BY OKONKWO EZE
ONITSHA — The Parish Priest of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, Nkpor in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State, near Onitsha, Rev. Fr. Martin Onukwuba and another priest-in-residence, Rev. Fr. Ben Oguejieofor, yesterday, escaped death by whiskers when some suspected arsonists invaded the church premises and set the priests’ house ablaze.
The incident, according to sources, occurred while Fr. Onukwuba was celebrating a morning mass inside the main church building, while Fr. Oguejiofor was in the fathers’ house.
It was not yet clear, at press time, who the arsonists were but the police at Ogidi Division have arrested no fewer than 12 suspects, including some workers at Our Lady’s Bread Bakery and Industrial Centre within the compound.
Frs. Onukwuba and Oguejiofor confirmed to newsmen at the scene that when they noticed unusual movements within the church compound, they scaled the fence and jumped into neighbouring compound in order not to be burnt alive.
They also confirmed that the attackers who they suspected to be security operatives guarding the compound, started their operation in the early hours, shooting sporadically in the air and into the two-storey building where the Reverend Fathers reside.
According to them, when the attack became too hot for them, they escaped by jumping through the fence into an adjacent compound.
They further confirmed that although there were some gun shorts,Tuesday night, around the area, the main attack came in the early hours of yesterday.
Specifically, Fr. Onukwuba disclosed that the Ogidi High Court had earlier issued an order that the blockages mounted by the security officers inside the Our Lady’s Industrial Centre to block vehicular movements to the priests’ residence be dismantled, an order which he said did not go down well with the security men.
Onukwuba further disclosed that when the attackers could not get him or the residenct priest, they set the two-storey building ablaze and also burnt the boy’s quarters.
The Parish priest, however, said those arrested by the police were just members of staff of Our Lady’s Industrial Centre and bakery as the security guards who attacked them were on the run.
It would be recalled that the proprietor of Our Lady’s Industrial Centre, Mrs. Onuora, built the church single handedly and donated it to the church many years ago. It was commissioned by Cardinal Francis Arinze, the then Archbishop of Onitsha.
But recently, one of her daughters who was said to have left the Catholic church and joined a pentecostal church has been itching to throw out the Catholic faithful from the premises, to hand it over to her new denomination.
The counsel to the church, C. J. Asiegbu also told newsmen that he was seriously suspecting the security operatives in the compound who are in the employ of the land lady who he said was in court with the church, prior to the incident.
The Divisional Police Officer at Ogidi, Mr. Yusuf Abdul who confirmed the incident, said he had deployed some policemen to the church premises to effect more arrests.