Irrespective of the fence mending tactics the governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha is trying to adopt to seek the face of the Owerri Diocese Archbishop, Anthony Obinna, the Catholic Church has vowed to hold the governor responsible if anything happens to the fiery cleric or any of those working with him.
It would be recall that an unhealthy relationship exist between the Archbishop and the Imo State government led by Okorocha. Apart from skirmishes the Catholic Church had with the APC government prior to the 2015 election at Obiri Odenigbo where suspected supporters of the State Governor disrupted the Governorship Debate organized by the church preceding the election, the recent near fist cuff at St Michaels Ngwoma, during a funeral mass of a late Christian mother, further worsened the affair.
At the Ngwoma Catholic Church, Archbishop Obinna escaped attack from suspected agents of the governor while the wife Nkechi and son-inlaw Chief Uche Nwosu were present. Few days after the infamous insult hurled at the head of the Owerri Archdiocese Bishop, the governor attended the birthday of the elder brother of Archbishop Obinna paddy Obinna. Paddy Obinna is an appointee with Okorocha. The birthday bash to Paddy Obinna is seen in some quarters as a subtle means by Okorocha to seek Obinna’s face.
However, in the latest edition of the Catholic newspaper known as The Leader, the front page banner posted online on Sunday March 18, 2018 has “Gov Okorocha Threatens Archbishop Obinna” as lead story with a rider “we’ll not handle him with kid gloves-Okorocha”
The story reads “The Catholic Church will not bury its head in the sand like an Ostrich while things go wrong in Imo State, no matter the volume of threat and intimidation.
“But the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri has vowed to hold Governor Rochas Anayo Okorocha responsible, if anything happens to His Grace Archbishop Anthony Obinna, or any of those working with him.
“This follows an inciting press conference held last week, in Abuja, at the Imo State Liaison Office, where two representatives of Governor Okorocha declared war on the Archbishop and the Catholic Church. The press conference was published on Monday, March 12, 2018, by the Daily Sun, with banner headline “Okorocha draws battle line with Catholic Priest”.
“Speaking at the press conference, Liaison Officer Dr Edward Ihejirika, and the Governor’s aide on Electoral Matters, Steve Asimobi, accused the Archbishop of blackmail and intimidation, saying the Okorocha Government would not handle him, the Archbishop, with “kid gloves” as was done by the Ohakim Government.
“Archbishop Obinna succeeded in his blackmail then because Ohakim’s government handled the issue with kid gloves. But that would not be the case this time. We will not tolerate any intimidation or blackmail coming from anybody or anywhere even from the spiritual realm,”
“The press conference claim that the Archbishop made a verbal attack o the governor’s wife and Uche Nwosu. This of course was not true as the Archbishop was addressing politicians and everyone present on issues concerning the state, which he has the right to speak to without fear or favour.
“Dr Ihejirika and Mr Asimobi admitted that the Archbishop was booed, but they know it was APC supports who were insulting the Archbishop in the Church – a behavior that is sacrilegious.
“Additionally, Governor Okorocha’s men said: “It was this same Archbishop Obinna who lied to Nigerians that a Catholic Priest, Eustace Okorie was physically attacked by government supporters, a day after local government election was conducted in Imo State, during former Governor, Ikedi Ohakim’s tenure.
“Obviously, the event being referred to by Governor Okorocha’s aides was the ugly incident which occurred during the Ohakim Government, when the Governor’s aides manhandled Rev. Fr. Eustace Okorie for failing to completely, give way to Governor Ohakim’s siren honking entourage. The incident generated a huge public outcry in Imo State and beyond and was said to be the reason why Governor Ohakim lost the 2011 election to Governor Okorocha.
“It was public knowledge that Fr. Eustace was humiliated, defrocked and even detained in a cell. It was the Ohakim Government who later apologized to the church and not the Archbishop, as alleged.
“The award given to the former Governor Ohakim recently by the Archdiocese of Owerri was for his bold move to return mission schools to the church and not an apology.
“It should be recalled that two weeks ago at the St. Michael;s Catholic Church Ngwoma, supporters of Governor Okorocha and his in-law, chief of staff, Uche Nwosu, unwittingly tried to turn a funeral Mass, into a political uproar. This occurred while the Archbishop was speaking to the congregation and urging them to get their voter’s card.
“Although, the Archbishop was not physically assaulted and said so in a media interview, he the Archbishop was, by all intents and purposes, insulted and humiliated.
“Analysts say, “This is quite serious if the panic to grab power come 2019 has now reached to direct threat to the Archbishop. This is obviously no democracy, if people cannot talk”.
In a swift reaction to the publication, Okorocha has replied that “The only issue is that the Archbishop does not seem to like APC as a Party and he does not hide it. He does not hide his affiliation to APGA. So he finds it extremely difficult to be on the same page with President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Rochas Okorocha, who are products of APC. That is all.
Going further, the press statement by the Chief Press Secretary to Okorocha states “For instance, accusing Governor Okorocha of threatening the Archbishop which they made banner headline last Sunday over an interview by Chief Steve Asimobi in Abuja which was also harmless was very unfortunate and unchristian. It makes the newspaper look junk. A Christian newspaper should be conveyor of truth and peace and not marketer of falsehood and incitement”.
“The Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha or the Rescue Mission administration he pilots has no score to settle with Archbishop Anthony Obinna and people should please stop creating such impression.
“In 2011 and 2015 respectively, Governor Okorocha and his Party APC won overwhelmingly in Owerri Municipal where most members of Owerri Catholic Diocese reside. And more than 95 percent of members of the Diocese including the Archbishop’s senior brother and a frontline Politician in the State, Sir Paddy Obinna have remained as we write, strong supporters of the governor and the Rescue Mission administration.
“And in 2019, no doubt, the members of the Diocese will also vote for the governor’s choice for the governorship because they know the truth of this whole story. They know that the governor has never in any way offended the Archbishop or the Diocese.
“We also want to use this opportunity to appeal to The Leader newspaper owned by the Diocese to stop damaging the reputation of the Archbishop by publishing falsehood and blackmails as if it is an opposition medium”.