From: Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
The Benue State Government has debunked claims of rifts between Governor Samuel Ortom and the Gboko Catholic Diocese, stressing that the governor is God-fearing and would not indulge in rancour with the Church.
The Daily Sun gathered that the insinuation came about following the refusal of the Parish Priest of St. Christopher’s Catholic Church, Wannune, in Tarka Local Government Area, to allow Governor Ortom speak during the thanksgiving mass in honour of Sen. George Akume which held, on Wednesday.
According to an eyewitness, David Mzer, a young priest while delivering his sermon at the mass to mark Akume’s 64th birthday anniversary, had urged the celebrant to give quality advice to Governor Ortom on statecraft, including the issues of salaries otherwise he too would be blamed.
“After Holy Communion and before the end of mass, the Parish Priest requested Senator Akume to make his remarks. The Senator touched on a few issues including some explanations on the salary matter and requested that Governor Ortom be allowed to also make brief remarks.”
He explained that when the governor got hold of the microphone and started with greetings, the Parish Priest came from behind and announced that he (Ortom) was not allowed to speak.
The source continued, “Ortom, who was as surprised as the congregation asked the Priest what he said and he repeated that the governor was not allowed to speak in the church. The governor handed the microphone to the Priest and went back to his seat.”
The source added that the development sparked an immediate uproar from the congregation most of who obviously disapproved of the remarks.
Mzer disclosed that based on the reaction of the congregants, the priest quickly brought the mass to an end and as he was leaving, he passed by the dignitaries and stated that he only complied with the directive of the Bishop of the Diocese not to allow the governor to talk.
The governor, in a chat with newsmen after the programme, said he bore no grudge with the order of the Bishop and did not want to join issues with the clergy.
Sen. Akume condemned the action pointing out that the governor deserved respect as Chief Executive of the state who had the right to speak with his people even in church as has been the custom with all the governors of the state.
But in a statement signed by Ortom’s Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, a copy of which was made available to Daily Sun, the governor said he understood and respects the decision of Gboko Catholic Diocese not to allow politicians to speak during masses and therefore would not have felt slighted when the Priest in Charge of the Wannune Parish did not permit him to speak during the mass in accordance with the decision of the Diocese.
“We urge those amplifying the incident and making inflammatory statements for political reasons to sheathe their swords Governor Ortom is a God-fearing leader who submits himself to Christian authorities and has enormous regard for the Catholic Church in particular. He won’t allow the cordial relationship he has built with the church over the years to be jeopardized,” the statement read in part.