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Speak posterity into Governor Mbah’s heart – An open letter to Bishop Godfrey Onah

Our Father Bishop,

I come before you again today, with the full respect and honour your position as the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka, and as a Christian intellectual warehouse and moral revivalism crusader has earned for you.

I know this may be the most inauspicious time to court your attention, given the nebulous cloud lowered over the Church of God at Nsukka by the proprietor of Okunerere Adoration Ministry, Fr. Paul Obayi, who, during his recent preaching at his Adoration ground, accused both you and the entire clergy doing the work of God at the Nsukka Diocese of the Church, of conspiring to undermine his spirituality and Ministry.

This letter is not about the disagreements between the leaders of the Church in Nsukka, although you will recall my well-documented struggle with this my brother priest a few years ago. Curiously, our quarrel was still about land-related matters as it affected my community. Recall that we wrote you then, and had good reasons to believe you ignored the letter, compelling us to go to court. I also remember the day you came on a pastoral visit to the parish in my village, Nguru, and all that you told us that made us begin to believe you were not in cahoots with the priest to deprive my people of their land.

But this is not about the embarrassing public spat you are currently battling with the priest. By the time this letter gets to you, as I believe it will, it will be the fourth time I am writing to you. The first two letters were co-written with my brother-patriots under the aegis of Nguru Concerned Citizens/Nguru Nsukka Development Union. The third one, which also took the form of an Open Letter, was written on March 4, 2023, and titled, “Just before they mislead our Chief Evangelist: An Open Letter to Bishop Godfrey Onah.”

In that letter, I tried to draw your attention to the rumours making the rounds then that you were trying to bring the position, influence, and powers of your office as the leader of the Catholic community in Nsukka Diocese to muster support for the man who sits as the governor of Enugu State today, Peter Mbah. In that letter, I made a strong case to discourage that step. Whether I succeeded or not in discouraging that action is immaterial at this critical point in our journey to avoidable social and economic oblivion in Enugu State. It was just 14 days to the election when I wrote that other letter, and although I neither heard you nor other priests in the Diocese use our pulpits to give political advantage to the friends and funders of the clergy, it was obvious that you must have some form of relationship with Governor Mbah. Even if you have somehow lost his friendship like nearly all the PDP leaders in Enugu North have, the fact that you command a vast majority of the people of Enugu North and Isi Uzo, who are ardent Catholics confers on you the sort of influence that gives a lot of heft to your words and statements.

Just as Unoka loved joys of the moment such as music, it appears that our government also cherishes ephemeral endearments such as great praise news headlines from both the paid media and those too scared of reprisals and patronage to publish otherwise

Those days when we heard that you were going to mount the pulpit and also working on compelling the priests under you to take the same place, to preach support for Peter Mbah, we were genuinely scared; it would have made our work a lot more difficult. This is me admitting to the enormous power you command, and the aura of celestial charisma that surrounds everything you say.

I watch many of the clips that your smart videographers and social media handlers make of your sermons. I have heard Muslims and non-Catholic Christians admit to your rare intellectual gifts; they say you are the most influential Catholic Bishop in Nigeria today, that you have stepped into the activism Bishop Hassan M. Kukah represented while he served as the Secretary of the Catholic Diocese of Lagos, and a few years afterwards. They say you speak truth to power. One even told me that you should step further into the mainstream arena to engage our leaders at the national level – that you are bigger than Nsukka Diocese and Enugu State.

This was where I disagreed with them, our Father Bishop. How can we, in our good conscience, loan you to exert your influence in the national arena when things are in near-intractable degeneration in Enugu State? We cannot be the hypocrite described in Matthew Chapter 7: 3-3, where Christ asked, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye?”

Our Father Bishop, our dear state, Enugu is in a dangerous spiral, blindly descending into the abyss of leadership indiscretions with direct consequences on our present and future economic well-being.

You need to begin to speak, scream, and shout as loud as would make the deaf to hear. I know it’s difficult for politicians to listen to advice, surrounded as they are by Special Advisers of all shapes, forms, and sizes, but I doubt if Governor Mbah would resist hearkening to the words flowing from your fountain of wisdom. You may choose to visit him: speak to him in the privacy of his office. You may even offer him the free PR of celebrating Mass for him in that chapel built by former Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, after which you walk with him along the long corridors of the Governor’s Lodge, into his court where a heart-to-heart will then take place.

Tell him without mincing words, that he is driving the state into such a state of indebtedness that will likely force those living in the state to seek refuge as economic refugees in neighbouring states. You may have heard that the administration of Governor Mbah has approached Fidelity Bank and Globus Bank for a loan of N170 billion. You may have heard that the state, on August 12, 2023, got approval for a N58 billion Supplementary Budget from the state House of Assembly.

Nna anyi Bishop, this government, in less than four weeks after the House of Assembly approved this budget, it was reported that the government has drawn down on this fund and applied for a fresh approval of N170 billion in loans!

The question you have to ask him, Father Bishop, is what he has in mind in borrowing an amount that is far higher than the budget earlier approved for the entire year. You may also seek to understand what he is going to do with N170 billion in the three months remaining in fiscal 2023, or will he use the money to fund the 2024 budget?

Nna anyi Bishop, I was so worried about this loan facility that I had to write to the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank, Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe to find out if they understood the precarious financial situation they were putting the state, with the loan approval. I also sent the message to the Director of Corporate Communications of the Bank, Dr Meksley Nwobu, who orally responded that the bank was within its rights to grant loans to customers.

I did not disagree with Dr Nwobu, but I wondered if the bank did proper due diligence on the state’s deplorable financial condition before agreeing on that loan. Our Father Bishop, Enugu State was already bent under the crushing weight of indebtedness and will certainly be broken by the fresh loan, and I will explain.

Enugu State, as of February 2023, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, was owing more than N167 billion in external debts, making it the 7th most indebted state in the country. Although its internally generated revenue (IGR) reporting has remained opaque for eons, estimations from a 2021 report suggest the figure to hover between N22 billion to N30 billion per annum. What this means is that the state was by all sane standards, already insolvent before the fresh request for N170 billion credit.

Except the banks would move in on private assets in the likely situation of the state becoming unable to repay or even service the facility, it is extremely difficult to see the pathway out of this humongous debt. Inflows from the federation account, the state’s lifeblood, have been coming in trickles. At the average of N7 billion every month, the funds that come from Abuja, fused with the state’s IGR will certainly not be able to repay these loans.

Nna anyi, this is the time to raise your voice against those who are leading our state into this dark road. I spent the better part of my journalism career covering finance, and I also worked in the Nigerian banking system for four years, so I know a bit about money. I have also taken the pains to interview some of my friends who are quite knowledgeable about debt and development and they were unanimous in their submissions that except the government is plugging the entire funds into productive projects that would yield immediate multiplier values, there is no way the state won’t grind to a crunching halt under the weight of such huge debts.

Speak, Father Bishop!

Speak about the assets stripping that is disconnecting the state from its proud past. The news has been out about the purported sale of the sprawling acreages where the Star Printing and Publishing Company, publishers of Daily Star operated from in its glory days. We have heard about the one of Enugu State Marketing Board. The latest, Daddy Bishop, is the alleged sale of the Presidential Hotel premises.

While I do not believe in trying to resurrect the moribund Daily Star because, as a journalist, I know the impact developments in technology have had on media consumption patterns, I also do not believe in converting every available acre of land for private residential real estate. Those swathes of land can be deployed for other economic purposes.

The story of the Presidential Hotel is rather pathetic. In Rivers State, their own Presidential Hotel is still thriving, standing luxuriantly as a reminder of the glorious Eastern Nigeria days. In Imo State, Concorde Hotel is still the most valuable hospitality brand. Why isn’t someone thinking of rebuilding this edifice, even if it would serve no other purpose but be a reminder of our history? At the rate we are going, I fear that someday soon, someone will divide up Okpara Square, hew down those beautiful trees in the adjoining green area, and sell them up for cash and commission. We seem to be in a hurry to blight our past, even as we grope in the darkness of a road we fail to light up into our future. How do we even expect a future if we destroy our past?

Speak Bishop, Speak now!

Speak against the compulsive docility of our state House of Assembly. When the people voted for these people, the aim was for them to act as checks on the executive, as prescribed by French philosopher, Charles Louis de Secondat, who later in his life became known as Baron de Montesquieu. Montesquieu’s Doctrine of Separation of Powers is well documented, and its fundamental ingredients, are captured in the Nigerian Constitution. But it doesn’t appear as if these fundamental principles of democracy appeal to the members of the House of Assembly in Enugu, who, I have heard, happily stay at home and only congregate whenever something is required of them to rubber stamp – something like the N170 billion loan request, which was unanimously approved minutes after the government presented it.

Speak! Please speak now! We are riding in an elevator with fraying cables; faith might take us through on our journey, but fate might descend fatally on those coming after us, should we not take the steps demanded of us to fix the fraying cables of our government today. We are increasingly assuming the personality of Unoka, the infamous character in Chinua Achebe’s classic, Things Fall Apart, who ate his seed yams and left his son, Okonkwo to go through the shameful rigours of depending on the mercies of Nwakibie to build his future yam barns.

Just as Unoka loved joys of the moment such as music, it appears that our government also cherishes ephemeral endearments such as great praise news headlines from both the paid media and those too scared of reprisals and patronage to publish otherwise.

But dear Bishop, the circumstance that we find ourselves in is such that you assume the role of Chika, the priestess of the Oracle, who spoke the truth to Unoka, telling him that unlike what he wanted to make-believe, his problem was his laziness and poor investment (farming) decisions. You are the Chief Priest of the Most High God, and it must be heard and known that you have spoken truth to those cannibalizing state assets, selling them to friends and acolytes, and imposing debts they could demand pounds of flesh from us and our future generations to service and repay.

Talk to them, Father. Make the video clips go viral. My late uncle, Sebastian Ugwu was fond of this proverb, and I will render it in Nsukka and attempt to interpret: “Onye ga-anug’ uka nwa Dimaja Ogori, enyimenyi o zor’a ukwu ne nti?”

Transliterated, this means, “He who does not hear the voice of the son of Dimaja Ogori, could it be the elephant stamped its foot on his ear?”

Dimaja Ogori was a famous person from Edem Ani who had hearing problems that made him to scream when talking to other people. But I am sure there is no such a man impeding the auditory faculties of those who are currently occupying the Enugu Government House.

Speak to them, Father Bishop. Speak and save us from their unfair and unfriendly economic decisions that might affect our future. Speak posterity into their ears and their collective consciences.


Ikem Okuhu is a journalist, a Public Relations professional, brand strategist and teacher. With a career that traversed Print Media, Oil & Gas, Banking and entrepreneurship, Ikem is the author of wave-making book; PITCH: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths, a dispassionate exposition of the dos and don’ts of successful engagement in the marketplace, especially the Nigerian marketplace. He is the founder/publisher of BRANDish, Nigeria’s first nationally circulating Brands and Marketing magazine. He has also handled the PR and reputation management consultancies for a number of brands, businesses and public figures.

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