Benue Guber: The Rise of a Catholic Priest from Pulpit to Politics

Reverend Father Hyacinth Iormem Alia’s name evokes memories of his healing Masses held once a week at St. Thomas Parish Catholic Church, Anum. The church was located directly opposite Benue State University (BSU), Makurdi, for several years until it was moved to another parish in Vandekiya Local Government Area of ​​the State.

For his healing Masses, Alia had remained a well-known crowd puller in various parishes throughout the years of his priestly mission before his sudden adventure in politics a few months ago.

During the ministerial heyday, motorists generally had difficulty using the BSU dual carriageway whenever healing meetings were held at St. Thomas Parish due to human and automobile traffic, as people from all walks of life converged on the ground to be hit. by Alia who was used by God to perform miracles in the Catholic fold.

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered to join the All Progressives Congress (APC), stirred up dust among the long list of gubernatorial aspirants on the party platform.

However, when the party released the N50 million prize for the nomination form, only 13 including the priest out of the initial 33 aspirants bought the form to compete for the governor’s ticket.

Although, as soon as he entered the party, his co-aspirants caught cold, they were however optimistic that the party hierarchy would not blink at his coming because in their opinion, “Father” as he is affectionately known had not no There is no structure to rely on for success.

Likewise, leaders of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) lost sleep as they viewed the priest’s entry into the governorship space as a threat to their political calculations to retain power in 2023.

On both sides, politicians and their foot soldiers did all they could to discredit the emergence of the cleric, but to no avail as he emerged in the primary elections with a landslide victory.

Alia garnered a total of 526,807 votes to defeat 12 other party contenders, including a former national PDP chairman, Senator Barnabas Gemade; a former deputy state governor, Steven Lawani; a member of the House of Representatives, Herman Hembe; a don, Professor Terhemba Shija; a business tycoon, Dr. Mattias Byuan; two former ministers Sam Ode and Michael Aondoakaa, and several others.

Our correspondent gathered that delegates from 23 local government areas in the state participated in the indirect primary election, the winner of which was officially declared at 9:51 p.m. exactly on Saturday, May 28 at Aper Aku Stadium, Makurdi.

Priest won in 13 of 23 LGAs, while Lawani led in five LGAs. Ode won in four LGAs, while Byuan won one.

The chairman of the APC election panel for Benue, Dr Peter Ojie, announced the penultimate winner on Saturday after the party’s special congress.

The secrets of the emergence of Alia

One of the factors that favored the emergence of the priest is the enormous following caused by his priestly concern as well as the power of his healing activities and his miracles.

The second factor is the quest for a change in the leadership of the state from known politicians to new races as well as the legacy left by the late Reverend Father Moses Adasu (also a priest) who was a former governor of the state.

Alia, according to belief in the public domain, would have fallen short of political behemoths like Gemade, Lawani, Hembe, Shija, Aondoakaa, had the party adopted an indirect primary.

This is because known politicians have existing structures that could have countered the “tsunami power” of their challenger, Alia.

A political observer, Terkula Ayem, said Alia’s case indicates that the people have a genuine desire to bring about a change in the leadership of the state in 2023, starting with the exercise of direct primaries, an opportunity that seized to react against bad governance.

“Alia has not been tested and found to be insufficient. He is not one of the politicians that people are afraid of. So there is this feeling that when he is elected to power he will be different. He is the only one among all aspirants to not be a grassroots politician and he is different,” he said.

“As a priest, he would probably leave a mark, just like the late Governor Moses Adasu, who was also a Catholic priest and played in his day. Alia didn’t come into the race with money and no one asked her for money for votes. Most of those who voted for him had never seen or met him before. People just wanted real change to make society better off,” he added.

“Again, the factor that worked for him was the adoption of indirect primaries which eliminated vote buying issues. All party members were involved in the process which showed a true reflection of the spirit of the people.

“According to feelers, Alia could become the Governor of Benue State next year. He will prevail against the candidate of the PDP because the general opinion is favorable to him. I foresee a landslide victory for Alia which could have a spillover effect similar to the arrival of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015,” Ayem said.

A media consultant and chairman, Dreams and Vision Resource Centre, Makurdi, Dr. Bem Ugoh, observed that the background of the priest played a significant role in his emergence as the standard bearer of the party.

“Well, the obvious factor is his priestly background and his outdoor pursuits of engaging massive crowds for periodic healing masses. The political capital of his popularity that grew out of this background as a factor in responding to lingering religious animosities became the tool for him among the religious factors,” he said.

“Second, the inability of political elites to deliver good governance and democratic dividends has prompted the electorate to entrust its destiny in good hands. There is, however, no guarantee that the situation can change under his administration, given the issues surrounding his controversial emergence which has truly destabilized the APC family in the state. His supposed sponsorship through the influence of Senator George Akume could be both an asset and a liability as the elite could band together to sabotage him,” he added.

Nonetheless, State APC Chairman Comrade Austin Agada in an earlier interview with our correspondent said the party has been emphasizing on level playing field for all aspirants to become formidable for seize power from the incumbent PDP in the state.

Intrigues in the emergence/suspension of Alia

Predictably, Alia’s entry into the political arena sparked controversy not only among politicians but also in the church, following her temporary suspension from the priesthood.

However, the suspension, a development his critics reveled in, helped his popularity land the party ticket.

Some people had based their support for him on the ridicule he faced on social media following the suspension letter shared on various platforms by opponents.

Recall that the Catholic Diocese of Gboko announced the suspension of the priest for showing interest in politics and the post of governor after buying the nomination form to participate in the party’s primary election.

The suspension letter that went viral was addressed to all priests, religious and laity in the Catholic diocese of Gboko. Dated May 20, 2022 and signed by the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Gboko, Bishop William Avenya, who is also the Apostolic Administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Kastina-Ala, the letter stated that he had already been warned in accordance with the decision from the church. rules on partisan politics.

Reacting to the suspension, Head of Media and Publicity, Alia 2023 Gubernatorial Organization Kula Tersoo said it was normal church practice. He added that Alia was only suspended from the celebration of public Eucharistic Masses, but that he remains a priest of the Catholic Church forever and that after the end of his term in public service, he will resume his duties. priestly functions.

Tersoo recalled that a former governor of the state, the late Reverend Fr. Moses Orshio Adasu, who served as the second civilian governor of the state, went through the same process.

The man, Alia

Alia means different things to his scattered parishioners in the Catholic churches he has led, especially given his healing/deliverance masses in Makurdi since the 90s.

He was born on 14 May 1966 in Mbangur, Mbadede in Vandeikya Local Government Area of ​​Benue State in the family of Mr and Mrs Thomas Katsina Alia.

He attended St. Francis Primary School, Agidi, Mbatiav in Gboko Local Government Area in Benue State where he obtained his first school leaving certificate and proceeded to St. James from Makurdi where he obtained his General Certificate in Education GCE in 1983. Afterwards he was admitted to study at St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos (a branch of the University of Ibadan). He graduated with a degree in Religious Studies in 1987 and a Bachelor of Arts in Sacred Theology in 1990 (affiliated with Urbaniana University, Rome).

Clergy went to Fordham University, Bronx NY, USA for a Master of Arts in Religious Education (Psychology and Counseling) in 1999. He then went to Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA United in 2004 for another Master of Arts in Biomedical. ethics and obtained his doctorate in biomedical ethics from the same university in 2005.

Alia has labored in God’s vineyard in many places both at home and abroad, and many of his parishioners describe him as the “Father. Mbaka” from Benue.

Until entering politics, Alia was project director for the Ankaa-Vandeikya Catholic University Project of the Catholic Diocese of Gboko. His name rings a bell when it comes to Christianity in Benue State.

Recently, when he appeared before the state’s CPA working committee to inform them of his intention to run for the state’s highest office under his platform, he expressed a desire to save citizens from bad governance.

“After preaching the gospel from the pulpit for 32 years, I decided to extend it to governance,” Alia said.

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