By Sebastine Obasi
THE Administration of Ahiara Catholic Diocese, Mbaise, Imo State, has deplored the invasion of the Cathedral by the Imo State Police Command, which it said unleashed a violent attack on a large number of the Catholic faithful who had gathered seeking God’s intervention in the long-festering bishopric crisis in the diocese. This follows the allegation made by the Imo State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Taiwo Lakanu that youths of the diocese set up bonfires, barricaded the highway and disrupted the peace of the town when the national president of Catholic Women Organisation, CWO, Mrs. Agnes Erogunaye, visited St. Rose Catholic Church, a parish in the diocese.
Speaking with Sunday Vanguard, the Secretary of Ahiara Diocesan Catholic Youths Organisation, Mr. Victor Uzodimma decried the unwarranted attack on the Catholic faithful because they refused to welcome Erogunaye. He said: “What occasioned the attack on unarmed Catholic faithful by the Nigeria Police Force was the planned visit of the president of the National Council of Catholic Women Organization, Mrs. Erogunaye, to Ahiara Diocese at the instance of pro-Bishop Okpalaeke group.
“The faithful had gathered at the Cathedral to show their disapproval of the visit of Mrs. Erogunaye whom they alleged had proven in her short reign as the national leader of CWO to be an enemy of Ahiara Diocese. However, the Ahiara Catholic faithful were determined to resist the visit in a peaceful way through prayer and wearing of black attires.
“Since assuming office as the national leader of the National Council of Catholic Women Organization [NCCWO] in Nigeria in November of 2015, Mrs. Erogunaye has made it her sole project to suppress, disgrace and humiliate the Catholic faithful of Ahiara Diocese through the national CWO.
“She wants to make a name for herself as the woman who defeated the Catholic faithful of Ahiara Diocese in their quest to remove the shackle of injustice and oppression that was visited on them with the unjust appointment of Bishop Okpalaeke as their diocesan bishop,” he explained. The Diocesan Youth Secretary further explained that the way and manner Erogunaye visited, coupled with the influx of the police at the Cathedral smacked of a grand design to intimidate the people of the diocese.
According to him, “that visit was remarkable given that it was the first time the national leadership of the NCCWO was being dragged into the Ahiara Diocesan bishopric crisis. “According to reports, the pro-Okpalaeke women as well as CWO delegates from nearby dioceses were instructed to put on the Ahiara Diocesan CWO uniform and gather at St. Rose parish, Ihitte to welcome the national president of the CWO where there would be demonstration against the diocesan priests who have remained resolute in their rejection of Bishop Okpalaeke as bishop of Ahiara diocese.
“However, when the plan of the pro-Okpalaeke group filtered into the ears of the Catholic faithful of Ahiara diocese, they decided to carry out a peaceful counter-demonstra-tion on the same day in the Cathedral premises. “As early as 6:30 a.m. that Saturday morning, men, women and youths dressed in black attires had already assembled at the Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral premises, where they embarked on a rosary procession around the premises.
“Meanwhile as the prayers were going on, several police Hilux vans arrived at the Cathedral with fully armed policemen led by their DPO, Mr. Danjuma Ragga. After address-ing the people outside the Cathedral gate, the first contingent of Police-men left the scene. “But at 10:50 a.m., over 40 Police-men in eight Hilux vans returned to the cathedral and without any pro-vocation from the youths, began shooting canisters of teargas into the crowd. Many people fell and were matched upon with several injured in the stampede that followed.
“They arrested some persons in-cluding priests and seminarians and fired teargas into rooms and kitchen of the bishop’s house where many had run for safety,” the youth secretary narrated. It will be recalled that the Catholic faithful of Ahiara Diocese have been resisting the imposition of Bishop Peter Okpalaeke, considered an outsider, whose appointment is contrary to the provisions of the Vatican, which stated that a candidate for the office of the Bishop should be close to the people.