Uneasy calm reigns in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Ogugu in Awgu Catholic Diocese, Enugu State, following an attack on worshippers by some youths during an evening programme held as part of this year’s Easter celebration.
The parishioners had been working hard to rehabilitate the Church that was recently handed back to the Catholic Church by the Governor Sullivan Chime administration before hell was let loose by the dissident youth allegedly sponsored by three prominent members of the community.
The youths who allegedly refused to acknowledge the leadership of the town union, Ogugu Progressive General Assembly (OPGA), were said to have placed the town under siege for some months.
“They have organized themselves to ensure there is no peace and have frustrated several attempts to install a new traditional ruler since the last one died in the 2007”, said a source.
Narrating the ordeal of the church to journalists, the Parish Priest, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Anugwuo, stated that the attack was because the church has remained on the path of truth. He said “What we do is to preach peace. That’s why they see us as an enemy”.
The St. Mary Primary School, which also houses the Catholic Church, was recently returned to the church by the state government. The priest alleged that some prominent members of the community sponsored the youths who he said, have issues with the church over the time they play football in the field located inside the church premises.
“We don’t want people to play ball in the field at all times especially when we are celebrating our masses in the morning, but they always insist that it is the community field”.
He recalled that the face-off with the youths started on March 31, which was Easter Sunday, when the youths disrupted the church progamme. “That evening, they invaded the premises and disrupted the evening programme of the church and vowed to return the next day.
“The following day, Monday, they stormed the premises again with masquerades, machetes and threatened to kill me. They said I can’t stop them from playing football in their community field. They started attacking our church members, wounding so many in the process.
“We later reported to the DPO at the Owelli Police Station but the DPO was supporting the youth that they should be allowed to use the field so we went to the Area Police Command who sent his men to the town and invited both parties.
“On April 18 when we went to report at the Area Command Oji, they wrote a petition to the Commissioner of Police who ordered that the invitation to Oji should not be honoured. That day they blocked the entrance to the premises and held us hostage; we didn’t leave there till night. The CP later invited us to Enugu.
“Not satisfied with the police in the state, we reported the matter to the Zone 9 in Umuahia; the AIG invited us and urged us to make peace. But on our way returning to the community we got news that fighting had returned at the premises.
“It was on that day, May 2nd that they destroyed the altar, broke the crucifix, the 14 Stations of the Cross, chairs; they also removed the church sign post. The chapel was also damaged, the priest’s seat, altar cloth were also destroyed.
“What they do now is to take on individuals, church women are being flogged anywhere they are found within the community.
“They decided to desecrate the house of God, some of them said there is no God, they are fighting the church because we tell them the truth, they want to silence the church and have their way”.
Corroborating Rev. Fr. Anugwuo’s story, the President of the Catholic Women Organization (CWO), Lady Eunice Uchemue, noted that since the parish house was completed, the dissident youths had always warned that no priest would live there permanently.
She recalled that the 14 Stations of the Cross destroyed were bought by some of the women way back in 1971.
“We were 18 of us who went on a carol to raise money with which they were bought. That altar they destroyed was built in 2006 at the cost of N329,000. It’s surprising that they are doing all these because of a football field. I have never seen or heard of a thing like this all my life, and they are not showing any remorse. At least eight persons were injured including the choirmaster”, she said.
An official of the town union, Comrade Orji Simon, who spoke to journalists, explained that not all the youths of the community were involved in the despicable act. According to him, some idle ones who allowed themselves to be used by their sponsors carried out the attack.
He condemned the act in its entirety, and assured that the Ogugu Progressive General Assembly would do everything within its powers to bring the culprits to book.