The director of Communications of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Rev. Fr. Christian Anyanwu, has spoken on the forthcoming elections, the position of the Catholic church, and the fate of the controversial founder of the Adoration Ministry, Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka. This interview conveys the feeling that the last word has not been heard yet:
We have entered the electoral season. Do you think the primaries held represented the will of the party members?
Well, parties have their criteria for choosing who they want. Since I don't belong to any political party, I won't be able to judge. But a lot of grievances have been coming in the social media. For instance, in the APC, states were asked to conduct primaries either direct or indirect.
There are some grudges in some states about the conduct of the primaries. For me, what we should expect in the 2019 election is credible people who should come to vie for positions and people will have to willingly vote the preferred candidate of their choice.
On the credibility of the process, we saw in the APC that no one ran against the president. And then in the PDP, we saw the influence of money. Does this put into question the integrity of the process?
I am not a member of any political party. What we saw on TV was that the PDP came through together and elected whoever they felt could be their presidential candidate. On the other hand, the ruling party felt that the President is doing well.
So, they decided to allow him to continue. These are the candidates we have at the moment for those parties. There are also candidates in other parties. It becomes an opportunity for Nigerians to elect who they feel should govern them in the next four years.
The president is yet to assent to the 2018 Electoral Amendment Bill. Do you think the delay will undermine the credibility of the process?
I think there is still time. I believe he will sign. If he has any worries, it is up to them to resolve it at the National Assembly. I don't know why he hasn't signed it. But I know that the election is around the corner and without that bill, maybe it will be difficult to hold the election.
What we saw on TV was that the PDP came through together and elected whoever they felt could be their presidential candidate. On the other hand, the ruling party felt that the President is doing well. So, they decided to allow him to continue.
Will the Catholic Secretariat act as observers during the elections?
Normally we do that. We have an arm of the JDPC that monitors elections. They have been doing the work well each time and they will give their independent report. As a church, we are committed to credible elections. We are committed to free and fair elections. We want the best candidate to win. And whoever wins should be declared winner. We want also, a violence free election.
Are you satisfied with the role the police is playing?
It can only get better. We must believe in the system. Even the opposition party that are talking about INEC not doing well and all that, they should believe in the electoral umpire and we should believe in the process. I believe that there is room for improvement.
Democracy is evolving and we should allow the processes to get better and better through our participation, with everybody playing his or her role. The police, the security have a role to play. Even the electorate should vote with their conscience not to be induced in order to vote. So, everybody has a role to make the electoral process better. It is not just government alone.
Does the Catholic Church have a preferred candidate for this election?
No way. The church is like a mother. Everybody that comes to church belongs to a different political party. So, we are apolitical. We are not endorsing a candidate. But we embrace all. We want true democracy. We want everybody to have a say. Whoever is coming, we only have to scrutinize the person from the point of view of fairness and justice for the common good of all. We support everybody.
I believe that there is room for improvement. Democracy is evolving and we should allow the processes to get better and better through our participation, with everybody playing his or her role. The police, the security have a role to play. Even the electorate should vote with their conscience not to be induced in order to vote. So, everybody has a role to make the electoral process better
But Fr. Ejike Mbaka has thrown himself right between the contest for the Presidency, teasing two candidates with his support. Can this be seen as the position of the church?
The church had earlier issued a statement asking priests not to be involved in partisan politics. We do not have a preferred candidate as Catholic Church.
Is Fr. Mbaka aware of this position?
Yes. It was signed by the president of the Bishops Conference and it circulated everywhere. So even himself knows about it. We are making an official statement as a follow up to what happened in that Adoration Ground.
Do you think he should apologize to the vice presidential candidate of the PDP the people of Nigeria for the position he has taken?
Well, he is only one person. He (Mbaka) is not speaking the mind of the Catholic Church; the Church cannot accept the position of Mbaka on this matter. That is because we have legislated that the church should not be used for political campaign.
The church should not be an avenue for political campaign. The church is only a place where people worship, where the truth is said, where people are given admonition about how society should be better and not an avenue for political campaign or endorsing a political candidate.
Does Peter Obi deserve an apology?
That question should be directed to Mbaka himself.
Isn't he part of the church?
I have just told you, the statement of the Church. It has told everybody not to use the platform of the church for political campaign.
We are making an official statement as a follow up to what happened in that Adoration Ground.
Since the Church and Fr. Mbaka do not share the same views, will the church in anyway sanction him?
Well, that is left for his Bishop because the way the church operates at the national level, dioceses are independent. A particular priest is under his Bishop. So, the Bishop knows exactly what to do with his priest when it comes to matters like this.
Has the national secretariat been in touch with his Bishop on the issue?
Of course his Bishop is aware. It is viral. It is on social media. There is nobody who will say he is not aware of what has happened. I'm yet to know the decision of his Bishop. We've made a press conference to clarify things.