By Chidi Nkwopara
One of the songs of the late Israel Nwoba Njemanze, which was released in the 1950s, had this lyric: Many days are for the thief, but one day is for the owner of the house!
This particular scene played out on Saturday, August 4, 2018, at Maria Assumpta Catholic Cathedral, Owerri, during the ordination of 11 priests, by the Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Anthony J. V. Obinna.
The jubilant friends, colleagues and relations of the fresh ordinands were seated in the Cathedral and the equally ecstatic choristers rendered endless religious songs of praise to the admiration of the congregation. The renditions by the choir, set the tone for the commencement of the Pontifical Ordination Mass.
Ahead of the ordination day, Men of Order and Discipline, MOD, the security outfit of the Catholic Church, had carefully worked out their modalities for taking care of people’s property and the expected large crowd, including miscreants.
Conversely, people with criminal intent were also busy, planning how to execute their varying despicable acts during the ordination. That was how 36-year-old Gabriel Chidera Okani, a native of Umuebule, Okporo, Orlu Local Council Area of Imo State, came into the picture.
He had painstakingly arranged with his colleagues to steal any Toyota Camry within the Cathedral premises.
As a way to deceive everybody, including the MOD members, Okani disguised himself as a seminarian and wore soutane.
What seemingly attracted the attention of the MOD was why only this “seminarian” was moving about in the parking lot, while the others were inside the Cathedral. The suspicion paid off as he was caught red-handed.
On interrogation, Okani told several uncoordinated tales. The first was that he was at the Cathedral to see an unnamed sister, he claimed lives somewhere along Old Nekede Road, but was told that she had come to the Cathedral for the priestly ordination.
He also said that he wanted to tell his sister to help him raise the fund that would enable him pursue life in the monastery.
In another breath, he claimed that he is a seminarian from Ikot Ekpene and later, said he worked as a cleaner at St. John the Baptist Monastery, Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State, where he stole the soutane he wore to Assumpta Cathedral.
He also claimed that he stole the soutane from the sacristy of his home church, St. Joseph’s Parish, Okporo, Orlu.
Okani claimed that he left Ikot Ekpene for home, about two months earlier, to source for funds that would enable him enter the monastery. The ploy worked when he visited a prayer outfit at Amanachi, Orlu, managed by one Sister Ocheze.
He recalled that while spotting the soutane during the August 3, 2018, visit, Okani told the people present at the prayer centre that he was a seminarian in dire need of assistance and he smiled home with some money. Realising that all the stories he rolled out were not impressing any of his captors, Okani then disclosed that he was part of a six-man criminal syndicate led by an Okporo lady that runs a provision store in the community.
Giving details of their exploits, the fake seminarian said they had successfully stolen three cars last month in Orlu. It included two Toyota Camry cars and a Golf 3 car that has already been repainted and given a new plate number.
Continuing, Okani said that when their initial plan of stealing any available car at the prayer centre of Sister Ocheze failed, they looked forward to the ordination ceremony at Assumpta Cathedral.
“While the Mass was going on, we drove down to Owerri from Orlu, with the Golf 3 we stole last month. They dropped me at the Control Post and later parked at a point along the World Bank Road and waited for any signal from me,” Okani said. He affirmed that his plan was to, after surveillance, tip off the female gang leader in the Golf 3 car, when he spots a car that was outside the watchful eyes of the securitymen in the Cathedral.
Meanwhile, the fake seminarian has been handed over to the police and is now believed to be telling his interrogators all he knows about the criminal plot and where his criminal associates are staying.