■ Primate Okoh, registrar, Okorocha cause row over selection of new bishop
George Onyejiuwa and Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
A replica of the crisis that erupted in the Ahiara Catholic Diocese in Imo State recently is currently brewing in the Diocese of Owerri (Anglican Communion), Church of Nigeria, following the retirement of Rt. Rev. Cyril Okorocha as bishop of the diocese. Bishop Okorocha retired on June 12 this year.
Sunday Sun reliably learnt that, according to the constitution of the Church, the new Bishop of Owerri ought to have been elected as a replacement to the retiring Bishop Okorocha before his exit on June 12, 2018.
It was equally gathered that the Church Constitution also stipulates that where a vacancy exists in any diocese, it has the option to nominate three priests though it is not compulsory that the priests so nominated from the diocese must be chosen, as the House of Bishops reserves the right to decide who becomes the bishop amongst those chosen from the diocese.
The House of Bishops, it was learnt, can also elect a bishop from another diocese or translate another bishop from another diocese within the province to fill the existing vacancy.
However, Sunday Sun reliably gathered that the current succession crisis rocking the Anglican Diocese of Owerri began in April when the retiring Bishop Okorocha had gone to Ilorin in Kwara State before the standing Committee of the Bishops and it was discovered that the Owerri Diocese had presented one candidate against the stipulated three required.
According to a source in the Owerri Diocese, who does not want his name mentioned, Bishop Okorocha had inadvertently allegedly caused the succession crisis currently rocking the Owerri Diocese when he chose one priest from the Owerri Municipal, Venerable Zion Ngoka who was his Chaplin as his replacement, which the others bishops kicked against, saying that it was not the proper thing to do.
“Bishop Okorocha who had gone to Ilorin in Kwara State for the meeting of the Standing Committee had presented Venerable Zion Ngoka who was his Chaplin and insisted that he must replace him to the disagreement of the other bishops and all efforts to choose another priest outside Owerri was stalled by the Owerri Diocese,” the source said.
As the dust raised by this has not abated, Bishop Okorocha on the evening after his retirement made new appointments, transferred some of the clergies in the diocese and instituted a three-man committee to begin a process of appointing a new bishop for the diocese.
But on the next day, the Primate of the Church of Nigeria and Archbishop of Abuja Province, Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, nullified all that the outgone bishop had done.
However, the people of Owerri who had long wanted to have one of their own to be selected as next bishop after Okorocha through the registrar of the diocese got a court injunction, restraining the appointment of a new bishop.
As the action became difficult to resolve, the Church of Nigeria appealed to the registrar of the Owerri Diocese to remove the injunction to allow the Primate appoint a new bishop for the diocese, which the registrar said he would not until everything was resolved to avoid anarchy in the church.
A reliable source in the diocese told Sunday Sun that already over 23 candidates have indicated interest to be the bishop of the diocese with the Primate, the outgone bishop and archbishops having their favoured candidates, which resulted in a stalemate.
Sunday Sun gathered that the Diocese of Owerri had instituted the legal action against the Primate apparently to forestall the installation of Venerable Paul Nwaozuzu who is the choice of the people of Mbaitoli who have been requesting for their own Diocese out of the present Owerri Diocese, which they believed was allegedly frustrated by the retired Bishop Okorocha.
According to a source, “the Mbaitoli area where Venerable Paul Nwaozuzu hails from has over the years requested to have their own Diocese on the grounds that Owerri is the largest diocese in the state and that Mbaitoli has nine archdeaconry that can make up a diocese. Their quest for their own diocese is being hampered by the five years embargo instituted by the Primate, which is renewed after five years against the creation of a new diocese. But the people of Mbaitoli have said that they don’t want a Missionary Diocese, which was why the embargo was placed in the first instance, and that they have the resources to run a diocese”.
The source also disclosed that the people of Mbaitoli were aggrieved with the retired Bishop Okorocha who they accused of refusing to mention their case to have a diocese during the synods nor presented it to the Primate of Nigeria.
“The Mbaitoli people decided to boycott all activities of Owerri Diocese, for instance, the Fathers’ Day Conference that was held at Obiato Eziama in Mbaitoli and also in May, the Synod of Owerri Diocese held at Christ Church, recorded very low turnout of laymen from Mbaitoli because of the issues though they had made their financial contributions towards the events.
“They are saying that if priests from Mbaitoli cannot be allowed to be bishop in Owerri Diocese then they must be allowed to have their own diocese,” the source said.
Sunday Sun also gathered that the Primate had also appointed the Bishop of Ikeduru Diocese, Rt. Rev. Emmanuel Maduwuike to take over the management of the Owerri Diocese for the meantime pending the when a new priest would be duly appointed.
Bishop Maduwuike has, therefore, put on hold all last minutes promotions and postings of priests done by the retired Bishop Okorocha.
Currently, the crisis in the diocese has divided the congregation and priests, putting them in two camps with some aggrieved priests vowing to resist the Bishop Okorocha committee.
It has equally forced the worshippers to abandon the cathedral to now worship elsewhere.
A worshipper in the cathedral who does not want his name mentioned appealed to both sides to tread with caution, saying that if the crisis is not managed well and on time too “it will degenerate to the level of the Ahiara Catholic Diocese crisis.”
Meanwhile, a strong member and Knight of the Diocese, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu has strongly opposed the Bishop Okorocha’s three-man committee, saying that the outgone bishop had no such right to constitute it.
According to Iwuanyanwu, “the Primate of the Anglican Church, Nigeria, Rt. Rev. Nicholas Okoh has the sole responsibility to do that. The constitution of the Church says that any outgoing bishop of a diocese should hand over his authority to the Primate, who now appoints an overseeing bishop for the diocese pending when a new bishop will be appointed.
“We are totally against what the outgoing bishop and team have done. The three-man committee constituted is, therefore, null and void”.
But, a former Registrar of the Diocese, Chief Chukwuma Ekomaru (SAN) dismissed any form of crisis in the diocese.
“For 20 years Bishop Okorocha was there, the diocese had a smooth run. Though he could not produce a successor before his exit, the diocese and all religious activities in the cathedral have been well conducted pending when a bishop is appointed,” Ekomaru said.
Sunday Sun also gathered that as the crisis is raging, worshippers from Mbailoti who are pushing to have their own diocese are plotting to first install their own as the bishop of the Owerri Diocese as they want to use to advantage their highest number in the clergy hierarchy in the Anglican Church in Owerri.