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 robbers have carefully descended on Catholic Rectories and methodically ransacked the homes 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 reaching Crime Alert, 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 Mbaitoli local council 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.
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 satisfied with their takings, the robbers descended on one of the priests and gave him the beating of his life. Crime Alert gathered that the hapless priest was still hospitalized in an undisclosed place, where doctors are battling to save his life, as at the time of going to press.
In June 23, 2013, 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 bus stop was Saint Peter’s Parish, Awo Mbieri. The Assistant Priest of the Parish turned out to be the target. The shameless robbers trailed the priest and snatched his Toyota Camry car at gunpoint, as he made to turn into the parish house. This was July 3, 2013.
Narrating his ordeal to Crime Alert, 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. 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 they 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 burglary 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.
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 it’s hands and watch helplessly as it’s priests are molested by hoodlums.
By CHIDI NKWOPARA