Apparently, gone were the days when religious leaders perceive Nigerian politics as a “dirty game”. Today, clergymen seem to be tired of preaching “change” to politicians from the pulpits and want to enforce the change they desire themselves through active political involvement.
This is so because, among many unprecedented developments that the 2023 general elections heralded, the rise of clergymen who temporarily dumped their cassocks on the pulpits to run for different elective offices stands out. Legally, all eligible Nigerians can vote and be voted for, according to Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution.
At least two of the clergymen-turn politicians who took “steps of faith” have been declared governors-elect in the March 18 governorship polls by Nigeria’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
While Rev Fr Hyacinth Alia won in Benue State, Pastor Umo Eno won in Akwa Ibom State.
The entry of clergymen into politics is not entirely new in Nigerian politics. Before Fr Alia and Pastor Eno, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, a law professor and senior advocate, is a pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). Also, Senator Remi, the wife of the President-Elect, Bola Tinubu, is an ordained pastor with the same church. There are a few others.
With their inauguration slated for May 29, 2023, all eyes are on Fr Alia and Pastor Eno to fulfil their campaign promises and not conform to the intractable corrupt system that has characterised governance.
Fr Alia’s Long Walk To Victory
In May 2022, Rev Fr Hyacinth Iormem Alia upset the Catholic Church when he announced his decision to get the governorship ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Benue State.
Days before the primary which he eventually won, the Catholic Diocese of Gboko in Benue suspended the “miracle-working” priest whose name was already a household identity in Benue for joining “partisan politics”.
Fr Alia had picked up the APC N50m governorship form and had been cleared by the ruling party to participate alongside 11 successful aspirants in the party’s primary.
But the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Gboko, William Avenya, in a letter dated May 20, 2022, suspended Fr Alia from public ministry “after series of admonitions” to him to quit politics.
“The Mother Church does not allow her clerics to get involved in partisan politics on their own,” the bishop sternly warned in the suspension letter.
However, Fr Alia was unfazed. He would later win the APC governorship primary the same month. In a landslide, the priest defeated many political gladiators in the APC in Benue such as a former Minister of State for Niger Delta, Sam Ode; a former Deputy Governor, Steven Lawani; a former Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mike Aondoakaa; as well as the immediate past Chief of Staff to Governor Samuel Ortom, Terwase Orbunde.
Court Battle After Clergical Suspension
The priest and his followers thought that the battle was over or deferred till the March governorship election. However, Fr Alia’s opponents, angered by his emergence, won’t relent as they introduced another dimension to the game.
In December 2022, one of Fr Alia’s co-contestants in the APC, Aondoakaa, went to court to challenge the outcome of the primary. He asked the court to declare among other reliefs that Fr Alia was not fit to contest the primary because he was not a member of the APC.
Aondoakaa also asked the court to declare that Fr Alia could not validly contest and be declared as the winner of the APC primary election being an ordained priest of the Catholic Church and fully engaged as a minister in the employment and or service of the Catholic Church.
But Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja struck out the suit and held that although the suit was a pre-election matter, the ex-AGF filed it out of time.
The judge held that since the primary took place on May 26, filing the suit on June 10 made the suit status barred.
He held that the suit was incompetent and the court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the suit and struck out the suit.
The case reached the Supreme Court but Justice John Okoro who led a five-man panel of justices in February 2023 dismissed the suit and held that Fr Alia remained the Benue State governorship candidate of the APC for the 2023 general elections.
Victory At Last
Fr Alia later won the March 18 governorship poll in the North Central state.
The Catholic priest won 473,933 votes ahead of his closest rival and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Titus Uba, who scored 223,913.
The Returning Officer, Prof Faruq Kuta and Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Minna declared Alia the winner.
Alia is expected to take over from Governor Samuel Ortom of the PDP G5.
Profile: Priest And Scholar
Rev. Fr. Dr. Hyacinth Iormem Alia is a renowned Catholic priest, humanitarian, innovator, seasoned administrator, and social crusader who believes in the equality of all before God. Father is passionate about working for humanity, supporting others and providing them with opportunities to succeed.
Fr Alia fondly referred to as “Orhitty” by his peers was born on 15th May, 1966 at Mbangur, Mbadede, Vandeikya Local Government Area (LGA) of Benue State to the family of Mr and Mrs Thomas Katsina Alia
The young Alia started his early educational pursuit at St Francis Primary School Agidi, Mbatiav in Gboko LGA for his First School Leaving Certificate (FSLC) which he completed in 1977.
Thereafter, he proceeded to the then St James Minor Seminary Makurdi where he obtained his General Certificate of Education (GCE) in 1983.
With dogged determination to answer the Lord’s call as a Catholic Priest, Fr. Alia gained admission into St Augustine’s Major Seminary Jos in Plateau State.
Following extensive studies, he obtained a Diploma in Religious Studies (an affiliate of the prestigious University of Ibadan) and a Bachelor of Arts in Sacred Theology in 1990 (affiliate of Urbaniana University Rome).
He was thereafter ordained a Catholic Priest on 7th July, 1990 by the Late Bishop Athanasius Atule Usuh of Makurdi Catholic Diocese.
Many years after his pastoral service, especially at St Jude’s Parish Koti Yough, he fully cemented himself as a national and international healer of repute.
Thereafter, Fr. Alia proceeded to the United States of America (USA) where he read and bagged Academic Degrees including M.A. in Religious Education (Psychology and Counseling) at Fordham University, Bronx, New York, USA in 1999 and M.A. in Biomedical Ethics at Duquesne University Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA in 2004. He completed his Doctoral Degree in Biomedical Ethics at Duquesne University Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA in 2005.
Having worked in many places abroad, Fr. Alia has accumulated work experience that has properly positioned him to serve diligently in the Lord’s vineyard and to demonstrate his professional experience in health care.
He has served as Director of Pastoral Services, Catholic Health Services, North Campus Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, USA during which he led and oversaw five full time contracts as Chaplain, providing annual development of departmental goals and budget, coordinating Ethics Advisory Committees, assessing and planning of pastoral services and programmes as well as providing short and long term counseling services to many people across the world.
Similarly, Fr. Alia served as Chaplain, University of Pittsburg Medical Centre; Chaplain, St Joseph Mercy Health System Ann, Arbor; Coordinator and Chaplain, Jamaica Hospital and Medical Centre, Queens, New York; during which he recruited, coordinated and supervised staff of numerous departments.
He also organized, planned and conducted spiritual services as well as participated in interdisciplinary hospital committees. He equally served as Parochial Vicar, Immaculate Conception Parish, Astoria, New York, Parochial Vicar, Our Lady of the Cenacle Parish, Richmond Hill, Queens, New York.
In the area of pastoral work at home parishes in Benue State, Fr. Alia served in many parishes including as Parochial Vicar, St. John’s Parish, Gboko, Assistant Cathedral Administrator, Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) Cathedral, Makurdi.
Parish Priest of St Jude’s Parish, Koti Yough, Assistant Priest of St Theresa’s Parish, High Level, Makurdi, and Priest in Charge of St Thomas Mission, Anum, opposite 1st Gate, Benue State University, Makurdi.
He also worked as the Priest-in-Charge of Christ the King Rectory, Adi, Etulo and was Project Director for the proposed Catholic University, Vandeikya under the Catholic Diocese of Gboko.
(As seen on Fr Alia’s website)
Eno’s Legal Labyrinth
Like Fr Alia, Pastor Umo Eno also waded through legal labyrinths to emerge as Akwa Ibom governor-elect.
In January, Justice Agatha Okeke of the Federal High Court Uyo dismissed a suit filed by one Akan Okon challenging the primary that produced Eno as the PDP candidate for Akwa Ibom for the 2023 general elections.
Okon prayed the court to disqualify Eno on grounds that he allegedly forged a West African Examination Certificate (WAEC) which he submitted to the electoral body.
The judge ruled that Okon’s arguments were based on assumption and unprovable.
Okon subsequently approached the Supreme Court but the apex court held that Eno was duly nominated by the PDP on May 25, 2022, and eminently qualified for the elections.
For the March 18 poll, INEC declared Eno as the winner. Eno polled 354,348 to defeat his closest rivals — Akanimo Udofia of the APC who scored 129,602 votes and Labour Party (LP)’s Uduakobong Udoh who got 4,746 votes.
Eno was declared the winner by INEC Returning Officer in the state, Prof Emmanuel Adigio.
Eno, a former Commissioner for Lands in Akwa Ibom, is the anointed candidate of the incumbent governor, Udom Emmanuel, whose two terms of eight years will end on May 29, 2023.
Profile: Pastor And Businessman
A native of Ikot Ekpene Udo in the Nsit Ubium Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom, Eno was born on April 24, 1964, to the family of Mr Basey Umo Eno, a chief superintendent of police, and Deaconess Eka Umo Eno.
Eno graduated from the University of Uyo where he bagged a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and Public Administration as well as a Master of Science in Public Administration.
He worked in different banks before he ventured into the hospitality business. The immediate past Commissioner for Lands and Water Resources in Akwa Ibom State is the founder of All Nations Christian Ministry International.