Reverend Matthew Uzoma Opoke, Chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki, on Monday deplored the detention and denial of bail of one of his priests, Fr Timothy Ngwuta.
Father Opoke, in a statement made available to THE WHISTLER in Abakaliki, lamented that efforts to secure the release of the detained priest had “been hampered by the executive order preventing any state court from hearing matters relating to the Effium crisis.”
According to the statement, Father Ngwuta was innocent of all charges against him.
It read: “On Saturday, December 11, 2021, Father Timothy Ngwuta was arrested by Nigerian Police at Mbeke Ishieke, Ebonyi Local Government Area, where he went to assist his friend, Jude Ariom, in recovering a vehicle (Toyota Sienna) that was parked there.
“Before Timothy arrived in Mbeke, he went to the police station to get permission to move the vehicle with deflated tires. Mbeke police granted him permission to take the vehicle after he paid the bill for guarding the car for a period of two weeks.
“During the tire inflation, the local vigilante rushed at him and his companions, demanding new settlements. Father Ngwuta informed them that the arrangement with the police was also to take care of them.
“Soon after, a different group of local vigilante groups arrived, causing altercations between the two groups. Father Ngwuta and those who came to help him were arrested by the local security guard and handed over to the same police who had previously given him permission to move the vehicle.
“Father Ngwuta and his companions were then brought to the Nigeria Police Headquarters at Abakaliki the following day and detained for a period of twelve days.
“He was tortured. He was later released on bail, when his health began to deteriorate due to the torture he suffered while in detention. It was December 23, 2021. He had to report to the police station every week. This he did religiously.
Fr Opoke said Fr Ngwuta was later arrested again and brought to trial.
Quoting him, “Just when we thought the case was over, he was re-arrested on Tuesday, March 8, 2022.
“On March 11, 2021, he was brought to justice for the kidnapping and murder of the five NELAN engineers; as well as killing police officers, aiding escape, arson, promoting inter-community warfare, etc.
“We are concerned about how the issue of going to retrieve a parked car outside the war zone [a different local government area] metamorphosed into accusations as contained in the charges against him.
“The identity of the owner of the car was revealed to the police by Father Ngwuta along with the address and telephone number. It is rather surprising to hear that Father Ngwuta protects him.
Our correspondent gathered that Father Timothy Ngwuta comes from Ezaa Efflum where there is an inter-community war between the Effium and Ezza Effium.
The church condemned his detention and called on the police to carry out a full investigation into the case.
He said: “The Catholic Church condemns acts of violence, incitement to violence, wars, kidnappings, arson or any other crime and will not protect anyone involved in such despicable acts.
“We urge the security forces to carry out a thorough investigation and to ensure that the priest of God, who has in good conscience declared before his bishop that the charges are entirely false, is not punished for crimes of which he does not know nothing”.
The church has therefore appealed to the people of Effium and Ezaa Effium involved in the inter-communal war to lay down their arms and walk the path of peace.
It read, “We implore all people of good will to join us in praying to God to touch those responsible for Father Ngwuta’s incarceration to listen to the voice of good conscience. We leave the whole process in the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of priests and the star of evangelization.
It has been established that the declared engineers and police officers were killed at a mine site in the communities in crisis. They were said to be on official duty when they were attacked.