Among the rites of ordination in the Catholic Church is a vow of obedience which requires the submission of the will to legitimate superiors. This is what Bishop Sabino Ocan Odoki of Arua Diocese expected of Rev. Fr. Lazarus Ejoyi, but he was wrong.
For almost a decade now, Fr. Ejoyi has been in the news over his fights with the leadership of the Catholic Church in Arua which recently resulted into a physical fight between him and the diocesan vicar general, Msgr Kasto Adeti.
Ejoyi who suffered a fractured arm filed a case of assault at Arua Police station leading to the placing of criminal charges against the Vicar General who was on May 13, 2020, granted a Shs 20 million non-cash bail by the Chief Magistrate, Daniel Lubowa.
Adeti’s two sureties, Fr. Sabino Diku and Fr. Norbert Azale were each bonded at Shs 15 million, not cash.
The particulars of the case are that, on April 29, 2020, at the priests’ residence at Ediofe Cathedral parish, Monsignor Adeti assaulted Fr. Ejoyi with a wooden stick, and broke his right arm.
While Msgr. Adeti pleads not guilty to the case, he had earlier told the media he acted out of emotion after Fr. Ejoyi insulted him. He explained that on the day the incident happened, he was in his room and heard Fr. Ejoyi telling someone in a telephone conversation that “even one of those tormenting me is here in his room.”
“When I heard this I came out, picked a stick and confronted Fr. Ejoyi out of anger. I gave him several lashes on the thigh just to stop him from continuing to tell lies and insulting us. My intention was not to hurt him,” Msgr. Adeti said.
With orthopedic cast around his right arm, Fr. Lazarus Ejoyi passes for any ordinary person. If you don’t know him, there’s very little to show that he’s been a priest in the Catholic Church for three decades.
The cast is the result of that physical fight with, or assault by, Monsignor Adeti. With eye spectacles on, the 62-year-old priest dresses simply, this time in blue T-shirt. If one is keen enough, however, the portrait on Fr. Ejoyi’s T-shirt is unmistakable. It’s that of the late Rt. Rev. Frederick Drandua who served as Bishop of Arua Diocese from 1986 to 2009 who ordained him into priesthood in 1990. Bishop Drandua died in 2016.
It would appear Fr Ejoyi did not transition from Drandua’s episcopate when it ended in August 2009 for Rt. Rev. Sabino Ocan Odoki to take canonical possession of the diocese October 2010.
By 2013, Fr. Ejoyi’s relationship with Bishop Odoki had broken down with the former being seen as the face of ‘opposition’ to the latter’s administration. Bishop Odoki acted withdrawing Ejoyi from Kijomoro where he served as Parish Priest, leaving him without ay specific assignment.
It is said that the Bishop asked Ejoyi to “look around for a parish that would accommodate him.” He ended up at Ediofe Parish where Fr. Celestine Onzima, then a Parish Priest, was willing to host him at the parish that hosts the Arua diocesan headquarters.
One might say Fr. Ejoyi had come too close to the centre of power, the same power he was accused of challenging and disobeying. When Fr. Onzima was in 2016 transferred to Lodonga parish in Yumbe district, Ejoyi found himself with Msgr Adeti and the two developed a bad working relationship.
The office of the Bishop has repeatedly explained that Fr. Ejoyi’s stay at Ediofe Cathedral Parish is illegal because he refused to take up appointment in Vurra Catholic parish, something Ejoyi denies. He, however, admits receiving a letter of transfer “through third parties.”
Msgr. Adeti, the man Fr. Ejoyi accuses of assault, has always said the latter disobeys and disrespects the bishop’s authority. The Vicar General says Fr. Ejoyi has been asked, since 2013, to leave Ediofe Parish and go to Vurra Parish in vain. Is it a case of insubordination or systemic injustice against one man?
Canon 273 of the Catholic Church obligates priests to show reverence and obedience to the Pope and their bishop. Canon 274 (2) further emphasises this by stipulating that clerics are bound to accept and faithfully fulfill the assignment or office committed to them by their bishop.
Fr. Ejoyi says that on May 21, 2013, he went to see the Bishop. While there, he was shocked when Bishop Odoki that he had been replaced as Kijomoro Parish Priest and that the Bishop and his advisors had found nowhere to post Ejoyi. He ended up at Ediofe Cathedral Parish where he met what he describes as a “challenging life.”
Fr. Ejoyi’s stay at Ediofe has been anything but smooth. It’s been seven years of letters of transfer, police summons, suspension, eviction notices, assault by the Vicar General, and forceful eviction supervised by the Bishop.
Early this month, just over a week after the assault incident, a team of Ediofe Parish pastoral councilors evicted Fr. Ejoyi. Photographs circulated in the media of a Fuso Lorry packed in the Presbytery and people loading items onto it. Fr. Ejoyi, right arm still in a cast, is seen standing next to the lorry. A few metres away, Bishop Odoki is seen standing and surrounded by nuns, all watching the eviction exercise. At this same place, on April 29, Fr. Ejoyi sustained a broken arm in a fight.
The lorry was driven to Ombaci Nile University campus, where Fr. Ejoyi has been working as a part-time lecturer.
In 2018, Fr. Ejoyi was among four priests who received police summons after Bishop Odoki accused them of mobilising the masses to attack him. Msgr. Adeti told the media then that the four priests had strayed from the Christian doctrine and their behaviour forced the church to suspend their priestly activities. The other three were Ceaser Dralega, Valentino Matua and Nakar Adiga.
In 2017, Fr. Ejoyi was locked out of his room and asked to leave Ediofe Parish on grounds that the Parish could not afford to feed him. This was after he was transferred to Vurra parish but refused.
On November 14, 2016, the Ediofe parish council wrote expelling Fr. Ejoyi from the parish on grounds that the church lacked resources to maintain him. The council asked the embattled priest to vacate the parish premises within two weeks.
The letter was signed by Luciano Aria, the parish council moderator, who argued that the parish could no longer cater for Fr. Ejoyi’s welfare. “Under minute number 19/10/2016, the council finally resolved that you should be served with a letter to inform you to kindly try another community for your personal maintenance. The council, therefore, regrets that it is only capable of maintaining the few priests that it has,” Aria’s letter reads in part.
As he led mass on November 18, 2017, at Ediofe Cathedral Parish, Fr. Ejoyi says, Msgr. Adeti stood up and read a letter of his suspension to Christians. Ejoyi says he had not received the said letter himself and that he first heard about it when it was read in church.
The Bishop’s office is said to have sent the suspension letter to the Post Office using the address of Ediofe Parish. “I was brought a letter from Arua Post Office by the postmaster who told me he was instructed to deliver it to me,” said Fr. Ejoyi. He says he declined to receive the letter and instead told the postmaster to go back with it. The suspension, according to Fr. Ejoyi is for three years and extends up to December 3, 2020.
It would appear Msgr. Adeti was exercising his authority given to him by the bishop to merely communicate the bishop’s message to Fr. Ejoyi. And on paper, failure by Fr. Ejoyi to, either move to Vurra Parish or vacate Ediofe Parish, tantamount to disobedience.
Among the items pulled out of Fr. Ejoyi’s residence at Ediofe on the day of eviction were jerrycans of wine. He has been making wine, not for holy communion, but to earn a living. “While I was at Kijomoro Parish, I was taught by a fellow priest how to make wine from tangerine and sell it to get money,” narrates Fr. Ejoyi.
He adds: “I would spend all the little money I get on buying more tangerine which I would brew in one of my rooms and when ready I give it to one Catholic Women’s Association member who would always sell it for me and deposit the money in a SACCO at Pokea.”
Fr. Ejoyi adds that all the priests knew that he was making wine which he would sell to earn some money in addition to the little he would get from lecturing at Nile University.
According to him, a 40-litre jerrycan of tangerine wine goes for between Shs 30,000 and Shs 50,000.
The long journey to the pulpit
Born on November 1, 1958, in the present-day Obongi District, Fr. Lazarus Ejoyi was nicknamed Lizoro, a name of an Italian missionary priest, Lizoro Rugeri. It’s Fr. Rugeri who baptized the young Ejoyi in 1960.
Ejoyi went to Liwa primary school in Obongi between 1971 and 1976 where he completed primary six. In 1977 he joined Pokea Minor Seminary where he completed Primary Seven. He was later recruited by Fr. Silvio Sherry, a Comboni Missionary priest following his excellent performance.
The 1979 war that toppled President Idi Amin briefly halted Ejoyi’s journey at school while he was in Senior Two. He says all children were sent home as the 1979 war advanced towards West Nile after the fall of Kampala in April 1979. He was forced to move to Maracha county (now Maracha district) to live with his uncles until 1982 when he joined Alokolum National Major Seminary. He was at Alokolum until 1985. He later joined National Major Seminary Ggaba where he completed his priestly formation studies in 1989.
In December 1989, Bishop Frederick Drandua ordained Lazarus Ejoyi a deacon at Ediofe Cathedral in the middle of his final year at Ggaba. He was later sent for Pastoral work at Otumbari Parish in the current Terego County, where he worked for one year.
On October 20, 1990, Deacon Ejoyi was ordained a Priest by Bishop Drandua in what the 62-year-old says was a celebration to remember.
He went on to serve as Parish priest at Pakele Parish in Adjumani district and also Dean of Adjumani Deanery.
In 1992, he was transferred to Ocodri as Parish Priest where he worked for five years. In 1995, Fr. Ejoyi decided to seek permission to go for a professional diploma course in teacher Education at Muni National Teachers’ College. He completed the course in 1997, the same year he became Chaplain at Adumi secondary school.
After only six months at Adumi, Ejoyi was transferred to Sts Peter and Paul Pokea Minor Seminary where he worked for 12 years as a Lecturer. At the same time, he served as Chaplain at Muni Girls secondary school.
Between 1998 and 2001, Fr. Ejoyi found time to go back to school to pursue a degree course in Education at Kyambogo University. In 2003 he came back to Pokea Minor Seminary to serve as Dean of Studies until 2005 when he went back to Kyambogo for a Masters’ degree in History, a course he completed in 2013.
In 2009, after the resignation of Bishop Drandua, then Auxiliary Bishop of Gulu, Sabino Ocan Odoki, became Apostolic Administrator of Arua Diocese. In 2010, Bishop Odoki was confirmed and ordained as Bishop of Arua. In 2011, while Fr. Ejoyi was still at Pokea Seminary, Bishop Odoki appointed him to head Kijomoro Sub Parish in the current Maracha district.
It is from Kijomoro that he was asked to vacate by the same bishop in 2013 but without being given another parish or any specific assignment. A new chapter had opened, a chapter that seems to have shaped the past seven years in much the same way it has redefined his 30-year journey in priesthood.
Asked about his next move after being evicted, Fr. Ejoyi says he will go and stay at any other parish of his choice and continue living priestly life as he pursues the case of causing grievous harm to him by Msgr. Kasto Adeti.