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Drama as parishioners padlock Bishop, others inside church over alleged financial impropriety

•Bishop Erifeta’s hands‘re clean – Churchill Akure, Sapele Diocese spokesperson
•Primate, Anglican Communion intervenes

By Emma Amaize

SAPELE — THE Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, Anglican Diocese, Sapele, Delta State, has been dismembered by a crisis between worshippers and the presiding Bishop, Rt. Rev B. A. Erifeta, JP.

Since July 2015, some worshippers, who are at loggerheads with the bishop over alleged financial impropriety, high handedness and maladministration, have refused to walk the sanctuary to reverence God, preferring to worship the Almighty in the open air, along Boyo Road in the town.

R-L: Bishop Erifeta and Parishoners protesting at Saint Luke Cathedral, Sapele.
R-L: Bishop Erifeta and Parishoners protesting at Saint Luke Cathedral, Sapele.

The hostilities degenerated to the extent that the violent congregation locked the bishop, other members of the clergy and youths in the cathedral during a service, last year that it took the breaking of the keys of the burglary proof and gate for them to get out.

Saint Luke Cathedral, Sapele, is perhaps the only Anglican Church in the state where the members worship God in such a manner and even unbelievers are shocked as to why children of God would not bury the hatchet.

The dispute erupted several years ago and efforts to resolve the conflict amicably have hit the wall.

Primate, concerned bishops wade in

Recently, the Bishops of Warri diocese, Rt Rev, Christian E. Ide, Oleh diocese, Rt Rev U Aruakpor and Erifeta himself went on a troubleshooting mission to notable members of the diocese, including Sir Newton Ejiro Omoko (JP), Chief E.K. Gbragada, Chief  Omatseye One of Warri Kingdom, Sir, Simon Agbaroli and Chief J.I. Efemini a prominent Chief in Idjerhe Kingdom to let bygones by bygones, but there was no headway.

A source, however, said the matter was now at the table of the Primate of the Anglican diocese, who summoned the parties for a meeting, last Wednesday, but it was aborted because of his engagement. He added:   “The primate will reschedule the meeting for another day if it has not been done already.”

Our complaint against Erifeta – Aggrieved worshipers

The parishioners   submitted a 67-point allegation against their bishop ranging from financial impropriety   to stealing and immoral activities.

A member of the Saint Luke Cathedral, Sapele, who accused Erifeta and his supporters of standing the truth on the head, told NDV: “The first sign of trouble was in April 2014 when he (Erifeta) allegedly disbanded the over 100-member choir of the church. Some elders of the church, some between the ages of 70-90 years went to beg him and he practically chased them out of his office, vowing to set up his own choir.

“As we speak, the building   (church)   has been abandoned and taken over by weeds while inside the auditorium is dirty, a sign of not being used, over a long while.   We worship outside, along Boyo road, near the cathedral. You can see that we have erected canopies to conduct their services every Sunday.

“Since we started worshiping outside, we have witnessed a lot of revival as many of those who left the cathedral on account of Bishop Blessing Erifeta’s alleged unbearable attitude have returned with several positive testimonies.”

He added: “You asked why we worship outdoors, the outside worship is to protest the continued stay of the bishop. Some of the allegations against the bishop among others were that he denigrated the church when he turned his staff upside down in the altar and placed curses on members of the church, mismanagement of church funds, abuse of elders of the church and all that.

Crumbling pulpit

“Is it not strange that the pulpit of the church collapsed when the bishop was having bible study with his clergy on 17th Feb 2015, and recently the pulpit of Our Redeemer Anglican Church Sapele, crashed when the bishop was studying with his priests on 27th September 2016? He however promised to fix it,” he said.

He asserted: “Regrettably, the bishop failed to get read the handwriting on the wall even after     one of the priests, Venerable O.E Okpara, who preached in the cathedral using the platform of the pulpit after it was repaired, died weeks later.”

His words: “After this incidence, the members of the church wrote a petition to the primate elucidating on the above allegations against the bishop. Members have expressed grave concern and dismay on the insincerity of the church authority to uphold the truth. The matter has been to the domain of traditional rulers in the area, Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG, Zone 5, Benin City, court, etc.

Supposed prejudice

“The people perceive injustice by the church authorities and this has made the resolution difficult. It was reported that the panels set up by the church authority was skewed to give the bishop an advantage and the people rejected them, insisting that there must be fairness,” he said.

Contrary to the stand of the spokesperson of the church, he said: “All the Anglican churches in Sapele and environs are unanimous on the bishop’s removal as they have stopped remitting money to the diocese until Bishop Erifeta is removed. Currently, all the churches are witnessing massive development since the stoppage of assessment.”

An elder of the diocese, Sir Simon Agbaroli, who spoke to NDV, said his grouse against the bishop was that he is power drunk and arrogant.

Another elder, Pa Daniel Erabor, said the diocese could only move forward if Erifeta was removed.

A worshipper, Mr. Ufuoma Mudiaga, disagreed with them, saying even if the bishop erred as a human; the church should pardon him and give him a second chance to correct his wrongs.

Petitioners can’t prove allegations – Akure, PRO

Public Relations Officer, PRO, of the church, Mr. Churchill Akure, told NDV: “The members in question brought allegations against the bishop and when a committee was to be set up in the province of Bendel, they said they do not have confidence in the chairman of the committee and picked the Bishop of Warri diocese, Rt Rev Ide, as their preferred chair.

“They submitted their allegations without evidence and Bishop Erifeta responded with evidence. When the chairman of the committee asked them to bring their evidence, they asked to be given the response of Erifeta and the evidence he adduced, which the bishop objected to and that was how the sitting was aborted,” he said.

According to him:   “The Anglican Church is a church with constitution and if anybody misbehaves, that person will be disciplined, this issue is already in court and these people have a way of instigating people and at the end, they will do it as if (PRO) instituted this publication.”

He, however, said: “But let me set the record straight, the choir became so unruly to the extent that a choir will challenge a priest during a sermon. What led to the disbandment of the choir was when a member of the choir shouted at the bishop during a sermon, and it was becoming a tradition in Saint Luke.

“The Disciplinary Committee took the decision to disband the choir, the decision to disband the choir for the offence was a diocesan broad decision and not the bishop’s decision and let it be known that the bishop has the right to discipline anybody in the church. But after plea from some of the members who came to beg for forgiveness, they were recalled.

“Talking about the bishop walking out an elder, the same attitude is what you are seeing, what was the mission of the elder, a child did wrong and was placed on punishment, and a man who cals himself an elder never see anything wrong in what the child does, rather, you are telling the bishop that he cannot disband the choir because they have been there before he was made the bishop,” he said.

Evil men in the House of God

Mr. Akure added: “These people are just a bunch of evil men in the church.”

Asked if the bishop was aware of the outdoor worship by the members, he said: “It is no longer news because they chose to worship outside. I had felt this group of persons should be ignored on the grounds that they were merely seeking attention, but as it is, they should be called to order.”

He further disclosed: “On Tuesday, July 28. 2015, the diocese was besieged by some persons in the cathedral, who felt aggrieved by the bishop. They felt the best way to express their grievances was to embark on a violent protest by locking the bishop, clergy and youths inside the cathedral during the diocesan youth synod. We had to break the keys of the back burglary proof and the gate for the bishop and all others to get out.

“As though that was not enough, they were the ones who locked the cathedral doors and gates that no one will go in or out until the Primate comes, the bishop pleaded with us not to speak or fight back,” he said.

The spokesperson said the allegations against the bishop of Sapele were all sentimental and baseless, adding: “Saint Luke is not the only church in Sapele, it is just the cathedral and if the diocese must grow, then, the cathedral must take its rightful position. The Saint Luke has been known for many bad reports in the past, it is on record that it is not the first time these same people are locking the church in protest, even before Erifeta became a bishop.

“He has not given them room to continue in such bad light and had regularly cautioned them, which some of them felt was an insult.

Lies upon lies

“The bishop is alleged to use diocesan money to buy cars. Well, I am still expecting them to show me one of the cars because my bishop has not used the kind of car we want him to drive.

“For about three years now, the bishop has been driving only one car, Venza, which was bought through a bank loan, as there was no money to make full payment to the dealer.

“Some parishioners, who felt embarrassed seeing the bishop drive only one car to local and inter-state meetings, raised a motion asking that modality be put in place for another car to be bought. This was at one of the board meetings and it was also agreed at the clergy staff meeting held on June 4, 2015. So how come they now allege that the bishop squandered money on expensive cars?”

His words: “Again, they alleged that the bishop takes all his family members overseas every time. I wonder how people will forget so soon that during the diocesan synod, the issue came up and it was not confirmed from records that he uses diocesan funds to that effect. I do not know where they got that information from.

“The trip of the children to Ghana sometime ago was not diocesan-sponsored and that the children attend school abroad is not part of the diocesan budget.

“The allegation that he runs the Holy Trinity Grammar School, Okwuvo as his private business is laughable because the school has a board of governors that meets regularly. Precisely, they met   November, last year. Decisions were taken and thus far, no embezzlement or mismanagement has been reported, and the school is still progressing.”

On payment of assessment, he asserted: “The bishop does not give Saint Luke assessment that they are refusing to pay. It is one of the ways to show their disobedience to the bishop. It was the same diocesan process of audit of the previous year’s  account and allocation of assessment, which the finance and diocesan board approved that is still operational.

Panel indicted Saint Luke

“And their records have not shown any oppressive billing so far. It was the Barrister S.O Ekome panel, following the decision of Synod 2013 to find out and audit all churches’ accounts, which revealed this. The Saint Luke was indicted by their reports. The true sense of it is that Saint Luke has been a point of prayer for long now. Why should they hold the bishop responsible for their obvious challenges.”

Mr. Akure noted: “The youths are being sponsored by certain elders and priests to disorganize the diocese. One thing is if these people have good intention for the church, why will they  bring area boys to lock the bishop and youths inside the church. I have videos of this harassment with me.”

He remarked that Saint Luke alone does not own the bishop and the diocese, admonishing, “They should in the interest of peace, sheathe their swords, they should not allow others grieved by their attitude to start coming out with their counter protests.

“Bishop Erifeta is a man of God not without mistakes, he has done well to lead us, he loves the Bible, and he delights more in teaching it and in prayers. No one should discourage him from continuing. He learns every day as he leads us and has improved on himself greatly. So, no one should drag us backward. At the synod, he pleaded with this people to come and join in  rebuilding the diocese; rather they have chosen their normal path. I wish them well.”


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