Nigerian Diocese Demands Release of Priest Accused of Murder, Urges Thorough Investigation

Fr. Timothy Ngwuta. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki in Nigeria has decried what it terms as a wrongful arrest of a member of her Clergy who has been accused of murder, among other acts of violence in the West African country.

In a statement shared with ACI Africa on Sunday, April 24, the Chancellor of the Nigerian Diocese says that Fr. Timothy Ngwuta was first arrested in December last year at Ebonyi Local Government Area where he went to help his friend, Jude Ariom, retrieve a vehicle that was parked there.

Since then, Fr. Timothy has been in and out of court and is now facing charges of what has “metamorphosed” to kidnapping and murder as well as attack on and murder of police officers, Fr. Matthew Uzoma Opoke says in his two-page statement dated April 24.

The Catholic Priest, Fr. Uzoma says, is also charged with aiding escape, arson, promoting inter-communal war and many other charges.

The Chancellor of Abakaliki Diocese calls on security agencies in Nigeria to conduct “a thorough investigation” into violence in the country, and to set the Priest, who he says has been wrongfully accused, free.


“The Catholic Church condemns acts of violence, incitement of violence, wars, kidnapping, arson, or any crimes and will not shield anyone involved in such dastardly acts. We urge the security forces to do a thorough investigation and ensure that the Priest of God, who has, in conscience, stated before his Bishop, that the accusations are entirely false, is not punished for offenses he knows nothing about,” Fr. Uzoma says.

He goes on to narrate that Fr. Timothy was involved in an altercation following his attempt to retrieve the car that belonged to his friend. The friend, a medical doctor, had allegedly packed the car outside a refugee camp in the outskirts of the war-torn Effium Community that is located in Ebonyi State in the Southeastern region of Nigeria.

Fr. Timothy is said to have proceeded to the Police station to obtain clearance to move the vehicle whose tyres were deflated.

The Police at Mbeke in Ebonyi are said to have granted the Priest permission to take the vehicle away after he had settled their bill for guarding the car for a period of two weeks, the Chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki recounts in his April 24 statement shared with ACI Africa. 

“In the course of inflating the tyres, the local vigilante swooped on him and his companions, demanding further settlements. Fr. Timothy informed them that the settlement with the police was meant to take care of them as well,” Fr. Uzoma recounts, adding that after a short while, a different set of local vigilante groups arrived, bringing about some altercations between the two groups.

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He says that Fr. Timothy and those who came to assist him move the vehicle were arrested by the local vigilante and handed over to the same police who had earlier given him clearance to move the vehicle.

The following day, Fr. Timothy and his companions were brought to the Nigeria Police headquarters at Abakaliki and detained for a period of twelve days, the official of Abakaliki Catholic Diocese says.

He goes on to recount in reference to the detained Catholic Priest, “He was tortured. He was later released on bail, when his health began to fail him on account of the torture he received while in detention. That was on the 23rd of December 2021.”

“Fr. Timothy was required to be reporting to the Police Station weekly. This he did Religiously,” Fr. Uzoma says.

Just when the Diocese thought the matter was over, Fr.  Timothy was again arrested on March 8 and arraigned in court three days later for kidnapping and murder of five engineers, attack on and murder of police officers, aiding escape, arson, promoting inter-communal war et cetera, the Chancellor says.


He adds that the fresh arrest has baffled the Diocese, and that people are unable to understand why the issue of going to recover a car parked outside a war zone has “metamorphosed to such accusations as contained in the charges against him (Fr. Timothy).”

The member of the Clergy of Abakaliki Diocese says that while his detained colleague has already disclosed the identity of Jude Ariom, authorities have maintained that he (Fr. Timothy) is shielding the owner of the car.

The Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki has established that Fr. Timothy, the Parish Priest of Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Ebonyi State, “vehemently denies” all charges leveled against him and “sees himself as a victim of circumstances”, Fr. Uzoma says.

“Fr. Timothy Ngwuta states unequivocally that he innocently went to help a friend retrieve his vehicle and was not aware that the vehicle was used in the commission of crimes as alleged,” the Chancellor of Abakaliki Diocese says in his April 24 statement.

The Nigerian Diocese finds it regrettable that efforts to secure the Priest’s release on bail have been hampered by the Executive Order preventing any Court in the State from entertaining matters relating to the Effium crisis, Fr. Uzoma says.

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He further says that the Diocese condemns the violence in the Nigerian State. He adds, “The Church in the name of God, appeals to all the people of Effium and Ezaa Effium involved in this inter-communal war, to lay down their arms and embrace the path of peace. Nothing justifies the senseless killing and maiming of innocent lives. Peace can never be achieved under the barrel of guns.”

Fr. Uzoma says that the leadership of the Diocese would not comment further on Fr. Timothy’s case.

“Since the matter is before the courts, we will not be making any more statements on the case. We urge all to withhold judgment and let the case run its course,” the official of the Nigerian Catholic Diocese says.

“We implore all people of good will to join us in praying to God to touch those responsible for the incarceration of Fr. Timothy to listen to the voice of right conscience,” Fr. Uzoma says in his April 24 statement. 

He adds, “We commend the whole process into the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Priests and the Star of Evangelization. Pray for peace in our State and in the Country.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.