From Gyang Bere, Jos And Elizabeth Ogunbamowo, Lagos
Benedict Ugochukwu Akwuegbu. Do you know him? He is the Nigerian football striker who won our hearts when he slammed home two goals during the 2002 FIFA World Cup against the opponent side. Come today, Saturday, December 5, 2020, the striker would have struck again as he walks down the aisle with his sweetheart, Ruth Fuki Damla, in a holy matrimony billed for officiation somewhere in Jos.
Well, sorry to announce to his numerous admirers and fans that if the words of the officiating priests are anything to go by, then the wedding may not hold at least, at the advertised venue on the invitation card. This is because the game is up even before it started. But not without some striking points. The professional footbller said to have been married to one Ifeoma in a union blessed with three children was said to have registered for a new marriage with the Ruth of a lady.
To that end, invitation cards were printed and distributed far and wide in preparation for what ordinarily would have been the talk-of-the-town ceremony. Venue was St. Monica’s Catholic Church, Rantya, State Low-Cost, Jos, Plateau State.
The leaked information that marred the wedding
But few days to the D-day, the devil dribbling from the opposite side of the game shot past the penalty area and leaked out information that Akwuegbu, one-time Assistant General Manager, Heartland Football Club, Owerri (2012-2013), and Technical Director, Mighty Jets of Jos, since 2016, was planning to enter into another marital bond without formerly nullifying his previous marriage to his first wife, Ifeoma Juliet Akwuegbu.
The Parish priest of St. Monica’s, Rev. Fr. Frederick Wukari, a certified civil lawyer was said to have carried out a painstaking investigation and discovered that the popular ex-footballer was still legally married to Ifeoma. As a matter of fact, their first son is in the university.
Based on that discovery, he politely declined the plan to have them wedded in his church although before this time, Ruth, Akwuegbu’s new wife-to-be, had been attending wedding courses in the parish under his watch. Rev. Fr. Wukari, when contacted, was to state later, in a telephone chat with Saturday Sun that the reason he declined to wed the couple is because such marriage contract runs contrary to both the ecclesiastical law of the church as well as the civil law of the land.
“The wedding is not taking place, sir, because he was married and the first marriage has not been dissolved yet,” he said in the conversation with one of our correspondents. “There isn’t any dissolution and civil law says one cannot marry twice under the act. You must divorce the first wife before you are allowed to marry again. The church doesn’t allow that. It is the position of the church and the court not to join them because if you are getting married in the Catholic Church, you are marrying in the court first, before you are allowed to marry in the church.”
Asked if Akwuegbu would not be greatly disappointed and discouraged over his action, after he had printed invitation cards and distributed far and wide to respectable guests, Rev. Fr. Wukari said: “He didn’t do his homework well; so it’s not my fault. The church is not stopping the marriage; the church is only saying: do the right thing so that we do not become a point of reference for the wrong thing. We don’t want to become a point of reference for the bad thing; we don’t want to be referred to anytime something is happening to the church. Let it be positive.”
He explained that the Church is a rallying point for the family and promotes family unity among spouses for peace and reconciliation and should not hurriedly pick somebody’s husband and join him to another person.
His submission: “My position is that I am a civil lawyer too, sir. I am a certified civil lawyer called to the Nigerian Bar. I know what the law is saying. I know what the Ecclesiastical law is saying and I know what the civil law is saying at the same time. So, I am not rejecting him, I am only saying he should do the right thing and the church will honour his intention and his wish.
“There is no Rev. Fr. who went to the seminary and has become a Rev. Fr. that is allowed to administer the marriage because there is an existing impediment and the impediment must be taken care of, before a Rev. Fr. will be allowed to do that. He has transferred the wedding to a different church and I wonder why people are still calling me; he has transferred the wedding to a different parish and I told him categorically that this is the position of the law, that until you furnish me with a certified letter coming from court of competent authority, it is only then that I would be able to join you with whoever and I have not been furnished with that letter.
“Nobody has given me the certificate of dissolution. He came within the week angrily and said he is taking his file to our Lady of Queen of Peace, Gold and Base, and that the priest there has offered to do the marriage for him. I said fine, they should go ahead. I don’t want to become a point of reference for the wrong thing. I still hold onto my position and my opinion. If somebody else is ready to do it, they should go ahead and do it. I don’t want to be a party to that. That is my position. “
Why second priest refused to wed couple
But as things stand now, the priest in charge of the other parish, Monsignor Benedict Obidiegwu who also doubles as the Vicar-General, Adminstration of the Archdiocese of Jos, is said to have decided to wash his hands off the matter, on the same grounds. This development has made the ex-footballer to start running from pillar to post in search of any priest or pastor that will be willing to join his hand and that of newly found beau in holy matrimony.
Msgr Obidiegwu who acknowledged Akwuegbu as one of his students when he was the Principal of St. Mulumba College, Jos, said if it was a matter within his powers to help out, he would have gladly done so, given the relationship between them. But as it is, there is nothing he can do about it if he does not tender his divorce certificate from court as demanded by the law.
“He was my student at St. Mulumba College,” he said. “He was going to JSS 3 when they picked him as member of the Golden Eaglets and he went for football. When he succeeded, we issued him a testimonial and since then, we have been hearing about him. This time he has arranged his marriage and then he heard that I was here. And, he wanted to transfer the marriage to Our Lady Queen of Peace, Gold and Base. He met me and I said since I did not do the investigation, unless I get a clearance from the father where he wanted to transfer the marriage from.
“So far, he has not brought any clearance but he has brought papers for the annulment of the former marriage but the court has not granted what he wants. I told him that I cannot marry him because he is still in another marriage because you are in court. The wedding has been put on hold. He was with me yesterday (Wednesday) and we discussed. I told him that I can’t wed you because you are already in court and even if I do that, the other party will take me to court. I told him that if he gets approval from the Parish where the marriage was initially registered and I am given the clearance, I will gladly do the marriage for him but without the approval, I can’t.”
Asked to react to the rumour making the rounds that Akwuegbu was willing and ready to offer him any amount to wed them, he remarked angrily: “Gave me money for what? I have been a priest since 1971. I was principal of St. Mulumba College for 20 years. I have worked at Saint John Vianney Minor Seminary, Barkin Ladi for seven years. I taught in Federal College of Education for one year. So, I don’t think I am so much in love with money. I have seen money. How much is he going to give me? Will it make me rich? If I wanted to be rich, I would have done things that would make me rich. If the wedding will be here, I am the one who is supposed to wed them. If they had gotten clearance, I would have wedded them here.”
At this juncture, you decided to play the devil’s advocate. What if Akwuegbu is able to produce the clearance document he is asking for, a day to the wedding? Can he still go ahead and wed them? “There are many things to be done,” he said. “They have not registered to marry here. I have not interviewed him and I have not interviewed the wife.
“The only thing that will make this marriage work now is when the man where the marriage was registered authorizes me to do it on his behalf and he gives me the clearance and the papers and all the court documents and I study them. This is a legal issue because he has filed a divorce in court but it has not been approved and the lady he wants to marry is from Bokkos.
“All I know is that Ben was my student when I was a Principal at St. Murumba. He developed football skills in St. Mulumba, it was from the St. Mulumba school that he was picked and that was many yearss ago, around 1982. It was because he played with the Eaglet, he became very popular and we were proud of him because he represented us well.”
As at the time of filing this report, Akwuegbu is said to be making frantic efforts to have his dream of wedding Ruth actualized, somehow, somewhere today. But in the following interviews with Saturday Sun, both Juliet, his first wife, at present, based in London and the man spoke on the state of union between them.