The Priest of St. Christopher’s Catholic Church, Wannune, in Tarka Local Government Area of Benue state, David Mzer, on Wednesday reportedly embarrassed the state governor, Samuel Ortom, over unpaid workers’ salaries.
The incident took place during the thanksgiving mass of ex-governor George Akume, who celebrated his 64th birthday.
Sun Newspaper reports that an eyewitness, who spoke under anonymity, said Fr. Mzer, a young priest, while delivering his sermon at the mass had urged Akume to give quality advice to Governor Ortom on statecraft, including the issues of salaries.
The witness added that: “After Holy Communion and before the end of mass, the Parish Priest requested Senator Akume to make his remarks. The Senator touched on a few issues including some explanations on the salary matter and requested that Governor Ortom be allowed to also make brief remarks.
“When the governor got hold of the microphone and started with greetings, the Parish Priest came from behind and announced that he (Ortom) 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.”
The witness disclosed that the development sparked an immediate uproar from the congregation most of who obviously disapproved of the remarks.
He further said that based on the reaction of the congregants, the priest quickly brought the mass to an end and as he was leaving, he passed by the dignitaries and stated that he only complied with the directive of the Bishop of the Diocese not to allow the governor to talk.
Meanwhile, the governor, in a chat with newsmen after the mass, said he bore no grudge with the order of the Bishop and did not want to join issues with the clergy.
On his part, Akume condemned the action pointing out that the governor deserved respect as Chief Executive of the state who had the right to speak with his people even in church as has been the custom with all the governors of the state.
However, in a statement signed by Ortom’s Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, and made available to journalists on Thursday, the governor debunked claims of rifts between himself and the Gboko Catholic Diocese, stressing that he is God-fearing and would not indulge in rancour with the Church.
He also said he understood and respects the decision of Gboko Catholic Diocese not to allow politicians to speak during masses and therefore would not have felt slighted when the Priest in Charge of the Wannune Parish did not permit him to speak 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,” the statement read in part.