The rejection of the Nigerian Catholic Church leader was based on the claim that the then Bishop-elect Okpaleke comes from outside the dominant ethnic group of Ahiara Diocese, the Mbaise, and that Priests of the Diocese felt under-represented in the Catholic Church hierarchy in Nigeria.
The rejection persisted even after the Bishop’s Consecration, which took place at the Seat of Wisdom Seminary, Ulakwo, in Nigeria’s Owerri Archdiocese since the Episcopal candidate was prevented from setting foot in the territory covered by Ahiara Diocese.
Having failed to exercise his Episcopal Ministry in Ahiara Diocese even after, in July 2017, Pope Francis directed all members of the Clergy of Ahiara Diocese to pledge fidelity to him in writing, and to express their acceptance of the appointment of Bishop Okpaleke as their Shepherd, the Nigerian Bishop made known to Holy Father his decision to resign in writing.
On 19 February 2018, the Holy Father accepted Bishop Okpaleke’s resignation and “relieved him of the pastoral care of the Diocese of Ahiara.”
A year later, the Pope announced the establishment of the Diocese of Ekwulobia in Southeastern Nigeria and appointed Bishop Okpaleke the pioneer Local Ordinary.
The Nigerian Cardinal was installed as Bishop of Ekwulobia Diocese that was curved from his native Diocese of Awka on 29 April 2020.
In a video recording circulated June 8 following his May 29 naming as Cardinal, he said, “I see this as an opportunity that the Lord, and the Church, through the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has offered me to continue to do my best for the salvation of souls.”
He said that Pope Francis’ decision was “a clarion call to intensify one’s efforts, to do better.”
Ghanaian-born Cardinal Baawobr who missed the August 27 Consistory due to a heart problem has been appointed to the Dicastery that was established in June 1960 alongside Paulo Cezar Cardinal Costa of Brasília Archdiocese in Brazil.
On the day of the Consistory, the member of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) had been admitted at Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome.