By Chidi Nkwopara, OWERRI
The Catholic Diocese of Orlu, is in the news again, albeit for the wrong reason. One of its priests, Rev. Fr. Jude Chidi Egbom, was gruesomely murdered by armed hoodlums. This happened when the Local Ordinary, Most Rev. Augustine Tochukwu Ukwuoma, was attending a meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, in far away Sokoto State.
The sad thing is that there had been previous dastardly killing of priests of the Catholic Diocese of Orlu. The most recent was that of Rev. Fr. Cyriacus Onunkwo, who came home from his base, to bury his father. Tragically, the priest was killed, even before he finished arranging for his father’s burial. The Diocese grieved as father and son were buried.
The ever smiling, gap-toothed Fr. Egbom was until his untimely death, the Parish Priest of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Amucha in Njaba Local Council Area of Imo State.
Amucha is the ancestral home parish of the Catholic Bishop of Orlu, and a shouting distance away from Nkwerre, the home of community of so many notables in the state.
As the news of Fr. Egbom’s death spread like wild fire, so also were the versions weaved around his death.
One of the tales had it that the priest was on his way back to his parish, when he ran into armed robbers, who were operating at the time, and the hoodlums pumped hot lead in his direction. This silenced him on the spot.
Another story surrounding his death was hinged on what another group termed “pure assassination.” An obviously very angry priest, who spoke to South-East Voice on telephone last Saturday, on the issue, blamed his death on “possible hired assassins.”
Although the priest neither mentioned any name or linked the alleged assassination on his homilies, he, however, expressed serious pain over the loss of another brother priest to triger-happy gangsters operating in Imo.
“Nigeria has a way of handling its investigations. We have been told that about two persons have been arrested in connection with the murder of the priest. Did the nabbed suspects do the planning and execution alone? Do they have sponsors? If yes, who are they? Will they be identified, nabbed, paraded like these ones and prosecuted? The questions begging for answers are many and varied”, the cleric said.
Other peddlers of this assassination angle of the story, preferred linking the priest’s murder to the alleged strong position he held in the past, against some of the actions and policies of the government of the day. Despite all efforts, South-East Voice could not confirm this from any parishioner or priest, before going to press.
The third version is that the late Fr. Egbom was said to have driven to his barber’s shop at the popular Amaokpara Junction by Amaigbo Road in Nkwerre, to have a hair cut.
It was also said that after the hair cut and just as he was about entering his car, an unknown gunman from nowhere emerged, shot him several times on the chest and disappeared.
This third version, appears to be what the Imo State Police Command believes in, especially as it was also narrated in a different prose, by the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Dasuki Galadanchi, when he paraded the two suspected killers of the Catholic priest at the State Police Headquarters, Owerri.
His words: “On September 10, 2018, the Command received the report of the robbery and killing of Rev. Fr. Jude Egbom, the Parish Priest of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Amucha, Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State.
“The hoodlums invaded a barbing salon at Umuka Nkwerre and demanded the keys of one Toyota Avalon and Camry cars, parked in front of the barbing salon and in the process, shot sporadically, killing the Rev. Priest and injuring another victim.
“In a swift reaction by operatives of the Federal SARS, Imo Command, two suspects involved in the dastardly act were arrested. They are Chigozie Uzoukwu, male, aged 33 and a native of Umusieke, Owerri Nkworji, Nkwerre Local Government Area and Peter Boniface Ochokwu, male, aged 21, and from Umuibu, Owerri Nkworji, Nkwerre Local Government Area.
“They are members of the gang that have been terrorising Nkwerre Local Government Area and its environs in recent times.
“The Reverend Father’s vehicle and the vehicle used by the hoodlums have been recovered from the suspects. Other members of the gang, who are on the run, are being hunted by the team of investigators,” the CP recounted.
Continuing, Mr. Galadanchi itemised the recovered exhibits to include one black Toyota Corolla with registration number, FKJ 984 EV, used by the hoodlums for the operation, and one Toyota Avalon car with registration number RLU 369 AE, belonging to the murdered priest.
“The police also recovered one locally made shotgun from Kelechi Nnajiuba, two travelling bags containing shoes, clothes and other personal effects, suspected to belong to the slain Rev. Father, as well as 46 Permanent Voter’s Cards, recovered from Chigozie Uzoukwu,” the CP said.
The seeming initial mystery behind the identities of the murderers may have been unraveled, even if temporarily for now, but the big questions begging for answers remain: Why are these hapless, defenceless priests mowed down at will? Who will stop the periodic killing of priests in Orlu Catholic Diocese? Is this instant case mere happenstance or was it planned?