A video of riotous situation in a Catholic Church in Imo state has gone viral on social media. It is also on YouTube. Also, a voice note explaining what transpired has been, and is still being, circulated on social media platforms.
Before these two went viral, information had it that Catholic Archbishop of Owerri, Most reverend Anthony J.V. Obinna, had escaped being lynched in the hands of an All Progressives Congress (APC) mob which moved in on him as he preached at a funeral service during which he condemned the governance of Imo state by Governor Rochas Okorocha.
Insinuations were that the mob attacked Archbishop Obinna at the instance of the governor’s son-in-law and his Chief of Staff, Uche Nwosu, who was present in church alongside his mother-in-law, Nkechi Okorocha.
But a priest who witnessed the event, disclosed that indeed, a riotous mob consisting of persons who support Okorocha, APC and his Son-in-Law, interrupted the Archbishop as he preached, but he was not attacked physically.
According to the eyewitness, the event took place at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Ngwoma Obube in Imo state. It was a funeral service for the late faithful whose daughter is a Reverend Sister. It was said that the funeral mass had progressed very well and the Archbishop addressed the faithful towards the end of the mass.
He was said to have used the opportunity to speak truth to power and pointed out the disaster which governance in the state had become under the watchful eyes of Okorocha.
Archbishop Obinna also used the opportunity to call on the faithful to secure their voter’s cards in readiness to send the APC government of Okorocha packing.
He was also said to have told Okorocha’s son-in-law that he was not ripe to lead Imo state given the damage, poverty and hunger, his father-in-law had wrought on people of the state with uncompleted projects, non-payment of salaries and pensions, bad roads, lack of pipe borne water and other social amenities.
In fact, Obinna was said to have reminded Uche Nwosu and his mother-in-law that the road they drove on to the funeral service was a 10km road built by Chief Alex Mbata, son of the deceased.
The eyewitness reckons that it was at this point that an APC member and an Uche Nwosu-For-Governor campaigner stood up to challenge the Archbishop reminding him that Okorocha had excelled in the governance of Imo state.
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Another voice said to be non-APC countered the submission and supporters of Okorocha, APC and Nwosu erupted in protest inside the church.
According to the eyewitness, it took the intervention of some priests and Christian fathers to calm frayed nerves and restore normalcy.
The eye witness said that all the while during the riotous moment, no one approached Archbishop Obinna with intent to hurt him, and that the archbishop took to his seat and waited till the mob eased tension. And the mass ended.
Though Archbishop Obinna, and other priests and religious at the funeral service, were not physically attacked, the psychological attack on him by the mob may be more injurious than a physical hurt.
However, Obinna is not known to have shied away from speaking truth to power. He stood firm in his convictions that former Governor Ikedi Ohakim was not leading Imo aright. For that reason, he spoke from the pulpit and backed Okorocha’s candidacy for the governorship of Imo state. From the pulpit also, he rallied Imo people to support Okorocha against Ohakim.
Interestingly, he became one of Okorocha’s worst critics. Okorocha and his acolytes also do not spare any opportunity they have to hurt him, even if psychologically.
A few years ago, men suspected to be Okorocha’s supporters invaded the premises of Assumpta Cathedral and destroyed a stage prepared for an annual lecture organized and hosted by Archbishop Obinna. In furtherance of his quest to promote Igbo language, customs, and traditions and expand the Igbo world view, Archbishop Obinna instituted the Odenigbo Lecture series.
The lecture is delivered annually in Igbo language by erudite scholars of Igbo origin. Prior to his election as governor, Okorocha used the opportunity of the lecture to address the Imo intelligentia on his mission and vision in seeking to become governor.
However, Okorocha was said to have turned against the Archbishop and ensured that the lecture podium was destroyed, chairs broken and some priests suffered physical harm. A Press statement from Government House Owerri then, accused the Archbishop of using the opportunity of the Odenigbo Lecture to canvass issues against the governor.
Prior to the Saturday mob action, the Imo state government of Okorocha had also sought to deal a blow to the Catholic Church in the state.
This it did by renaming Assumpta Avenue to Muhammadu Buhari way. Those privy to government decision on the matter said Okorocha aimed at obliterating the name ‘Assumpta’ from Owerri as a way of making the church insignificant in matters of state.
However, a protest by the church and people of the state forced the governor to retrace. Instead, he split the road into two and retained Assumpta Avenue for one-half and Muhammadu Buhari Way for another half. The decision is yet to settle well with Catholics who hold a commanding numerical strength in the state.
With Uche Nwosu and his mother-in-law sitting in the church and not taking any step to call the riotous mob to order, the stage seems now set for a direct confrontation between Okorocha, his political machinery and Imo Catholics.
This may extend to other churches in the spirit of ecumenism where injury to one is seen as injury to all. Consequence of this confrontation will be that Uche Nwosu’s governorship ambition may be blown away by his father-in-law’s seeming lack of tact, arrogance and misrule.
The riotous church moment may also signal the beginning of open protest against Okorocha’s style of governance and members of his immediate family.
Many people in Imo state are angered by the daily reports of how Okorocha and members of his family had cornered the states’ patrimony to themselves and also flaunting same before the people. People may therefore be transferring their angst against Okorocha and his family, to Uche Nwosu. This may cost him the ambition to be governor.
Analysts argue that had he attempted to calm his supporters and the APC mob, and maybe apologized to the Archbishop before the congregation, he may be able to salvage something of his reputation and suitability for the office his father-in-law is battling to fix him on.
For now, it may be a battle line drawn between Okorocha, his family, his in-laws, APC and the church in Imo state.
By Femi Qudus ….