Lambert Mbom

The two apostolic visitors – priests from Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire arrive Buea diocese in the South West Region at a time that the diocese was getting back its mojo! The timing of this visitation is long overdue!

For a little bit of background, Bishop Awa experienced the Maranatha Crisis where Fr Etienne Nkumbah of blessed memory refused to take up his new appointment from Bonjongo where he had become popular because of a healing ministry he had established! This crisis was so serious that even some priests are said to have lost their lives because of it! The astuteness of then Bishop’s Secretary, Andrew Nkea now Archbishop of Bamenda helped mitigate and cushion the effects of the crisis and undoubtedly this catapulted him to popular acclaim. Thankfully the Holy Spirit worked overtime, and the crisis was resolved and the priest reinstated.

Then came Bishop Bushu in 2006 whose reign led to a mutiny six years later. For the first time, priests of the diocese of Buea penned a memorandum castigating the leadership of their Bishop! In a state of the diocese address in 2015, Bishop Bushu reported that many priests of the diocese had never accepted him as their Bishop! The diocese had gotten to the breaking point, call it tipping point. Ten years after he came to the diocese, the simmering tensions precipitated the creation of the diocese of Kumba in 2016. Three years later, Bishop Bushu attained retirement age and Rome could not wait.

After 13 years as chief shepherd, Bishop Bushu unquestionably left a dysfunctional diocese with disgruntled priests and Christians! Of course, Bishop Bushu was a true pastor and spiritual father but lacked the administrative nerve and tact to corral the horses!

Even though the 2012 memorandum was sent to the Nuncio, Bishops of the Bamenda Provincial Episcopal Conference (BAPEC) and Provincial Chairperson of the Association of Diocesan Priests (ADP) and not Rome, clearly Rome waited the crisis out first by erecting the diocese of Kumba and then letting Bishop Bushu to retire! That’s how and why Buea diocese got an Apostolic Administrator and not a coadjutor with right of succession!

Rome had the golden opportunity for an apostolic investigation and that would have been shortly before the retirement of Bishop Bushu! But nego! They took a young, dynamic Bishop and sent him into the lion’s den! Buea diocese has never healed.

The issues plaguing Buea diocese are not Bishop Bibi’s creation! They predate him. He walked into a lion’s den! A booby trap in fact! It needed tact! He ought to have known that he was not Bishop Bushu’s candidate to replace him and of course Bishop Bushu’s proteges were bound to pull out the knives. The question that looms large is whether Bishop Bushu really handed over Buea diocese? He has seen his “empire” crumble, with his lieutenants wreaking havoc!

My initial diagnosis of the situation reveals that managing transitions has been the Achilles heels of this diocese! At the heart of the issues that have necessitated this apostolic investigation is “legacy” – the legacy of Bishop Bushu in Buea. It seems incongruous to believe that in just three years, Bishop Bibi has done worse than Bishop Bushu in 13 years.

Talking about Bishop Bushu’s legacy, it is instructive to show that two of Bishop Bushu’s legacy projects have bloomed and blossomed in three years under Bishop Michael Bibi.

The Divine Mercy Co-Cathedral Project is a multimillion creation of Bishop Bushu launched in 2009 and am sure expected to be completed before the scheduled retirement in 2019! The project stalled under its initiator because of gross mismanagement and rampant embezzlement. Many Christians just stopped contributing. In three years, Bishop Bibi has galvanized the entire diocese and mobilized the requisite financial resources and today the project is finally near completion. Bishop Bibi hit the ground running corrected the errors of his predecessor and this is now on track! This not without complaint.

Secondly, the Divine Mercy Radio and Television project is the baby of Bishop Bushu! While the Provincial Communications Project collapsed, Bishop Bushu shored up this diocesan project! The radio was vibrant and there was a Facebook page which streamed major religious events of the diocese! There is now a full Radio and TV station broadcasting daily! It is fully operational. Bishop Bibi is fully vested in this project and his weekly slot on the Catechism delivered from a different parish weekly has been quite enriching! The talk of people leaving the Catholic Church and joining the Pentecostal Churches is a farce! It’s not a new trend and cannot be because of Bishop Bibi! The point is there has been continuity in some aspects just as there has been radical discontinuity.

One thing is clear: the investigation under way in the diocese of Buea promises to be a clash of the interpretation of Canon Law. It is an attempt at deconstructing the Canon Law availed of by Bishop Bibi and textbook Canon Law! It is not enough to quote Canon Laws! It is time for interpretation and application and this adjudication hopefully will be a master class in Canon Law. There is the perennial philosophical conundrum of the ought Vs the is! Unfortunately, secrecy is the sworn modus operandi of the Church and the comprehensive report of the visitors might never see the light of day! Yet, some of us have our books and pens ready for the lessons in Canon Law.

One area of the radical discontinuity has been the Catholic University Institute of the Diocese of Buea which has turned out to be a hydra headed monster seeking to eat its own! Simply put, this citadel of knowledge has turned out to be a cursed blessing! It has been a thorn since 2012 and features prominently in the memorandum. Beyond mere gestational issues, the usual pains of growth, wont of new ventures, it has morphed into an identity crisis! What kind of university should CUIB be?

This issue alone has three subsidiary issues attached to it namely the status of the former President of the University, the now defunct CUIB Foundation that morphed into Africa E5 Foundation and the corresponding satellite schools, and Buea fidei donum priests serving in the diocese of Charlotte. This is a quandary of Canonical issues to be sorted through.

CUIB had become a “structure of sin” with envy, pride devolving to hatred tearing the diocese apart! Position, Power and Privilege! This university became a center of power and a mini diocese within the diocese! It became a divisive force within the presbyterate.

Will the investigation vindicate the former President of the Catholic University Institute of Buea? Just remember that the President was on an indefinite sabbatical in the United States of America while still governing the University.

Bishop emeritus in that inauspicious interview he granted specified that then President of the University was in the US to work on the CUIB Foundation. Why would the President leave the university and be working on a foundation when there was a Board in place in the US? Is there any possibility of Rev Fr George Nkeze being reinstated as President of CUIB? Only possible if Bishop Bibi is no longer Bishop of Buea. We have a zero-sum game here! The question, I would dare ask is: What would a win-win situation look like here?

The second issue with CUIB is the Board of Trustees which according to the previous statutes was the supreme/highest body of the University! Who sets the Board of Trustees? Can the Bishop change the Board of Trustees of the diocesan owned University before their mandate expires? Clearly, there is a clash of visions here: The attempt to import American style education hook, line and sinker is at the heart of the issue. While canonically relevant, it is important to note that there was a rush to implement new statutes given the university’s founder was about to retire.

The next conundrum is that of the Africa E5 Foundation with more complexities! Did they say they were renting CUIB premises and that’s the only relationship with the diocese in addition to spiritual approval from Bishop emeritus Bushu? A U.S. based foundation that seeks to help educate children in Cameroon and finds it imperative to link to a diocesan university and yet be autonomous. What is more sinister and hopefully the apostolic visitors would be able to establish the relationship between the Catholic University Institute Buea Foundation and Africa E5 Foundation? According to documents in the US, Africa E5 Foundation is successor to the now defunct CUIB Foundation! One could. It but wonder why Bishop Bushu would authorize such a take over?

A corollary of this is the issue of the priests serving as ‘fidei donum’ – gift of faith serving in the diocese of Charlotte in the USA. As Bishop emeritus Bushu stated, these priests were supposed to learn the ropes and trade of running the CUIB foundation! But since December 2019 that foundation is defunct! The fidei donum priests have instead started their own personal foundations and what’s more they have pitched camps in the US refusing to return to their diocese of incardination! They want to excarnate and that is their right and prerogative. This is a flashpoint of the current apostolic visitation! The two priests who were recalled by their Bishop have secured canon lawyers.

The third issue is the Religious orders and lay movements brought in from Nigeria by Bishop Bushu which have been suppressed! Let me say this: I find this very surreal – Is it by sheer dint of coincidence that Nigerian Canon Lawyer, Biblical Theologian and Diplomat, Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu now Secretary of the Section of First Evangelization of the Dicastery of Evangelization is championing this apostolic visitation given the plight of his countrymen? Rome grinds slowly but surely, no doubt! Yet, it smells foul that Tanzanian Archbishop Protase Rugambwa, the former Secretary did not find it necessary to pursue an apostolic visitation and the Nigerian prelate has initiated one almost immediately upon coming to office! And it’s my hope and prayer that none of the apostolic visitors is Nigerian even though I have a sneaky feeling a certain Very Rev Fr Dr Paul Saa Dade Ennin might be one of them! I must admit this is a figment of my imagination but a thought worth expressing.

Again, it is worth stating that Bishop Bibi did not unilaterally decide to suppress these groups! Bishop Bushu should be honest to admit that Rome through the apostolic nuncio had stopped him from proceeding with ordinations of many of these candidates. The Nigerian Bishops Conference had lodged a complaint about some of these groups and persons.

That notwithstanding, the only lingering issue here is the status of the priests Bishop Bushu had ordained from the religious groups! For the rest, we shall find out.

The last issue is that of the reinstatement of Rev Fr Hilary Ngome accused of sexual abuse of a girl. Did Bishop Bushu follow the canonical process for handling this case? Here again we have a basket case for Canon Law. It is interesting how the naysayers have piled on this seeming to give the impression that Bishop Bibi simply just decided and rubberstamped the reinstatement of this priest. Time shall tell.

In the end, one must ask what the Apostolic Visitation seeks to accomplish? If it seeks to heal the diocese of Buea then my argument is the Canon Lawyers must seek a “sanatio in radice” – a healing from the roots. Targeting Bishop Bibi without understanding the roots of the issues will be unfortunate.