The death of Sunday Mbang, prelate emeritus of the Methodist Church Nigeria, came to many as a terrible shock. It was so because nothing had been reported about his ill health in recent weeks. Early this month when former President Olusegun Obasanjo visited Akwa Ibom State to inaugurate the 23.4km Eket-Etinan road, it was believed that the two leaders must have met as has been the norm each time the former president came visiting.
In fact, both of them had become so close that Obasanjo was always visiting Mbang in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State where he had lived since retiring as the prelate of the Methodist Church Nigeria many years ago. But on May 16, a terse statement came announcing the “translation” of Mbang, the Patriarch and Prelate Emeritus of Methodist Nigeria who was not known to be facing any serious health issue, at least in the media.
Babatunde Taiwo, the secretary of the church conference who announced the “Glorious translation of his eminence,” in the statement confirmed any doubt that may have arisen about the veracity of the reported death of the one-time chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
The statement read in part, “With gratitude to the Almighty God for benevolence and providence, we announce the translation to glory of His Pre-Eminence Emeritus and His Eminence Emeritus, Sunday Mbang, Emeritus President of World Methodist Council, Christian Association of Nigeria, Incorporated Trustees of Methodist Church Nigeria and co-chairman of Nigeria’s inter-religious council who joined the Church triumphant on Tuesday, May 16th, 2023, after an impactful earthly ministry of 44 years having enlisted at Trinity College, Umuahia in 1962. He was aged 86 years.’’
Indeed, the late Sunday Mbang was an iconic and a colossus religious leader, having embodied the pioneering and pathfinding, “spirit of Nigerian Methodism,” as he scored many firsts in his lifetime. For instance, he was the patriarch’s chaplain and Bishop of Tinubu, the only person to be both Patriarch and Prelate and the longest serving head of Methodist Church Nigeria, the first black president of the World Methodist Council and the first Methodist president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, among others.
Apart from being a profoundly significant figure in the religious circle and in the Methodist Church in particular, he also played an active role in the political space in a way and had the unique and special privilege of being accorded the status of “Spiritual Father of Akwa Ibom State,” whose members were the first to endorse Umo Eno as the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who later won the governorship election held in March this year.
As expected, tributes have been pouring from many quarters including from the presidency and the Akwa Ibom State government, mourning the departure of a man who spent his entire life in service to the church and to humanity.
In his tribute, Governor Udom Emmanuel, who found in him a dependable ally, described Mbang’s death as “deeply painful,” saying that he was a “towering figure in the Nigerian Christian community.’’
He said: “You were a towering figure in the Nigerian Christian community who as the Patriarch/Prelate of the Methodist Church Nigeria for 22 uninterrupted years, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the first Nigerian ever to behead of the World Methodist Council, you brought honour to Nigeria and in the process won for Christ.
“One of your most endearing attributes was that you spoke truth to power and was a champion for good governance, equity and justice.
“You have been the leader of our Fathers in faith and a tireless and passionate believer in the Akwa Ibom exceptionalism, godliness and moral rectitude.
“Nigeria will miss you, the Christian community will miss you and our dear people will miss you deeply.
Born on August 26, 1936, into a clergy family, he was called to serve as a priest of the Methodist church shortly after the death of his father. Since then, he had grown in leaps and bounds to be a renowned religious leader. He held a doctorate degree from Harvard School of Divinity and had stood for justice, equity and fairness in the affairs of the nation. He retired in November 2006.