pack his bags just because Mbaka said so.When the president and other leading lights of his party were in opposition they regularly berated Jonathan and demanded his resignation. Such calls shouldnt sound so offensive now the shoes on the other foot.The clerics second option is for the National Assembly to impeach Buhari. Snow is more likely to start dropping in hell than for the 8th National Assembly take such a step. Impeachment is political and a game of numbers. The All Progressives Congress (APC) controls both chambers with comfortable majorities. I doubt if theres any member of the ruling party bold enough to sign up to such an agenda in todays environment.Fact is Nigerians are on edgebattered on every side by security and economic challenges. The government isnt as popular as it was on Election Day in 2015even if there are those who want to believe otherwise.So rather than taking an arrogant, hectoring tone towards the disaffected, conciliation might just be wiser. After all, friends dont just turn to bitter foes overnighteven where theres a little matter of contracts involved.
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