Fr. Alia’s victory follows the footsteps of the Late Very Rev. Fr. Moses Orshio Adasu (June 12, 1945 – November 20, 2005), who contested and won the governorship seat of Benue State in 1992 under the Social Democratic Party (SDP). This made him the first Catholic priest in Africa, and arguably in the world to contest, win, and serve as an Executive Governor of a State.
The 2023 General Election in Nigeria has thrown up many controversies and surprises to the chagrin of many political parties and political actors who have held on to the old status quo of elections.
From the Federal to the State elections, many political heavyweights and major political parties were shockingly displaced and defeated in their long-held strongholds by the first-time political contenders and less-reckoned political parties that unexpectedly won elections at different levels.
The new wave of the political tsunami in the country has been largely attributed to the sudden re-awakening of the Nigerian populace, mostly the youth, on their rights in the electoral system space. The youth, under the “Obedient” umbrella, were ably motivated and inspired by Mr. Gregory Peter Obi, the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party for the 2023 election.
Among the many surprising developments in the recent elections is the unexpected entrance of Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia into the political contest. The Rev. Fr. of the Catholic Diocese of Gboko, in the Benue State of Nigeria, irked the Catholic Church in Nigeria when he announced his decision to contest for the governorship seat of Benue State.
He purchased a gubernatorial ticket under the All Progressives Congress (APC), which is the main opposition political party in the State. His decision was not without many setbacks and challenges from the Catholic Church leadership in the State, and even the members of APC.
Fr. Alia has always been a household figure in the State, notable for his divine miracles in healing the sick, exorcising demons, breaking curses, and solving other spiritual problems, in line with his pastoral calling and mandate as a Catholic Priest. His name became a reference point for miracles and testimonies.
The Catholic Church of the Gboko Diocese, led by His Lordship Bishop William Avenya, opposed Fr. Alia’s decision and suspended him from ‘public ministry.’ But the priest was eminently qualified and eligible to vote and be voted for, according to Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Interestingly, Fr. Alia was declared the winner of the governorship poll in Benue State on March 18, 2023, one of the states in the North Central region of Nigeria. He garnered 473,933 votes to defeat his closest rival, Titus Uba, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the ruling party in the State, who polled 223,913, following the result announced by the INEC Returning Officer, Prof. Faruq Kuta, who is also the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Minna. Fr. Alia will take over from the incumbent Governor Samuel Ortom of the PDP.
Rev. Fr. Alia’s thorny walk to victory
Following his announcement on May 2022 to contest for the governorship seat, he actualized his interest with the purchase of an APC governorship form worth N50 million and was subsequently cleared by the party to participate in the party’s gubernatorial primary alongside 11 aspirants.
However, Bishop William Avenya of the Catholic Diocese of Gboko suspended him (Fr. Alia) from ‘public ministry,’ in a letter dated May 20, 2022, after a series of admonitions to him to shelve his political ambition.
“The Mother Church does not allow her clerics to get involved in partisan politics on their own,” Bishop Avenya warned sternly in the suspension letter.
The Catholic Canon Law – Canon 285, subsection 3, “Clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power.” Canon 287 subsection 2 “They are not to have an active part in political parties and in governing labor unions, unless in the judgment of competent ecclesiastical authority, the protection of the rights of the Church or the provision of the common good requires it.”
Unperturbed that the Catholic Canon Law forbids her priests from partisan politics, Fr. Alia contested and won the APC governorship primary in a landslide victory. He defeated many political bigwigs in Benue State, including Sam Ode (the former Minister of State for Niger Delta), Steven Lawani (the former Deputy Governor of Benue State), Mike Aondoakaa (the former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice), and Terwase Orbunde (the immediate past Chief of Staff to the incumbent governor).
His victory at the APC primary attracted legal battles over his eligibility to contest in the governorship race. Angered by Fr. Alia’s victory, Mike Aondoakaa, one of the APC contestants, approached the court to challenge the outcome of the party’s primary on two grounds “that Fr. Alia wasn’t a member of APC and therefore not eligible to contest the primary election. Also, that Fr. Alia could not validly contest and be declared the winner, being an ordained Catholic priest and a church minister engaged in full employment or service of the Catholic Church.
The case lingered from the lower court to the highest court in Nigeria – the Supreme Court, where a five-man panel of justices led by Justice John Okoro, dismissed the suit on February 2023 and held that Fr. Alia remained the Benue State governorship candidate of the APC for the 2023 general election.
In response to his suspension and the controversies trailing his political journey, he said, “Ignoring the mandate meant not to appreciate what God has done for the state as the food basket of the nation. From the day I took the decision to answer the overwhelming calls of my people to contest the governorship of Benue with the aim to rescue our people from the shackles of maladministration, I was fully aware of the sacrifice I was going to make. And I am convinced that it is worth the cause I am fighting to serve the souls of the Benue people and the state. I remain resolute, and please don’t be anxious either because I am well-prepared and focused.”