A religious crisis is said to be currently brewing at the Delta State police command following what is being described as an ‘ungodly’ and ‘forceful’ barring of the Nigeria Police Force Catholic church within the premises of the state command by the state Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Alkali Usman.
SaharaReporters learned from some of the church’s parishioners that Usman, a Muslim, ordered the sealing of the Roman Catholic chapel, preventing worshipers who had converged at the church last week Sunday from entry. The faithful were then tear-gassed by policemen stationed at the premises by the commissioner of police; allegedly acting under strict directive from the commissioner.
The development has generated serious controversy between the commissioner, Usman and the parish priest of the police force’s Catholic chaplaincy, Asaba, Rev Fr. Pius Onwuegbuzie (ASP).
“As we talk the life and job of our chaplain is seriously in danger and if anything should happen to him--if he is shot and killed either through accidental discharge--Deltans, Nigerians, and the entire world should know that the commissioner of police is responsible,” a member of the church stated.
“There is a mosque and another church belonging to the Protestants, why is the CP sealing up the Catholic church?” the parishioner further queried. “Usman is trying to cause a serious religious crisis in the state if this issue is not properly handled.”
“We got to the church as early as 6:00 a.m. for the early morning mass but to our surprise we saw that the gate was locked and police officers ordering the worshipers to stay away from the church premises. We shall not be intimidated. Is it because Usman is a Muslim?” another church member asked.
“The former Police Commissioner, Ikechukwu Aduba, approved the place for the building of the church and worship. We are going to resist and take up the matter with the Police Commissioner,’’ another worshiper stated.
Another parishioner, who identified himself as Peter, confided in SaharaReporters that the CP was only witch-hunting worshipers of the chapel.
Echoing this, a policewoman, named Sarah, said it was unjust for the CP to close down the chapel when there is a mosque and a Protestant chapel operating within the premises of the command.
“This is a pure case of witch-hunting and injustice against the Catholic faith. Why [is] the Catholic chapel now a problem?” Sarah questioned.
When contacted, the Delta State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Celestina Kalu, confirmed the story, saying that the place is no longer one of worship. Kalu stressed that the command has barred Christians from worshiping there as it was approved in error.
“The CP had asked the chaplain to stop further work on the building and also stop holding regular masses there because there is no approval for the building of the chapel from the Police Works department,” Kalu said.
“Unlike the Catholic chapel, the mosque and Protestant chapel were provided in the master plan of the command premises. The CP did not destroy the chapel, but only ordered the closure of every activity there, pending official approval from the Force Works Department.” Kalu explained
Meanwhile, a document obtained by SaharaReporters shows that approval was actually given for the building of the Roman Catholic Church at the police command, against its denial of such consent.
The document, which was released by the church committee of the chaplaincy, buttressed their claim that the chaplain applied for the building on June 5th, 2012, and subsequently got approval from the state police command for the building of the chapel.
The approval which was signed by then CP, Ikechukwu Aduba, with police signal number, AW: 0108/DTS/VL.1/2 and DTO: 291000/6/2012, gave the chaplaincy the permission to build the chapel in the command.
According to the Secretary of the church committee, Stanley Nweke, on receipt of the approval, the site for the building was inspected and allocated to the chaplaincy by the officer-in-charge of works, who is a deputy commissioner of police.
“The chapel building site was inspected and allocated by the police command through the deputy commissioner of police, who is in charge of works on the instruction of the CP, Ikechukwu Aduba,” Nweke said.
“But regrettably, after two years of work on the building, CP Aduba, shortly before his retirement, ordered the chaplaincy to stop further work on the building.” Nweke stated.
Nweke produced a letter written by the chaplaincy to the police command in which the chaplain, Onwuegbuzie, recalled his last meeting with CP Aduba over the building of the chapel. “Few months before the retirement of CP Aduba, he invited me to his office and said to me, 'I have called you to tell you that I am not happy with you,' Onwuegbuzie wrote.
'I approved land for you to build a small church, but you went ahead to build a big church. I want to tell you that I made the approval in error and I will write officially to stop you from continuing the church project,' Aduba reportedly furthered.
However, investigation by SaharaReporters has shown that before Aduba retired, there was no official letter from the command stopping the continued construction of the church building as claimed.
At press time, SaharaReporters learned that State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan and other religious leaders have stepped into the matter, with a view to find a lasting solution.