Christians in Nigeria, irrespective of their denominations have been urged to love one another unconditionally, in order to create “a society that cares about every citizen, where no one is considered useless or second class or outcast; less valuable, less educated, civilized.”
This admonition was contained in the homily of the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese, Most Rev. Ignatius AyauKaigama for the 30th Sunday of the ordinary time year ‘A’ at St. Mary Magdalene Parish, old Kutunku, Abuja.
According to the Archbishop, “We all have a duty and responsibility towards one another, our youths, our families and larger society. We need to create a society that cares about every citizen, where no one is considered useless or second class or outcast; less valuable, less educated, less human, etc.” He condemned in all ramifications the uncivilized conduct of violence and arson that disrupted the peaceful #EndSARS protest march of the youths that took place in different parts of the country, recently.
He expressed concern that; when the youths embarked on a peaceful protest demanding an end to police brutality, the protection of lines, decorum in conduct by those in authority, accountability, good governance etc.; some hoodlums went about destroying very valuable private and public properties across the country. He wondered why Christians and Muslims cleric preach love over and over in Churches and Mosques respectively, yet people return home forgetting to be kind, patient, gentle, and forgiving to one another.
The Metropolitan of Abuja also clarified Pope Francis’ Statement in same sex civil union. He said: “The Pope is simply saying that because the love which springs from Jesus is patient, kind, forgiving and all inclusive, sinners including drunkards, prostitutes, murderers, thieves, etc should be shown love and given mercy.” He added: “A Christians is called to show hospitality not hostility; to love the Sinner, but to hate the sin, to have and show love that is real, true and consistent.”
Meanwhile, in his homily at this year’s Mission Sunday Mass, Archbishop Kaigama called on Christians not to allow the Corona virus pandemic to stop them from spreading the gospel of Christ, adding that the pandemic must not be a barrier or cripple “our response to give what we can do by meeting the Spiritual and material needs of people and Churches throughout the world, for the salvation of all.” He added; “During these challenging times of the Corona virus pandemic, Social distancing should not affect our love, caring for creation and for one another.”
As U.S. dioceses continue to pay out big settlements for lawsuits, the church is facing another nettlesome problem stemming from the abuse scandal: Priests who say they were falsely accused are suing for defamation.
In August 2018, shortly after a Pennsylvania grand jury report listed more than 300 priests in six dioceses in the state who had been credibly accused of abusing more than 1,000 minors since 1947, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson asked the three dioceses in his state to turn over files on church personnel credibly accused of sexual abuse since 1978.
Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha complied with that request, and in November 2018, the Omaha Archdiocese published a list of the names of 58 priests and deacons who had faced “substantiated claims” of abuse in the archdiocese.
The fallout from that list reverberates today. One of the priests whose name was on it — Fr. Andrew Syring — is suing the Omaha Archdiocese for defamation, counted among those priests who say they have been unfairly swept up in the church’s effort to repair its reputation and put the crisis behind it.
Lyle Koenig, Syring’s lawyer, said his client’s defamation suit is one of 20 to 25 similar cases in the country. By comparison, 7,002 priests were “credibly” or “not implausibly” accused of abuse in the U.S. between 1950 and June 30, 2018, according to BishopAccountability.org, which cited published information from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Melanie Sakoda, survivor support coordinator for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, noted that false allegations against priests are “relatively rare.”
“For a Catholic diocese to have accepted an allegation as ‘credible’ makes it, in my mind, even less likely that the accusation is false,” Sakoda said in an emailed comment.
“I think it would be incredibly unlikely that a priest would prevail in such a lawsuit, given that the diocese will have access to all of the records in the case,” she said.
Photo: The likeness of a priest is seen in this illustration. (CNS illustration/Tyler Orsburn)
In Nebraska, Syring, 43, is seeking $2.1 million in damages for defamation and denies the allegations made against him.
The cleric’s case dates back to 2014, when he served as an associate priest at Divine Mercy parish in his hometown of Schuyler, Nebraska. There, he was accused of inappropriate behavior that included “unwanted touching of young adults, publicly kissing and hugging minors on the cheeks and inappropriate conversations with young adults and teenagers,” according to the Omaha World-Herald. The allegations were reported to law enforcement, but no charges were filed, the World-Herald reported. Syring, at Lucas’ request, received months of counseling and therapy before being cleared to return to public ministry with the approval of the archdiocese’s lay review board, which serves as a consultant to the archbishop on abuse cases.
Syring was a resident in St. Bernard parish in Omaha in 2014, and was assigned to St. Wenceslaus parish in Omaha in 2015. He was transferred to St. Mary’s parish in West Point in the northeastern part of Nebraska in 2016.
He was immensely popular at St. Mary’s, according to parishioner CharissaSteffensmeier.
“The biggest thing is that he just drew so many people in and back to church; so many people said later that they started going back to Mass after he came,” Steffensmeier said, “because he is very relatable, very self-effacing, but mostly I would say what most people point to is his genuine love and reverence for the Eucharist. It would just shine through whether it was Mass, a homily, or a conversation. … He inspired an energy and an excitement about the church and about Mass.”
Photo: Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Nebraska, and other U.S. bishops from concelebrate Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome Jan. 14. The bishops were making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses to the pope and Vatican officials. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Then in October 2018, Syring suddenly vanished from St. Mary’s. On Oct. 30 of that year, Lucas asked Syring to resign. Koenig, Syring’s lawyer, said the priest agreed to step down because of the oath of loyalty to the archbishop that he had taken when he was ordained in 2011.
Steffensmeier points to events on Oct. 25, five days earlier, that prompted Lucas’ request for Syring to leave. On that evening, Lucas and Fr. Scott Hastings, vicar of clergy for the archdiocese, met with parishioners of St. Wenceslaus, who were upset by reports that revealed previous allegations of abuse against Fr. Francis Nigli, who had been an associate priest at the parish.
Nigli had been dismissed from the parish in June. He had been accused of sexual assault for groping and kissing a 21-year-old man at St. Wenceslaus in May, but parishioners were especially rankled because they discovered Nigli had faced similar allegations in 2013. No charges were filed, and Nigli received mental health treatment after the alleged incident in 2013.
At the time, Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor for the archdiocese, told the World-Herald, that Syring’s resignation was the result of the archdiocese reexamining the priest’s history in light of calls from Catholics for greater transparency and higher standards for priests.
On Nov. 30, 2018, the archdiocese published the list of clergy in the archdiocese who had faced substantiated allegations of abuse. Lucas, in a letter published in The Voice, the archdiocese’s newspaper, said that no priest or deacon serving in the archdiocese at that time had been accused of abuse against a minor.
In December 2018, Lucas met with Steffensmeier and about 15 other parishioners. At the meeting, Steffensmeier said, Lucas explained that Syring had been dismissed for “boundary violations” and that the archdiocese was holding clergy to a “higher standard” for conduct.
But Syring’s civil suit, which was filed in August in Cuming County District Court, said the archdiocese had not changed its standards of conduct for clergy at the time it dismissed the priest.
Furthermore, Syring had always vehemently denied the original allegations, had obeyed the archbishop in undergoing therapy and had a clean record since returning to public ministry, Koenig, his lawyer, said.
In response to an interview request from NCR, McNeil, the Omaha Archdiocese chancellor, said the archdiocese won’t comment on a matter that is now being litigated.
Robert Flummerfelt, a canon lawyer from Las Vegas, said that under church law, if a priest is accused, the bishop must first conduct a preliminary investigation to see if the accusation is credible. During that investigation, the priest’s identity should be kept confidential but the investigation often becomes public knowledge, Flummerfelt said.
If a bishop determines the allegation is credible, he must refer the case to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which will decide how the church should proceed.
A priest can appeal a bishop’s decision about dismissal to Rome, Flummerfelt said, but if the Vatican doesn’t overturn the bishop’s decree, the priest is out of options within the church.
What’s more, Flummerfelt said, when a priest is accused of sexual abuse, he often faces the burden of proving his innocence.
“The law is all are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “The practical situation, though, is that when someone brings forward an allegation and they appear credible, the effective presumption changes to, ‘Why would the person lie?’ So the priest is almost in a situation in which he has to prove his innocence, which is difficult.”
The veracity of allegations against a priest is also at issue in the case of Fr. Eduard Perrone in Detroit. The Detroit Archdiocese suspended Perrone from public ministry last year after it deemed that allegations that Perrone had groped a boy 40 years earlier contained a “semblance of truth,” the Detroit Free Press reported.
Last year, Perrone sued a detective in Macomb County whose report, he said, was the basis of the church’s decision to suspend him, the Free Press said. Perrone said the detective “fabricated” a rape claim against him.
In August, Perrone won $125,000 in a settlement with Macomb County, which said it settled to avoid the legal fees of a jury trial and a potentially big penalty if Perrone won.
In February, a group of 20 parishioners from Assumption Grotto Church in Detroit, where Perrone was the pastor, sued the Detroit Archdiocese for $20 million on the grounds that they have endured emotional suffering because of what they claim is an unjust suspension of their pastor.
Ned McGrath, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said that the archdiocese is seeking to dismiss the suit and that no trial date has been set, while the church investigation is now before the Vatican. He had told the Detroit Free Press that Perrone is presumed to be innocent while he is suspended.
Flummerfelt, the canon lawyer, said that dioceses face pressure to be tough in abuse cases.
“I think the dioceses are in a very difficult situation because they have an obligation to make sure that there’s zero tolerance of abuse of any sort against minors,” he said.
“A lot of clergy are put in a very difficult position of feeling alienated, ostracized during the process, and it’s a consequence of where we were as a society. The institutional church is trying to regain credibility on this issue, and so being strong and tough is seen as a way to do that. But for the individual priest, especially for the falsely accused, there could be circumstances where the reality of how he is treated is not how it should be.”
[Mark Nacinovich, a New York-based writer and editor, was formerly managing editor of the Brooklyn Tablet and has also written and edited for Catholic New York and the New York Post. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago.]
Nigeria’s gradual descent to the nasty and brutish state of nature is accelerating with the incessant and arbitrary detention of citizens. However, it gets more worrying when the judiciary, which is considered the last hope of the common man, fails to play its role and allows state actors to trample on the rights of citizens.
Wrongful confinement of an individual runs contrary to basic rights as persons are presumed innocent until proved otherwise. But the frequency with which lower courts – especially magistrates’ and high courts – grant remand orders and ex parte motions defeats the purpose of the presumption of innocence. Law enforcement agencies now obtain orders to remand suspects for up to 30 days or more under the guise of “investigation” and this is done with the approval of supposed priests in the temple of justice. Suspects thus languish in deplorable conditions, while security operatives go about fishing for evidence when the reverse ought to be the case. Consequently, an atheist, Mubarak Bala, has spent over six months in detention in Kano State while his plea has yet to be taken.
But there are worthy examples of how to investigate and prosecute criminal cases, which Nigerian law enforcement agencies can emulate. Earlier in the year, alleged international fraudster, Ramon Abass, aka Hushpuppi, and his accomplices were arrested by the police in Dubai after months of painstaking investigation and evidence gathering. This contrasts sharply with the crude manner with which anti-graft agencies in Nigeria raid, parade and detain fraud suspects for weeks while seeking evidence, putting the cart before the horse.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, had at the virtual opening ceremony of the 2020 Biennial All Nigerian Judges Conference of the Lower Courts last week, warned judges of lower courts to stop issuing reckless remand orders, especially when the court lacks the requisite jurisdiction to entertain such matters. But this is not the first time such a weighty warning would be given. Muhammad’s predecessor, Walter Onnoghen, issued a similar warning at the 2018 version of the conference, saying, “On the issue of prison decongestion, it is a scenario which has become a national embarrassment. The numerous and sometimes needless remand orders issued by magistrates is a major factor responsible for the congestion of our prisons… reckless remand orders must not be issued by your courts where it appears that the police lack evidence to prosecute a criminal matter or your courts do not possess the requisite jurisdiction to entertain such matter.”
However, the failure of the National Judicial Council and other judicial authorities to sanction errant judges and magistrates has allowed such infractions to continue, thereby abusing the rights of suspects and putting an avoidable strain on detention facilities and public funds. Unsurprisingly, more than 70 per cent of detainees nationwide are awaiting trial inmates. Open Society Justice Initiative says police in Nigeria routinely charge suspects with a serious offence in order to have them detained, but make little or no effort to investigate or prosecute the case. But Femi Falana, a frontline human rights activist, rightly adds if all detention facilities in the country are henceforth regularly inspected by judges and chief magistrates as stipulated by the law, the people of Nigeria will no longer be subjected to illegal arrest and detention by the police and other security agencies.
The continuous refusal of state and federal chief judges to appoint judicial officers to inspect detention centres as mandated by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 has also emboldened law enforcement agencies to illegally detain suspects. Section 34 of the law expressly states that Chief Judges of the Federal High Court, Federal Capital Territory High Court and state High Courts shall designate Judges and Chief Magistrates to conduct monthly visitation and inspection of all police stations and other detention facilities in all the states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory. According to the law, during such visits, a judicial officer can immediately grant bail to suspects they deem should not be in detention. Besides, such visits could expose the cases of torture that take place in such detention facilities.
Sadly, this law has not been enforced since it was promulgated five years ago, according to several rights groups. Perhaps, the alleged killings in the custody of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, which propelled the #EndSARS protests that brought the country to its knees, might not have happened if judicial officers had honoured their oath of office in the first place by upholding the law.
Bail is supposed to be free, but suspects are never released from custody without bribing policemen, which often prolongs their detention. But the judiciary cannot be solely blamed for the high cases of illegal detention. The Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation led by AbubakarMalami has failed woefully as far as obedience to court orders is concerned. The asinine argument that persons can be detained indefinitely on the basis of national security has increased the cases of illegal detention under his watch and given government agencies like the State Security Service the audacity to detain people arbitrarily and deny them access to their families and legal representation in contravention of court orders.
But is it not too late to do the right thing. The judiciary can prevent gross violations of the rights of the citizens by resisting the urge to grant remand orders for petty and first time offences while limiting such orders to heinous offences like murder and armed robbery, albeit with caution. Courts should make use of non-custodial sentencing like community service more frequently.
Section 133 of the United Kingdom’s Criminal Justice System provides for compensation in cases of miscarriage of justice. Article 14 (6) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that a person who suffers punishment due to miscarriage of justice, shall as a result of such conviction, be compensated. These are international best practices that should guide Nigeria’s justice system.
Judges must be courageous by ensuring that their orders are enforced and play a more active role in protecting the rights of the common man by visiting detention facilities more frequently. They must remember that they are not spectators but referees in the affairs of state and their refusal to act can derail the nation’s democracy. As a philosopher, Edmund Burke, once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The judiciary should play a broader oversight role through a regular inspection of detention and correctional centres.
By Ikechukwu Amaechi
To say that the police have for too long been the people’s bête noire is to say the fact. Yet, if there is any issue the #EndSARS protests which rocked the country in October brought to the fore, it is the other fact, which is, Nigerian policemen hold the wrong end of the welfare stick in the security circle.
Yet, without the police, security of lives and property will be grossly compromised, a reality which has placed Nigerians in a quandary.
So, what to do? Reform the institution and re-orientate its personnel. Nigerians unanimously agree that is the way to go. President Muhammadu Buhari does not disagree either. And his appreciation of this crisis and the urgency it demands is at the core of his vow to improve the welfare of Nigerian policemen.
But the problems are hydra-headed. Nigerian policemen have the misfortune of being paid very low wages. That is the biggest impediment against attracting skilled manpower into the force. As the common English idiom goes, “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”
Worse still, not only are police officers poorly remunerated while in active service, in retirement, they don’t fare any better because of the historically low wages.
So, any policy aimed at addressing police welfare must be fundamental and not superfluous. It must assuage the agitation for equitable pension package commensurate with what colleagues in other ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) get.
But the good news is that there are low hanging fruits which the government can harvest.
The average policeman is mortally afraid of the unknown: life after retirement. This fear informs most, if not all, of their most egregious conduct while in active service.
So, any attempt to address the welfare of the police must take a peep at the future. How can policemen be assured of a decent life after 35 years of service to fatherland?
Granted, there will always be bad apples, who, no matter what, will allow their greed overcome their sense of decency and fidelity to public good. But if policemen are assured of improved welfare in and out of service, it becomes a great disincentive for odious conduct.
And here, the Nigeria Police Force Pensions Limited – the Pension Fund Administrator (PFA) licensed by the National Pension Commission (PenCom) in accordance with the Pension Reform Act (PRA 2014) to exclusively manage the pension assets of all police personnel – has done a yeoman’s job in the last six years.
Even President Buhari acknowledged this fact on October 20, 2020 when he virtually commissioned the magnificent NPF Pensions House in Abuja, the first purpose-built corporate headquarters of any PFA in Nigeria.
Said he: “To the NPF Pensions Limited, I wish to applaud your company for instituting a Retirees Resettlement Support Scheme through which you provide some form of financial support to retired police officers to enable them to resettle fully in retirement after meritoriously serving the nation.
“Taking your services to the doorstep of police officers by maintaining an office in each police command and formation is also very laudable … I urge you to continue your untiring efforts in collaborating with the police authorities towards improving the welfare of both serving and retired personnel of the Nigeria Police Force.”
Both points are important. The NPF Pensions Limited is a child of necessity. The Nigerian government which modelled the country’s Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) after the Chilean scheme that exempted both the armed forces and the police, insisted that the police will be part of its own scheme while exempting the military.
Before 2014, policemen were scattered in all the other 20 PFAs and even when the authorities requested exemption, the government demurred, insisting that the police institution was so big that it was not in the best interest of the country to let policemen out of the pension loop.
So, NPF Pensions Limited was a compromise whereby instead of letting the police exit the pension scheme, the National Pensions Commission (PenCom) in 2014 licensed a PFA exclusively dedicated to serve the police with a vision “to be the benchmark in Pension Fund Administration in Nigeria.”
Its mission, “To provide quality customer and financial advisory services to stakeholders and adopt investment strategies that would yield the best possible returns on their pension assets,” was even more ambitious.
Prior to its establishment, a large number of policemen on the CPS were neither receiving statements on their Retirement Savings Accounts (RSA) nor had any communication with the PFAs, and, therefore, didn’t know what was happening to their accounts.
So, the first task of the new PFA was to get in touch with their clients by locating policemen wherever they were in Nigeria. Offices were set up in all the 56 police formations and commands across the country.
Working also through the police pension offices and six regional offices with pension desk officers, NPF Pensions took their services directly to the officers wherever they are located.
To ensure that issues are addressed instantly, all the 62 offices are online, real time. It was a strategic move that not only eased the access of police officers to information, but also dramatically eased the stress of documentation by creating awareness.
For the first time, policemen could make enquiries on their Retirement Savings Account (RSA) from the comfort of their offices or homes by making use of self-service channels.
The goal was to ensure that every client was treated with respect and given priority attention regardless of rank. Then, the PFA ensured that policemen whose RSAs were either unfunded or underfunded were fully funded.
The result is phenomenal. Though the NPF Pensions is the 21st PFA to be licensed and came 10 years after the 20 others began operations in 2004, today, it is one of the five most performing PFAs in the country.
Though it has received as at September 30, 2020, N240.93 billion as transfers for 259,831 contributors, its assets under management as at October 31, 2020 stood at N630.23 billion. For accrued rights, it has received N62.90 billion and paid retirement benefits worth N50.27 to 18,422 retirees. A total of N1.51 billion has also been dispensed under the Retiree Resettlement Support Scheme (RRSS) to 10,400 retired officers while N4.46 billion was paid as death benefits to 1,173 next-of-kin of deceased officers. N523.12 million was paid as programmed withdrawal to 15,855 retired clients in October 2020.
The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, appreciates what the PFA has accomplished in so short a time. “NPF Pensions Limited has become one of the most successful companies to be established in the Nigeria Police Force,” by placing, within six years of existence, the footprint of the police in the pension industry, he said.
To be fair, assenting to the Bill establishing the Police Trust Fund as well as the Nigerian Police Act 2020, both of which address welfare issues in the police, are testimonies to Buhari’s commitment to reforming the police for optimal service delivery through an enhanced welfare system.
But the NPF Pensions has, nevertheless, come up with various policy proposals to improve the welfare of serving and retired officers, which the government has not given commensurate attention.
Those suggestions are the low hanging fruits Buhari must harvest now.
The PFA has made a case for the upward review of the accrued rights of police retirees to address low lump sum and low monthly pension and the recognition and treatment of police officers from the rank of assistant inspector-general of police (AIG) and above as public office holders who should retire with full benefits just like permanent secretaries, pursuant to Section 7 of the Pension Reform Act.
Buhari’s approval has also been sought for special gratuity for police retirees at the rate of 300 per cent of annual gross salary upon retirement so that the balances in their Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) will be channeled towards monthly pension payments and to bring them at par with their peers in the public service.
The request was anchored on Section 4 (4) of the Pension Reform Act which provides that an employer, notwithstanding the provisions of the Act, may agree on the payment of additional benefits to the employee upon retirement.
And the PFA has advocated for a separate budgeting and remittance of accrued rights for police officers, arguing that grouping the police with other MDAs makes the process cumbersome. This is actually the big elephant in Nigeria’s pension room.
Many retired officers can’t understand why they have to wait for months to access their retirement benefits and most times they blame, wrongly, their PFA for their ordeal. But the delay results from the inability of the government to release the accrued rights as and when due.
The contributory pension scheme comprises 7.5 per cent deducted from the salary of a public servant and the counterpart 7.5 per cent contributed by the employer – the government – and the accrued rights derived from the services such an officer rendered to the government.
Abuja’s inability to pay the accrued rights promptly is due to poor finances. Before the CPS was introduced in 2004, the accumulated pension liability was over N2 trillion for the public sector alone.
But the PFA is bridging this gap by providing its clients with quality financial advisory services and management continues to reinvent itself by adopting investment strategies that would yield the best possible returns on pension assets, which it then deploys in ensuring that retirees have better value for their contributions.
It does this by utilising a portion of the annual profit as a welfare package – Retirement Resettlement Support Scheme (RRSS) – for retirees before their retirement benefits are paid.
The N500 million RRSS, a corporate social responsibility scheme, is not part of its mandate. In fact, till date, it remains the only PFA that gives back to its clients and it has become the ultimate game changer in the industry since it was approved by the NPF Pensions Board in 2017.
For Buhari to have singled out the RRSS for commendation in his October 20 speech, amplifies its significance.
But police retirees, nevertheless, expect their benefits to be promptly paid after retirement.
Unbundling the accrued rights remittance process as requested by NPF Pensions will solve this problem.
To ensure that every worker is meaningfully rewarded at retirement, the Pension Reform Act 2014 reviewed upwards the minimum rate of pension contribution from 15 per cent to 18 per cent of monthly emolument, where 8 per cent will be contributed by employee and 10 per cent by the employer. Unfortunately, six years after, this has not been implemented.
NPF Pensions strongly believes that the implementation of the 10 per cent employer contribution for the police will significantly enhance an officer’s RSA balance on retirement and is, therefore, pushing hard for its implementation.
On police welfare, NPF Pensions has workable solutions and has the president’s back. All Buhari needs do is walk his talk by approving the policy proposals already on his table.
Will that give Nigeria a police force populated by angels? Not at all. Angels live in heaven. But it will significantly point the personnel to the direction of a different work ethics and policing worldview.
In repositioning the police, both the president and the police apparatchik have an ally in the NPF Pensions. If they listen, they may well find out that most problems bedeviling the police have solutions already proffered by the PFA.
That is why everything must be done to preserve its one-client status because NPF Pensions Limited is the best advocate for enhanced police welfare.
Policemen are better off if they speak with one voice. And their PFA gives them that collective voice and the leverage they need. Doing otherwise through the transfer window will run against the spirit of the PRA 2014. It will also be counterproductive.
*Amaechi, a journalist, is a pensions expert
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, former governor of old Enugu State, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, Senator Chukwuka Utazi representing Enugu North Senatorial District, Senator Ayogu Eze, the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, the Papal Nuncio to Nigeria, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi, 38 Catholic Bishops across the country and some Anglican Bishops, were among the dignitaries that witnessed the dedication of St Theresa’s Cathedral Nsukka, on Thursday.
Speaking during the epoch-making event, Gov. Ugwuanyi who conveyed the felicitations of the government and people of Enugu State, to Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka, Prof. Godfrey Igwebuike Onah and the Diocesan faithful, expressed gratitude to God for making the dedication of the Cathedral possible.
The governor stated that it was a great privilege for him to be part of this history and disclosed that the towering architectural masterwork was “the product of divine inspiration and three decades of toil of our Catholic Diocesan faithful”.
He expressed delight that “today, it (Cathedral) stands elegantly completed under the leadership of our revered Bishop, His Lordship, Most Rev. Professor Godrey Igwebuike Onah”.
While commending Bishop Onah’s diligence and tenacity, Gov. Ugwuanyi also appreciated the great role of the retired Bishop of the Diocese, Most Rev. Francis Emmanuel Okobo, “in the visioning and implementation of the project”.
The governor prayed God “to abundantly bless all those who sacrificed their resources, time and labour for the realization of this dream”.
Acknowledging, thankfully, that the peace and unity in Enugu State were largely because of the prayers and wise counsel of the religious faithful, Gov. Ugwuanyi implored them to continue to avail the state “these twin supports of inestimable value”.
He appreciated the presence of the Papal Nuncio, the Bishops of the Catholic Church and sister Christian denominations and beseeched God to grant more strength and spiritual vision to Bishop Onah as well as “all our Clergy in the Diocese as they shepherd the flock of God”.
Earlier in his sermon, Bishop Onah expressed delight that the Cathedral project has finally become a reality.
He thanked the Almighty God for his mercy and love and also thanked the initiator of Cathedral and Bishop Emeritus of Nsukka Catholic Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Okobo for his vision and steadfastness, saying: “Today, Bishop Okobo will be joining in dedication this Cathedral” despite his health challenges.
Bishop Onah went further to appreciate all those who contributed in the building of the Church including the state government, professionals, prayer warriors, Diocesan faithful, the Muslim community, among others and asked God to reward them abundantly.
In their goodwill messages, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Nigeria and the Papal Nuncio to Nigeria, among others, congratulated Bishop Onah, his predecessor, the priests, religious and the entire Nsukka Diocesan faithful on the remarkable dedication of the Cathedral, stressing that their strong faith and sacrifices saw to the realization of the magnificent edifice.
Also present at the event were the Speaker of the Enugu State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Edward Ubosi, the State Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Priscilla Ngozi Emehelu, the member representing Nsukka/Igbo-Eze South Federal Constituency, Rt. Hon. Dr. Pat Asadu, his counterpart in Igbo-Etiti/Uzo-Uwani Federal Constituency, Rt. Hon. Martin Oke; former Deputy Governor of Enugu State, Chief Okechukwu Itanyi, former Minister of Information, Chief Frank Nweke Jnr.; former State Chairmen of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Engr. Vita Abba and Chief Ikeje Asogwa, members of the State House of Assembly, members of the State Executive Council, Council Chairmen, among others.