By Ikem Okuhu
The Catholic Reverend Father Camelius Ejike Mbaka made headlines across Nigeria and beyond from April 29, 2021, when a video of his sermon that was critical of Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, and some other “former friendly” politicians, was released. Efforts by the Catholic Bishop of Enugu, Calistus Onaga, to ground him for a month was thwarted as thousands of Mbaka’s followers stormed the Bishop’s Court and Holy Ghost Cathedral in the south eastern capital, destroying things, and, as the Bishop later wrote, “desecrated the altar of worship”.
The fanatical determination of the protesters eventually forced the Bishop to release Mbaka from his punitive confinement at the Bishop’s Court and on Sunday, May 9, 2021, while preaching in his parish, apologized to the Church on behalf of his unruly members.
What happened between Mbaka and his Bishop may well be dismissed as religious with little or no bearing to the wider secular world, but there are tonnes of lessons those in leadership and business can learn from this saga.
I have identified 10 of these learning points and they are explained below:
1. Make your customers rabid fanatics if you can. I decided on starting this discussion with this because of its controversial nature and potential for many to misunderstand it. Only radical religious preachers understand this, but those in sales and marketing and even political leadership are beginning to take lessons. The more fanatical your customers are about your products and services, the more frequent their footpaths to your shop floor. This is the stuff brand loyalty is made of. As a matter of fact, when Kevin Roberts, the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide, in 2004, published his famous book, Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands, this was exactly what he had in mind – future where customers are so hooked on to brands, they would literally die for it.
Mbaka has been able to demonstrate, with his followers, the abiding loyalty of his followers. For people who are members of the Catholic faith to believe in their priest so much they are willing to destroy their cathedral in his defence is strong evidence of powerful immersion in the message and philosophy of their leader.
Which brands in the market can do this?
2. Don’t let any of your products become stronger than the company. In companies, there are products called the “flagship” or the cash-cows. While the basketful of other brands might be used to decorate the shelves, these other ones are the ones that bring in the money. Those who manage these brands are treated differently. In fact, companies send in their best hands to manage these auriferous brands and service channels.
Extreme tact is needed here in ensuring that these outstanding brands and products don’t become so strong they would begin to challenge the umbrella brand’s corporate existence. This was what happened in the case of Fr. Mbaka. At a challenging period that eclectic and radical Pentecostalism was eroding the membership of the Catholic Church, priests like Mbaka were encouraged to add the spike in the church in order to prevent a growing congregant hemorrhage that was emptying the pews. Reining them in eventually became a problem as the leadership of the church feared their exit might significantly impact on Sunday church attendance.
3. The moment the CEO of your subsidiary refuses to report to the board, get rid of him. No matter how bright and productive or even influential that CEO of your subsidiary or a brand manager or head of a product group is, he cannot be more important than the board. You’d be opening up tributaries that would sip in toxins into your systems and processes with long term damages.
Mbaka has grown in influence so much he sometimes believes quite wrongly that he was beyond reproach. Standing up against his Bishop, for a priest that took the oath of Obedience, among others was a clear sign of demagoguery.
4. Use your strength to negotiate at all times. If you are a business, or you are in leadership, always be conscious of your strengths at all times. They are the advantages in a world where everyone is at war with everyone, according to Thomas Hobbes. Always be smart enough to review these advantages from time to time. Your enemies also upskill; will likely learn your tricks and even get the antidote for that which you have been using to keep them competitively behind.
That was exactly what Mbaka did. He didn’t start flaunting the strength and reach of his followership before the Church leaders. But of recent it came in useful when the Bishop thought he could routinely “detain” the priest in the Bishop’s Court just like every other ordinary priest. Mbaka mustered the strength of his rabid followers and by the time the Cathedral and the Bishop’s Court were invaded in a demonstration that nearly crippled Enugu capital city, the only option was to release Mbaka. His “Triumphant Entry” into his Adoration Grounds was proof the priest knew he possessed this power.
5. Always know when to stop. Exploiting your strengths to extract maximum advantage from your environment also has to be managed carefully so you know when to draw the line between profitable value and disruptive unruliness. Mbaka apparently did not know how to handle this and his media exchange with his Bishop might haunt his priesthood and influential charismatic homilies.
6. Believe it or not, (almost) everyone has a price! Price here is not just the cash we use for exchange in our everyday lives. It may be in the form of influence. It may be in many other forms. But it has a way of facilitating access through otherwise locked doors. Find the right price for whatever you want and offer it. You will most likely get what you are looking for.
Those who listened to Fr. Mbaka’s initial sermon in which he criticized President Muhammadu Buhari would have noticed the barbs that he threw at the governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, using the performance of Ebonyi governor, Dave Umahi and the recent airport, built by Anambra governor, Willie Obiano, as examples of their better performance. But listening to the follow-up sermon in which he responded to the support-for-contract allegation by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, it was easy to notice that he walked back his criticisms of the Enugu governor. You can bet it might not have been a result of cash exchange, but the relationship collateral Ugwuanyi had built up, supporting the priest’s ministry that was roused to count for him.
7. Power is nothing without control. Power is good. Order is better. Ask many dictators and strong executives. Exercising naked power and using it to get results is usually very “short-termish.” Mbaka may have become very powerful, but this line, made famous by Pirelli, the tyre manufacturer, should have helped activate his better judgment.
8. Don’t quarrel with your supervisor in the open. If you have subordinates in your workplace, avoid open confrontations with your superiors. Your subordinates are watching and those who would egg you on and applaud your bravado are the same ones that will, in the near or distant future, give you the bitter taste of your own medicine.
Mbaka has priests, nuns and lay people working under him. I do not know how he would react, if any person from any of these categories of people engages him in a war of words or openly express disagreement with him. He certainly wouldn’t like it.
9. Have your interest well defined. You see. We will never know whether Mbaka had gone to see Buhari for contracts, as alleged by Garba Shehu, or he went there because he wanted to fix the embarrassingly abysmal petroleum and security challenges. It is one person’s word against the other.
That is why it would have been good for the priest to remain faithful to his fiery sermons and not be seen to be hanging around the corridors of power for anything.
Define your interest in all that you do and remain true to it.
10. Never outshine your master. At his level in leadership, even if it is religious leadership, Fr. Ejike Mbaka should have availed himself of the 1998 classical book written by Robert Greene, titled, The 48 Laws of Power. The very first law in this book advises people to avoid trying to outshine their bosses. “Never outshine the Master,” was how Greene captioned this law. How Mbaka felt he could get away with wrestling with his Bishop in a set-up as regimented as the Catholic priesthood order is quite strange. Do not ever try what Mbaka attempted. It almost always ends in failure.
Okuhu, a former Special Assistant to Governor Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, is a journalist, author, farm entrepreneur, whose most recent book is ‘Pitch: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths’