Nigerian bishop quits over ethnic objections

A Catholic bishop in southern Nigeria has resigned following fierce objections over his nomination because he did not belong to a local clan of the Igbo ethnic group.

The Vatican announced the resignation of Monsignor Peter Ebere Okpaleke on Monday, six years after Pope Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI named him to the post.

Okpaleke, who hails from neighbouring Anambra State, was never able to take up the post because the priests and laypeople of the diocese insisted that their bishop belong to an Igbo clan native to Ahiara’s Imo State.

The nomination

Pope Francis initially took a firm stand in defending the nomination, summoning Ahiara clergy to the Vatican in June last year.

He demanded “obedience” and gave the rebel priests 30 days to “ask his forgiveness” and accept Okpaleke’s appointment or face the sack.

But the row was not resolved, and Cardinal John Onaiyekan, archbishop of the Nigerian capital Abuja, has run the diocese as a temporary measure since July.

Ethnic tensions and rivalries are never far from the surface in the oil-rich former British colony, which counts more than 200 ethnic groups including three main ones: the Igbo in the southeast, the Yoruba in the southwest and the Hausa in the north.

Booming population

Africa’s most populous country with some 180 million people including more than 30 million Catholics is also divided between a largely Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.

The Catholic Church views Africa, with its booming population, as fertile territory for a regeneration of Catholicism worldwide as the numbers of the faithful dwindle in many industrialised countries.

Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze was on the short list during the papal conclave that elected Benedict XVI in 2005.

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