In Humility of a Bishop, Sunday Orji provides a context for a melodrama between a Bishop and Candidate Peter Mbah.
By Sunday Orji
“To what can we compare this generation?” asks Jesus Christ in the book of Matthew 11, from verse 16. Then he goes on to say: “They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: “we played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’. For John came, neither eating no drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at this glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is vindicated by her actions”.
When a short video of the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Enugu, Dr. Peter Mbah, and the Anglican Bishop of Nike Diocese, Enugu Rt. Rev. Onyeka Onyia falling on their knees for one another made the rounds on the social media space last week, my respect for them tripled for their humble hearts and dispositions. I saw humility in its splendor.
It was the thanksgiving service in honour of former Minister Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo at St. Cyprian Anglican Church, Abakpa Nike. Other notable politicians, including some governorship candidates were already seated in the front rows, but Dr. Peter Mbah, in his humble nature, sat at the back. Obviously, the Bishop, who sighted him in the course of the service continued with his pastoral assignment until the normal Sunday offering. While band played, he used that window the walk down the isle to bring Mbah to the front row where other dignitaries were seated. But Mbah said he was comfortable sitting at the back. Stunned by Mbah’s humility, Bishop Onyia probably felt that such rare show of humility made the entrepreneur even more deserving of the front row. But Mbah politely turned down the offer. It was at this point that the Bishop, went on his knees as they joked about Mbah’s preference of the back seat. It was a kind of, “Okay, you want me to kneel down for you before you occupy your proper place in the service”. But Mbah, in his usual humility quickly fell on his two knees with the congregation around them hailing their humility. The Bishop gave up and told Mbah that he had won.
That incident was a rare experience in humility on the part of both Dr. Peter Mbah and Bishop Onyia. For Mbah, here is the man at the zenith of the downstream subsector of the Nigerian oil and gas industry. Pinnacle Oil and Gas Ltd, which Dr. Mbah is the Founder and CEO leads the subsector, including the oil majors, in terms of market share and volume of products handled. Just last October, President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned the $1 billion offshore, subsea petroleum products storage and distribution facility. Here is a man sitting at the helms of the a unicorn (multimillion dollar business) and no doubt the most favoured to be realistically referred to as the incoming governor of Enugu State not only sitting at the back, but kneeling in humility.
On the other hand, here is a Bishop of an entire diocese, a very high position of authority in the Christendom. In some denominations, bishops lay claim to apostolic succession or direct historical descent that dates back all the way to the Twelve Apostles. Beyond governing at least a diocese, bishops possess full priesthood given by Christ and have the power to ordain other clergy, including new bishops. In addition to these, Bishop Onyia is a well read clergy and you would never imagine that he would display such level of humility, especially in the full glare of his congregation. But he did, not under compulsion, but in appreciation of another humble soul.
I was therefore shocked to see the barrage of criticism that followed Bishop Onyia’s action by a section of social media users. I was in greater shock that most of his critics were Christians, and some of them Anglicans. It is even possible that the leadership of the Church is angry with him. But I remembered that since the days of Christ, humans have yet to define what they really want. If you are cocky, it’s trouble. When you are humble like a lamb, it is still trouble.
I guess that in a world where materialism has taken the upper hand, even in the Church, the Bishop’s gesture was totally misread as trying to curry favour from a billionaire. But did the Bishop even need to kneel down before Peter Mbah to curry favour from him? More so in the church. Common on!
Ironically, the same people, who complain that some pastors and general overseers, including “Daddies” and “Mummies” of campus fellowships carry on like demigods are the people condemning Bishop Onyi. They complain that these men and women of God are too opulent and flamboyant. They complain that they move around with a retinue of pimped up four-wheel machines and protocol staff. But the same people are calling for the bishop’s head for an uncommon act of humility. While they praise Dr. Mbah’s humility, which is very commendable and showcased him as a true servant leader, they fail to appreciate the humility and humanity on the part of the Bishop. They forget that even Christ thought us the act of humility in practical terms by washing the feet of his disciples.
They forget so easily that in 2019, Pope Francis knelt down to kiss the feet (shoes) of former South Sudan’s warring leaders, President Salva Kiir, his former deputy turned rebel leader, Riek Machar, and three other vice presidents as he pleaded with them to respect an armistice they signed and commit to forming a unity government. And that was an 82-year-old Pope, suffering from chronic leg pain. The frail Papal needed the help of his aides to kneel to kiss the leaders’ feet and to also get up. But unlike Dr. Peter Mbah, the South Sudanese leaders didn’t fall on their feet in reciprocity. It is possible they were too stunned or humility doesn’t come to them naturally.
They also forget Christ’s injunction in Matthew 23 that the greatest among His disciples shall be their servant. Christ went on to state categorically that whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. Peter Mbah humbled himself and the Bishop rightly tried to exalt him to the front seat. So, why do we want to crucify the Bishop for humbling himself too? It’s even possible that they are old friends, going by the way they exchanged banters. Where then is the splendor and spirituality in humility? I thought humility is a virtue. When did it become a vice?
Humility of a Bishop