Anambra 2021: Aspirants Play Religious Card

As aspirants in this year’s Anambra State’s Governorship Election perfect their strategies to win their parties’ tickets, Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu, reports that Christian denomination has become a major factor to determine acceptability, hence aspirants’ ploys to be seen as lovers of all denominations

IF you are a governorship aspirant for this year’s elections in Anambra State and a week passes without your name or your picture being associated with at least one religious activity or with a well-known priest, analysts would likely conclude that you are not a serious aspirant ready to win the forthcoming elections.

This is because it is widely believed today that the influence of Christianity or more specifically, the role of Christian denominations in the outcome of Anambra 2021 governorship elections would be much more than it has ever been in the political history of the Southeast state.

Accusing the Catholic faith of dominating the politics of the state, Anglicans and members of the Pentecostal denominations have demanded to be allowed to produce the next governor of the state.

Bishop Emma C Obiorah of the Life of Faith Gospel Assembly, Nkwelle Ezunaka in Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State is one of the earliest priests this year to confirm that the age-long battle between the Catholics and the Anglicans with the Pentecostals would be re-enacted in this year’s election. He gave the confirmation when he openly condemned the dominance of the Catholic Church in the provision of the governors of Anambra State, calling on the other denominations to unite and effect change.

Obiora made the call during the Christo Feast anniversary celebration of his Church earlier this year, an event that attracted many politicians.

He said: “Everybody keeps complaining that President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC government are not doing well, what have you done in your own area like this state?

“I’m calling on Anglicans, Pentecostals and other Charismatic groups to come together to support who will take us to the Promised Land.

“There are people today who believe the wealth of Anambra State is their own. Anambra is not a private enterprise; any government that is not of God will collapse.”

“One group cannot continue to rule our state. A particular denomination feels they own the state and that is not of God.”

“We want to unite to fight that, it is injustice and unholy in the state. I train politicians. We should embrace the word of God,” he said.

Explaining why the different Christian denominations seem to disagree over the political leadership of the state, Mr. Kingsley Udochuku, a Public Affairs commentator in Awka, told The Nation that “the Catholics, who are obviously in the majority have not been fair to the rest of Anambra indigenes. Yes, they are in the majority, but is it not shameful that a state like Anambra, which is almost 100 percent Christian, will still segregate on religious ground? My take is that if we see ourselves as brothers and sisters; if we fail to vote on the basis of Catholicism, Anglicanism or Pentecostalism, there is nowhere we will consistently produce only governors that are members of the Catholic faith. The polity will not also be so hot.”

Over the years, Anambra State has been described as “the hotbed of denominational politics in the southeast.” Although Chinwoke Mbadinuju, a Pentecostal, was elected the governor of the state in 1999, most of his successors, Chris Ngige, Peter Obi and Willy Obiano, are Catholics. Senator Andy Uba and Virgi Etiaba, whose tenures turned out to be very brief, were however Anglicans.

But some analysts actually blamed Mbadinuju’s failure to be re-elected in 2003 on the denominational politics in the state. They said he was not re-elected mainly because he was a Pentecostal.

Even the former governor himself suggested this much in an interview he granted a national newspaper on July 11, 2011, when he said “Yes, there are plenty of religious sentiments in Anambra politics… In the whole of Nigeria, it is ethnic sentiments and religious too, but in Anambra State, it is between Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Pentecostals. It was much of that reason I was not allowed to contest second term. The Catholics believed it was their time and Peter Obi was chosen,” Mbadinuju was quoted as saying then.

Also, in a recent article, entitled, “Healing the religious divide in Anambra …,” Barrister Cosmas Anyabolu said: “The age-long dichotomies and mistrust between Catholics, on one hand, and the Anglicans and Protestants on the other, were made worse by the disposition, actions, and leadership style of the incumbent governor, Willie Obiano. He is a Catholic, and his administration engaged in several feuds with the Anglicans. Many of these were unnecessary, avoidable, and unfortunate and could easily be interpreted, given the power construct, as repression and marginalisation.

“During Willie Obiano’s tenure, the cries emanating from the Anglican divide became alarming. When one takes a closer look at the diversity of his appointees, his cabinet’s composition, social interactions, and body language, one cannot blame the Anglicans for feeling the way they do. It is essential to mention that Obiano’s immediate predecessors, Chris Ngige and Peter Obi, were both Catholics and that their administrations did not experience this level of division between Catholics and Anglicans.

“These previous governors were more sensitive to the diversity and default sentiments of Ndi Anambra. By his actions and inactions, Chief Obiano has made the denominational divide a principal talking point in this political season.

The Catholic-Anglican-Pentecostal divide runs deep, and while the contention for Agu Awka is on, the talk about the denominational divide will be gaining momentum. The denominations are not showing signs of coming to the roundtable and deciding for a rotational candidacy like the politicians have done with senatorial zone rotation. As the politics of 2021 heats up, politicians will seek to divide, using different bases to do so, as long as they perceive that the divisions favour them. Unfortunately, church denomination is one of such artificial divisions weak politicians will try to capitalize on to gain traction,” he said.

As the aspirants prepare for this year’s elections, we observed that they are doing their best to be constantly associated with all the big denominations.

Already, the Anglican Church has not hid its desire to produce the next governor of the state. The Nation however learnt that the call within the leadership of the Communion dates back to 2019 when the Church Strategic Committee for the Election of Indigenous Bishop of Nnewi Diocese formally lamented that none of the church members had become the governor of the state, saying that for equity, justice and fairness, an Anglican governor should be produced in the forthcoming 2021 governorship election.

But as Udochuku further explained, “it is not only the Anglicans that are anxious to produce Governor Obiano’s successor; the Pentecostals are today seen as an important bloc in-between the Anglicans and the Catholics. If they align with any of the big two, the table may tilt. This is why we see the aspirants today attending all Church public activities and seeking to be in the good books of popular priests.”

Observers are keen to see how far religion or this game of ‘denominationism’ will go in determining who will succeed Governor Willie Obiano in Anambra State.

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