Father Ejike Mbaka, Spiritual Director of the Adoration Ministry, Enugu, attracts controversy the way flies are attracted to dung. He is completely unfazed about it. He comes across as a priest who does not mind what Pope Francis once referred to as "the sin of scandal".
Last week, Fr. Mbaka stirred the hornet's nest again when he announced to his congregation that he had changed his mind about President Muhammadu Buhari, or perhaps he had received another message from God to the effect that if Nigeria's President Buhari does not resign for failing to find a solution to Nigeria's problems, he should be impeached.
This came as a rude shock to many. Fr. Mbaka was a staunch supporter of President Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 and 2019 general elections. He used his pulpit to campaign for the APC. In 2015, he openly opposed then incumbent president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Patience Jonathan.
He would later claim that an attempt was made on his life. Mbaka wields enormous influence in the Eastern Region of Nigeria. He runs a personal ministry, more of a personal business, which he calls Adoration Ministry and that deploys a combination of the scriptures, combined with faith healing, theatrical, spell-binding tactics, metaphysical hallucinations and a bit of shamanism to hypnotise an attentive audience.
In a country where poverty is widespread and the people are looking for salvation on earth and in the hereafter, anyone who is able to offer a combination of these elements is bound to be a celebrity. And Mbaka is. He is a celebrity. Something of a rock star! But where and when did he and his APC friends part ways? He did not really say anything earth-shaking or original, but coming from him, a Buharideen and an APC apologist, the weight of his new revelation attracted the right measure of attention.
In the past few days, we have been treated to a tit-for-tat between the Presidency and their Enugu-based star-gazer. Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, did not allow the saliva in Mbaka's mouth to dry up before issuing a statement to state that Mbaka, the Catholic priest, is not what he projects himself to be.
Shehu gave an account of how Mbaka once visited Aso Villa to see the president with three contractors in tow. He wanted contracts from the Federal Government of Nigeria.
But the president directed that due process must be followed. Garba Shehu, an experienced spin-doctor, thus used Mbaka to score three quick points: (1) that Mbaka is a businessman in priestly garment and an influence peddler; (2) that his so-called prophesies are at best personal opinions, depending on his calculations of likely benefits and; (3) Mbaka should be grateful that when he visited the Villa, the Presidency was kind enough not to expose him by publishing his photographs.
Garba Shehu was not alone. Yekini Nabena, the Deputy National Secretary of the APC also found it necessary to advise Mbaka to desist from making statements that could destabilise the country, and if he fails to do so, he would be reported to the Vatican.
Nabena even quoted the Bible to remind the Catholic priest of his priestly obligations and the Example of Christ. Beyond the Villa and the APC, other Nigerians waded in, including Reno Omokri, the self-confessed "Buhari Tormentor", who accused Mbaka of hypocrisy and further sent "An Open Letter to Pope Francis" to draw his attention to the delinquency of one of his priests in Nigeria.
The Department of State Services has also since reminded religious and political leaders to eschew divisive politics, because the Nigerian state will not hesitate to defend the country against all forces of destabilisation.
Clearly, the Nigerian government is embattled and it is not ready to tolerate additional pressures from any quarter.
Even the World Press Freedom Day statement that was issued by the Presidency yesterday, May 3, while expressing commitment to free speech and the freedom of information, condemned licentious freedom, and gave a small lecture on responsible journalism. And it does not matter whether you were once a friend like Fr. Mbaka, the priest or Eedris Abdulkareem, the artist.
The other week, Eedris Abdulkareem dared to criticise the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo (SAN) in a new album. Keyamo promptly released text messages between him and Eedris in which the musician begged the Minister for money to pay hotel and hospital bills, in exchange for his support for the Buhari administration.
This may be a new tactic. Nobody should be surprised if one of these days state officials release images of some vocal critics eating jollof rice and fish bone as Nicodemus guests at the Presidential Villa.
This is really a different kind of priest. It is not beyond him to rain down curses like confetti at a wedding! I find his response naïve and contradictory, and strange, given the fact that the Catholic Church traditionally provides its priests the benefit of a sound education and clerical training.
But Fr. Mbaka is taking it all, as they say, on his chest. He is practically making a mockery of the reactions to his statements. He said it is stupid "to be attacking a messenger of God" and that yes, he took three white men who are contractors, who asked for his assistance, to the Villa; so what? They were asking for security contracts for themselves, not for him, and they didn't get the contracts; so what? He accuses the Buhari government of not having "a reward mechanism":
"All the people they have been giving contracts, are they better than me? Am I begging them, do they know how many people I feed? Fortunately, they reported that they denied me of the contract – which contract? …They have shown that they don't have what we call reward mechanism. If Shehu is a human..I don't even know who the Shehu is. He should be apologising that they have not come down to say Nagode Allah for surviving what they are passing through. The last person this administration should fight is Father Mbaka talking here because if they speak against me, the anger of Heaven will be upon them and their end will shock everybody…"
This is really a different kind of priest. It is not beyond him to rain down curses like confetti at a wedding! I find his response naïve and contradictory, and strange, given the fact that the Catholic Church traditionally provides its priests the benefit of a sound education and clerical training. He is not the first Catholic priest to be controversial or outspoken in recent times. Recently, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of the Sokoto Catholic Diocese pointedly accused the Buhari government of nepotism.
The government and its agents hemmed and hawed. There were threats that Kukah would be expelled from Sokoto. But in the end, nothing happened. Kukah has since then delivered more stinging homilies and public lectures on the state of the nation. They have learnt to leave him alone. Nobody accused him of bringing contractors to the Presidential Villa.
Father George Ehusani is another prominent Catholic priest. He succeeded Kukah as Secretary-General of the Catholic Secretariat. He is not afraid to express his mind.
He is consistent and blunt. He sings. He preaches. He runs a public-spirited NGO on leadership. Nobody has disturbed him because he does not phone politicians or government officials to ask for favours.
In Ewu, Edo State, there is Father Anselm Adodo, the Benedictine Monk who is pushing the frontiers of Alternative Medicine and Epidemiology at the Pax Herbal Clinic and Research Laboratories. Fr. Anselm is so busy with research, he probably does not know where the Government House in Edo State is. To go higher within the hierarchy, John Cardinal Onaiyekan has been in the business of speaking truth to power before Mbaka gained admission into the seminary. Nobody has ever accused him of drinking tea with a cup belonging to the Nigerian government.
There is also Ignatius Ayua Kaigama, former Archbishop of Jos, who is now the Archbishop of Abuja. No contractor, white or black, would ever dare ask him to wear his cassock to go and lobby for contracts. But Mbaka is truly different.
He is the priest of "reward mechanism". His public persona is that he is a Catholic priest of election seasons. He is a one-man Electoral Commission that can predict election results or anoint gubernatorial candidates.
In 2015, he reportedly rejected money that was donated to the Adoration Ministry by the Jonathan administration.
One of his proclaimed achievements is that he correctly predicted that Senator Hope Uzodinma would become governor of Imo State through the Supreme Court. But now, Uzodinma no longer picks his calls. He was also once a friend to former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani. It didn't take long before they quarrelled and the Oracle of Adoration began to see new visions.
In December 2018, former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi apparently did not understand the meaning of "reward mechanism" when he attended an annual harvest and bazaar celebration at the Adoration Ministry. He was accused of being "stingy."
Mbaka attends road commissioning ceremonies. Only the God he worships knows how many contractors he has taken round the South-East in search of contracts.
The Diocese of Enugu, to which Fr. Mbaka belongs, has often disclaimed his remarks as his personal opinion.
The Catholic Bishops Conference has also always warned against the promotion of partisan politics in the context of Mass. But Mbaka appears untouchable. Reno Omokri, who is himself a preacher of the word, has reported Mbaka to Pope Francis.
But Mbaka is thoroughly amused. He tells his critics: "If Rome hears that Father Mbaka is challenging evil governance, Rome will clap for me, so quickly go to Rome…" He is probably amused because he knows that those rushing to the Vatican may not know how the Catholic church system works.
The Pope does not get directly involved in the disciplining of priests. Under the Code of Canon Law, it is the responsibility of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith that deals with crimes of an ecclesiastical nature committed by priests. But the Rules stipulate that the local church must take the first step in disciplining a delinquent priest, and outcomes of investigations and conclusions can then be forwarded to Rome.
Omokri's petition will be referred to the local church in Nigeria. Will the local church act? Does Mbaka's Bishop see anything wrong in what he does? Is his Adoration Ministry so rich and so supportive of the Church that not even the Catholic Bishops Conference can apply the essential norms? The problem is probably not Mbaka, but the Catholic Church of Nigeria and its leadership.
Mbaka's style is also probably environmentally determined. He has received words of encouragement from Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB).
Ohanaeze Ndigbo has also publicly supported him. Nnamdi Kanu even said Mbaka also has the right to change his mind like Sheikh Isa Pantami! In Nigeria, religion and ethnicity provide ready cover-ups for anything.
This new tendency of priests who do not want to suffer, who would rather choose the hedonistic life, explains the new character of the Church. Priests no longer get enough financial support. Priests now want to own estates. They drive exotic cars if they can. They want to travel First Class too. They argue that even St. Paul had a business on the side that gave him extra income.
Mbaka represents an emerging face of the Church, a living embodiment of the rise of utilitarian capitalism in the Church of Christ, and the conflation of priesthood with hedonism.
Catholic priests were known ordinarily as persons who had taken the Oath and dedicated their entire life to service and prayers. They disconnect from earthly pleasures. Riches do not mean anything to them. They are happy to commit to the task of salvation.
It is therefore most shocking that a priest like Reverend Mbaka, as far back as 2016, was described in one report as the owner of a Ministry within the Catholic Church, the Adoration Ministry, which he runs as a personal "business".
When he was asked to move from Christ the King Parish, Enugu to Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Emene, his main concerns were the assets of the Adoration Ministry and the fact that he would "suffer." This new tendency of priests who do not want to suffer, who would rather choose the hedonistic life, explains the new character of the Church. Priests no longer get enough financial support. Priests now want to own estates. They drive exotic cars if they can. They want to travel First Class too. They argue that even St. Paul had a business on the side that gave him extra income.
Hence Mbaka can tell the Presidency: "…do they know how many people I feed?" We are in the age of billionaire priests who run business empires.
With the offertory no longer generous, since members of the congregation are mostly poor, and in need, some enterprising priests can no longer rely on their meagre stipends. They are creating businesses and opportunities in the name of God to live well, and to support others and whenever they can, take care of the Bishops too.
They have forgotten that the Lord Jesus was born in a rented manger. He was buried in a borrowed tomb.
Where is the Church? In November 2014, Pope Francis gave an interesting homily on this same subject at the Saint Martha Guesthouse at the Vatican. His focus was the Gospel of Luke.
He said that "there are two things that the people of God cannot forgive: a priest attached to money and a priest who mistreats people. This they cannot forgive! It is scandalous…"
Quoting the Gospel of Luke, the Pope recalled how Jesus turned tables and drove away people who were selling inside the church: a sacred place of prayer which had been turned into a business place.
He added: "I think of how our attitude can scandalise people with unpriestly habits in the Temple: the scandal of doing business, the scandal of worldliness…It is scandalous when the Temple, the house of God becomes a place of business…" The Bishop of Rome has certainly not yet heard of the Nigerian phenomenon.
Everyone who has had cause to comment on the Federal Government and Fr. Mbaka's saga, including Yekini(!), has been quoting the Bible. Let me add this passage from the Gospel of St. Mark, Chapter 11: 15-17:
"Then Jesus went to the Temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seat of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them: Is it not written, my house shall be called a House of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of thieves." This is the word of God to us. May the Lord bless His Word…
Reuben Abati, a former presidential spokesperson, writes from Lagos.