But the biggest story, of course, is the passage of one of the world’s greatest personalities of the century, Nelson Mandela. If all things remain equal, it would be my desire next week to explore the spirit of Mandela.
But before then, one of the principles for which Mandela is revered is dogged integrity, especially in public office. If so, the article below by Dr. Peter J. Ezeh of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who is challenging the disingenuous and less than honourable way Professor Emele Mba Uka became the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria, adding to himself a strange honorific for a Presbyterian, “Prelate and Moderator” and splitting the church in the process, seems a germane subject to explore on the eve of Mandela’s exit. Beware though, for Ezeh’s article published below, may set off a battle of the dons: The beam in his eye.
By P-J Ezeh
Sunday Sun’s interview with Professor Emele Mba Uka, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria (10/11/13), makes an interesting reading. It brought out in high relief the problem that some of us who are familiar with the Presbyterian tradition knew that this eminent clergyman and scholar would have any day he tried to comment on Nigeria’s national issues. After he came to his present office the way he did, Professor Uka lost the moral ground to comment on any social or political issue that has to do with institutional, in contradistinction to individual, strength. Unfortunately, excepting the biographical bits the rest of the interview under reference was all about how Nigeria as a polity grapples with its current institutional challenges. It was pathetic to read how the clergyman went from one point to another entangled at each turn by bundles of contradictions, vis-à-vis the situation that he has helped to create in his own church.
But it is only human to find it all too easy to counsel on how another person or group may correct their ills but not see how enmeshed in equivalent or worse things you yourself or your group is. It made me think of the words of that unbeatable wit, Mark Twain: “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.” And before him, it was Christ himself who had famously said, “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 7: 3). Beam as the vehicle in this metaphor is a long piece of timber.
Anyone who is familiar with the Presbyterian global tradition and the excellent record of that church in the history of modern Nigeria was worried about the trouble that Professor Uka’s mode of access to the headship and his controversial style of leadership might create in this ecclesiastical system. These would be in two basic ways. One is the loss of the seriousness that the voice of the Presbyterians had always been taken in Nigerian national life. If you can’t intervene by the example of your own conduct as a group, or as a person, no one considers you as credible. All you manage to say amounts to no more than hot air. Second, the Presbyterian Church in Nigeria will become a negative institutional crackpot in the family of the Presbyterians in the world. It becomes all the more disconcerting when the basis of this discrepancy lends itself to being construed as being motivated by a quest for power and grandioseness, the very opposite of the reputation that the Presbyterians have earned themselves everywhere in the world.
Now, let us look at the key points of the clergyman and professor in that interview. Apart from the remarks on his life story, other points were about his disappointment on how Nigeria was founded and how it is being run. For him, the amalgamation in 1914 was, to quote him, “a great error”.
As a citizen he is entitled to his view. There are also those who think that the problem with Nigeria is not that people of diverse ethnicities are grouped together as one nation-state. The entire Africa can be run as one nation-state very effectively as long as the institutions are treated seriously, much less Nigeria. It is not about size, or religion, or ethnicities, or whatnot. It is whether there is respect for the rules of live and let live, expressed in the institutions of the nation-state. Once institutions are vitiated even if you make a small rural community a nation-state it still won’t work. Recall that a survey of the world economies by the Michigan State University in 1963 rated Eastern Region of this self same Nigeria the fastest industrialising economy in the world. Why? Institutional strength, which we have now lost. Professor Anya O. Anya referred to this in 1993 during an immortal speech on an anniversary of Hope Waddell Institute, one of those tremendous contributions to modernization of Nigeria that the Presbyterians have made.
In a church, in a country, in a university; in anything else, once respect of rules is lost; once the principle of might is right is enthroned, nothing else can be firm, or orderly or make progress. Once you start splitting up along racial lines as in United States Jim Crow laws or Apartheid South Africa; ethnic lines as in present-day Nigeria; sectarian lines as in Northern Ireland of recent history, present Syria, or even the burgeoning Boko Haram experience in these parts; once you start giving undue space to a negative us/them dichotomy, every truly useful thing is lost. And the loser will include the stupid side that imagines itself as the top dog. It happens that in such an ill wind everything is always dangerously in a state of flux.
But the cases of the United States and South Africa have also demonstrated very clearly that once the people return to fairness and genuine rule of law, most social defects are healed. So, pace the likes of Professor Uka, the problem of Nigeria is not amalgamation.
It is the problem of the loss of the mental attitude of love of one’s neighbour which all great religions preach. Here the term, neighbour, is used in the meaning that Christ himself gave it in his parable on that topic (Luke 10: 29 – 37). Free will in terms of choosing a geo-political, or any other human group is important but it is not a sufficient condition. If it were, you will not be having the sort vicious politics that goes on in such micro political groupings as the village assemblies, university senates, local government councils, national assemblies, churches (including currently the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria), and so on.
If it were, such post-Independence federations like the Mali Federation (merging Senegal and former French Sudan), and Senegambia (merging Senegal and Gambia) that were formed by Africans themselves would not have collapsed. Mali Federation did not even last one full year.
So, the strength of a country is as good as the strength of its institutions, which in turn is as good as the attitude of the ruling class to those institutions. But more importantly for the purposes of the present discourse, the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria under Professor Uka’s leadership is mired in the same malaise of disrespect of its own institution, and so the erudite clergy man lacks the moral ground to preach to Nigeria on how to cure its own political illness, which is very, very comparable to that of his church.
He came to the leadership of the church through a process which a great number of his members allege was rigged. Indeed the protestation that greeted it (first of its kind in the nearly 170 years’ history of that church in Nigeria) has lead to a split. In consequence there are, scandalously, now two factions of the Presbyterian Church in Nigeria. As that goes on, Professor Uka takes up the title, Prelate and Moderator. This is another negative first.
Two things stand out from this. One, it suggests self-aggrandisement in that it flies in the face of everything that is known about the Presbyterian Church historically and everywhere else in the world and previously at any other time here in Nigeria. Presbyterianism is the opposite of Episcopalism.
The first is a system that is rooted in the position of the French church reformer, John Calvin, borrowed by his pupil, John Knox, who took it to his native Scotland and eventually spread it wider in the world. Presbyterianism is the humble position that church government is in hands of elders, clergy and laity. The person who is called the Moderator at the national hierarchy of the church is therefore a mere primus inter pares; first among equals. Episcopalism is a system of church government whereby the Bishops or the Prelates are in charge and hold sway over the rest of their members. This is the one that is now accepted by Professor Uka.
This seems wrong on three grounds: Episcopalism and Presbyterianism are contradictory in terms; you cannot be both Presbyterian and Episcopal at the same time. Second, no other Presbyterian Church anywhere in the world is in a similar position. Third, there seems to be no sustainable justification for this in the Nigerian case, except perhaps in the apparent prestige of the title, Prelate, itself, which contradicts the humility with which Presbyterianism was founded and has carried on with in all other places in the world, as well as in Nigeria, before Professor Uka’s tenure.
Here again Professor Uka is on a precarious moral ground when it comes to advising on Nigeria’s secular politics. When he said during the interview under reference, “Worldliness is creeping into the church”, I am one of those who agree completely with him. But then that is the irony. If the world and the church are now in the same boat, then the church should first of all remove the beam in its eye before it can advise on the mote in the eye of the world. Professor Uka should go and put in order his own organisation that is much less complex before coming to advise us Nigerians.
Dr Ezeh teaches anthropology in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and is the Coordinator, Social Sciences Unit, School of General Studies of the same University, HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com, Tel: 08052377132