Tuesday, 19 August 2014

News Release: Indiscriminate Conversion Of Public School Compounds To Church Buildings By Anambra Churches

Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State

The attention of International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law is drawn to recent demolition of a church building belonging to the Ebenezer Anglican Church in Oyolu Oze Layout, Nkwelle-Ezunaka in Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State. The incident reportedly took place on 12th August 2014 at the hour of the blue law. This resulted to protests by members of the demolished church in some streets in Onitsha, accusing the Government of Anambra State and other unknown persons of being behind the demolition. Flyers are also distributed in many parts of the State by some sympathizers of the church accusing some religious bodies including the Catholic Church of being behind the demolition as well as other alleged similar ill-treatments against the said church and its faithful in the State in recent times.

Our Observation: It is our observation that conversion and indiscriminate erection of church buildings on public school compounds in the State have become a recurring decimal; to the extent that 70% of all public primary and secondary schools in the State have cunningly been taken over and colonized by some religious bodies particularly the Catholic and Anglican Churches. This “holy” sin/“holy” crime is committed with utter alacrity in both urban and rural parts of the State. We also observe that the Government of Anambra State has in recent past returned all missionary primary and secondary schools taken over in the 70s to their missionary owners with an agreement to continue to pay the salaries and other emoluments of their teaching staff. This took place under the administration of Mr. Peter Obi. Yet, the religious organizations under reference have continued to encroach on the remaining public school lands owned by the public, which are held for them in trust by the Government of Anambra State.
In recent times, frictions have erupted between the Catholic and Anglican Churches over the control of those public school compounds. For instance, such frictions have erupted between the two over the control of Lafiaji Primary School, Township Primary School and Urban Boys Secondary compounds all in Fegge, Onitsha. Today, Township Primary School and Otumoye Primary School have been seized and colonized with impunity by the Catholic and the Anglican Churches respectively. This despicable conduct is indiscriminate across the State and the most disturbing thing is that the said churches use deceitful tactics of “seeking for an approval to temporarily worship in the premises”, only for them to “sort their way through” and begin to erect their permanent church buildings including “priest houses”.  The despicable conduct under reference is not limited to the Catholic and the Anglican Churches alone. Other dominations are also involved. Sometimes, the affected school buildings are allowed to collapse or dilapidate so as to be converted to church buildings at the expense of the benefiting school pupils/children.
In the case of Oyolu Oze Primary School compound under dispute, the law is that neither the Ebenezer Anglican Church nor the Oze Community or any other body or body of persons has the power to concede it or lay claim to it. Whether it was given to the church by the Oze Community in 1990 is immaterial under the law. This is because when the Oze Community gave it out for the construction of Oyolu Oze Primary School, the community ceased its ownership of the compound and its ownership expressly went to the Government of Anambra State, which held it in trust for the people of the State.

Demands: The manner under which the church was demolished is totally condemned. The church deserves adequate compensation and proper apology. The full scale investigation ordered into it by the Government of Anambra State is commendable and a welcome development. This is because the circumstances behind its demolition in the hour of blue law are utterly malicious and unlawful.

One of our firm demands is that the Government of Anambra State should henceforth ban all religious bodies in the State particularly the Catholic and the Anglican Churches from encroaching on all public primary and secondary schools. All forms of religious activities whether they are “temporary” or “permanent” worshiping or crusading activities in such public school premises should also be banned. If any of the religious bodies wishes to have a place for such activities, it should look for a parcel of empty land to buy. This is more so when all previously owned missionary primary and secondary schools have been returned to them.
Another issue of public concern to be addressed by the Government of Anambra State is the indiscriminate use and abuse of public address system (loud speakers) by religious bodies in their places of worship or crusade in the State. This has not only constituted public nuisance but also grossly infringed upon the fundamental rights of the citizens of the State especially as they concern rights to privacy, leisure and mental stability.


Emeka Umeagbalasi, Board Chairman

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