From Uche Nnorom Makurdi
Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom was yesterday banned from speaking in church during the birthday service of Sen. George Akume.
The former Governor and Senator representing Benue North West constituency who clocked 64 celebrated in his home country Wannune, Tarka Local Government of the State with a Church Service held at the St. Christopher’s Catholic Church.
An eye witness said that in his sermon, the Parish Priest Rev. Fr. Titus Ashuwe did not mince words in challenging the celebrant (Sen. Akume) to give quality advice to Governor Samuel Ortom on statecraft especially on the issues of salaries otherwise he too, would get part of the blame.
He said after Holy Communion and before the final blessing, Fr. Ashuwe requested Senator Akume to come to the front of the church and make his remarks.
The Senator who touched on few issues including some explanation on the salary matter, then requested that Governor Ortom be allowed to also make some brief remarks.
When the governor took the microphone and started with greetings, the Parish Priest quickly came from behind and announced that he was not allowed to speak.
Ortom who was as surprised as the congregation, asked the priest what he said and he repeated that the governor was not allowed to speak in the church.
The governor handed the microphone to the priest and went back to his seat. This was followed by an immediate uproar from the congregation most of whom obviously disapproved of the remarks.
“In a few minutes, the church which was filled to capacity almost became empty as majority of those inside including notable knights and the lay faithful left in protest leaving the choir, and a few dignitaries including Senator Akume, his wife Regina, and Governor Ortom.
“The priest quickly brought the mass to an end and as he was leaving,
he passed by the dignitaries and explained that the Bishop of Gboko Diocese His Lordship William Avenya gave the directive not to allow the governor speak in church”.
When journalists later at the reception in Senator George Akume’s residence in Wannune asked Governor Ortom about what happened, he said he complied with the Bishop’s order and would not wish to join issues with the clergy.
But Senator Akume condemned the ban, pointing out that the governor as Chief Executive of the state has the right to speak with his people even in the church as it has been the case with other governors of the state.
In a press statement on the incident, Press Secretary to the Governor Terver Akase stated that Governor Samuel Ortom understands and respects the decision of Gboko Catholic Diocese not to allow politicians to speak during masses, pointing out that his boss did not feel slighted when the Priest in charge of the Wannune Parish stopped him from speaking during the mass in accordance with the decision of the Diocese.
“We urge those amplifying the incident and making inflammatory statements for political reasons to sheathe their swords.
“Governor Ortom is a God-fearing leader who submits himself to Christian authorities and has enormous regard for the Catholic Church in particular. He won’t allow the cordial relationship he has built with the church over the years to be jeopardized”,Akase said.
It could be recalled that Governor Ortom had faced similar incident when he was booed at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Makurdi in presence of the Bishop His Lordship Wilfred Anagbe