Members of the Anglican Diocese on the Lake in the Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State on Wednesday staged a peaceful protest over a crisis rocking the diocese.
News men gathered that the Bishop of the diocese, Rt. Rev. C.B.N. Otti, had dragged three senior priests of the church, Ven. Canon Eugene Onwubie, Rev. Eugene Iheanacho and Ven. Caleb Udom, to court for refusing to vacate the church premises where they resided with their families.
News men learnt that the priests were officially in charge of St. Mathias Anglican Church, Nkwesi and Emmanuel Church, Izombe.
The prelate sued them for refusing to submit their ordination certificates to him, a situation that made him to issue the priests a one week notice to vacate their official residences.
The members carried placards with inscriptions such as, ‘Bishop Otti, stop this intimidation now or face our anger’, ‘Bishop Otti, is Diocese on the Lake your private business?, ‘Bishop Otti, pay your priests, ‘Oguta youths say no to your intimidation, harassment and humiliation’, among others.
Briefing journalists, spokesman for the protesters, Edwin Onyemaechi, who is from St. Mathias Anglican Church, Nkwesi, described the bishop’s action against the affected priests as unfortunate.
He said the matter was minor and could have been settled in-house instead of going to court.
Onyemaechi noted that the protest would continue to Abuja so that the Anglican Primate could wade into the matter.
Another protester, who identified himself only as Chimamkpa, lamented that the matter was dragging the name of the church in the mud.
Another protester, who did not want to be identified, said the crux of the matter was that the bishop accused the priests of withholding the money they were supposed to remit to the diocese from their parishes, an action the bishop viewed as gross misconduct and disobedience.
When the priests didn’t bulge, he said the bishop demanded that they return their ordination certificates to him and cease to be priests of the Anglican Church.
The priests, who were allegedly owed salaries by the bishop, reportedly ignored the order.
The disobedience, it was learnt, led to the bishop issuing notices to quit to the priests to vacate the premises of the churches they presided over.
Reacting individually, the three priests told News men they were registered as ordained priests at the Owerri diocese and that surrendering their certificates and licences would mean that they had been sacked by the church.
They expressed worry over the continued silence of the Anglican Primate, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, on the matter.
They accused the bishop of taking the law into his own hands by not waiting for the intervention of the Anglican Primate.
The bishop, who spoke with our correspondent on the telephone through Mr. Chidi Emeagi, said the three priests chose to disobey his instruction that all the diocesan priests who were ordained outside the diocese should submit their ordination certificates for new ones.
He said he had to approach the court to lawfully compel the “disobedient” priests to obey his instruction, which he said was in tandem with the laws of the Anglican Church.