… Priests, parishioners lament losses
“A voice was heard in Rama lamenting. It is Rachel weeping for her children refusing to be comforted because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).
This biblical quotation best describes the scene at Akwakuma in Owerri North Local Government Area, where Governor Rochas Okorocha and his workmen have demolished a significant portion of the Sacred Heart Church, reducing to rubble the multi million Naira ultra modern gate, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Statue and 18 lock-up stores rented out to the poor to help them make a living. The heartless demolition took place at 9 am. Monday morning.
Our reporter who visited the area saw the parish priest Rev. Fr. Dr Kevin Ugoamadi, some parishioners, community members and sympathisers all in shock and standing in front of what used to be a beautiful structure. They expressed disbelief at the extent of the destruction carried out by the state Governor and his operatives. They said they did not expect that Government would go ahead and do a demolition as it had threatened, despite pleas and repeated appeal from the community, people and church. They said Government had no reason destroying the church.
“We are mourning not so much because the things built are destroyed but because man has decided to fight God. The Governor and his lieutenants have shown that they have no fear of God. Those in leadership position do not respect fellow citizens and have bluntly refused to fear God. If God lowers his sledge hammer, there will be lamentations in the state and none will be spared including the Government,” a shocked and disappointed Fr Ugoamdi said.
Chairman of the Parish Pastoral Council, Sir Emmanuel Ochiagha said the demolition was an attack on the faith of the people.
“The demolition has touched the faith of our people. The Catholic Church is under siege and every Catholic should go on his knees and pray to God. Some parishioners collapsed when they beheld the devastation, even non-parishioners had their blood pressure raised at the site of the destruction. It is awful!”
On whether the church plans to take legal action against the Government, the parish priest replied: “Legal action would have been wonderful if it were a civilised country where the rule of law obtains. Here in Imo state, the judiciary is on strike and even if they were functioning, it is a matter of who controls them. Our legal action is the heavenly court. Let God be the judge; he is the just judge, you cannot bribe him. He is the God of the oppressed and voiceless.”
Fr. Ugoamadi said that of all the structures destroyed, the most painful was the newly erected statute of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which was done with expensive marble and which people from far and wide come to view and admire. The other was the multi-million naira magnificent and imposing Parish gate – a gate to the house of God and the 18 lock-up stores erected to alleviate poverty in the community. He said he had been inundated with calls from sympathisers who kept expressing shock that anyone could carry out such callous destruction on a church.
He said that Government had better things to do than widening roads and destroying property.
“Everyone is groaning and wondering why we should be attacked in this way… our people are being crushed by excruciating economic meltdown, hunger, joblessness, non payment of salaries and pensions and have become endangered species. It has become a curse to become old and get retired as retirees have no food eat or drugs to take as a result of ill health. So many roads are crying for attention especially in the whole of Ikeduru LGA and parts of Owerri – Avu, Egbeada etc. There is no road leading to the Umuonyeali industrial market. Many uncompleted roads started by this government are begging for attention yet the Government finds it convenient to ignore all that and destroy what has been built. It is incredible that the Rochas administration should take road expansion as a priority when people have no food on their table” the priest added.
One of the worst effects of the demolition said the parish priest is the exposure of the entire church premises to insecurity. He said both school children and adults are now at the mercy of herdsmen who have been attacking communities lately.
Asked if there was any compensation being expected, youth leader and president Catholic Youth Organisation (CYON) Emmanuel Okorie said: “We need compensation and we need it now. Government should make haste and discuss with our parish priest because the parish has nowhere to find the money to replace the demolished structures. We have so many projects going on, including the reconstruction of the church building itself.”
Just like the Akwakuma people, Priest and the entire Amakohia catholic community, in Owerri North LGA, are also counting their loses following the demolition of significant portions of their St Michael’s Catholic Church by Government.
Meanwhile, the Imo-State chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has condemned the on-going massive demolition of people’s property by the state Government in the name of road expansion.
Speaking during a radio programme, NBA chairman Brr. Lawrence Nwakaepi said demolishing people’s homes and property without due process is a breach of the land Act and therefore an impeachable office.
“The Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, has breached the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which is an impeachment offence,” he said, asking the legislature to commence an impeachment process against the Governor.
The NBA chairman maintained that the rule guiding demolition of structures is that owners must be consulted first, after which a channel for compensation is opened.
He said although all land belongs to Government, they are held in trust for the masses who must be carried along at all times for the use of their land, and where necessary compensated based on the value of those property at the given time.