Okoh to intervene in Sapele dispute

Dispute has left the cathedral vacant, overgrown with weeds and a portion in need of structural repair.

The primate of the Church of Nigeria will intervene in the dispute between the Bishop of Sapele and the congregation of St Luke’s Cathedral in Sapele. The dispute has left the cathedral vacant, with reports the building has become overgrown with weeds and a portion in need of structural repair.

In 2015 the congregation locked the Rt. Rev. Blessing Erifeta (pictured) out of the cathedral during a pastoral visitation, prompting him to lock the congregation out also, leaving them to worship outdoors under tents along the Boyo road. Events reached a head in July 2016 when a clash between soldiers and protesters at the diocesan synod meeting at St John’s Anglican Church in Amukpe in Southern Nigeria’s Edo State in the Niger Delta left five people hospitalized.

Last month the bishops of Warri and Oleh, the Rt. Rev. Christian Ide and the Rt. Rev. John Aruakpor, met with senior lay members of the diocese and traditional rulers in a bid to resolve the dispute. However the sense of the community of elders was that Bishop Erifeta must go.

A petition submitted to the primate, the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh in October listed 67 counts of misconduct, accusing Bishop Erifeta of financial recklessness, maladmin­istration, disrespect to elders and embarking on incessant trips abroad with the diocese funds.  However, diocesan secretary Churchill Akure denied the charges.

Last month a provincial committee under the Bishop of Warri had met to review the charges, but the hearing broke down when both sides refused to cooperate with the proceedings. Mr Akure told NDV the complainants “submitted their allegations without evidence and Bishop Erifeta responded with evidence. When the chairman of the committee asked them to bring their evidence, they asked to be given the response of Erifeta and the evidence he adduced, which the bishop objected to and that was how the sitting was aborted,” he said.

Mr Akure stated those who were complaining about the bishop were “just a bunch of evil men in the church,” adding: “Bishop Erifeta is a man of God not without mistakes, he has done well to lead us, he loves the Bible, and he delights more in teaching it and in prayers. No one should discourage him from continuing. He learns every day as he leads us and has improved on himself greatly. So, no one should drag us backward. At the synod, he pleaded with this people to come and join in  rebuilding the diocese; rather they have chosen their normal path. I wish them well.”

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