It was a day of mixed feelings on Sunday August 18, 2019 in Nguru, a community in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State following the last minute decision of the Parish Priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Agbani Nguru, Rev. Fr Anthony Ezeh to cancel a bursary awards ceremony sponsored by a group known as the Nguru Development Foundation and which was supposed to take place during Sunday’s church service.
Nguru Development Foundation, this paper gathered, had for the past 11 years, been organizing and giving bursary awards of various sums to indigenes of Nguru community who gained admission into institutions of higher learning and had usually used the platform of the Catholic Church in the community for the disbursement.
Trouble however started, according to our sources, in 2018 following the refusal of the Parish Priest of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, also in Nguru, Rev. Fr. John Igwebueze to allow the ceremony take place in his church, allegedly as a result of a lingering disagreement between some members of the Foundation and a renowned cleric from the community, Rev Fr Paul Obayi over alleged attempts by Fr Obayi to acquire a large parcel of community land purportedly to build a private university. It was learnt that these Nguru indigenes, otherwise known by the tag, Nguru Concerned Citizens had gone to court to challenge the propriety of the alleged land transaction, joining the Catholic Bishop of Nsukka Diocese, Bishop Godfrey Onah, in the suit.
This, it was learnt, was what made Fr Igwebueze to prevent the sponsors of the annual bursary from using the church for the 2018 event, a development that made them to schedule this year’s ceremony at another St Mary’s Agbani, Catholic Church in the community.
Findings reveal that preparation was in high gear for the ceremony, as the parishioners eagerly awaited the event, until the morning of Sunday August 18 when the Parish Priest communicated to the Secretary of the Foundation, Mr Okechukwu Onah, that he was under intense pressure to not allow the parish be used for such an event, a development that made the organizers to make frantic calls to the beneficiaries, numbering 33, advising them on a new venue.
It was further learnt that Nguru has been sharply divided since Rev Fr Paul Obayi met resistance by some members of the community over his intention to acquire community land for a private university project. This division that has lingered for four years became even sharper during the events that led to the election of an Igwe for the newly-created Nguru Autonomous Community in 2018. Although most of the people who were opposed to Fr Obayi and his university project supported another candidate in the Igwe elections, Chief Christian Attajah, Chief Linus Obayi eventually won the election and has since received his staff of office from the State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.
Members of the Nguru Development Foundation refused to officially speak on the matter, but our findings reveal that accusing fingers have been pointing at the new Igwe, Chief Linus Obayi, suggesting that he was the person that prevailed in the Parish Priest to lock the Foundation out of the church, less than 12 hours to the time it was scheduled to disburse its annual bursary to new undergraduates.
A member of the Foundation who spoke on the condition of anonymity claimed that Igwe Obayi allegedly called Fr Ezeh, warning the priest to desist from meddling in what he (the Igwe) called “Nguru politics,” wondering what politics has to do with a selfless project such as being organized by the foundation.
“We do not understand why the Igwe did what he did,” said our source. “We do not know what he wanted to achieve by this dying minute pressure on Rev Fr Ezeh. Did he think we will cancel the entire ceremony?”
Continuing, our source revealed that the Foundation has decided to avoid using the Church for any of its activities henceforth.
“We will not have anything to do with the Catholic Church or any other church as far as this our annual event is concerned,” he said. “In our community, we have more than 10 village squares of various sizes and we think that conducting these events in these places where our forefathers held their meetings will be better and easier for us going forward. We are a predominantly Catholic community and that is why we have been partnering the church for these events every year for since 2008 until last year.
We had also reasoned that using the platform of the Church will be an easier way to attract other members of the community to join in contributing to the education of our sons and daughters. But since the Church is proving to be uncomfortable with such a worthy cause as ours, we will keep away from them going forward,” he concluded
The bursary awards ceremony, which was quickly shifted to the home of the Secretary of the Foundation, Prof. Ike Onyishi of the Dept of Psychology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka was attended by parents and guardians of awardees as well as previous recipients.
Speaking during the event, Mr Virgilus Attah, a retired Police Officer, praised the members of the Foundation for supporting the education of Nguru people since 11 years.
“Even before I retired from the Nigerian Police, I have been hearing about all your efforts to support and encourage our younger ones. Today, my daughter is also a beneficiary and I am happy. Only God will bless you people for your sacrifices,” he said.
Similarly, Mrs Grace Eze, mother of previous recipients, appealed to the members of the Foundation not to be weakened by what appears to be resistance to their good cause, insisting that God is the ultimate recompense for all good deeds.
“I cannot thank you people enough. I am a teacher and I understand the value of education and what you people are doing is rare. Three of my children have benefitted from previous awards and that is why I came here to show my solidarity and to encourage you to continue to be blessings to your community, Mrs Eze stated.
A total of 33 indigenes of the community benefitted from the 2019 bursary awards, with each person going home with N50,000.
Chairman of the Foundation Mr Bonaventure Ugwu charged the new students to be good ambassadors of the community and focus on their studies.
Bonaventure, whose goodwill message was delivered by Prof Ike Onyishi informed the beneficiaries that there are no shortcuts to greatness, admonishing that being focused, diligent, honest and hardworking forms the major spring boards for achievement and greatness.