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Catholic priest opens can of worms
• I'm being punished for removing Blessed Sacrament -Fr Enuagha

From Kenny Ashaka, Abuja
Sunday, April 04, 2010

•Fr Enuagha

The Catholic Archdiocese of Kaduna is in the news again. Nearly one year after the priest of St. Dominic's Catholic Church, Ungwan Pama in Kaduna State, Monsignor Gabriel Veron Enuagha (aka ThankGod), was locked out by parishioners, a silent war of words capable of dividing the archdiocese along ethnic lines is brewing. At the centre of the crisis is also a renowned priest and social commentator, Monsignor Mathew Hassan Kukah.

Last week, when Sunday Sun spoke with Monsignor ThankGod, it was clear he was at pains understanding the rationale behind Archbishop Mathew Man'oso Ndagoso's resolve to post him back to St. Dominic's Catholic Church few months after the violence that culminated in the closure of the church.

Monsignor ThankGod reveals the sizzling story of how he was reportedly pushed down by the parishioners, an account of alleged stolen church funds by those he says pride themselves as owners of the church. Now he is threatening to remove his cassock if the Archbishop makes good his resolve to return him to the same church, in what he describes as an ethnic battle meant to humiliate him.

The priest also speaks on why he removed a blessed sacrament from its position to another location, saying the canonical provisions do not support the Blessed Sacrament being littered with condoms. 'Condoms were picked here and there in the church and I removed the Blessed Sacrament,' he says.

How it started
I see it as a premeditated action because of the way they even received me when I came. I suspected that Father Kure told them not to allow me access to any of their money because he established one big church without foundation. This church was so massive. When I got there, first of all, they seized the harvest money for that year. What I suspected was that they told them to seize the money and they kept the money to themselves, and as long as I didn't bother them about the money, there was peace. Then I had to go for check-up of my surgery.

The money was meant for church development; it was harvest money of over N5 million for 2008 and 2009. When I came back from the surgery, I told them they have to give account of the N5 million because that N5 million got lost and there was nothing on the ground to show for it. The new church we were building there was a massive church and they said they were going to do something. I approved N2.5 million for them to do the German floor out of the N5 million. But before I came back, they squandered the whole thing.

Stealing church fund
They have the cheque book. I'm the authority to checkmate them. Under normal circumstances, I have to keep the cheque book. But I demanded for the cheque book and they refused to give it to me. They said it was what Father Kure told them. That is why I mentioned in my write-up that they stole N800,000 with a single signature. I'm supposed to countersign whatever money I approve for them. But this time around, they didn't refer to me. They went and stole about N800,000, apart from all the money they stole there. That was what sparked off the problem because I told them that they must account for the N5 million.

Another harvest was to hold in September 2009 and I told them that they have to tell the church what they did with the N5 million. The following Sunday, because my health was better, I told them that I would swap the masses. The 8 o'clock mass, which they don't come on time, should go to 10 o' clock so that the Hausa Mass should have enough time. Whenever they come after the 8 o'clock mass, then we will start and they will have enough time…But they used that as a springboard to start the trouble. The actual trouble is not because of the swapping of the mass. It's simply because I said I will be more involved in the church business than the previous year when I was having my treatment. When I said I will take over the counting of the money and be more involved and that they should give account of how they spent the money the previous year, they used the swapping of the mass as springboard to start the problem. But my suspicion is that the swapping of the mass was not actually the problem.

Authority to review mass hours
The Parish Priest is the Chief Shepherd and as the Chief Shepherd, you take decisions that will be of spiritual benefit to your flock and I have done this job for 33 years. I have never been locked outside my church for the past 33 years, except in Ungwan Pama where I suspect it is because I'm not one of their own. If I were one of their own, they wouldn't do that. They cannot lock Kukah out of his church. Anytime he comes in, he tells them what to do and gets off. How many times have you seen him in his parish? He's either in Abuja, in Ogoni or in Germany, going to see George Bush or the United Nation. He is all over the place. The basic thing is that it is an ethnic thing.

Why I was locked out
As I stated in my Interim Report, before October 4, this money was missing actually and there was nothing to show for it when I came back. The bank statement showed that the money was gone. Even the last one they withdrew was N800,000 with single signature. When I was leaving, I signed about 10 cheques because we are supposed to be two signing and they have the custody of the cheque. But I didn't know I was countersigning for crooks actually. I told them that they cannot bring out N2.5 million and keep in the house. For that reason, let me countersign about 15 cheques, but let them not withdraw more than N2.5 million.

But, they have the cheque book, since I didn't want to fight with them over who should be in custody of it and they bring it for my signature. This doesn't happen in any other parish. I couldn't seize it because I'm not a thief. The chairman signs and I countersign.

Prior to my leaving, they said the job they are going to do requires about N2.1 million. I asked them if this will be all for the external work apart from roofing and they said yes. I said let me countersign the cheque for you so that within the month I will leave, you will be able to do the job the way you want. But along the line, I told them that I don't want them to withdraw N2.1 million and keep in their houses because it is dangerous. For that reason, I signed 15 cheque leaves for them to draw it bit by bit, paying for building materials, paying the workers from the N5 million. But before I came back, they signed all the money, more than the N2.5 million we agreed on, using the cheque leaves I countersigned. There was one that my signature was not there. The chairman, because he has the custody of the cheque book, went and withdrew N800,000 with single signature. That was how it came about and the bank manager was nearly sacked in Zenith Bank as well as the cash officer. They were pleading and begging when I came back. But I said why wash our dirty linens in public; they have eaten the money and later we sorted that one out because I could not have recovered it.

But what sparked trouble was when I told them that they have to explain to the church, because another harvest was to hold in that September 2009 and this thing happened in October. They had started collecting another money and wanted to be dipping hands into the harvest money of 2009/2010. But I said no. So, because I told the council to give account of that money and announced the swapping of the Hausa Mass and 10 o'clock English Mass, they used that as a spring board to start trouble. The weekend to 11th of October (2009), they locked the church in the night, saying that I wouldn't say mass there. Somebody told me on Saturday night that they locked the church but I said they wouldn't be serious. Then I went there early on Sunday morning and I found that the church was actually locked. They brought all the Southern Zaria women to sleep in the church; to make sure that I didn't send anybody to break the keys. They kept vigil there with the men and women - all the members of the council who were from Southern Zaria extraction. In fact, if you look at the constitution of the council and the church bulletin, you will see them there. All of them are from Southern Zaria. You have Gbagyi there, you have Atyap, you have Kagoma, you have Kagoro, Koro, you have Manchok. You have all these tribes lined up because the constitution of the church council says bring five people from every tribe. They listed about 20 tribes from Southern Zaria. So, when they submit five people from each tribe, then Idoma will submit five and Igbo will submit five and by the time they come, they overwhelm the rest of the people. When you see the bulletin, you will see that they submitted the names of each tribe starting from Kwoi, Kubacha, Dogon Kurmi, Kachia, Manchok and Kafanchan. Every village has representation in Ungwan Pama. So, when you are constituting the church council, if it is a problem of election, be sure that no other tribe will be there except them because the council is supposed to be a maximum of 30 and minimum of 25. By the time other tribes come, you will see only one person or they may not even have representation. That is how they manipulated the church council. The council I met there was what my predecessor left for me and that was my handicap. When they heard the hint that I was coming, Father Kure mounted that council and educated them on what to do and that they should resist me, in order to frustrate whatever I want to do there.

My problem with Father Kure
The problem I have with them is that any church I go to, they say I built church and do this and that. So they should seize the money and let them know where I will get the money to do whatever I want to do. This was why when I told them that we should reduce the size of the church, they said I should leave their church for them and that Rome was not built in a day. I said that the way I do my own work, I like to finish the church before the next transfer. They told me to leave it for them like that. I guess that they are profiting from building the church for over 20 years. They continued using the money to pay their children's school fees, not minding if the project lasts 20 years.

I never made any changes, both in the council and mass schedule. I left everything as it were to study it for one year. It was exactly after a year that I tried to introduce changes.

When I came there in September 2008, according to precedent, it was only one priest that stays there. But because of my health condition, the Archbishop gave me an assistant. So, we became two in the Parish. The Sunday collection they were giving us for three masses was N15,000, N20,000, for our 6 o'clock mass, 8 o' clock mass and 10 o'clock mass. The parishioners were not more than 800 or 1,000. But, from the time of my arrival more people came and the estimate should be about 3,500 or 5,000 parishioners.

The truth is that they were actually stealing the money. So, in my first appearance in the church, I changed those who were counting and from N15,000, the money shot up to N50,000 and 60,000, then N70,000, N80,000 and N90,000. From there we started getting N150,000 and N200,000 from the N15,000 they used to collect. So, they were stealing this money. Even the Assistant Priest that was there during the investigation of this riot, because he is one of their own from Southern Zaria, they were stealing part of the money to contribute money to buy him a car and I didn't know. It was during the investigation that people were saying to me that even the car they purported that somebody bought for him from their village was part of the church money from Sunday collection. When they take what they will use to bank for car and the one with which they will settle themselves, they bring the balance to me. That was how the money came to N15,000. But when I got the St. Jude Igbo women to count the money for me, supervised by one man that I appointed, that was when the money shot up.

When I noticed all these discrepancies in the Sunday collection, I said we cannot survive with two priests here and I'm too old to be running to the Archbishop to give us money for feeding, and how can we survive this way? I suspect that money was the issue really. They don't want anybody to interfere or tell them not to count money because when they agitated, I told them that it is not a paid job. Some priests count the money themselves too if they want to. In all the places I've worked, I don't count money. I appoint those who count money. In the Cathedral, Charismatic counted, CWO counted and St. Anthony counted. I don't see why the Ungwan Pama, Southern Zaria people should think that it's their prerogative.

When I got to the church on the 11th of October and found out that the church was locked, it was still dark. Those bulletin sellers were there but the church was locked. The choir was outside but their instruments were inside. I saw an awful lot of the church members that came for 6 o'clock mass outside. I attempted opening the church through the window because it was not a very strong door. Then those that laid ambush pounced on me. They were those that I earlier told you slept in the church to keep vigil to make sure that nobody opened the church that Saturday night. One even insulted me by pushing me down. Seeing the condition of my chest, I told the other church members not to fight back. Then I prepared the altar at the bonnet of my car and the church members surrounded me. As they were singing, I was dressing from my car. I brought the things I use to say mass in the mass box and we said mass under a tree. During the mass, they were making caricature of us but I never mentioned anything about the locking of the church. The only thing I mentioned was that we are praying that God will touch the heart of those who locked us outside to open the church for us by next Sunday. That was when they sparked off. Even my Assistant Priest who is of Southern Zaria extraction, Father Joseph Daudu, joined these people because he stood with those making jest of us. He didn't join me in the mass and afterwards I rebuked him.

My relationship with him was that he came to work there as an Assistant Priest. Maybe he had the hint of this lockup and that's why he didn't join me. I'm sure he didn't join me in the mass outside because he had an ulterior motive, whether it's in solidarity with his people or out of fear. That's what I said in my interim report that his posture for not joining me in the mass is yet to be determined. He didn't join me in the mass and when they locked my house, he fled…The person that led them to my house was the mother of one Father Jude, a newly ordained priest who is working in Kontagora diocese. She led over 20 Zumunta women to go and barricade the Father's house. When the police came, they saw that their young boys and girls were carrying fuel. If the Igbos had retaliated, they would have burnt the whole place. That was why I was handicapped to call in the police. Even the other church members who wanted to open the church by force or fight them back to open the father's house, I told them not to do that because the Bishop was not in. Monsignor Kukah was also not in. If I brought in the police, who will bail the people? The only thing I did was to slam the church closed until the Bishop comes back and the church remained closed. Many people begged them for over five hours to allow us entrance into the father's house and they refused. The police came with two pickups as well as all the neighbours. The Muslims came. The Chief of Ungwan Pama, who is a Gwari man, even came and called them too. This is why I rejected the report that Monsignor Kukah hijacked.

Paid for report
I have seen the report because I paid for it. Anybody could pay any amount of money to get information. The United States pays a lot for information. So, I got the report. But don't ask me how I got it because it's not important. The report was one-sided. I thought they were trying to carry out investigation, not knowing that they abandoned the mandate of the Archbishop because when the Bishop came, he slammed the churches closed and reduced the church to an outstation in his declaration, which he published in The Cross Newspaper and read in all the churches. When Father Marcus' committee failed, the Bishop set up the Father Mark Monahan-led committee and Kukah happened to be part of the committee.

The Marcus Committee failed because Marcus does not want to probe his people. He knows the council because they went to him. When you read my initial submission, you will see that they wrote to him saying that they are going to foment trouble if I don't reverse the Hausa Mass that I pushed to 10 o'clock and bring it back to 8 o'clock. He came to the scene of violence that very day. So, in order not to name his people, he said he doesn't want to do the investigation. He told the Bishop that he cannot do the investigation. But the Bishop told him that whether you find something positive or negative, you have to give me a report. That is why he brought a one-page report, which he presented to the Bishop that he cannot do the investigation and that he doesn't know the people. But when he came to the scene of violence that 11th of October, he was the person that led his people, after we spent a long period begging for almost four hours. Some of the people were drunk, but he yielded them back to the church premises and he knows those that opened the church where he went and said Hausa Mass for them that very day in their drunkenness. He knew those that opened the church for them about noon. So, how can he say he doesn't know them?

Condoms in the church
Many things happened there. Condoms were picked here and there in the church and I had to remove the Blessed Sacrament. This was one of their grievances that I attempted to remove the Blessed Sacrament from the church. If you know the location of this St. Dominic in Ungwan Pama, there has never been light there for almost two or three years. Even now, there is no steady light there and at night, young boys and girls use that place as hideout to smoke weed and commit all sorts of immorality. There is evidence. Parishioners have come to me with condoms, which they picked in the church where we keep the Blessed Sacrament. I reported this to the Bishop. But Kukah said in that report that no matter what happens, the Blessed Sacrament should remain there. After crying like a lone voice in the wilderness like John the Baptist, I kept my mouth shut. Let them keep the Blessed Sacrament there, desecrating it every day. Even as I speak with you, the Blessed Sacrament is there and no priest lives there. The canonical provision is that wherever the Blessed Sacrament is kept, a priest must reside there. But in the Ungwan Pama church, it is in the midst of people and the priest lives about three kilometers away. There is no fence, no light and no security.

I'm not going back to Ungwan Pama
The Bishop is the sole authority of the Archdiocese. If he wants to work on the report, that is his business and his own conscience. If the Bishop wants to open the church based on that report, he can do that as the chief shepherd of the diocese. I'm not questioning his authority or his jurisdiction. But to me, I'm not going back to that place. I'm not going back to Ungwan Pama because all what I asked them to do, they have not done any one. I asked them to remove the Blessed Sacrament, they didn't do it. I asked them to reduce the size of the church, they didn't do it. I told them I want to bring down the 10am English Mass to 8am and the Hausa Mass to 10am, they rejected it. All what I suggested to them since one year that I was transferred there, they rejected everything. The Archbishop, based on the report that Kukah wrote, told them that all the things that caused the locking up of the church should be restored. So, if I go there, it means they will start fighting and kill somebody and maybe burn the whole place before the Bishop will send another person. I think it is better he sends somebody who is one of their own and who they will accommodate because I don't think they will accommodate me.

I'll retire or resign
I have put my refusal in writing to the Archbishop. I told him that if he has no other job for me to do except in Ungwan Pama, I opt for retirement or resignation. When I was speaking verbally with him, he said he will not retire me. I said you must retire me because of my health condition and if it is only in Ungwan Pama that is an option left for me to work. He said I must go there dead or alive. Who is he to tell me that I must go there dead or alive? For me to go and die there or for me to go and kill somebody there? There are canonical provisions for retirement and resignation and let him follow this. For myself, after 33 years in the priesthood and having worked in so many parishes, I consider myself a failed priest in Ungwan Pama because I'm not from Southern Zaria. I worked in the Cathedral for six years and I was not locked out, probably because the people I met there were one of our own and mostly people from my tribe. I worked in Queen of Apostle and I was never locked out, maybe because people I met there were mostly from my tribe or other tribes. I worked in St. Andrew's and I was never locked out, even though I had my own problem with those in St. Andrews. I worked in Tudun Wada and I was never locked out. I worked in ABU (Ahmadu Bello University) Zaria and I was never locked out. It was only in Ungwan Pama after one year, out of my 33 years in the priesthood, because I'm not of Southern Zaria extraction and that was why I was locked out. So, I consider myself a failed priest there. For that reason and taking into consideration my heart condition - I had quadruple cardiovascular surgery - I would like to retire before I'm consigned to the heap of forgotten priests in our graveyard.

Archbishop's reaction
He is still gambling with my request. As far as I'm concerned, because it's a straightforward request that if he wants peace, he should find another job for me to do and transfer somebody who will be amenable to Ungwan Pama people for the good of the church and let him send somebody so that they wouldn't have a mayhem there.

Whether this amounts to disobedience to the Archbishop considering my vow of obedience is an interesting part too. But I think obedience is a universal norm. It is not one-way, rather obedience is two-way traffic. St. Paul said all authority comes from God and obedience is a universal principle, be it religious or natural obedience. If the Bishop demands obedience from me, I think as the Chief Shepherd of Ungwan Pama, I demand obedience from my parishioners in the things that pertain to God. I was sent there because they thought I would decide properly for them in the best interest of their soul and my own soul, just as we thought the Bishop would be deciding for the faithful in the best interest of the church and his own soul. If it is in the best interest of their soul I take decision, check all the things I tried to do in Ungwan Pama which they rejected. I told them that let me help them build the church and they said no that I should leave them to do it their own way. I changed those who are counting money and they said no, that they must count the money. I changed time for mass and they said that they will dictate the time for mass. I changed so many things and they said no. If they said no, don't you think that I demand obedience from my parishioners as the Bishop demands obedience from me? Does it mean the Bishop is telling me to go and kill myself so that I become a martyr? You should listen to the voice of reason if you are given command. Supposing Yar'Adua comes now and says nobody should urinate by 12 o'clock everyday in Kaduna, if you don't obey, is it disobedience? So I don't think I can go back to Ungwan Pama against what they have done and then I start stretching out my hands to bless them.

A dangerous precedence?
Supposing I say I'm not doing or that I'm tired because of my health, will he handcuff me? Do you still regard my not going to Ungwan Pama as disobedience after all I have said and done? The Bishop told some people who said it to my ears that dead or alive, I must go back to Ungwan Pama. He said I will see his reaction. He hit his hand on the table for me. I said why are you hitting your hand on the table for me that I must go back to Ungwan Pama dead or alive? He said I will see his reaction. I said you better start reacting. Don't wait till on the 19th. After 33 years in the priesthood, I never disobeyed anybody.

He went to St. Dominic's and told lies that I wasn't there. I told him categorically that I was not going there. Why should you go and tell lies that I'm not available? Has he ever asked me of the money I used to treat myself? That is none of his business. The only thing for me to do is to go and die there and then he will say Requiem Mass. One day he will be locked up in Kaduna and if they want to kill him, let him balance there in obedience to the Pope so that it will be a martyr. I don't think it amounts to disobedience if you listen to the voice of reason. Don't you think it would have augured well for the church and for the people for him to send some other person in the interest of the church or do you think I will change my style of leadership after 33 years? Supposing I went there and impregnated some girls, will he send me back there? If I had killed two or three people before he came back from Germany, will he send me back there? But now he is telling me to go back there so that we will kill ourselves. He wants a repeat of what happened in Jos. At your age, can your landlord lock you out of your house and tell you not go in even if your rent has expired when your baby and your drugs are inside. Won't you jail them? Do you think that as a lawyer of 20 years standing, somebody will come and lock my accommodation and I will leave him?

Archbishop doesn't care
I wrote him a letter on the 16th of February and he went there on the 19th. But he was supposed to have replied my letter. If you are a gentleman, when you write somebody a letter, whether positive or negative, the person is supposed to reply. But he has not replied. He has not spoken to me. I have not spoken to him because he still maintains his position that dead or alive, I must go to Ungwan Pama. Even though I'm diabetic, with all my medication, I'm still eating food in the hotel and he doesn't ask me how I feed. They deprived me of my parish. I go about saying masses for kids after 33 years in the priesthood. The proper parish I inherited was Command Secondary School. Let him come there to chase me away. Then I will tell him there is no money there. He has not talked to me. He doesn't care whether I die or not. If I'm his senior brother or his junior brother, will he not ask me how I'm faring? He doesn't know what I suffer at night. Does he know what I do at night when he is snoring? He has not called me because he is satisfied with the situation. So, let me wait. The first letter I wrote him on 26th of December (2009), he replied on 16th of February. Maybe I'm expecting his reply in June. Because he is the Bishop, he replies at his own time. Maybe before he will reply I will die and it will be a posthumous reply.

No going back
My position is very clear and I'm not mincing words about it. If I say no to the Archbishop, who is supposed to be my immediate superior and the things I wrote to him in my letter where I carefully chose my wording. He asked me to withdraw the first letter and I said no. Why should I withdraw it? I knew what I wrote and I maintain my position that after 33 years, I have tried my best. If it is civil service, won't you retire me so that the younger ones will take up or you want me to hang on to power even if I'm dead? Let him better retire me so that he can move the diocese forward with the younger ones. Let him forget about my dying because if God doesn't say I will die now, I will not die. I think the voice of reason should prevail on him to give me better treatment. I have done my best for this diocese during my youthful days.