Saturday June 21 was Father’s Day worship service in the Wesley Cathedral, 39 Beecroft street, Calabar. The protest which attended the service was unusual because, according to prominent members of the church, “there is no record of placards carrying protest as far as our memory can carry”.
The church was built about 108 years ago. The protesters led by the youth fellowship president , Mr Adim Ekpenyong did not only display abusive placards but some were pasted on the wall of the century old church.
Adim had rallied some youths to plan the protest following his invitation by the police from zone 6, Calabar. He was alleged to have circulated slanderous material against a female member of the church, Mrs Mkposong.
In reaction, the layer representing the victim had sent a written pertition to the AIG in charge of zone 6 against Mr Adim & ors.
The police Invitation was the trigger needed to ignite the smouldering grievances by a few members of the church who I learnt were “uncomfortable” with the strict evangelistic and disciplinary style of administration by the Archbishop of Calabar Arch Diocese, His Grace Most Rev’d Emmanuel O Udofia.
Inscriptions on the placards had demands ranging from sundry administrative issues to the demand for the removal of the Archbishop and the Presbyter. Other inscriptions such as “Udofia and Ebong it’s time to disembark”, etc were said To be suggestive of ethnic coloration. Archbishop Udofia and the Presbyter – EmemAbasi Ebong are from the sister state of Akwa Ibom.
Neighbours of the church who spoke to me decried the protest as most “unfortunate and serious embarrassment to the church”.
A man in his mid 40s and resident of Beecroft street who simply gave his name as Eteyen said he saw the protest. He was suprised that they were dressed in black. Pressed to speak further, he refused for fear of “those boys”.
The issues which culminated in the protest is said to stem from long held assumption by few members that the laity dictates the direction for the clergy to follow, contrary to the Constitution of the church.
These members, I learnt, tend to exhibit an attitude of ownership which leads to insubordination and incitement when reprove or correction(s) are made.
Mr Ekpenyong Eyo, a seasoned administrator and professional who had served in various fields in Nigeria, and a member of the church told me on phone that the allegations on which few members hinge their agitation against the clergy are false and baseless.
He lamented the terrible situation where young members throw respect to the wind to insult the clergy who, by their age and calling, are their seniors. He expressing total “dismay at the uncouth behavior and indecent language used against the clergy and other persons who may have disagreed with” them.
Some members of the church expressed surprise that on the day of the protest knights who were present made no efforts to call the youths who disrupted the worship service inside the church to order.
Before the arrival of Archbishop Udofia in December 2015, the crisis which pitched the laity against the clergy was not new. The council of knights, I was informed, had constituted into the final authority in the church, though knighthood is reported to be an award for dedication, meritorious and selfless service to the church.
The council of knights allegedly misconstrued the award to be portfolios which convey the power to administer the church, on them. The situation became a clog in the administrative wheels of the church under previous Minister and Presbyter.
The situation was reportedly so bad that under the immediate past presbyter, the very Rev’d Edet A Edet, the council of knights demanded that their chairman should chair the church council meetings when important decisions are taken. Sometimes on their own, they unilaterally call for emergency council meetings if they were absent previously.
Investigation show that before now, finances of the church were administered without auditing. This led to irregularities and accusations. According to members, some of who crave annonimity for fear of being accused, things degenerated into confrontation when Udofia set out, on assumption of office, to implement accountability, discipline, and evangelism/expansion of the church as the Cardinal principles of his administration.
In pursuing these objectives, he unknowingly incured the hatred of few members as he strove to ensures that activities are in line with the Constitution of the church, financial and general discipline, and accountability. This did not go down well with officers who were accused of often inflating “bills for their percuniary benefits”.
In a rejoinder dated May 1, 2020 to the petition by agitating members to the prelate of the church in Nigeria, Dr Sunday Chukwuemeka Kanu, accusing the current presbyter of unilaterally appointing auditor to audit the 2019 church finances, Mr Ekpenyong Eyo and Ekpenyong Eyamba insisted on “the auditing of the church finances for at least 5 ywars preceding 2019 (if it was not done)”.
A year after the Archbishop was posted to Calabar, the church had advocated for the acquisition of a bus to reduce cost in time and cash. From the 2016 harvest thanksgiving proceeds, the sum of 7 million naira was earmarked.
Suprisingly, by the time the vehicle was delivered, the seven million naira Hiace bus was not in a motorable condition. It had to be towed to a mechanical workshop.as the engine and gear box of the anticipated fairly used vehicle were dead. At the workshop it was vandalized, with demurrage accumulating.
An advisory committee of the church had recommended expending additional 1.9 million naira to bring it to a working condition. On good advice the repairs were effected in December 1019.
Other areas of friction included the appointment or election of officers. According to the rejoinder of concerned elder members to the petition earlier mentioned explained that “in the past, appointment of officers into offices were done through congregational elections”.
Perhaps because this method gave rise to campaigns akin to secular politics, the new leadership introduced some measure of spirituality into it, in line with the Constitution.
The elder members pointed out that “with the Advent of the Presbyter – Very Rev’d EmemAbasi Ebong, he prayerfully introduced and persuasively insisted on following the constitutional provisions of nominating the officers and presenting same to the council for approval”.
The suspension of the senior cathedral steward, Dame Akon Nduonofit is alleged to have rattled few church members who previously held the church to ransom. The discipline further polarized the church such that threats were issued against the Archbishop.
However, most members expressed happiness that “as a father”, the Archbishop responded to members intervention. Ekpenyong Eyo and Eyamba who co-signed the rejoinder confirmed that the matter was resolved “amicably and the senior cathedral steward has since resumed duty”.
My inquiries showed the name of Sir Alderton Ewa – Chairman Knights Council, who gave his residential address at 39b Edim Otop street, Calabar featured prominently among those alleged to instigate the crisis in Wesley Cathedral.
When I called him on phone to state his own side to the allegations against him, he denied that his name has anything to do with the purported WhatsApp account bearing the pseudo name “Engr Emmy”. The account was said to have been specifically created and used to abuse and defame the clergy.
Alderton however admitted that there is a crisis in the church which led to several petitions to the prelate. He denied being invited by the police, demanding to know if there is a document bearing his name. For reason of time constraint, my appointment to meet him could not hold.
Though the name of one Mary Philip Ekpenyong also featured at the center of the crisis, it was difficult to establish contact with her as at the time of filing this report.
At the end of the 44th annual synod of the Diocese of Calabar held at 20 Atu Ansa lane of the Wesley Circuit from 3rd to 5th of July 2020, the entire synod unanimously condemned the action of the few youths who dragged the church into ridicule.
The synod castigated the protesters referring to them as “few disgruntled young persons who were sponsored to carry unwholesome message of blackmail against our very dear, lovely, spiritual, visionary and disciplined Archbishop and the synod secretary two Sundays ago”.
They declared their protest as “totally unacceptable, insulting and direct affront to the culture and practice of the Methodist church Nigeria, and called on relevant authorities to investigate that group with their allies”.
The communique was jointly signed by Dr Gabriel B Inyang -Communique committee hairman, Dr Ekerete F Ekere – Lay President Emeritus (for lay President), Prof Udeme Isong Enin and V Rev EmemAbasi Ebong – synod secretary.
Following the communique is the disclaimer by the youths in Wesley. The document signed by the diocesan youth fellowship President, UnyimeAbasi Jumbo, was copied to the Archbishop,Arch Diocesan lay President, Calabar Diocesanlay President and Wesley Circuit Presbyter.
The youths expressed “deep regret and total concern about the action of some of their members while acknowledging the heirachy of the church from the episcopate to the least lay officer and humbly wish to appologize , disociate our organization from the unwholesome act caused by some of our members”