Rebellion in the Church: Binis at daggers drawn with Catholic Archbishop
Since he was appointed as the Archbishop of the Benin Metropolitan See on 18 March, 2011, Augustine Obiora Akubueze has not had peace. Prior to his installation on 28 April, 2011,? a group of Binis, under the aegis of the Edo Liturgical Group,agitated for a Benin bishop, accusing the hierarchy of the Catholic Church of marginalizing the Binis, especially their priests from emerging as bishops.
Attempts made to stop Akubueze?s installation through the courts and the Benin Traditional Council? met a brick wall since the Vatican had spoken. In Catholic Church, the making of an archbishop or a bishop is a difficult process that requires divine guidance. One of the key leaders of the Edo Liturgical Group, Pa Vincent Osakue, a Knight of St Mulumba, led the opposition to the installation of Akubueze who also doubles as the Vice Chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference, to the palace of the Benin monarch, Oba Erediauwa, through petitions.
Meanwhile, Osakue?s action attracted the wrath of the top hierarchy of the Knight of St Mulumba. He was suspended from the Knighthood as his action was tagged anti-Catholic. However, the Benin monarch intervened in the matter and urged the parties to sheathe their sword while he looked into the matter. His intervention brought cessation of hostilities between the parties until? Akubueze, an Igbo man from Anambra State, was installed. In 2012, the archbishop led a delegation to visit the Oba? who gave him gifts from the palace. But unknown to Akubueze, more trouble was to come!
Sunday Vanguard learnt that the battle for an indigenous bishop started when Archbishop Patrick Ekpu, the immediate past Archbishop of Benin, was nearing retirement. Various groups such as the Afemai (Edo North), Esan (Edo Central) and Bini (Edo South), started praying for the creation of more dioceses to foster development. Sunday Vanguard gathered that before the Auchi Diocese was created, a prominent Esan son advised Ekpu to ensure that indigenous bishops were installed in the three senatorial districts of the state.
After the creation of Auchi Diocese, an indigenous bishop, Gabriel Dunia, emerged. But when Uromi Diocese (Esan) was created,? Akubueze, who was then a priest at Iselle-Uku Diocese, was posted to Uromi, where he was ordained bishop on 25 February, 2006. Having found him worthy due to his performance at Iselle-Uku and Uromi and, particularly due to the universal nature of the church, he was moved to Benin Archdiocese to head the Metropolitan See.
According to the rules of the church, the choice of who becomes archbishop in Benin Archdiocese is not limited to Benin indigenous priests because, as a Metropolitan See, the Benin Archdiocese comprises of worshippers from almost all tribes in the country including foreigners and it supervises other dioceses in Uromi, Auchi, Bomadi,Warri, Kogi and Ondo. These dioceses are known as the Suffragan Dioceses under Benin.
On Wednesday, 24 July, 2013, members of the Edo Liturgical Group, resumed their agitation, demanding the removal of? Akubueze and a Benin priest made the bishop in his place. The group,? led by its Chairman, Andrew Ayemwenre, also accused the archbishop of meting out punitive measures against the Benin people since their demand started for an indigenous bishop which, according to them, will help achieve proper evangelization in their land in accordance with the recommendation for the church by Pope Benedict XV.
They alleged,?In less than two years of Archbishop Akubueze?s coming, there appears to be a design by him to replace our people, priests and laity in the Catholic Church. The Edo Liturgical Group visited him on more than four occasions to find the way forward. Among issues raised were one Edo Mass for parishes at prime time in the entire diocese, that copies of Edo Bible and Missal be made available in the church, use of Edo songs at Mass, priests in the archdiocese to learn to celebrate Mass in Edo language, the re-instatement of Pa Vincent Osakue to the Knighthood which was withdrawn by Akubueze and Mr. Chris Aghimien as Secretary of the Laity Council of the Archdiocese of Benin and the retention of the name, Edo Liturgical Group?.
They claimed that despite the peace moves made by the group to sort out the issues with the archbishop, ? he failed to accede to any of our requests and even refused to approve the one Mass on Sunday for the indigenes in all parishes in Benin-City. Holy Cross Cathedral as a Parish has 28 Sunday Masses in a month while only one Mass is said in Edo language for her indigenes. This means that, of the 364 Sunday Masses in a year, only 12 is in the native tongue. Meanwhile, in Onitsha and the entire Eastern Nigeria, the reverse is the case. The use of Edo language as part of the Mass is a taboo by Archbishop Akubeze?.
While insisting that the name Edo Liturgical Group be allowed to remain, they said that they have been under threat and pressure from the Archbishop to change the group just as they added that some Benin Priests have been forbidden from saying Edo Mass and have refused to associate with them for fear of victimization?.
But 24 hours after making their statement public, indigenous Bini priests, led by their chairman, Rev Father Felix Igbineweka, described the call as unfortunate and urged those aggrieved to work in harmony with the authorities of the church to avoid unnecessary crisis.? While disassociating the Benin priests from the call for the removal of the archbishop, Igbineweka pledged their loyalty to Akubueze and urged any aggrieved person to channel complaints to the relevant authorities rather than attempting to rub the name of the church with mud.
Tension further heightened in the archdiocese when some prominent Benin chiefs, led by the Iyase of Benin Kingdom, Chief Sam Igbe, insisted that the archbishop must go. They accused? Akubueze of doing things contrary to the Papal policy of promoting indigenous language and customs of the people which, they said, the Roman Catholic Church leadership believed would lead to winning more converts.
The Iyase said there was a deliberate attempt to shortchange Benin speaking priests in the scheme of? things by deliberately sending them abroad in the guise of training and replacing them with Igbo priests.?Because Archbishop Akubeze has exhibited hatred for the people of Benin and their language, he has to go and a Benin priest has to be installed bishop/arcbishop of our diocese?. Igbo reminded Akubueze that, in Mbaise, the people rejected a non-indigene as bishop and vowed to mete out the same treatment to him.
But former Senate Chief Whip, Senator Rowland Owie, and a Benin priest, Rev. Father Palmer Ikponmwosa, disagreed with them and described the call as ungodly, retrogressive and diversionary, saying ?Binis don?t forbid visitors and this is purely a religious matter and has nothing to do with tribe?. ?I do not blame the chiefs who are treading where angels fear to tread, throwing stones at the consecrated ones of the Most High God. Is there any true believer of the Catholic faith who will take doctrinal and ecclesiastical matters for adjudication in a secular environment??, Owie said.
?The most painful wounds, the worst affronts which the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Benin has received up till now, have come from her own children. We lambast our local priests as if they are our mates.? When the sons or brothers of these people who are priests are retained in urban parishes, then the archbishop is doing well but when any of them is transferred to the rural area, oh, archbishop is not good, he must be transferred. Let any one of them challenge me to a public debate on the stewardship of Archbishop Akubueze.
?Apart from Archbishop Gbuji, the evangelization efforts of Archbishop Akubueze in Edo South senatorial district, which is the Archdiocese of Benin, is unprecedented in the Catholic Church. Let us assume that Bini Mass is approved for all 70 parishes and over one hundred Mass Centers in the Archdiocese of Benin, where will these agents of destabilization find the Bini priests to say Mass??
Also joining issues with the anti-Akubueze campaigners Palmer, an indigenous Bini priest, asserted that the archbishop had impacted positively in the lives of indigenous priests and the Binis in general since his arrival contrary to the allegations against him. His words: ?When he came, 27 parishes were handed over to him but today we have 64 parishes in Benin Archdiocese, excluding Mass Centers and these have opened up Benin villages. Even a five-start hospital is about to be built in Igbuogo village before Okada and that hospital will take care of women and children.? Is it not our people the Binis that will benefit from it? This was made possible by the archbishop.
?And let me also tell you, the cry among the Bini priests earlier was the issue of extra training for our people. And when the archbishop came, he agreed that it was necessary for the Church to build the capacity of the priests by using the advantage of Fidel Donum priests, which were graciously given to the archdiocese through the request made by Archbishop Gbuji who was overseeing affairs here before the coming of Archbishop Akubueze. And this request was made in order to promote evangelization?.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that contrary to the allegation that Bini priests were not being trained, several of them are undergoing training abroad in courses that will lead to the emergence of a Bini bishop in the future.
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