By: Chinenyeh Ozor, Nsukka
Tension is high in Abbi community, Uzo-Uwani L.G.A, Enugu State, following a row between the traditional ruler of the community, Igwe Fidelis Eze and the Catholic priest in-charge of St. Francis parish in the area. Trouble started after some members of the community accused the Catholic Priest of disrupting a funeral ceremony and assaulting their traditional ruler in his palace over funeral rites of daughters of Umuoyo village in the community.
The Catholic Priest , Rev. Fr. Anthony Ugwu, was alleged to have gone to the palace of the traditional ruler, rained abuses on him and attempted to slap the king but was stopped by armed soldiers on guard at the community after Fulani herdsmen invasion in the area. Abbi community share common boundary with Nimbo community where over 40 people were recently killed by the herdsmen.
Speaking with Crime Alert, the traditional ruler, Fidelis Eze said that the community has been tolerating the excesses of the catholic priest since his arrival as the parish priest.
According to him, the recent development was the climax as the clergy could not allow issues to be done according to the custom and traditions of the community unless, he dictates the tune and pace that suits his doctrine. “He has been doing this without consulting the catholic council and other parishioners of the community.”
He continued; ‘’ There was a burial ceremony in the community which the clergy officiated. At the ends of it, the priest did not allow daughters of the community to be served with food and water. He threw away containers of cooked rice, saying that such norms and values have been abolished as far as he is in charge of the parish. After throwing away the food he ended the requiem mass for the deceased. To make matters worse, he occupied a vantage position for hours to ensure that the daughters of Umuoyo village in Abbi were served neither food nor water.”
Throwing away food and water
The traditional ruler further said that the daughters of Umuoyo village, having been denied of their right at the funeral by the priest, went and reported the incident to the eldest man in the community, Anthony Odo, who in turn, summoned an emergency meeting and after the meeting, sent four men to the priest requesting to see him. “The priest turned it down bluntly on the grounds that he is answerable to the Bishop of the diocese and no other person no matter whose ox was gored.
When it was clear that the priest would not change his mind, youths from the community then went to the parish and carried a ram that was giving to the priest at the funeral and took it to eldest man. What the priest did was to move to my palace, rained abuses and spat on me. He also attempted to engage me in physical fight but was stopped by armed soldiers and some women who were around.
‘’ The priest threatened that within two months of the incident, he would make sure that my certificate of recognition issued by Enugu state government would be retrieved from me and thrown to the dust for others to contest for it. I did not utter a word to him. If not for the presence of the military men, he would have descended on me and the community would have dealt with him.”
Abbi General Assembly reacts
Crime Alert gathered that the general assembly of the community later sent a delegation to the priest seeking for dialogue but he reportedly turned it down, maintaining that he was only answerable to the Bishop who posted him. The priest was quoted to have said that nothing would make him to respond to the call even when the invitation was through the council of the parish. Angered by the development, members of the community were said to have unanimously resolved to take the mater up with the Catholic Bishop of Nsukka Diocese.
Disappointment at the Bishop’s office
It was learned that efforts by members of the community to see the Bishop so far failed as his Secretary insisted that due process must be followed before he gives them audience stating that there was no provision for emergency.
The parish council stand
A prominent member of the community, Chief Ngwoke Ngwu, an octogenarian, also disclosed that the parish council appealed to the priest to go to the traditional ruler and make peace but he arrogantly refused on the ground that the church is the authority in the community, having boasted that he would depose the traditional ruler.
He said that the parish priest have since January 2013, he arrived at the parish, been into one trouble to the other, leaving the priestly call of his duty on evangelisation to sow seeds of discord. “The Reverend father has almost collapsed the parish as the congregation abandons the church for other churches due to the acts of the priest.
Flog members of the congregation
“The priest flogs both young and old in the church for being late at church services on Sunday mass. The priest mounts at the entry point of the church with cain on Sunday’s to flog old men and women that comes late to the church. Many people have ran away from the church as they are subjected to manual labour and flogging for being late in the church. Since his predecessor, Fr. Ngwu who has been moving round converting souls left this parish; it has never been the same again.
Tradition have been in existence before the advent of churches in the south east, none has delved into the custom and tradition of any community. Issues were normally being dialogued for lasting solutions. The laid down rules of funerals in the community which has existed before the creation of the parish in 2010, were thwarted by the priest. When we went to invite him for dialogue with leaders of the community, he also threatened to flog us.”
Planned protest by Abbi community
The eldest man in the community (Onyishi) Anthony Odo noted that Fr. Ugwu contravened the traditional law of the community and in effect would cleanse the land with a cow, saying that “the community had planned a protest to the bishop of the diocese to request the removal of the priest from the community as people no longer attend mass and have moved to other orthodox churches for fear of being flogged for lateness..
Imposition of CMO chairman
Other members of the community who spoke with Crime Alert also alleged that the priest imposed an unpopular candidate as the Chairman of the Catholic Men Organisation in the parish and that he also held another parishioner hostage for not paying a debt of N16,000. The former Catechist in the community, they further alleged, was deposed by Fr. Ugwu simply because he advises the priest against certain actions in the church.
Failed attempt for confirmation
Efforts made to see the priest in Abbi proved abortive as he was in the pulpit holding mass service when our reporter visited