Protest over the brazen injustice in St Matthews Anglican Church Nkpogwu, Port Harcourt
Members of St. Matthews Anglican Church Nkpogwu, Port Harcourt have protested over what they described as brazen injustice in the Church. In the official statement obtained by this iBelieveAll Blog, they said the unconstitutional, autocratic, and repressive suspension of 16 registered members and communicants of the Church, broadcast on October 29th 2022 in a Zoom meeting on International Media, the Advent Cable Network NigeriaTV (ACNNTV), by the Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), His Grace the Most Reverend Dr. Henry C. Ndukuba, without the right to fair hearing accorded these members as provided for in the Constitution and Canons of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican
The joint statement signed by; Elder Theophilus Chinda Professor Kenneth Ordu, Sister Stella Timothy Elder Joseph Odegba and Alwell Chikwe Boms Ayotunde Olowoyemi on-behalf of over 1,000 members of the Church read;
PROTEST OVER THE BRAZEN INJUSTICE IN ST MATTHEWS ANGLICAN CHURCH, NKPOGWU, PORT HARCOURT.
1. We the undersigned, write on behalf of over 1,000 members of St Matthews Anglican Church, Nkpogwu, (SMAC) Port Harcourt to protest:
a) The unconstitutional, autocratic, and repressive suspension of 16 registered members and communicants of the Church, broadcast on October 29 th 2022 in a Zoom meeting on International Media, the Advent Cable Network NigeriaTV (ACNNTV), by the Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), His Grace the Most Reverend Dr. Henry C. Ndukuba, without the right to fair hearing accorded these members as provided for in the Constitution and Canons of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican
b) the dissolution of the elected ParishChurch Council (PCC) and subsequent inauguration of a CaretakerCommittee to oversee the affairs of the Church. The PCC is a constituent of duly elected members of the Church. The tenure of the PCC expired in February 2022, The Vicar Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala, as the Chairman of the Electoral committee called for nominations and the seconding of candidates for fresh elections. This nomination/seconding process was conducted and concluded,but the Vicar has continued to stall in the conduct of election of candidates into the PCC.
2. We have resorted to this open newspaper publication to:
a) air our views and herewith state our position, due to the refusal of the authorities of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) to follow the provisions of the Constitution, and adjudicate fairly on the issues that have led to the crisis in the Church since the posting of Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala as the Vicar of the Church in March 2021, and
b) inform the reading/listening public, and correct the misinformation and inaccuracies contained in the letter signed by the General Secretary of the Church of Nigeria (The Venerable Gershinen Paul Dajur) and issued to the Press on 29 th October 2022.
3. Prior to the suspension order meted out to the sixteen members, the Church had written three letters to the Primate of All Nigeria protesting the unacceptable and unedifying behavior and carryings-on of Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala. None of the letters was acknowledged, or an invitation extended to the writers of the letters to address the allegations detailed in the letters.
The Church of Nigeria (CoN) rather than adjudicate fairly in line with the laws of natural justice, the Constitution and Canons of the Church of Nigeria, and indeed the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria meted out suspension on the members without first according them a hearing.
4. The Church of Nigeria (CoN) did not bother to investigate or inquire to determine whether the allegations against Ven. Onyinye Matthias Okpala were true, for instance:
a) Did Ven. Onyinye Matthias Okpala misappropriate or mismanage Church funds?
b) Why is Ven. Onyinye Matthias Okpala receiving full salaries from the Church and the National Examination Council of Nigeria (NECO) where he remains a full-timestaff?
c) Why has it become the normal modus operandi for Ven. Onyinye Matthias Okpala to use law enforcement agencies to harass members of the Church who dared to speak up against his misdeeds, and cause the arrest and detention of security men employed
by the Churchfor no justifiable excuse?
d) Why did Ven. Onyinye Matthias Okpala mislead the Church on many occasions, for example that the Church SMAC can plant Churches in other Diocesan territories and use them to become a Diocese of its own?
e) Is Ven. Onyinye Matthias Okpala a professor? Which University appointed him into that exalted position? Should a Clergyman engage in falsehood?
5. The Primate, instead of following the procedure for dispute resolution stated in the Constitution and Canons of the Church of Nigeria, sent the Task Force on Interface and Reconciliation,headed by the Rt Rev Samuel Ezeofor, a Task Force in which Ven. Onyinye Matthias Okpala is a prominent member. This makes Ven. Onyinye Matthias Okpala a judge in his own case with the authority of the Primate. No investigation or enquiry was ordered, fairness was jettisoned, and the offending Ven Onyinye Okpala who has been at the centre of the storm and against whom the congregation had genuine grievances, was re-appointed as Chairman of the Caretaker Committee, in total disregard of the feelings, concerns and rights of over 1,000 members of the congregation.
6. To worsen the matter, the Primate of All Nigeria (Anglican Communion)without regard to the Canons and laws of the Church of Nigeria(Anglican Communion), on 30th October 2022 petitioned the sixteen members and communicants to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) making serious criminal allegations of
i. criminal conspiracy,
ii. forceful entry into the Church (that they have been members of for several decades),
iii. willful damage to property, and
iv. threat to life
– all of which the authorities of the CoN could not substantiate. We however commend the professional manner the officials of the IGP Monitoring Team in Abuja handled the matter.
7. It will be important now to highlight in clear terms the issues that have brought us to this point.
Summary of the allegations against Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala (ref SMAC letters to the Primate dated 9th August 2021, and 5th Dec 2021) and to which the Primate has refused to acknowledge or call for an enquiry into:
a) Disregard for Parish Church Council: Ven. Onyinye Okpala has since assumption of duty at SMAC treated the Church as a conquered territory. Declaring that he does not need the elected Parish Church Council to help him run the Church, he has consistently refused to work with established structures and procedures (administrative and financial) and the Policy Guidelinesof the Church, often bypassing the Parish Church Council (PCC) in taking decisions that affect the financial well-being of the Church. He has shown disrespect for established financial procedures and does not see the congregation at
SMAC as stakeholders.
b) Violation of Pastoral etiquette: One of the hallmarks of Pastoral ethics is the confidentiality of information divulged to a Clergyman during counseling. When a Vicar then brings to the public domain, issues committed to him during a private counseling
session, it betrays every ethos of decency the Pastoral call is supposed to stand for. This is unethical conduct unbecoming of a Shepherd.
c) Dwindling Church attendance: Attendance at Church services, and hence Church income have continued to decline, affecting the execution of PCC-approved expenditures, scheduled missions and evangelism programs, and the prompt payment of Church
Workers and Field Missionaries, among other things. At the time of Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala’s resumption in March 2021, attendance on Sundays was at an average of 1,300.
As a result of the attitude, utterances and character of Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala, attendance dropped to an all-time low of 600, something that was never experienced in the 33-year history of the Church before Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala was posted.
d) Introduction of tribal sentiments in the Church and sharp divisions along tribal lines.
e) Dwindling Finances: Over the years before the arrival of Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala as Vicar in charge, SMAC had effectively and resourcefully managed its affairs and reported excess income over expenditure every year-ending. It is however on record that
in the first year (2021) of Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala as Vicar of SMAC, SMAC recorded her first ever deficit of NGN 13,030,522. The year 2022 financial records, year-to-date September 2022 already shows a deficit of NGN 10,966,982.
f) Unethical Practices: The congregation and the system at SMAC recognize the Vicar as the head of the PCC. All Church programs and financial expenditures are approved during PCC meetings which hold every 2 nd Saturday of each month. This is where any request to incur expenditure is scrutinized prior to approval before any expenditure. Decisions at PCC are passed by simple majority. The Vicar even as Chairman of Council is not supposed to unilaterally take decisions to incur expenditure. All these processes that will make for transparency and accountability in financial transactions were repeatedly breached by Ven. Onyinye Matthias Okpala, with the usual retort of “I am the Vicar.” If other Vicars who had pastored the Church before the Ven. Onyinye Matthias Okpala, had
operated in this manner, there may have been no Church for him to pastor in this dispensation, and several of our leaders during the seven years of conflict with the Niger Delta North Diocese would have been convicted and jailed by now.
g) Dictatorship: Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala has zero tolerance for any view except his own and would brand anyone who does not fall in line with his view an enemy. His dictatorial and unethical conduct, his total disregard for the organizational structure of the Church as well as his unguarded utterances, and his encouragement of partisanship and factions in the life of the Church has bred distrust, disunity, and discord amongst members, with the result that a lot of members have simply stayed away from Church.
h) Corrupt Practice: Venerable Onyinye Matthias Okpala is a serving Civil Servant with the National Examination Council (NECO) and at the same time, a full-time Clergyman in SMAC, Nkpogwu, an act which offends the Code of Conduct as enshrined in the
Constitution and the Civil Service Rules. This is a fraudulent act committed against the Church and the Nation.
i) Witch hunt: Members of the Church who called the attention of the Church Council to this demanded that the matter at (h) above be redressed, with Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala refunding all dishonest payments received from the Church were branded
rebellious, and the names of all these persons included where in the list of the sixteen persons suspended by the Primate. The issues around the full salaries which Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala has continued to draw from SMAC despite being a full staff member of NECO is one of the issues the Primate has thus far refused to respond to.
j) Failure to perform the duties expected of a Priest:Prayer is the live wire of the Church.
Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala has shown little or no interest in the prayer programs of the Church and seldom attends these programs. Every Friday is a Prayer meeting, and every second Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of every month is the monthly Prayer and fasting. The first 21 days of each year is fasting for all members. Every first day of the month from 6am to 7am is the one-hour-with-Jesus program of the Church.
k) Breach of Diocesan Boundaries: Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala in his bid to perpetuate his personal agenda decided against counsel to set up Annexes of the Church in other Dioceses. SMAC is not against the planting of new Churches; SMAC in fact, has actively planted Churches across Dioceses within and outside Nigeria.The principles of need and understanding of hostDioceses has always been key. SMAC does not plant Churches to hold but to nurture and hand over to the Dioceses where they are sited. However, with the Ven. Onyinye Matthias Okpala-led idea of Church planting, we were to hold on to these Churches and make a case to be made a Diocese. It is on record that the Diocese of Okirikain a letter dated 8 th August 2022, wrote to Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala on territorial trespass by SMAC for using the Church Event Center (Gloryland) situated in Trans Amadi, as a Church.This letter was copied to the Primate of All Nigeria, the Archbishop of the Niger Delta Province, and the Chancellor of the Church of Nigeria.
8. In December 2021, the Church sent a letter to the Primate passionately making the following pleas:
a. That Ven Prof Onyinye Okpala be posted out of St Matthews Anglican Church Nkpogwu, before things get out of control.
b. That a new Vicar preferably one with an orientation for missions and evangelism be sent to replace him, St. Matthews Anglican Church, Nkpogwu having chosen to be Evangelical.
In the same letter, the Church also stated as follows: “With Ven. Prof Onyinye Okpala’s frequent unguarded outbursts and threats to bring in the Police and Army to deal with those he believes are opposing him, many Parishioners now see him as a man that cannot be trusted with confidential matters. Many have simply lost confidence in him as a Priest they can confide in. Ven Prof Onyinye Okpala will not deny the fact that many Communicants no longer partake in the Holy Eucharist celebrated
by him for this and other reasons.”
Ven Prof Onyinye Okpala has said on several occasions that he “fights dirty.”
Sequel to the suspension order against our members, a letter dated 1 st November 2022, was sent to the Primate to reconsider his harsh decisions against our elected leaders. When it was certain that no feedback was to be expected from the office of the Primate, a Letter dated 25th November 2022 was written to the Dean of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Most Rev. Ali
Buba Lamido).A follow up letter dated 27th December 2022 has also been sent to the Dean of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). In the meantime, the Caretaker Committee led by Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala has continued to take other provocative actionscapable of putting the peaceful atmosphere of the Church at risk. The Church is now divided into two factions, with one section of less than 100 parishioners standing with Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala, and the majority of more than 1,000who have rejected Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala as Vicar worshiping separately on the adjoining plot of land also belonging to SMAC, in protest.
9. We are aware that Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala’s target is the Instrument the Church invested in and would like to state here that any attempt by whosoever to tamper with the Church investment will not be acceptable and we will be in our right to defend the looting of our commonwealth which seems to be the major focus of Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala and his co-travelers.
Recently, a letter signed by the Secretary of the Church of Nigeria The Venerable Gershinen Paul Dajuron the instruction of the Primate was sent to the banks in which SMAC Nkpogwu maintains accounts, directing that the signature mandates be changed to reflect the name of Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala and one member picked by the Primate, as the new mandate holders to the Church’s bank accounts to give Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala and his cohorts (less than 10% of the membership of SMAC) unfettered and absolute access to the bank accounts and the funds gathered over the years by all the members, majority of who are currently in disagreement with Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala.
We wish to again make an enthusiastic appeal to the authorities of the Anglican Communion to revisit the stance of the Church and look closely at the facts as presented. The issue is clear; to have peace, all we ask is as contained in our request to the Primate which are:
a) Repost the Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala as Vicar of SMAC to create a conducive atmosphere for an impartial investigation of the complaints against the Vicar.
b) Post a mission-minded Priest who is truly selfless and Kingdom-minded to Shepherd the parishioners of SMAC with love.
c) Reverse all decisions taken on 29th October 2022, for being hasty, unjust and in flagrant violation of the provision of Section 74 of the Constitution and Canons of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion),and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) on fair hearing.
We do not think these are too hard to do to achieve restoration of peace. Ven Onyinye Matthias
Okpala is not the only Anglican Pastor within the Church of Nigeria capable of handling SMAC,
which he has proven to be so incapable of doing.
10. The Bible in Exodus 2:23-24 says “… and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning.” Majority of the members of St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Nkpogwu in Port Harcourt have cried, and our groaning has been ignored. Rather the authorities of the Church of Nigeria have chosen to believe the multitude of lies fed them by the Ven Onyinye Matthias Okpala and his cohorts. Lies that the suspended leaders of the Church were habitually defrauding the Church and stealing money in the process. Auditors from the Church of Nigeria have been brought in to audit the accounts of the Church stretching back nine years from the year 2022. The audits did not see any trace of fraud or sharp practices.
Having failed to obtain fair hearing from the authorities of our Church organization, we are compelled to make our case known in the court of public opinion in the hope that this will galvanize them to take appropriate action to redress the situation.
In conclusion, let it be noted that the restraint that has made us to hold on till this material time before coming out with a press release has been because of the reverence we have for the office and the person of the Primate of All Nigeria who also happens to be our supervising Bishop.
However, it appears to us that there is an agenda by some persons to tarnish the image of the Primate of All Nigeria, with issues of what is happening in SMAC Nkpogwu being mirrored at Sapele and even far away North America. For how else could it be explained that the same authorities that frown at taking Church matters out of the ambit of the conflict resolution mechanism of the Church is the same one dragging its members to the Police at the highest level? As it is not too late to do the right things, we thus prevail on the Church of Nigeria to, as a matter of urgency; do the right things as is expected of the Church whom Christ died for.