Ndigbo and Ethnic Politics: Travails of Delta Igbo
By Nwankwo Tony Nwaezeigwe, PhD, DD
Academic community as a Case Study
After my National Youth Service at the University I needed a change of environment, even though I had been granted admission to pursue my master’s degree. I worked briefly as Features Writer with Speakers newspapers, Benin City owned by Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, and later as Associate Editor of Newspack magazine, Aba; before being pressured to complete my postgraduate studies for onward employment as lecturer in the University. Meanwhile I returned for my postgraduate studies as a dedicated and devout Christian Worker in the Campus.
I was an active member of Graduate Students’ Fellowship, member of Christ Church Chapel Youth Fellowship, Christ Church Chapel Warden, Publicity/Social Secretary of Christ Church Men’s Association, Member of Christ Chapel Council, Assistant Secretary of the Chapel Council, and Secretary of Chapel Works Committee. I was visible in almost every activity in the Church except Choir. Indeed I had already been written by the Anglican Bishop of Asaba Rt. Rev. Nwosu to come over and proceed to the Seminary for my priesthood training. I was at the same time a Lay-Preacher with Emmanuel Anglican Church, Ibusa— my hometown. I was part of the revolt at Emmanuel Anglican Church, Ibusa that led to the foundation of Christ the king Anglican Church, Ibusa.
In fact I was elected into the University of Nigeria Christ Church Chapel Council as a Student Representative. Few days before our inauguration I was appointed a lecturer with the Division of General Studies, and thus there arose the question of whether I would be sworn in or not, since I was no longer a student and by that fact lost my right of representation. There was serious pressure on the Chaplain Very Reverend P. O. U. Ikejiofor of the Methodist Church to drop me and conduct a bye-election. For that reason I had to wait till almost the day of inauguration before I was eventually sworn-in as a member of the Council. Very Rev. Ikejiofor who later lobbied me to change over to Methodist Church in order to head the new Methodist Church at Asaba, Delta State, later confessed to me when I became the force that saved him from disgrace in the Chapel, that it was indeed the Holy Spirit that prompted him to swear me in spite of all the pressures exerted on him to drop me.
Politics in University of Nigeria, Nsukka is multifarious cutting across ideological, sub-ethnic, and religious. Before the Second Republic there was little evidenceof sub-ethnic competition among the Igbo of the Southeast until Chief C. C. Onoh introduced the concept of “Wawa” as a separatist theme in Igbo sub-ethnic nationalism. Through C. C. Onoh it went into the Anglican Church during which he openly assaulted the Anglican Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Rt. Rev. Gideon Otubelu of Ukpo in the present Anambra State at the Nsukka Synod. The crisis eventually led to the transfer of the Delta State-born Archbishop Emmanuel Chukwuma from Bauchi Diocese to succeed Bishop Otubelu on the latter’s retirement. It further led to the creation of Nsukka Diocese of the Anglican Communion and subsequent appointment of the Oji River-born Bishop Ilonuba as its first Bishop.
The dominant force of political competition among the Igbo was denominational rivalry between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants which is indeed chronic among the people of the present Anambra State. In Imo it is not less pronounced because of the dominant force of sub-ethnic competition; while in Enugu, Ebonyi, and Abia it is non-existence because of Protestant Church dominance. At University of Nigeria, Nsukka this is reflected by the location of the two rival Chapels in the Nigeria—Christ Church Chapel for the Protestants and Saint Peter’s Chapel for the Roman Catholics.
Ibanga Akpabio—a Methodist was the Eastern Regional Minister of Education from 1954 to 1957 when the idea of the University was conceived. But the actual implementation of the master-plan was took place under his successor—Gilbert. Ekwenugo. Okeke— Roman Catholic who was Regional Minister of Education from 1957 to 1961. Thus at the opening of the University, being a Roman Catholic, he conveniently sited the Roman Catholic Chapel at the Main Campus Gate which was then at the present Hill-Top via Eha-Elumona where another prominent NCNC—Chief Abangwu came from.
When however he was succeeded by Dr. Samuel Efem Imoke—a Protestant Presbyterian, the Main Campus Gate was relocated to the area where the Protestant Christ Chapel is now situated. Indeed not only was Dr. Imoke the longest serving Regional Minister of Education—1961 to 1966, he continued as a member of the University Governing Council from 1971 to 1980. The evidence of his long presence is not only reflected in the large expanse of land occupied by the Church, but the Presbyterian architectural design of the Chapel.
That the large expanse of land did not go down well with the Roman Catholics was shown by the attempt of Prof Bartho Okolo’s attempt to encroach on it for the construction of a new building for the Department of Theater and Film Studies, but he was vehemently resisted, just as Archbishop Chukwuma of Enugu Province and Bishop Owens Nwokolo of Diocese on the Niger resisted similar encroachments by Roman Catholic-driven Enugu and Anambra State Government administrations.
The Christ Church Chapel of University of Nigeria, Nsukka is organized in the tradition of Trinity Theological College, Umuahia, with Anglican, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches as joint owners, producing presiding Chaplains under contract in rotation. It was indeed the centre of power in the campus since most of the past Vice Chancellors and prominent political leaders in Igboland have been Protestants. Thus oftentimes when Christ Church Chapel coughed, the entire University community was bound to catch cold. This was the situation when Prof Chimere Ikoku—a nominal Presbyterian from Arochukwu handed over the reins of power as Vice Chancellor to his kinsman Prof Oleka Udeala—a devout Methodist from Item in the same Abia State.
As Prof Udeala recounted, trouble started when he was invited to Enugu by those who put him in power to swear an oath to an unknown deity that he must abide by every instruction handed down to him in all matters regarding university administration. When he rejected it on the ground that he is a devout Christian, he was told to start packing his bags and baggage out of the Vice Chancellor’s Lodge. With S. G. Ikoku as a prominent member of the Sani Abacha Junta, their threat was not something Prof Udeala should have overlooked.
Not long after, the University Registrar Mr. O. U. Umeh—a prominent Anglican revolted against the Vice Chancellor. Through him the conflict crept into the Christ Church Chapel where both the Vice Chancellor and the University Registrar were members, and subsequently created division in the Church. It came to the point where the Anglicans who were in the majority plotted to remove the Methodist Chaplain in-charge of the Chapel Very Rev. P. O. U. Ikejiofor because he was seen to be sympathetic to the Vice Chancellor his fellow Methodist; and when it failed, they decided to stop the renewal of his contract for a second term. The Academic Union was also bought over and became evidently hostile to the Vice Chancellor against the tradition of the union. The University community became factionalized.
The Chairman of the Christ Church Chapel Council was Prof Gaius Igboeli a Super-Professor of Animal Science in the Campus who was the pioneer Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, and later the pioneer Vice Chancellor of Paul University, Awka. The Secretary was an African-Canadian Woman Mrs. Ohaneri who was Secretary to Works Department. Other supper-Professors in the Council included Prof Anya O. Anya—a Presbyterian and the present President of Igbo Community in Lagos State, Prof Eluwa a Methodist and Prof Maduewesi an Anglican.
The Chaplain had called for a thirty-day fasting and prayers for the crisis which involved two prominent members of the Chapel, but the Chairman of the Council unilaterally cancelled it. The Chaplain was also accused of pursuing a part-time master’s degree programme at the Department of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages without the approval of the Council. For these two reasons the Anglican caucus of the Chapel who supported the Registrar against the Vice Chancellor resolved that the Chaplain’s contract which was due for renewal in a month’s time would not be approved. Since I was not part of the caucus meeting, the Chapel Council Chairman Prof Igboeli invited me to his office to brief me the position of the Anglicans with respect to the renewal of Very Reverend P. O. Ikejiofor’s contract.
When I entered his office, he simply told me that the Chapel Council had decided not to renew Very Reverend Ikejiofor’s contract for insubordination and that I should join the others to vote him out. My question was what kind of insubordination sir. He said the thirty-day fasting and prayers and the postgraduate degree programme without permission. Then I said sir I did not think these two offences were enough to warrant the man’s removal because first as the Chaplain he was in-charge of spiritual matters while we are in-charge of the administration of the Chapel; and second as a University we should encourage him to improve on his knowledge to teach us better. He was just looking at me speechless. I then excused him and left the office. Two days later, possibly from the information on my encounter with Prof Igboeli, the Chaplain came to my office to solicit for support, and I told him he should not worry since I had taken my position before his coming.
A day to the Council Meeting to decide the fate of the Chaplain, the Secretary Mrs. Ohaeri came to my office and informed me that she would not be available at the Council Meeting and thus as the Assistant Secretary, I should take down the minutes of the meeting. I quickly sensed their plan since the Secretary while taking down the minutes was not often disposed to speak at Council meetings. I was indeed to be invalidated in the meeting through the role of taking down the minutes. I decided to adopt my strategy to evade it. On the day of the meeting I decided to deliberately come to the meeting late enough to enable them nominate an interim Secretary to take down the minutes, which was what later happened.
As the meeting proceeded without my presence, the Chaplain was worried and sent one of his daughters who was indeed friendly to me to my office to find out the reason for my absence. I simply told her to tell her father that I was coming. Fifteen minutes after the meeting commenced, I entered the Hall, and when Engineer Nwoji who was already taking down the minutes wanted to hand over the notebook to me I beckoned on him to proceed with the job. When it was time to deliberate on the Chaplain’s matter, he was asked to step outside. Thereafter Prof Igboeli began to reel out catalogues of misconducts by the Chaplain after which he concluded by saying that under such circumstances his contract as Chaplain would not be renewed.
Everybody was quiet. I was expecting Prof Anya O. Anya to say something but nothing came out of him. Before the Chairman could call for votes, I raised my hand to speak but the Chairman refused to recognize me. I then stood up still raising my hand, and he had no other option than to permit me to speak. After speaking for about five minutes countering all the allegations of the Chairman to the great surprise of everybody, everywhere was quiet for some time. Then one member stood up and supported me but said the Chaplain should be cautioned. I quickly raised a point of information to the effect that such a statement would be indicting.
The Chairman then took over from the point of indictment and accepted the point that he needed to be cautioned if we decide to accept the renewal of his contract. The Chaplain’s contract was by that effect renewed. The next morning he came confessing to me how too much pressure was mounted on him to remove me since I was no longer a student. I then told him that he should not worry about the indictment clause but that he should just give me the Chapel letter-headed paper to write him officially on the renewal of his contract before the substantive returned since I was still the Acting Secretary at the time.
That was what I did in which I skipped every clause of indictment and copied all the relevant authorities. Later the crisis was to degenerate into a state of serious schism in the Chapel that I had to resign my Council Membership openly during the Church Service with the letter distributed to all the Church members in attendance. It was after then that the Chaplain came to me pleaded with me to join the Methodist Church so that I could be ordained a Priest to take charge of the new branch in Asaba, Delta State. I told him that already I had a pending invitation to that effect from the Anglican Bishop of Asaba Diocese but that given my latest experience in Christ Church Chapel I was no longer interested in Priesthood. I further informed him that I was not ready to play politics in the House of God. That indeed ended my ambition to become an Anglican priest.
Meanwhile, as the battle for supremacy between the Vice Chancellor and Registrar raged on in Christ Church Chapel, the Academic Staff Union leadership under Prof. George Amadi from Imo State threw all professional cautions overboard and pitched camp with the Registrar who hailed from Imo State against the Vice Chancellor who was their member, to the great disappointment of the greater part of the members.
Nwaezeigwe is the Odogwu of Ibuzo, Delta State
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