Catholic priests in the Aba Diocese of the church are locked in a renewed battle that can be described as a holy war, with a Rev. fr and his Bishop trading allegations of corruption. The war, which has been raging for some years now, has led to the suspension of some priests from the diocese and the dragging of the bishop to the Zone 9 headquarters of the Nigeria Police in Umuahia, Abia State where the Local Ordinary (Bishop) had gone on some occasions to defend himself against graft allegations levelled against him by one of the priests.
The current crisis, according to one of the priests placed on suspension, Rev. Fr. Onyebuchi Ig. Nwoko, started few years back when he preached a homily in his parish, condemning what he described as an illicit partisan romance between the Catholic Church in Aba “and the failed-corrupt insensitive government in place in Abia State at the expense of the poor and unsuspecting citizens of the state.”
This Fr. Nwoko said coupled with his stance against absolute worship of money and colossal murder of spirituality and spiritual life that drags the image of the church to the mud and made people not to have respect for it any more, made him the target of the bishop.
This homily, Saturday Sun, gathered did not go down well with the Catholic Bishop of Aba, His Lordship, Vincent Valentine Ezeonyia who felt Rev. Fr. Nwoko went too far, and allegedly promised to “deal with the priest in question.”
This pronouncement, it was also gathered, was closely followed with a letter of reprimand entitled “Precept” which the Bishop was said to have ordered should be placed against the priest’s name in the Diocese’s Curia.
Rev. Fr. Nwoko, who is also a lawyer, took exception to a passage in the precept which said, “I (Bishop) also confine you to your self-chosen legal practice.”
With this, the priest felt he was being punished for telling the truth of what was going on in the diocese and the state at large and the battle line was drawn.
In his reply, the priest said: “Most of my legal practice is pro bono as many of our institutions, and the office of the education secretary can attest to. My bishop hates to see a priest that is empowered and who swims in excellence.
“He is very cagey in placing such priests in places where his friends are residing, so that the word of God may not smack them. A good number of priests working in the diocese preach the gospel of my bishop, and not the gospel of Christ. However, I will dissect and respond adequately on the said ‘precept’ to the appropriate quarters.”
The bishop was said to have been livid with this response that some days later, Fr. Nwoko said in a memo to his traditional ruler in Ukwa East about his lingering crisis with the bishop that he was transferred to the same location where kidnappers abducted one of the priests.
This transfer, the priest said, was done for a purpose, “to throw his perceived enemy into the lion’s den, but cannot sharpen their claws to take my life. I am conscious of the fact that if there is benefit or reward at all in our apostolate, I do not stand to be rewarded by my bishop.”
The matter got to its crescendo on February 23, 2011 when Bishop Ezeonyia reposted some priests, including Nwoko of St. David, Uratta – Umuoha in Isiala Ngwa North Local Government with the new posting not having any parish.
Feeling stabbed at the back by the new posting, Fr. Nwoko refused to vacate the parsonage at Uratta until he was given a new parish and the real trouble began.
To ensure that another priest took over, the bishop was reported to have threatened to forcefully open the residence of the parish priest, which was under lock and key.
In an attempt at forestalling the threat, Nwoko on September 7, 2012 wrote a petition entitled, “The unlawful conduct of Bishop Ezeonyia capable of causing a breakdown of law and order,” to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the need for the police boss to call the bishop to order.
Before the IGP could act on the petition of the priest, his residence had been forced open.
The action prompted Nwoko to do another petition entitled, “Case of burglary, sealing, threat to life, property and conduct capable of breaching public peace”, this time to the Assistant Inspector General (AIG), Zone 9, Umuahia.
In the petition, Fr. Nwoko accused the bishop who he said has been having nocturnal meetings with Catechist Anthony Enwe, Mr. Simeon Nwokoacha, Sir Ajaegbu, Mr Chidinma Agbara and Mr Raphael Nwaeke, while he was away to Enugu sometime in 2012 for the purpose of breaking into his house.
He urged the AIG to investigate the bishop, arrest and charge him to court if found culpable.
When it appeared the AIG was delaying in acceding to his request, he wrote another letter to the Deputy Commissioner of Police “D” Department, Zone 9 headquarters.
In the letter, Fr. Nwoko narrated how one Joseph Offor of the legal department, Zone 9 Police Command thwarted every effort he made to ensure that the bishop was prosecuted, alleging that “one of the priests, Fr. Innocent Ajuonu (even) boasted that they have settled the matter and that the prosecutor had assured them that the bishop will never be prosecuted.”
As this was going on, Bishop Ezeonyia on May 7, 2013, wielded the big hammer. He issued Fr. Nwoko with ‘Canonical warning’ entitled “Second Admonition” in which the priest was accused, among other things, of disrespect to the Local Ordinary.
The bishop threatened not only to impose personal interdict/suspension if within 10 working days Fr. Nwoko failed to write him with a promise of stopping his scanting attacks on him (Bishop), but also directed that the Canonical warning “be placed in the secret archive of the Curia and maintained there in accord with the norm of law.”
In an eight-page reply captioned, “Threat to impose further interdict/suspension order”, Fr. Nwoko said unless the bishop restructure the Diocese based on truth and recall the priests he suspended particularly Rev. Fr. Ken Evurulobi, nothing will make him change his stance on issues in the diocese.
“You may think that you have the Ecclesiastical power to do what you like, but you do not have the power of the electronic pen. Be assured that in the absence of those serious and unfortunate irregularities going on in this diocese, only when the right reason, respect for the human person, justice, equity and fair play are properly put in place that this matter may seem not to proceed further,” Fr Nwoko replied Bishop Ezeonyia.
In response to the allegations leveled against him by Fr Nwoko, Bishop Ezeonyia who spoke through Rev Fr. Alex Okonkwor, Judicial Vicar of the diocese said the truth about the whole issue was that Rev Fr. Nwoko has been disrespectful to the office of the bishop in so many ways.
He accused Fr. Nwoko of refusing to honour an appointment with the bishop so that there will “be understanding and peace in the diocese, but he refused and instead chose to rage like the hectic in the body of this diocese by spinning out writings, articles and letters that are crammed with insults against the bishop.”