These are not the best of times for Catholic priests in Imo State, especially those in the Archdiocese of Owerri. Investigations have since revealed that dare-devil armed hoodlums have carefully descended on Catholic rectories and mercilessly beat up the hapless and helpless priests. Most of the physically assaulted and wounded priests have been battling for survival in varying hospitals.
Within the past three months, according to very credible reports, no fewer than six Catholic parishes have been attacked by armed hoodlums in Owerri Ecclesiastical Province. About a week ago, a newly ordained priest lost his brand new Toyota Camry at gun-point to the rampaging hoodlums.
Before the hoodlums settled for parishes in Mbaitoli Local Government Area of the state, they had earlier in the year, stormed and ransacked some Catholic institutions, including Holy Rosary Hospital, Emekuku, Immaculate Heart Catholic Parish, Akwakuma and Saint Joseph’s Catholic Parish, Ulakwo. While the foregoing parishes and medical establishment are located in Owerri North local council area, the armed robbers also attacked Saint Anthony’s Parish, Inyishi, Ikeduru Local Government Area.
It is sad to note that since the rampaging armed hoodlums settled for Mbatoli local concil area, they have serially attacked some parishes and their priests between the middle of June and second week of July. The first target of the hoodlums in this council area was the Parish Priest of Saint Hilary’ Parish, Amaukwu, Orodo. This sordid attack was recorded June 16, 2013.
Robbers in bedroom
According to the badly shaken priest, the armed robbers traced him to his bedroom at about 11pm and ransacked the Rectory for over three hours. In the end, according to the priest, the hoodlums carted away valuables belonging to him. Not feeling satisfied with their takings, the robbers descended on the priest and gave him the beating of his life. Vanguard gathered that the hapless priest was still hospitalised in an undisclosed place, where doctors are battling to save his life, as at the time of going to press.
On June 23, precisely one week after the attack at Amaukwu, Orodo, the robbers descended on Saint Mary’s Parish, Ubomiri. Not much damage was recorded in this parish because of the timely intervention of security operatives, who were quickly alerted as soon as the hoodlums struck in the Rectory.
The robbers next stop was Saint Peter’s Parish, Awo Mbieri. The Assistant Priest of this Parish turned out to be the target. The robbers trailed the priest and snatched his Toyota Camry car a gunpoint, as he made to turn to the parish house. This was July 3, 2013.
Narrating his ordeal to newsmen, the priest recalled with grief that the armed robbers, who were operating on a motor cycle, trailed him from Nwaorieubi Junction on the evening of the ill-fated day. He also recalled that the robbers were about three in number.
Feelers from the parish
While two of the robbers alighted from the motorcycle, the third sped away on the bike. The other two, who obviously meant to shoot him if he refused to obey, eventually succeeded in taking away the vehicle. The vehicle is yet to be recovered till date, according to feelers from the parish.
There is also the latest attack on the Rectory of Stella Marris Parish, Orodo. The hoodlums numbering about seven, stormed the Rectory July 8, at about 12.06am. According to the Parish Priest, the modus operandi of the robbers showed that they meant serious business.
The first thing the robbers did was to tie all the security men to a stake. They tried gaining access into the Rectory but when this failed because of the burglar-proof mounted in the place, they broke through the wall.
The robbers descended on the Parish Priest, Rev. Fr. Kevin Ugoamadi and held him hostage for long. As expected, the robbers ransacked the Rectory and made away with some valuables. They eventually took their exit through the entrance after their dastardly operation.
Confirming these attacks in a telephone interview, the Archdiocesan Director of Communications, Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu, wondered why the robbers were attacking hapless and defenseless priests. He appealed to the security agencies to turn their searchlight on Rectories with a view to ensuring the safety of priests.
He confirmed that each of the robbery incidents was properly reported to the police for investigation and possible protection of the priests, stressing that the parishioners have also been urged to work out sound security arrangements for the parishes and church establishments.
In his own reaction, the Vicar General of the Archdiocese, Rev. Fr. Patrick Ibole, expressed shock at the serial nature of the attacks, stressing that the church can no longer fold its hands and watch helplessly as its priests are molested by hoodlums.
Ibole told the Archdiocesan tabloid, The Leader, that some people are no longer afraid to tamper with anointed men of God, stressing that “the Rectory is a sacred place that must be respected and protected”.
Protection of priests
On what the Archdiocese was doing to protect its priests, the Vicar General said: “Appropriate measures are being taken to beef up security in all Catholic parishes. The faithful must continue to pray for the conversion of these rampaging hoodlums in our society”.
Meanwhile, parishioners of Saint Hilary’s Parish, Amaukwu Orodo, have embarked on prayer, penance and novena to seek God’s intervention in the area and safety of their priests. All the parishioners spotted black attire and said their Rosary, calling God to intervene in the situation.
Speaking to newsmen, the Parish Council Chairman, Mr. Matthew Elebor, wondered why the hoodlums were now targeting priests and holy places. He explained that the prayer, fasting, penance and novena was their own way of registering their strong ill-feeling against the sordid act. He prayed God to touch the hearts of these hoodlums.
It was not clear at press time if any of the rampaging robbers had been nabbed but there is a strong feeling from within the parishes already attacked that the hoodlums may not be far from the area.
Efforts made to talk to the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Mrs. Joy Elemoko, failed as she could not be reached on phone for comments.