By Collins Ughalaa
THE Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri on Thursday said that it did not mandate Sir Steve Nwokeocha or delegate anyone to speak for it on the renaming of the Maria Assumpta Avenue to Muhammadu Buhari Road by Governor Okorocha.
Responding to questions on the controversy surrounding the renaming of Maria Assumpta Avenue in a radio programme in Owerri, the Director of Communication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, Rev Father George Nwachukwu, confirmed that the road has been returned to its original name, Maria Assumpta Avenue.
“What I know is that we woke up one morning and saw Maria Assumpta Avenue had been renamed to Muhammadu Buhari Road. There was outcry from the Archbishop and the Church. We also woke up one morning and saw that the government had corrected its steps and said it was an oversight”, he said.
But when asked whether the Church was aware of the letter by Sir Steve Nwokeocha to the Knights and Ladies of the Church, Rev Father Nwachukwu said the Church did not delegate anyone to speak on her behalf, stressing that since the state government had retraced its steps on the matter, it should be left like at that.
He said, “We have not delegated anyone to speak for us. We raised alarm and that got to the state government and it decided one morning to return the road to its original name, and we want to stop at that.
“Anybody is free to comment and say anything by way of side commentary. That is left for those of you in the media and we don’t want to get into all that.”
Also speaking on the same programme, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Okorocha, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, said the state government could not continue to waste time responding to frivolities.
“We cannot be spending our time responding to these frivolities. The truth of the matter is that Maria Assumpta Avenue begins from the Maria Assumpta Cathedral and ends at the Warehouse Junction.
“The government cannot be intimidated by anybody. They are doing all this for 2019. And come 2019 the Governor will produce a successor.
“Social media and blackmail do not vote. The government does not quarrel with anybody. But there is one small clique in the Church that has taken to blackmail.
“When we gave N50M to them to renovate the Church they said the cheque bounced when they actually cashed it. We even gave them N450M for the mission school but they did not even bother to send a thank-you letter”, he said.
A widely circulated letter by Sir Steve Nwokeocha, who identified himself as 1st Trustee, KSJI, Abuja Grand Commandery, had disclosed that the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri considered the renaming of the Maria Assumpta Avenue as an insult.
According to him, he was reporting “officially because at the invitation of His Grace, Archbishop Obinna of the Owerri Catholic Archdiocese, I joined a high-level meeting that he chaired on the matter after Mass on Sunday, December 24, 2017 at the Maria Assumpta Cathedral, Owerri, Imo State.
I therefore have the mandate of the meeting to alert the KSJI at the national level and also to brief the KSJI SSP and SSP Ladies Auxiliary. The decision was that all Catholics in Nigeria should be alerted which is why this post here, however, I shall deliver some reserved details directly to the SSPs KSJI & Ladies Auxiliary”.
He had also noted that “An imposing/conspicuous brick-board has already been erected directly facing the entrance of the Maria Assumpta Cathedral, Owerri to herald this new Muhammadu Buhari Road.
“For those who know Owerri very well, Maria Assumpta Avenue is the expressway in front of Maria Assumpta Cathedral, leading to Owerri City Centre from Owerri – Port Harcourt Road and also intersecting Owerri – Onitsha at the entrance of the Cathedral. It is a strategic road that channels all traffics from Port Harcourt and Onitsha directions into Owerri City. Maria Assumpta Avenue is as old as the Maria Assumpta Cathedral itself.
“Maria Assumpta Cathedral is not only the greatest man-made structure in old Owerri, and perhaps still so in modern Owerri and therefore is of monumental historical significance to Owerri people in particular and Imo State in general but it is also a Catholic edifice of a ‘world heritage’ status.
To now locate such an edifice on a road that bears the name of an Islamic leader has been interpreted by the Church as a desecration of the Catholic Faith and by extension, Christianity and what it holds dear the most. Ironically, the roundabout at the entrance of the Cathedral where the new name of a road was erected has a giant monument of the Holy Family”.
Sir Nwokeocha also disclosed that “Maria Assumpta Cathedral is not just for the Owerri Archdiocese but it is also headquarters of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province which extends to Abia State.
“Catholics in Owerri, especially, parishioners of the Cathedral, had a sad Sunday and boiling is the right word to describe the feeling of the Church right now.
His Grace the Archbishop of Owerri in his homily described the development as an insult to the Catholic Church, a slap on the face of the Holy Family, and a disrespect to Holy Mother Mary whose name is on the Cathedral.
“Therefore, logical reactions have been planned and Catholics nationwide are required to be part of the action, but most importantly not to work at cross-purposes. Rather, they are to seek accurate information/updates and work in accordance only with the Church.
As I remain a member of the Archbishop-led Committee, I will do what I can to send in updates here when necessary. Our SSPs will also be direct leaders in this struggle and will equally provide leadership and information as they deem necessary.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Catholic Church is not opposed to naming all the roads in Owerri after His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, if they will make the Imo State Governor happy and help his political aspirations, but it can never be the Maria Assumpta Avenue. Therefore, the reaction of the Church has nothing to do with politics or even Islam but simply the preservation of its own faith and heritage”.