The Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki on Monday knocked the Ebonyi State Government over an alleged Executive Order that was prolonging the detention of one of its Priest, Rev. Fr. Timothy Ngwuta.
Ngwuta was arrested and imprisoned over alleged promotion of the protracted Effium/Ezza Effium intra-communal war.
The Catholic Church, through its Chancellor, Fr. Matthew Opoke, said the alleged Executive Order put in place by the State Government prevented any court in the state from entertaining matters relating to Effium crisis which has claimed many lives and led to the destruction of property worth billions of naira.
However, the State Government, through its Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Cletus Ofoke, dismissed the Church’s claims.
Ngwuta was first arrested by the Police on 11th December 2021 and detained for twelve days and was released on bail as a result of ill health arising from his alleged torture by security agents in the custody.
He was rearrested on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, arraigned on March 11, 2022, for alleged kidnap and murder, and remanded at the Abakaliki Correctional Centre. Since then, he has been languishing in detention at the Correctional Centre.
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A statement released by the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki and signed by its Chancellor, Fr. Opoke, partly read, “We urge 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, is not 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 matters relating to Effium crisis. Recently the motion for bail was refused on the 12th of April, 2022. 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 right conscience.”
But in a swift reaction, the Attorney-General of the state and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Ofoke, said, “There is nothing like Executive Order on the Effium crisis.
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“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 Priest’s 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.”