Concerns in Enugu over killing of Catholic priest

The brutal killing of the parish priest of St James Greater, Ugbakwa in Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State, The Rev Fr. Paul Offu, on the Ihe-Agbudu road in Awgu, in the evening of Thursday, August 1 by suspected armed herdsmen, has continued to attract reactions from concerned citizens.

A taxi driver, Kenneth Igwe, who ran into the operation, was also dragged into the bush by the gunmen and killed. His decomposing corpse was found inside the bush by security operatives on Sunday.

Less than four days after the killing, armed men suspected to be herdsmen abducted a traditional ruler, Igwe Sunday Orji and his wife around the Ogbaku-Umuogbe end of the Enugu-Umuahia expressway, a short distance from where Fr Offu was killed. The kidnappers demanded N50million ransom, according to a family source. However, the traditional ruler and his wife were released on Wednesday after an undisclosed amount of money was paid as ransom.

Daily Trust on Sunday recalls that before Fr. Offu was killed, the parish priest of St Patrick Catholic Church, Nomeh, The Rev Fr. Ikechukwu Ilo, was also attacked by suspected armed herdsmen on Nomeh-Nenwe road in Nkanu East Local Government Area on Wednesday, July 17, 2019 while he was returning from Enugu.

During an interview in his hospital bed, Ilo recounted, “It happened like a movie to me. I had 50 litres of petrol in my vehicle and a refilled gas cylinder. They opened fire on me, but I summoned courage to drive through them. But they continued firing.”

He escaped with bullet wounds while his car was riddled with bullets. He was quickly rushed to a specialist hospital for treatment. He said one of the bullets lodged in his right foot had been extracted and he was recovering fast.

Confirming the incident, the police public relations officer, Enugu State command, Ebere Amaraizu, said in a statement issued to newsmen that investigation into the incident had commenced. He, however, denied the allegation that the attack was carried out by herdsmen.

The brutal murder of Fr. Offu triggered massive protest by over 200 Catholic priests, who marched from the Holy Ghost Cathedral, through the major roads in Enugu metropolis, to the Government House, where they expressed their displeasure to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. They bemoaned the growing insecurity in the once peaceful and safest state in Nigeria.

Briefing journalists during the protest, the Catholic Bishop of Enugu, The Most Rev Callistus Onaga said, “I am sorrowful and utterly disappointed on the security situation in the state. We get worried when our priests are attacked because it shows the level of insecurity Nigerians face daily.

“Our priests are very much respected and honoured by the people, so if these things can happen to them, what happens to the people they shepherd.

“Everybody is mad because it is becoming too constant, especially within the past six or seven years. We have suffered serious kidnapping of our priests. It is becoming too bad. In 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, our priests were kidnapped at various locations in the state. It was only in 2017 that we had some breathing space. It continued in 2018, and this year, it is worst.”

Daily Trust on Sunday recalls that The Rev Fr. Clement Ugwu was kidnapped about 9pm on March 13, 2019 and subsequently shot dead. The incident occurred right in front of the gate of St Mark Catholic Church, Obinofia Ndiuno in Ezeagu Local Government Area, where he was a parish priest. The kidnappers reportedly demanded N50million as ransom and later reduced it to N20million. His decomposing body was later found in the bush about 20km from the place where he was taken away.

The commissioner of police in Enugu, Mr. Suleiman Balarabe, told newsmen that the killers were using the murdered priest’s ATM card to withdraw cash from his account.

It is said that the latest killing of Fr Offu and the massive protest it sparked forced Governor Ugwuanyi to summon an emergency security meeting with heads of the various security agencies in the state, religious leaders and other relevant stakeholders.

The Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Simon Ortuanya, in a statement issued after the meeting, stated that the state government had to send an anti-kidnapping bill to the State Assembly in order to ensure maximum security.

He also stated that government resolved to immediately overhaul the Vigilante/ Neighbourhood Watch structure in the state for optimum service delivery, adding that the Enugu State Neigbourhood Watch Law 2016 would be reviewed.

Ortuanya said government would employ 1,700 forest guards within 30 days, comprising 100 persons per local government area, in compliance with the recent decision of the South-East Governors Forum on community policing.

He said interested applicants should submit their applications at the Department of State Services (DSS) in their respective local government areas of origin for necessary action.

Ortuanya further said the state government also approved the payment of N5,200 to Vigilante/Neighbourhood Watch personnel and reassured of their commitment to peace and security of lives and property.

Briefing newsmen on the outcome of the meeting, the commissioner of police in the state, Suleiman Balarabe, said government directed that there would be air surveillance in all the flashpoints, adding that the security network of the affected areas would be reviewed with immediate effect.

He said the proliferation of dangerous arms in the state was observed with concern, and announced that those in possession of illegal weapons were given three days to submit them to the police or be dealt with in accordance with the law.”

Also, the secretary of Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area, Dr. Nnamdi Ogueche, who was also a lecturer in the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, was said to have been shot dead by suspected herdsmen at Olo town in Ezeagu Local Government Area.

It was gathered that Ogueche went for a peace talk between communities and herdsmen, who were allegedly terrorising parts of Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area.

Confirming the incident, the commissioner of police did not, however, say that the attackers were herdsmen.

Also, the head of the Department of Nursing Services, Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu, Mrs. Mary Amadi, was shot dead by unknown gunmen.

Mrs. Amadi, a mother of two, who was killed in front of her house at the Federal Housing Estate, Abakpa, was said to be studying for her doctorate degree before she was murdered.

The spokesman of the police in the state, Ebere Amaraizu, said investigation had led to the arrest of two suspects.

Commenting on the issue, the Anglican Archbishop of Enugu, Dr Emmanuel Chukwuma, condoled with the Catholic Church over the sad incident and appealed to the Inspector-General of Police to increase the number of policemen in the state, insisting that “they are inadequate.”

Archbishop Chukwuma, however, emphasized, “We are not afraid, and nobody should think that he can get Enugu State into a state of violence.”

Speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church, The Rev Fr. Nnamdi Nwankwo said, “The Catholic Diocese of Enugu wishes to thank the governor for his quick response to this sad incident. Some people are trying to sabotage the efforts of the state government, especially as it is proudly said that Enugu is safe.

“I am particularly impressed that the Miyetti Allah and other northern groups have been helping the governor in security issues and discussions. However, we are asking them to do more because we don’t want to live in fear.’’

Responding, the Miyetti-Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) denied the allegation that Fulani herdsmen were responsible for the gruesome murder of Fr. Offu.

In a statement issued in Enugu, the chairman of the MACBAN in the South-East, Alhaji Giddado Siddiki said: “Again, our hearts bleed over the most dastardly murder of a Catholic priest. This is one murder too many. It is most condemnable and heartily regretted.

“Our society aches as a result of the activities of criminals who care less about the value of human life. It is painful that the security apparatuses of the government have not been able to contain the excesses of these men of the underworld who have continued to diminish the value of life in our society.

“We hereby most heartily condole members of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu and all the Christian faithful on this very painful and irreparable loss.

“We once more call on the government to rise to the occasion and provide adequate security for the citizens of Nigeria across the length and breadth of the country.

“We maintain that crime, in whatever form of its perpetration, is anti-society. Criminals of any guise cause pains to the society, and should, therefore, be properly identified and made to face the full wrath of the law.”

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