June 13, 2024
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Reverend Alia: From healing crusader to governor-elect

Key points:
  • Before his election as Governor-elect, Revd Alia had been a Catholic priest for 32 years
  • The Catholic Church suspended him when he showed interest in politics
  • He endeared himself to the people through his mass healing and deliverance ministry in Makurdi
  • Aspirants for governor in Benue underrated him
  • Non-payment of salaries by outgoing Governor Samuel Ortom worked in Alia’s favour
  • Governor-elect has promised good governance for the people of Benue State.

By Charity Roberts

The Governor-elect of Benue State, Reverend Father Hyacinth Iormem Alia, may not be one of those familiar politicians in the Nigerian political scene or a business icon.

But, as far as the Christendom in Benue State is concerned, Alia elicits the pleasant memories of his healing masses conducted once every week at the St. Thomas Parish Catholic Church in Anum situated directly opposite the Benue State University (BSU) in Makurdi.

Like his Catholic contemporaries of Adoration ministries in Enugu State, Father Ejike Mbaka and Holy Ghost Congregation’s Reverend Father Emmanuel Edeh of Elele in Rivers State, Alia, gifted with grace of divine healing for several years, had conducted masses in Makurdi to deliver oppressed people from the shackles of evil spell. That was before his eventual transfer to another parish in Vandekiya Local Government Area of Benue state.

Alia elicits the pleasant memories of his healing masses

His ministry as a healing crusader

Alia is a well-known crowd puller during his healing masses at the various parishes he shepherded all these years before his sudden venture into politics in early 2022.

In fact, motorists usually encountered difficulties plying the BSU dual carriage road whenever his healing meetings took place during his days at St. Thomas parish because of human and vehicular traffic as people from all walks of life converged on the ground to be touched by one (Alia) used by God to perform miracles in the fold of the Catholic Church.

Little wonder, his stray into partisan politics, when he formally joined the All Progressives Congress (APC),  raised dust among the long list of governorship aspirants on the party platform.

Reverend Father Alia

Aspirants for governor in Benue underrated him

He was one among the 13 out of the initial 33 aspirants who purchased the N50 million forms to vie for the gubernatorial ticket.

Interestingly, from the very moment of his entry into the party, his co-aspirants caught cold.  However they were optimistic that the party’s hierarchy wouldn’t consider him for the ticket because, in their estimation, ‘Father’ hadn’t any structure to rely on.

In the same vein, the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) lost their sleep as they saw the priest entry into the gubernatorial space as a threat to their political calculations to retain the state in 2023.

The cleric beat 16 contestants to emerge the governor-elect of Benue State in the March 18

Consequently on both sides, the politicians and their foot soldiers did all they could to discredit the eventual emergence of the cleric which, however, did not hold waters, as against all odds he won primaries in a landslide victory as flag bearer for the APC.

The political scene also featured more controversy over Alia’s candidature following his temporarily suspension from priesthood, a development which his detractors feasted on but which however aided his popularity to clinch the party’s ticket.

Reverend Alia’s suspension as Catholic priest came immediately he joined the governorship race

The Catholic Diocese of Gboko, in a letter dated May 20, 2022 and signed by the Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Gboko, Bishop William Avenya, who is also Apostolic Administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Kastina-Ala, indicated that the affected priest was earlier warned in line with the church’s rule on partisan politics

Reverend Father Alia

“This canonical suspension takes effect from the moment it is communicated to him and last until he ceases from contumacy,” the letter of suspension indicated.

Meanwhile, adherents of Catholic, opined that it was a normal practice of the church, adding that Alia is only suspended from celebrating public Eucharistic masses, but that he remains a priest of the Catholic Church forever and that after his tenure ends in public civil service he shall resume his public masses and ministry.

The battle for Alia didn’t end at that level as those opposed to his emergence within and outside his party, including the PDP, further dragged him on the corridor of the court where he again won all the cases brought against him from the lower to the supreme court.

The Priest turned politician won the poll by a wide margin

Finally, against all odds, the cleric beat 16 contestants to emerge the governor-elect of Benue State in the March 18 governorship and House of Assembly election held in the state.

Alia had expectedly, polled a total of 473,933 to beat his closest rival, PDP’s Engr. Titus Uba who scored 223,913 while Labour Party’s Heman Hembe came a distance third with a total of 41, 881 votes.

The priest had won primaries in 13 out of 23 LGAs

The preacher-turned-politician in the end led in the race with a margin of 251,020 votes, a feat considered as the worst defeat for PDP in the state since the return to democracy in 1999.

Returning Officer for Governorship Election in Benue, Prof. Adamu Farouk Kuta, who is Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Technology, Minna in Niger State announced Alia as the winner of the election after also winning in 17 LGAs out of 23 leaving PDP with four and Labour party with only one LGA.

It would be recalled that in the APC’s primary election in May, 2022, Alia had polled a total of 526,807 votes to defeat 12 other aspirants of the party including, a former national chairman of PDP, Senator Barnabas Gemade, a former deputy governor of the state, Steven Lawani, a university don, Prof Terhemba Shija, a business tycoon, Dr. Mattias Byuan, two former ministers; Sam Ode (now his deputy governor-elect) and Michael Aondoakaa respectively among others.

The priest had won primaries in 13 out of 23 LGAs while Lawani led in five LGAs and Ode in four LGAs as well as Byuan in one.

Reverend Father Alai

Chairman of the APC electoral panel for Benue, Dr. Peter Ojie, announced the winner Saturday night, May 28, 2022 during the special congress of the party.

Observers viewed Alia’s win from several perspectives such as his huge followership occasioned by his priestly and potency of healing activities.

Also, the quest for change in leadership of the state – from known politicians to fresh breeds – and the legacies laid down by the late Reverend Father Moses Adasu who was governor of the state in the testimonies of people, stood him out.

Ordinarily, the priest, it was believed would have been no match of the political wizardry of the likes of Gemade, Lawani, Hembe, Shija, Aondoaka and others if the party had adopted indirect mode for the primaries which popped him up simply because the known politicians had existing structures which could have worked against the ‘tsunami might’ of their challenger, Alia, especially, as they (politicians) would have bought up the delegates to emerge such that Father’s candidature may never had seen the light of the day.

Alia has not been tested and found wanting

On the other hand, Alia wouldn’t have also been a hard nut for PDP and Governor Samuel Ortom to crack during the general election but mainly for the weak candidature in Uba, internal wrangling in the ruling PDP in the state whose administration also owed workers multiple months salaries.

“Alia’s win summarised the people’s desire for a responsive government”

A political observer, Apine Chichi, said that Alia’s win summarised the people’s desire for a responsive government, which will meet the yearnings of the poor masses.

“Alia has not been tested and found wanting. He is not one of the politicians people are afraid of, so there is this feeling that his coming will spring development on all stratas in the state.

“There is also the belief that as a priest, he would likely make a mark just like the late Governor Moses Adasu, who was also a Catholic priest and performed well in his time. Looking at the pattern of voting in this election, one would realise that most of those who voted Alia hadn’t seen or met him before. People just wanted a genuine change so that the society will be better for it,” he said.

Another respondent, Kate Adah, said, Alia’s win was never a surprise to her as, apart from his priestly background which played no small role in his emergence as the governor-elect, Benue people really wanted a leader who can provide good governance.

Adah added, “that leader we yearn for is Alia. He is new to the terrain so we trust that he will lead well. The PDP’s Uba would have nothing new to offer given his antecedents in the assembly which was nothing other than a rubber stamp for the executive.”

He is new to the terrain so we trust that he will lead well

Surely, the man, Alia, means differently to his parishioners scattered in all the Catholic churches he has shepherded and continued his healing/deliverance masses in Makurdi since the 90s.

Reverend Alia’s biography

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

He attended St. Francis Primary School, Agidi, Mbatiav in Gboko Local Government Area of Benue State for his First School Leaving Certificate and proceeded to the then St. James Minor Seminary, Makurdi where he obtained his General Certificate in Education GCE in 1983. Then, he gained admission to study at St. Augustine’s Major Seminary, Jos.( affiliate of University of Ibadan ). He obtained a Diploma in Religious Studies in 1987 and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sacred Theology in 1990 (affiliate of Urbaniana University, Rome).

Reverend Father Alia

The clergy proceeded to Fordham University, Bronx NY, USA for a Master of Arts Degree in Religious Education (Psychology and Counseling) in 1999. He thereafter proceed to Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,USA in 2004 for another Master of Arts Degree in Biomedical Ethics and completed his Doctorate Degree in Biomedical Ethics in the same University in 2005.

Alia has worked in God’s vineyard in many places both home and abroad and many of his parishioners describe him as the the “Fr. Mbaka” of Benue.

Until his recent entry into politics, Alia held sway as the Project Director for the proposed Catholic University Ankaa- Vandeikya of the Catholic Diocese of Gboko. His name no doubt rings a bell as far as Christianity is concerned in Benue.

It would be recalled that when he first appeared before the state APC working committee to intimate them about his intention to run for the state’s highest office under its platform, Alia expressed the desire to rescue the citizens from bad governance.

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

No doubt, the obvious factor which today crowned Alia as the Benue governor-elect is his priestly background and outdoor activities of engaging a massive crowd for periodic healing masses.

The political capital of his popularity originated from this background as a factor in response to lingering faith based animosities became the tool for him among other factors.

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