The Ebonyi State government and the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki traded words over the arrest and incarceration of a Priest, Reverend Timothy Ngwuta, in Abakaliki.
SaharaReporters had earlier reported that Ngwuta was illegally detained by security operatives in Ebonyi State since 2021.
This comes amid the lingering communal crisis between Ezza-Effium and Effium people of the Ohuakwu Local Government Area of the state since January 2021, which had resulted in the death of innocent persons and the destruction of property worth millions of naira.
A soldier, who does not want his name in print, had said the Reverend Father who was recently posted to the community, was arrested and framed for being responsible for a crisis that had been ongoing for a while.
According to him, Ngwuta was arrested while paying a visit to some of his parishioners who had now been displaced from their homes as a result of the crisis.
“It was during one of these visits he was arrested and has since been detained without trial, nothing, an ordained Reverend Father for that matter.”
He had noted that Ngwuta’s arrest had a political undertone as he called on the state governor, Dave Umahi to immediately order the release of the Reverend Father.
Also, Parishioners of Saint Bernard’s Catholic Parish, Ugueze Effium, Ohaukwu Local Government Area had called on Ebonyi Governor, Dave Umahi to release their parish Priest, Ngwuta from detention.
On Monday, the Catholic Church, Diocese of Abakaliki in a statement signed by Fr. Matthew Uzoma Opoke, Chancellor, Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki, said all efforts to secure the release Fr. Timothy Ngwuta on bail had been hampered by the Executive Order preventing any court in the state from entertaining matters relating to Effium crisis.
The statement reads in part: “The Church in the name of God appeals to all the people of Effium and Ezza Effium involved in this inter-communal war, to lay down their arms and embrace the path of peace. Nothing justifies the senseless killing and maiming of innocent lives. Peace can never be achieved under the barrel of guns.
“Since the matter is before the courts, we will not be making any more statements on the case. We urge all to withhold judgement and let the case run its course. We implore all people of goodwill to join us in praying God to touch those responsible for the incarceration of Fr. Timothy to listen to the voice of right conscience. We commend the whole process into the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Priests and the Star of Evangelization. Pray for peace in our State and in the Country,” the church stated.
Reacting, the Ebonyi state government through the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Cletus Ofoke, cautioned the Catholic Church to desist from saying that the priest was incarcerated in prison as a result of the executive order.
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 an order 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.
“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 the Priest case. The case of the Priest is purely a legal issue from police to court.
“So, nothing concerns Ebonyi State government and it is not only the priest that is being incarcerated over the matter there, in 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 in court. So, the priest is also a human being.”