Joe Effiong, Uyo
The change of name crisis in Qua Iboe Church (QIC) penultimate Sunday boiled over when a detachment of armed policemen and thugs invaded one of the church’s congregations in Uyo and held worshipers hostage for hours.
Qua Iboe Church, one of the early missionary churches, established in 1887 at Ibeno Local Government Area in the present Akwa Ibom State, but which spread to several states in Nigeria, especially Kogi Benue, Cross River, River and Abia states, had been embroiled in change of name conflict for almost 20 years, with a section preferring it to be renamed United Evangelical Church (UEC) while the diehards prefer that they keep the name with which the church was established.
Niger Delta Chronicle learnt that the situation has led to several breakaways with breaking-away congregations insisting on answering QIC while others prefer to establish their congregations under the name UEC and vice versa. Some people have left the ‘two churches’ completely to join other denominations.
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To maintain some semblance of equilibrium, some congregations opted to bear the two names simultaneously, like Qua Iboe Church (aka UEC) or United Evangelical Church (aka QIC).
The above scenario was the fate of the congregation in question located in Aka Itiam along Full Life Avenue which hitherto was answering Qua Iboe Church (UEC) Aka Itiam, Uyo, until last Sunday when police and thugs invaded the church on the behest of some senior pastors of the Uyo superintendency, when the Uyo superintendent arrived with other pastors and elders to effect the change of name from QIC to UEC against the wish of the church council and a majority of members.
The congregation was said to have been established by Qua Iboe Church, N0. 2, Olusegun Obasanjo Way, Uyo, in 2002, and had maintained the QIC nomenclature until last Sunday when police and thugs believed to be have been invited by a senior pastor in the Uyo superintendency of the church (name withheld) in connivance with the resident minister Nsikakabasi Nada, came to forcefully effect the change of name.
An elder in the church who pleaded anonymity, said the police and thugs who had arrived the church at about 9 am, stood sentry around the church premises and prevented any entry or exit until the Uyo superintendent of UEC, Rev. J.O. Ogobo led about 10 other ministers to the church, where he mounted the podium to announce the take-over of the church by the UEC and the suspension of the church chairman, church secretary, women fellowship president and other church officers from their positions.
Niger Delta Chronicle learnt that after eventually freeing members held hostage, the clergy supervised the change of all locks in the church so that the suspended members would not have access to the auditorium.
A new signpost: United Evangelical Church, Aka Itiam (Arena of Peace) has now been conspicuously attached to the wall of the church, even as the billboard that announced the church crusade held only last month still bears Qua Iboe Church.
It was also gathered that earlier last week, the church signpost bearing Qua Iboe Church was removed by unknown persons, which might have been a signal to what eventually played out on Sunday.
Apparently to consolidate their position, it was learnt that the pastor in conjunction with a former church chairman who was suspended due to alleged impropriety and ineptitude, had petitioned the police who in turn had invited those purportedly suspended to the state police headquarters Ikot Akpanabia, for questioning.
As at Wednesday, the church elders still being grilled at the CID, state police headquarters, on the strength of the petition. The petitioners however were not present.
Contacted, Rev. Nada declined comments except to say: “The matter is being handled by the legal adviser of the church; legal adviser of United Evangelical Church founded as Qua Iboe Church. I think he is the right person to be contacted for comment.”
Gov. Udom Emmanuel who is a deacon in the church had made several efforts to reconcile the two factions but his efforts have not yielded any fruits as each faction has stuck to its position.
February last year, the governor had convened a peace meeting at Government House, Uyo, where two retired generals: former director-general of NYSC, Maj. Gen. Edet Akpan representing the QIC faction, and former chief of air staff, Air Marshal Nsikak Eduok, rep- resenting the UEC, attended.
Inside source said the governor had pleaded with each faction to maintain the peace until the crisis is eventually resolved.
The governor, only last Sunday in another QIC congregation in Asuna, Etinan, had expressed optimism that the crisis would be over soon. He did not, however, state how that would be possible even though he said: “We have gone very far on the reconciliation and we will soon be there.”
He appealed to the leadership of the two factions to have an open mind for peace and unity to return to the church.
“I believe very soon, this crisis would be over and we will be back again as one body. It is only through God’s grace that Qua Iboe Church in Asuna could stand 100 years. Any church that is founded on truth, no matter what happens, that church can never shake.
“I am not overriding the church; but permit me to say that ‘founded as’ is not the same thing as ‘also known as.’ ‘Also known as’ is reconciliatory, while ‘founded as’ does not allow for a change we just preach now.
But the national chairman or general superintendent of UEC, Rev. Samuel Ebukiba, expressed ignorance of the crisis when our correspondent called. “How can the police invade a church?” he queried.
The purportedly suspended chairman of the QIC, Aka Itiam, Elder Felix Uboh, said till now he was not aware why the superintendent said he and four other members of the church council were suspended.
He admitted being invited by the police but said none of those who wrote the petition including the congregational pastor had been bold enough to show up to defend their petition.
“We are QIC, not UEC. But we will not take the laws into our hands to remove the wrong signpost that they have come to post on the church. The matter is with the police. We believe the police will do a good job after knowing the truth,” Uboh said.