Executive Order forestalls the release of Catholic Priest from Abakaliki Prisons
By Gabriel Omonhinmin
Ebonyi State Governor Dave Umahi Executive Order, which the state governor issued to forestall communal crisis, checkmate banditry and kidnapping in the state, has been alleged to prevent the release of a Catholic priest, Reverend Father Timothy Ngwuta, who has been in Abakaliki prison for over one month.
The Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki in a press statement issued on Sunday 24th April 2022, painted a graphic and pathetic picture of the incident that led to the Catholic priest’s incarceration.
The statement entitled “From the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki, regarding the arrest and arraignment of Reverend Father Timothy Ngwuta”- reads as follows: “On Saturday, 11th of December 2021, Reverend Father Timothy Ngwuta, was arrested by the Nigerian Police at Mbeke Ishieke in Ebonyi Local Government Area, where he went to help his friend, Jude Ariom, retrieved a vehicle (Toyota Sienna) that was parked there.
“Before Reverend Father Timothy Ngwuta arrived at Mbeke, he proceeded to the Police station to obtain clearance to move the vehicle whose tyres were deflated. The police at Mbeke permitted him to take the vehicle away after he had settled their bill for guarding the car for two weeks. In the course of inflating the tyres, the local vigilante swooped on him and his companions, demanding further settlements. Fr. Timothy informed them that he had already settled with the Nigerian Police. And that the Nigerian Police was meant to take care of the Local Vigilante as well. After a short while, a different set of local vigilante groups arrived on the scene again, this brought about some altercation between the two groups.
“Fr. Timothy and those who came to assist him, to move the vehicle, were arrested by the local vigilante and handed over to the same police, who earlier had given him clearance to move the vehicle. Fr. Timothy and his companions were subsequently brought to the Nigerian Police Headquarters in Abakaliki the following day and was detained for 12 days. He was tortured. He was later released on bail when his health began to fail him on account of the torture he received while in the Nigerian Police detention. That was on 23rd December 2021. He was required to be reporting to the Police Station weekly. This he did religiously.
“Just when we thought the matter was over, he was re-arrested on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, and, on the 11th of March, 2022 arraigned in court for, kidnapping and murder of the five NELAN Engineers, attack and murder of Police officers, aiding escape, and arson, promoting inter-communal war etcetera. We are worried about how the issue of going to recover a car parked outside a war zone (a different Local Government Area) has metamorphosed into such an accusation as contained in the charges against him. The identity of the owner of the car was disclosed to the police by Fr. Timothy together with the contact address and phone number. It is rather surprising to hear that Fr. Timothy is shielding him.
“Facts available to the Diocese are as follows: 1-Fr. Timothy Ngwuta comes from Ezaa Effium; whose home town has been decimated by the inter-communal war between the Effium/Ezza-Effium. 2-Fr. Timothy Ngwuta vehemently denies all these charges and sees himself as a victim of circumstances. 3-Fr. Timothy Ngwuta states unequivocally that he innocently went to help a friend retrieve his vehicle and was not aware that the vehicle was used in the commission of the crimes alleged.
“The Catholic Church condemns acts of violence, incitement of violence, wars, kidnapping, arson, or any crime and will not shield anyone involved in such dastardly acts. We urged 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.
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Is not to be punished for offences 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 any matter relating to Effium crisis. Recently the motion for bail was refused on the 12th of April, 2022.
“The church in the name of God, appeals to all the people of Effium and Ezza-Effium involved in the inter-communal war, to lay down their arms and embrace the path of peace. Nothing justifies the senseless killings 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 urged all to withhold judgment and let the case run its course.
“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. 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 the state and the country.”
Trumpet Religious Desk immodestly sought the opinion of a Lagos based Legal Practitioner, Olu Oyatomi, on the proper meaning or status of Executive Order in law. The order was allegedly issued by the Ebonyi State Government under Dave Umahi. Mr Oyatomi said, “If indeed the Ebonyi State Government issued such an order, it cannot in any way prevent the court of competent jurisdiction from running its course in any matter. He stressed that if it was the Executive Order they cited to prevent the court from looking into the matter as it concerns Fr. Timothy Ngwuta in Ebonyi state, then the act must be reckless and unconstitutional. And as such, it needs not to be obeyed. Mr Oyatomi added, “the court is the final arbiter in matters like this.”
The Ebonyi State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Cletus Ofoke in his reaction, dismissed the Catholic Church claim, saying “the Ebonyi State Executive Order never prevented the court in Ebonyi state from entertaining the case involving Fr. Timothy Ngwuta.
Trumpet Religious Desk immediately reached out to Most Reverend Peter Chukwu, the Catholic Bishop of Abakaliki for his comments. We asked him whether the priests under his supervision had no jobs to do, for one of them to be involved in helping his friend to retrieve his car abandoned in a war-ravaged area of Ebonyi State.
The Bishop said, “It is not true, to insinuate that the priests under my supervision have no jobs doing, that is the reason(s) one of them had the chance to be involved in the matter at hand. I have spoken with the priest involved in this matter, and I believed what he told me, that he innocently went to help a friend to retrieve his vehicle and he was unfortunately caught up in the present web of intrigues surrounding this whole unfortunate incident.
“We as a church do not tolerate violence of any form, and we will never condone the involvement of our priest in such un-Godly acts. That is why we are following this matter carefully. Much as we are eager to get our priest out from the Abakaliki prison where he is presently incarcerated, we will allow the law to take its course. All we are urging is for the Nigerian Police to do a proper and thorough investigation so that the truth be made known to the public.
When Trumpet Religion enquired if the priest will be de disciplined when granted bail? The Bishop said,” The church business, for now, is first to make sure the priest in question is granted bail and his health properly taken care of. At least he needs to be alive, to be able to face any disciplinary action if the need ever arises. And if the church is even to discipline him, as you are suggesting, it will never be done in the way and manner you think. We will seat him down as members of the same family, tell him where and where he went wrong and try to correct him. So that he does not make similar mistakes now or in the future.
“Our main concern now is to strive to clear the name of the priest and church in this whole mess. This is what is important to the church now, as we speak.” The Bishop concluded.