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Onitsha Priests and Crowther Memorial School .

Crowther Memorial was not one of the schools forcibly taken over by the Ukpabi Asika government in 1970s; it had been publicly owned even in the 1950s.

By Chinelo Amobi

Truth is the first casualty in every war or crisis. We all have seen this fact manifest in the funny propaganda against the Anambra State government over the ownership of not just Crowther Memorial Primary School in Onitsha but also the land on which it is built. Some Anglican bishops as far as the South-West of Nigeria have been informed that the Willie Obiano administration in Anambra State has been acquiring Anglican primary schools by force. This is of course, a fantastic lie.

What is in dispute really is the status of one of the two primary schools located in the same premises in Onitsha. Crowther Memorial Primary School was built in the 1950s and became government owned ever since. It was known as Native Authority School before it was renamed Onitsha Urban Council Elementary School, and there were five of them in Onitsha before the military coup of 1966.

Put succinctly, Crowther Memorial was not one of the schools forcibly taken over by the Ukpabi Asika government in 1970s; it had been publicly owned even in the 1950s. For some people to tell barefaced and dangerous lies in order to demonise the state authorities is a particularly low road to take. This is all the more so when they do so wearing cassocks. In the immortal words of the Bible. “you shall know the truth, for only the truth shall set you free” (John 8: 32). Therefore, concerned Christians apologise to the Nigerian public, especially the people of Anambra State, for the conduct of some activist Anglican priests. Bishop Owen Nwokolo should not appear as a nice guy when greater seriousness is required; he has to display firmer control of his priests, so that he can retain his personal integrity

I was born an Anglican in the Diocese on the Niger Diocese. My family played a critical role in the spread of this protestant faith in Ogidi and environs. The Iyi Enu Hospital in Ogidi, owned by the Anglican Church and the first hospital in Igboland, was made possible by my family and others. Chief Emeka

Anyaoku, the erstwhile Commonwealth secretary general, and Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, are among distinguished Nigerians born in this great hospital.

However, an increasing number of some of us from this diocese do not bear allegiance to the church any more. Bishop Nwokolo and others need not go far to find out why the Anglican membership of the Onitsha diocese has been hemorrhaging. For example, let them reflect honestly on the ethical conduct of its own priests in public in recent days.

On Friday, November 2, 2018, some priests blocked the entrance to Government House, Awka, for hours, pouring the worst of malediction against the Government and people of Anambra State. The Anglican Communion in Nigeria, a disciplined church known for the philosophy of live and let live, has never been associated with the kind of curses, invective, fire and brimstone which these men were openly raining on Ndi Anambra even on television.

People are free to protest in the open in every democratic society. They can carry placards with all manner of inscriptions. It is their democratic right. What is not tolerable is blocking public access to roads, all the more so one leading to the office of the state governor. What then is the difference between the protesters and followers of Alhaji Ibrahim Zakzaky of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria who are accused of habitually blocking public roads to the chagrin of both the authorities and law-abiding citizens?

When these activists saw that opinion was heavily against them, they claimed they stormed Government House for a dialogue with the governor on the status of Crowther Memorial Primary School, which shares the same premises as Omu Nwaegboka Primary School in Onitsha. It is difficult to say if anyone believes the explanation. They came with placards with incendiary inscriptions, some calling the governor who is a leading Christian “a Boko Haram” (sic). This is how low some men in cassock have gone. The men came with so many seats with which they blocked the entrance to Government House. They also came with food and drinks and water, showing they came for a showdown.

The protest planners deliberately misled even senior priests by telling them that the governor knew they were coming. They knew the truth only when Venerable Amaechi Okwuosa, a senior cleric in the Anglican Diocese of Nnewi and Managing Director of the Awka Capital Territory Development Authority, let the cat out of the bag. In fact, the bishop has never sought audience with the governor on the question of the ownership of Crowther School. If he had sought, he would have been granted audience automatically.

It is self-evident that those who planned the protest wanted a showdown with the state authorities by mobilising a number of men to Government House, Awka, to act in the most militant manner. They anticipated a scuttle with security officers, so that it would be sensationally claimed in the media that government agents were beating up religious leaders. They came with a battery of their journalists all the way from Onitsha, so that they could do sensational reporting.

It is unbelievable some clergymen could be so given to controversy rather than the truth. They present a report by a panel set up by the Peter Obi administration on the return of schools to their original owners which, they claim, recommended on page 43 the handover of the school to the Anglican Church because it was built by Church Missionary Society in 1956 but handed over to the government in 1957. What they fail to disclose is that the Peter Obi did not accept, let alone implement, the report because it was considered controversial. The chairman of the panel, Mr Justice Godwin Ononiba, did not sign it. The version which the church members are brandishing as their bible was written and signed only by a group of Anglicans led by Mr Justice Anigbogu, a retired judge. It is immoral to create the impression that this document was signed by all parties on the panel.

Why they fiercely insist on certain tactics to make their case beats the imagination. The Anambra State Commissioner of Police, a northern Muslim, has on various occasions advised certain Christian religious leaders against making certain claims because it will reduce their esteem in the eyes of their followers. The National Vice Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Reverend Joseph Otubu, a distinguished virology professor, noted recently: “It is very sad that ‘some men of God’ have no fear of God and no iota of righteousness in them. Only an ungodly and thoroughly perverted human being would seek to justify crimes”. These are weighty words.

On behalf of concerned Christians in and around Onitsha, I apologise to the Nigerian public, especially the people of Anambra State, for the inelegant conduct of the priests who created an embarrassing spectacle at Government House in Awka.

God bless Anambra State, our beloved and the Light of the Nation.

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