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 of the diocese who had gathered to pray and appeal to God to intervene in the long-festering bishopric crisis in the Diocese.
Their assertion is coming on the heels of 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 the Catholic Women Organisation, Mrs. Agnes Erogunaye, visited St. Rose Catholic Church, a parish in the diocese.
Speaking with Vanguard, the Secretary of Ahiara Diocesan Catholic Youths Organisation, Mr. Victor Uzodimma decried the unwarranted attack on the catholic faithful due to their refusal to welcome Erogunaye.
He said, “What had occasioned the brutal 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. Agnes 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 Council of Catholic Women Organization to be an enemy of Ahiara Diocese. However, the Ahiara Catholic faithful were determined to do it in a most 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. Agnes Erogunaye has made it her sole project to suppress, disgrace and humiliate the Catholic faithful of Ahiara Diocese through the national Catholic Women Organization.
“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.”
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 now led by Mrs Erogunaye was being dragged into Ahiara Diocesan bishopric crisis.
“According to reports, the pro-Okpalaeke women as well as CWO delegates from nearby dioceses were instructed by the pro-Okpalaeke group to put on the Ahiara Diocesan CWO uniform and gather at St Rose parish Ihitte to welcome the national president of the CWO. Among the program of events at St Rose parish Ihitte was to be a demonstration against the priests of Ahiara diocese 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-demonstration on the same day in the Cathedral premises.
“As a result, as early as 6:30 am on that Saturday morning, July 2, 2016, men, women and youths in their black attires had already assembled at the Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral premises, where they embarked on a rosary procession around the Cathedral premises.
“Meanwhile as the prayers were going on, several police Hilux vans began to arrive at the Cathedral gate. They parked directly opposite the Cathedral gate. These vans came with a good number of fully armed policemen with the DPO Ahiazu Police Station, Mr. Danjuma Ragga leading the way. After addressing some of the people who were outside the Cathedral gate, the first contingent of the Nigeria Police Force left the scene.
“But around 10:50am, these men of the Nigeria Police Force returned to the place in front of the Cathedral gate. They came with about eight Hilux vans and with over 40 policemen. Things began to take a different turn when the policemen started commanding and ordering about the youths who were in front of the Cathedral gate looking dejected and abandoned by the church.
“Without any provocation from those youths, the policemen began shooting canisters of teargas into the crowd inside the Cathedral premises. They aimed some into the Cathedral itself. As a result, panic set in and many people got injured in the stampede that followed as a result of the unprovoked police attack. While running for safety many collapsed and were marched upon by the others who were strong enough to run away.
“They arrested those they could capture including priests and seminarians and other members of the Catholic faithful. The worst being that they rained canisters of teargas direct into rooms and even the kitchen of the bishop’s house where many had run for safety.”
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.