Catholic Church, Ebonyi government in dispute over detained priest

Ruth Oginyi

The Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki Ebonyi State, southeast Nigeria has accused the state government of using executive order to stop the release of a priest Rev. Fr. Timothy Ngwuta who has been remanded in a federal correctional Center for reportedly inciting the age-long Effium/Ezza Effium communal war.

But the state government, however, differed with the church over the alleged Executive Order preventing any court in the State from entertaining matters relating to the Effium crisis in the Ohaukwu local government area of the state.

The diocesan Chancellor, Rev. Fr. Matthew Opoke, in a state said the alleged Executive Order was in place in the state which made the church unable to access the release of the Priest, Rev. Fr. Timothy Ngwuta, but the state government through its Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Bar Cletus Ofoke dismissed the Church statement saying there was nothing of that nature in the state.

Rev. fr. Ngwuta was arrested by the Police on 11th December 2021 and detained for twelve days and was released on bail as a result of ill health arising from his alleged torture by security agents.

He was rearrested on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, arraigned on 11th March 2021 for alleged kidnapping and murder, and remanded at the Abakaliki Correctional Centre. Since then, he has been languishing in detention at the Correctional Centre.

His detention has generated mixed reactions from different quarters in the state even as the chairman House of Representatives committee on correctional services has called for the release of the priest describing his detention as an infringement of his right.

According to the Chancellor, the Catholic Church condemns acts of violence, incitement of violence, wars, kidnapping, arson, or any crimes and will not shield anyone involved in such dastardly acts.

“We urge the security forces to do a thorough investigation and ensure that the priest of God, who has, in conscience, stated before his Bishop, that the accusations are entirely false, is not punished for offenses he knows nothing about. Efforts to secure his release on Bail have been hampered by the Executive Order preventing any Court in the State from entertaining matters relating to the Effium crisis. Recently the motion for bail was refused on the 12th of April, 2022. We implore all people of goodwill to join us in praying to God to touch those responsible for the incarceration of Fr. Timothy to listen to the voice of the right conscience.

In a reaction, the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Bar Cletus Ofoke said “there is nothing like Executive Order on the Effium crisis, there is nothing to that effect. Of course, the government can never issue orders stopping the court from doing its legitimate duty. It is aimed at tarnishing somebody’s image and maligning the government. There is nothing like that.

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“Once a matter is in court, nobody talks about it other than for the legal process to take its course. This is what the Ebonyi State government has done and the government has no hand in Priest’s case. The case of the Priest is purely a legal issue from police to court. So, nothing concerns the Ebonyi State government and it is not only the Priest that is being incarcerated over the matter therein Effium. People are aware that so many people have been charged to court; some of them are in prison, and some of them are being tried by the court. So, the Priest is also a human being”

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