■Archbishop declares prayer warfare
■Return your loot or face the consequences, cleric warns hoodlums
From ALOYSIUS ATTAH, Onitsha
This is not the best of times for churches and clergymen in Anambra State. Call it signs of the end tme and one is not far from the truth. Hitherto, sacred places often dreaded even by the insane are now targets of daredevil robbers. There is a slogan right now in the state which says “one Sunday, one church robbery”.
In the last two weeks in Anambra State, armed robbers have invaded about three churches at odd hours leaving sorrow and tears in their trail. The Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha, Most Rev. Valerian Okeke, worried over the unusual development, has initiated a prayer programme in the archdiocese for the repentance of criminals who are harassing and attacking churches in Onitsha and beyond. The Archbishop has enjoined the faithful to say the prayers with dedication and commitment so that robbery attacks in the parishes will end.
First to host the unwanted visitors was St. John of the Cross Catholic Church, Egbo, Uruagu, Nnewi. The robbers had stormed the parish rectory about 1 am on Sunday night and held the priest and other residents hostage for over one hour. At the end of the invasion, they made away with an unspecified amount of cash and a bus belonging to the parish choir.
According to sources, the robbers numbering about 10 gained access to the main building by cutting the burglary proof bars on one of the windows in the parlour. They had earlier tied the hands of the security men before they went to the place where drivers and seminarians were sleeping, meted the same treatment to them and went further to collect the car keys and proceeded to the area where the parish priest and other priests were staying.
When they entered they saw a priest and ordered him to show them the parish priest’s flat and he complied immediately. Finding it difficult to enter through the door, they gained access through the ceiling. The robbers immediately pointed their guns at the parish priest, barking orders at him to bring all the money in the house including the Sunday offering.The priest surrendered everything to them.
Sunday Sun learnt that while the robbers were carrying on with their evil operations, two of the drivers succeeded in untying themselves and escaped. They were said to have informed one of the parishioners around who quickly phoned the police at the Nnewi Central Police Station but the police never responded till the robbers finished and left the scene.
The Parish Priest , Very Rev. Fr. Peter Ezeani, while narrating his ordeal, confirmed that seven of the armed robbers entered his room armed with AK47 and pump action rifles. He said they collected all the valuables in the house including cash.
While the Nnewi incident was still fresh, another robbery incident was reported at Holy Trinity Parish, Ogidi, Idemili North Local Government Area.
The robbers were said to have stormed the church compound at 3:00 am ransacking all the rooms for about one and half hours.
Though some of the priests residing in the parish were away on ministerial engagements when the bandits struck, the robbers reportedly had ample time to cart away laptops, ipads and an undisclosed amount of money.
The same night, the marauders swooped on the clergymen at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nnokwa in Idemili South Local Government. Their style of operation was almost similar to the siege at Ogidi thereby fueling suspicion that it was the same gang that operated in the two parishes.
‘Return your loot or face the consequences’
Apparently irked by the unusual boldness of the robbers who struck sacred places, one of the resident priests at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Ogidi, Very Rev. Fr. Basil Gbuzue has called on the gang of robbers who stormed the church premises to return the stolen items or be ready to face the wrath of God.
Fr. Gbuzue who is the Spiritual Director, Mountain of Solution Catholic Adoration Ministry, Nkpor, Anambra State said the robbers were lucky that he was not around the night they broke into the rectory.
“Those hungry criminals were lucky that I was not around. Had it been that they met me, they won’t have any option than to surrender and confess their past escapades. I would have loved to be there when the criminals arrived so that they will experience the efficacy of prayers and the word of God. You cannot steal my property and get away with it just like that since the consequences of perpetuating such evil will last for eternity,” he said.
The cleric, popularly known as Man pass Man also disclosed his readiness to pardon the hoodlums provided they return their loot. He commended the Archbishop for initiating the prayer programme and called on other parishes that have experienced the same trauma to take heart, remain steadfast and be vigilant.
Fr. Gbuzue also said Governor Peter Obi should in collaboration with the security agencies initiate more strategies to checkmate the activities of criminals attacking churches.
Commenting on the ugly development, a Knight of the Catholic Church, Sir Fidel Onuekwusi described the situation as the manifestations of the country’s eroded value system. He noted that even insane people respected sacred places but today people commit all sorts of sacrilegious acts in the society without minding the repercussions. He reminded evildoers that nemesis and retribution are coming and they should also be mindful of the biblical injunction saying “Touch not my anointed and do my prophets no harm.”
The Anambra State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Emeka Chukwuemeka in a chat with Sunday Sun confirmed that the command was aware of the latest tactics robbers were deploying in the state but assured that security of lives and property remained the priority of the police. He said the command had recorded several breakthroughs in crime prevention and detection and would never relent.