ORDINARILY, transfers of Catholic priests, which are routine exercise, have always come without much ado. This is because anyone affected, irrespective of his responsibility, moves to his new posting in line with the canonical obedience they swore to abide by.
But a recent transfer by the Enugu Diocese of the church has brought in its trail an interesting angle to the otherwise regular routine. This development followed the transfer of one of its gifted and outspoken priests, Rev. Fr. Ejike Camillus Mbaka.
Mbaka, who is the founder of the popular weekly Adoration Ministry Enugu Nigeria (AMEN), according to the church leadership led by Bishop Callistus Onaga, was moved from Christ the King Parish, Ekulu, GRA, Enugu, where he had spent over 15 years as Parish Priest to Our Lady Parish in Emene, an Enugu suburb.
Ordained as a Catholic priest in 1995, the latest transfer is not the first for Mbaka. It was gathered that soon after his ordination, he was sent to serve at the Holy Ghost Cathedral, from where he was moved to St. Anthony Parish, New layout, Enugu. He was again moved to the Government Technical College (GTC) premises, which was being used then as a worship centre for members around Ekulu, GRA and their environs. It was at the GTC ground that he got the inspiration for adoration and began to use the GTC field as his adoration ground.
However, it was when he ran into controversy with the then government of Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani in 2001 over a stampede at the Adoration ground, which led to the death of about 10 worshippers and an unborn baby, with the government placing a ban on the school premises for religious activities that the church leadership decided to intervene.
Mbaka was subsequently mandated to relocate the church. This he did to the forest of Ekulu, which later became Christ the King Parish. He was made the Parish priest of the church following his performance at the place. However, it appeared moving to the CKC parish ground was the tonic needed for his Adoration Ministry to blossom. It began to attract even non-Catholics to the extent that available spaces around the church were acquired for an expansion of the weekly programme.
And while the adoration lasted at the CKC parish, the fiery Priest was always deeply involved in controversy with politicians and certain other persons in the society. The likes of the late Sanni Abacha, former Imo Governor, Ikedi Ohakim and the incumbent Imo Governor, Rochas Okorocha will not forget him in a hurry.
During the New Year eve prayer session to usher in 2015, the cleric, who had formerly showered praises on the then first family during Dame Patience Jonathan’s visit, not only recanted, but practically took the former president to the cleaners, saying he had brought bad luck to Nigeria. He thus urged Nigerians to see the light through Muhammadu Buhari, who was then a candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
His Prophecy that Jonathan would not return as President and would lose the Presidential election to the incumbent President unsettled the polity. But amid the dust raised by the prophecy, he remained unruffled, telling all that cared to listen that God should remove him should Jonathan win. In the end, Jonathan lost.
Aside revealing an alleged plot against President Buhari, Mbaka, not only hosted the First Lady, Aisha Buhari during her visit to Enugu, but was also a guest of the First Family at Aso Rock Villa, in Abuja. This caused a lot of disquiet and led to public criticisms in certain quarters, as well as calls for necessary punishment from his superiors.
Though the church explained that Mbaka’s eventual transfer was a routine exercise, many believe it was due to the discomfiture Mbaka’s conducts caused the otherwise conservative institution. His members, therefore, saw his transfer as “punitive.” They believed the cleric ran into troubled waters with the authorities of Catholic Church recently because of his controversial pronouncements, the latest being his revelation that some people were planning to kill President Buhari. He also asserted that the only way to check him was to send him (Mbaka) out of the adoration ground.
The unusually large number of worshippers that gathered last Saturday at the CKC Parish GRA to escort him to his new place of posting lent credence to the statement. While addressing the weeping worshippers, he informed them that his posting was aimed at making him to suffer.
“I know I am going to suffer. The Adoration Ministry, which has blossomed by the grace of God for sometime now, is undergoing trial. I am going to stay in one small room that has only one small bed, one small table, a little toilet and a bathroom. So, where am I going to keep all the Adoration assets? My clothing and books I can keep in the car or somebody’s house, but where will I keep these assets that I have given to the Catholic church of Enugu? But I say may God take the glory and whoever has offended me, I have forgiven. I won’t fight or even dream of battling anybody. If anybody allows the devil to use him, the same person that advised you to make a mistake will laugh at you when you cry over the error. The baby is born, there is no going back”, Mbaka had told the congregation.
At the CKC ground that Saturday, it was openly discussed that some politicians and groups working underground had influenced the transfer. The members said moving him to Emene, where he would be serving under two priests; live in one room after staying in a duplex at CKC, as well as the church’s unwillingness to provide space for the Adoration Ministry’s assets, were indications that he was marked for punishment.
They further alleged that before the present church leadership came on board, there was a standing order that Mbaka should be coordinating his Adoration Ministry from the CKC Parish and should only be transferred to the place when he must have completed some of the structures needed there. There were others who said some members of the Parish council met with the church leadership to request that the priest be allowed at least six more months to enable him set up a parish house at the Adoration ground where he could live, but they were turned down. The immediate past Bishop of the diocese, Rt. Rev. Anthony Gbuji (rtd.) was said to be the brain behind his stay at CKC.
They stated that with his being the number three priest at his new posting, there is little role left for Mbaka, which is responsible for the single room assigned to him. But despite these mixed feelings, the worshippers had abandoned other priests who relocated last Saturday and instead arrange for several lorries, buses and cars and triumphantly conveyed Mbaka to his new place of posting.
Amid music blaring from different instruments of the various groups that were on ground to participate in the event, the journey, which ordinarily shouldn’t have been more than 40 minutes, took over three hours due to the vehicular and human traffic it caused.
Mbaka’s New Abode
With the new positing, Fr. Mbaka is now attached to Our Lady of Roses Parish, Emene, Enugu East Council. The Church building, which is almost as big as the one he left in GRA (CKC Parish) is fully completed, painted and fenced. Inside the church compound is a twin duplex sitting behind the church building occupied by priests, seminarians and other church workers. It is here that Fr. Mbaka will be living till further notice. Fitted with modern gadgets, but not as palatial as the CKC Parish house, it has a standby generator, which equally powers the church building.
It was gathered that Fr. Mbaka has, however, not passed a night at the Church’s parish house, apparently due to the fears he raised earlier concerning his security, as well as the fact that he may be trying to fully settle down before moving into the place.
One glaring thing about the new place is that it lacks space compared to the CKC, from where Mbaka was posted. The fence demarcating the road from the church is almost overlapping the church building. Apparently not wanting members to overflow to the road, the only open space in the compound is roofed without walls. The church is about five minutes drive from the popular Oye Market in Emene.
The state government is currently reconstructing the road, which is the same as the one leading to Mbaka’s Adoration permanent site in Umuchigbo. From the church, it takes about 10 minutes to drive even on the ongoing road construction to Umuchigbo, which is the permanent site of Mbaka’s Adoration ministry.
The unique thing about the place is that the road from the state capital is tarred to the Oye Market, where one could branch off to either the new Parish or Fr. Mbaka’s Adoration ground. It was gathered that the state government, as part of its contribution to the good job being done by the priest and what God is doing at the adoration ground, decided to tar the road as fast as possible. Any visitor to the area would readily agree that government is tarring the road leading to the adoration ground. Other roads in the area are not receiving such attention.
The Adoration ground is a spacious place, and displaying a big signboard with the bold inscription: “Adoration Ministry Enugu Nigeria (AMEN)” welcomes any visitor or announces that one was face-to-face with the popular miracle and healing ground that has become a Mecca of sort.
Inside the ground are post houses occupied by workers of the place, who are made up of those cleaning the compound, local security men and well-armed policemen guarding the area. There are also shops where church materials, Aqua Ralpha water, Ralph Yoghurt, Ralpa soft drinks and other edibles are sold. The place also bubbles with other activities, especially on Fridays, when the Adoration programme usually holds, as the villagers are said to bring in their goods for sale around the area.
There is a large concave-like arena fully roofed but without walls, where Adoration holds. The arena, which is fully lit with spacious car parks, has a podium in the centre for officiating priests. It is fitted with hundreds of chairs and musical equipment that enables residents hear whatever is happening at the ground from any part of the area. A chapel sitting atop a hill has been roofed and awaits furnishings.
A worshipper, who simply identified himself as Peter told The Guardian: “What you are seeing here is just about one-tenth of the landed property we have here. It is meant to be an arena with a difference based on the conception of our spiritual director.”
Fr. Mbaka, who on Sunday held a mass at the Adoration ground for the first time since the arena was conceived, said the place “is designated by God for mega miracles. Here, I have seen the lame walk, I have seen the sick healed, I have seen a deaf person hear and the blind see. I don’t know how it happens, but I know it is the handiwork of God. People have repented and given their lives to Christ in this arena and we are grateful for what God is doing. We have millions of followers here. They come from different parts of the country. If you look at the arrangement of the chairs, you will discover that each part of the country know where to stay, when they come for our weekly all night Adoration programme.”
Announcing the commencement of Sunday services at the Ground, he said “from now henceforth, Nigerians will witness a different kind of adoration and the move of God in this place. God is going to do that which He promised us. Like the Israelites entertained mixed feelings, when they were moving out of Egypt, but at the end of the day, they were joyful and happy that they took that step of faith. I am happy and joyful that we will soon settle here permanently.”
That Sunday, Mbaka had taken some Ministry workers to a part of the compound, where they prayed and announced the immediate commencement of work “to enable me move in”. He added: “Nobody knows where I am staying for now, and that is why I am still around till this evening (Sunday), so as to reach my children and tell them that I am still accessible. Majority of them who were weeping when we were moving did so because they felt we could no longer be reached because there are several things we do here. We have various units taking care of the poor and needy in the society. We provide scholarships and take care of the sick in the hospital. There are several people we train in school, as well as widows who depend on us for their feeding. There are also others we pay their house rents. There are mad people we took to neuropsychiatric hospital and pay their bill among others”.
On Thursday, when The Guardian reporter visited the area, he was informed that Fr. Mbaka had not returned there since he left on Sunday. He was not in the parish house either. Adorers and others who wanted to see him were, however, moving in and out of the arena. His phones were said to have been switched off.
The impression gathered was that he has decided to stay away from public glare until Friday, when the weekly Adoration resumes for the year. With the priest’s relocation, expectations are high that it will trigger activities in the area and the signs have started manifesting.
Why We Opposed His Transfer
Aside the reasons earlier adduced, the transfer of Fr. Mbaka is being rejected by some members of the church because of his level of involvement in charity works. Many of the beneficiaries of his kind gestures under the non-governmental Multi-life Savers for the less privileged, some people said relocating him could affect many homes that have in one way or another benefitted from and depended on him.
Miss Eze Ifenyinwa Peace, 22, is a student of the Coal City University in Enugu, where she is studying Economics. She hails from Nkala Community, Ishielu, Ebonyi State. Said she said in tears:
“I usually collect my school fees at the gate. I came to Fr. Mbaka, when I was in the secondary school. I explained my circumstance to him. He knew me as one of the workers and his church member. I am in the singing ministry. So, we used to stay with him. In the process, I went and explained to him that I am an orphan. He told me to go to Multi-Life Savers to register. With that, I was able to do my WAEC and JAMB and he gave me money to purchase my entrance/ admission form. And since then, he has been there for me.
“I’ve been an orphan right from my childhood. My brothers are not here with me, as some of them have travelled and are not back. I didn’t know my parents. I was told my mum died when I was small. My father also died in 2002. I had been living in Enugu before my father died. He was sick and couldn’t cope. Transferring Fr. Mbaka may mar my future, as it is.”
A widow, Mrs. Ozokechi Nkechi from Obunofia Ndiagu in Eziagu, Enugu State said: “My husband died in August 2005 and since then Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka has been taking care of my children and I. My first child was around seven years old then. All my children were still in primary school and from there I put them in the Intercessory section of the Adoration Ministry. My children belong to the Intercessors of the Adoration Ministry.
“One day, Fr. Mbaka was celebrating mass for the members. And he asked the members, “is there anyone among you who has lost his father?” Two of my children raised their hands. From there Fr. Mbaka picked them and told them to bring their mother. When my children came home and told me that Fr. Mbaka wanted to see me, I was afraid. I wondered if my children had broken something in his house. But they reassured me that nothing like that happened. That was when he was still conducting the adoration mass on Wednesday at Christ The King Church GRA, Trans-Ekulu, Enugu.
“So, after Adoration the following day, we went to his office. He asked me if indeed I was the mother of the three children. At first he doubted me because I was still very young then. He wanted to be sure that I was not impersonating or lying. His transfer is, indeed, a blow to me and the family, but we pray he continues with his philanthropy, especially to the poor.”
But commenting on the entire saga, the former Diocesan Communications Officer, Rev Fr. Evans Offor, said that Mbaka’s case is not a special one, and that the negative imputations being made about the development was not in the interest of the church.
Fr. Offor, who was among those recently transferred, explained certain practices of the church, stating that the Catholic Diocese had respected Mbaka based on its belief that the priest had done so well in developing the church and keeping the faithful.
“There are two terms of three years each. Three years is the minimum, while six years is the maximum a priest can serve in a parish. But there could be reasons that are more of pastoral that could make a priest be retained in a parish beyond six years and this is at the Bishop’s discretion.
“For instance, in Fr. Mbaka’s case, the need to keep the Adoration ministry, which he is running on behalf of the church and his good works, were responsible for keeping him at the Christ the King Church (CKC) in the Government Reserved Area (GRA) for over 15 years. Every priest is transferable, and it is part of our canonical obedience to serve wherever posted. Bishops are also transferred.
“The point is that those who did not understand the way the church functions try to make something out of it. All of us are moved from time to time. In the recent transfer, the Bishop insisted that everybody must move and it had to be observed,” he said.