•Archbishop battles bishop over land, demolishes latter’s church, residence
•No, it was court that did it, not me
By Enyeribe Ejiogu and George Onyejiuwa
The presiding bishop of Lovebreeds Christian Ministries, Owerri, Imo State, Bishop (Dr) Charles Uchenna, is still in shock at the moment. This is coming three weeks after his church building, residence and office were demolished on March 17, 2017. He is receiving treatment after the psychological trauma the development caused him.
Horrified by the incident are the clergy and members of the Imo State branch of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) who had earlier intervened in the matter involving Uchenna and the General Overseer of Overcomers Christian Ministries, Owerri, Archbishop Ezeugo Ekewuba, over a land dispute.
In a telephone interview with Daily Sun, Uchenna narrated how he learnt about the demolition of the church building, his residence and office while he and his family were away in Anambra State.
“On Friday, March 17, 2017, two of my children graduated from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. The whole family had left Owerri to attend their convocation. While we were all there, several distress calls through that a bulldozer had roared into our church premises and demolished my office, residence and the church auditorium which had a sitting capacity of 500 worshippers, all located on Iho Dimeze Street, Works Layout, Owerri, Imo State.”
Uchenna said when he received the sad news, he called one of his friends, to rush to the place while the demolition exercise was going. Uchenna noted that his friend told him that he met a man who identified himself as a lawyer, he said brought the bulldozer and some policemen at the behest of Archbishop Ezeugo Ekewuba, General Overseer of Overcomers Christian Mission, Owerri, and his wife, Bishop Franca Ezeugo-Ekewuba.
Prodded on why an archbishop would demolish another bishop’s church and residence, Uchenna said: “It is a very big shock to me and I have not been able to get out of the experience. But let me recap the story. Ezeugo has been my friend for 30 years. On December 15, 2002, I visited him in company with my wife, during which I gave him an offering.
“As he was seeing us off, he asked me what I wanted from God. I mentioned that we needed a piece of land to build a church for God. He paused and said that recently God told him to give out a particular portion of land to a church or some other person would take it.
“He sent one of his sons to take me to the plot in question. He said I should look at it and if I liked it, I should come back to him. So, I went to the place, looked at it and liked it. When I returned, I told him that I liked it. Then he said, ‘Fine, take the land and build whatever you want. Next week, come and collect the papers.’
“After one week, I went back for the papers. He said he was yet to search for it. He added that I should not be afraid – that I should go ahead and begin to build whatever I wanted. After I returned from my Christmas holiday, I went back to him again to ask for the papers. But he still said that he had not searched for them. He said that as his friend, I should not be worried or afraid. That I should go on to develop the land.”
Based on Ezeugo’s assurances, Uchenna said his church went on to build permanent structures, comprising an auditorium, office building and pastor’s residence on the said land. He said when the church was dedicated on March 16, 2003, he invited Ezeugo and several ministers of the gospel. He said it was on that day that he got the first shocker from Ezeugo.
“As he was preaching, his wife suddenly stepped in. The he paused and said: ‘Charlie (that’s what he calls me), use this place for 15 years. You will use this place for 15 years.’ I was shocked. My guests were shocked and our church members were shocked even more.
“The next day, I went over and told him that I never asked him for land. I reminded him that he offered it gratis and we never discussed lease. He smiled and said that I should not bother, that he was trying to buy time, to settle some family issues. That he couldn’t disappoint me, knowing what our relationship had been. He said the land was an opportunity to show me love. I insisted that he put it in writing.
“When he picked up a piece of paper to write, he changed what he said on the altar. He wrote that I would use the place for 10 years, after that it would be renewed for another 10 years and then I would get two years notice to vacate after the second 10 years.
“That was the first piece of paper he ever gave to me concerning the land. This was the situation until I suddenly received a court summons in November 2016, telling me to move out of the property in seven days and surrender all the appurtenances on the land. The court summons did not even come in the name of Ezeugo, but in the name of his wife, Bishop Franca Ezeugo. Instead of suing the church – because the paper he gave to me stated that he gave the land to the church. It was the wife who sued me in her personal capacity. For this reason, I did not take the court summons serious initially. The following week, the second court summons was served on me.”
Uchenna said that he opted to seek arbitration over the matter by elders of the PFN in the state. Consequently, the presiding magistrate agreed to allow the parties settle out of court. He noted that 13 men of God made up the arbitration panel. Uchenna said that he told the panel that he never asked Ezeugo for land in the first place and they never discussed lease.
“When I said this, the archbishop did not deny it. He only said that I didn’t have the original papers of the land. Then the elders asked what should be the way forward. I asked for the option of buying the place but Ezeugo said that he wouldn’t sell. Then I asked him to compensate me for the structures that I built on the land. He said he would not do that. Then I asked for the third option, that he should allow me stay there for 10 years and after the period, I would relocate and leave all the structures for him. He said that he would not do so too, that he could only allow me stay for two years. It was at that point that the men of God present strongly objected to him, stating that the period of two years was too short, especially as I resided in the compound. After much persuasion, Archbishop Ezeugo and his wife agreed that I sould stay for five years. The two lawyers were directed by the elders to draft a document based on the agreement reached at the arbitration meeting. They were asked to go back and inform the court that we had agreed that I would pack out after five years. All of us prayed and left. This meeting took place in December 2016. Based on the agreement reached, I was to vacate the property in 2021.
“But that very night, after the peace meeting, the archbishop called me and said that he would no longer grant the five years as agreed upon. He unilaterally reduced the number of years from five to two. While I was waiting for the lawyers to prepare the formal agreement for me to sign, the next thing that happened was that my house, church building and office were demolished while I was in Awka, Anambra State to attend my children’s graduation. There was no notice given to me or to my lawyer regarding demolition. Everything I had in the house was destroyed; the church was reduced to rubble. I have no place to live and no church.”
When Archbishop Ezeugo was contacted on the phone, on Sunday, March 26, 2017, he rejected the call the moment the reporter identified himself. Subsequent calls made to his number (08106***700) were ignored. He also did not respond to a text message sent to him. A copy was forwarded to his wife’s number (0803***5527) with an appeal to draw her husband’s attention to it.
However, when Ezeugo took a call from a Daily Sun, two days after, he gave a terse response to the allegations made by Bishop Uchenna.
He said: “It was the court that ordered the demolition of the building, not me, okay. I have nothing further to say.” He refused to address the other allegations itemised in the text message sent to him earlier.