By Vincent Ujumadu, Awka
NO fewer than 300 Anglican priests from the Diocese on the Niger, yesterday took to the streets of Awka and later barricaded the Government House to protest the alleged forceful takeover of Bishop Crowder Memorial School in Onitsha.
The school, located beside the Catholic Church –owned Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, had generated so much controversy between the state government and the church, with claims and counter claims over the rightful owner of the school.
The priests, who barricaded the entrance gate of the government house, demanded that only the governor, Chief Willie Obiano, would address them on the matter.
They carried placards with various inscriptions, some of which read, “Gov. Obiano, stop disrupting our church services and activities”, and “Bishop Crowder Memorial Primary School is not government property”.
Archdeacon of Onitsha South Archdeaconry, Ven. Josiah Ofoegbu, who led the protest, told reporters that they were in Government House to register their grievances over marginalization and politics of denomination allegedly being played by the Anambra State government under Obiano.
They also claimed that many members of the Anglican Church in the state were denied the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) ticket for various political positions in the recently concluded party primaries, describing such action as a threat to peaceful coexistence.
He said: “We are embittered in what is happening in our dear state. This present administration is turning Anambra State to a denominational state. It is unfortunate that this is happening 28 years after Bishop Ajayi Crowder, who built the school, left Nigeria.
“The school was handed over to the Anglican Church and both Anglicans and Catholics knew about that. When government seized schools, it was seized from us and during hand over of schools to the missions, it was again handed over to us.
“But it was quite unfortunate that Governor Obiano sent thugs few weeks ago to send us out of the place. They disgraced us in our own property. They dispersed the worshippers and even threatened to kill us. This injustice must end.
“We want to let him know that we will worship there on Sunday. He should prepare for war. We are ready to die on that land. Obiano should stop this discrimination.
“Some Anglicans were denied ticket in this state because they are not Catholics. When people like former Governor Jim Nwobodo and late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe were leaders, they never discriminated against anybody.”
There was, however, a mild drama during the protest, as an Archdeacon of the Anglican Communion and Governor Willie Obiano’s aide, Ven. Amaechi Okwosa, who was sent by the governor to address the protesters, was resisted by the aggrieved priests.
Okwosa, who doubles as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Awka Capital Territory Development Authority, while addressing journalists, said the governor had set up a committee to look into the matter with a view to finding a lasting solution.
He also regretted that the governor was not given prior information about their visit to the Government House and advised the priests to toe the path of peace.
He said: “They are laying their grievances and from what they are saying, they have a misgiving regarding a school in Onitsha, which they want the governor to intervene and do the needful.
“The matter is a lingering situation and the government had inaugurated a committee to look into that matter so that it will be resolved once and for all.
“Also, we learnt from some of the clergy that this matter is in court already and speaking as a lawyer, it is pre-jurisdiction, when you take some steps when the matter is still subsisting in court. They should allow the law to run its course, instead of getting in the way of law.
“I told them that if what they are saying is true, they should let the court resolve the matter. Also, since the Bishops in the Anglican Communion are coming to the see the governor, the priests should wait for the outcome of the meeting.
“We have spoken to their leaders and let them know that if they had spoken to us about their coming, the governor would have adjusted his time. The governor could not address them because he did not have any formal notice about the visit.
“I want to say very clearly that the government of Anambra State is very sensitive in matters like this and the government is not out to take people’s property, whether they belong to the church or individual. I am pleading with them to eschew violence and follow it to a peaceful conclusion.
“I am also aware that the nine Bishops of Anglican Communion have met regarding this issue to which they have agreed to come and see the governor and he is looking forward to seeing them to resolve the matter very soon. I feel bad that they are outside the sun because I am one of them.”