The Catholic community in Imo State, especially in the Diocese of Orlu, are yet to get over the shock of the abduction and eventual murder of Reverend Father Cyriacus Onunkwo.
The priest had gone home to participate in the preparations for his father’s burial when he met his untimely death in the hands of hoodlums. Father Onunkwo joins the unfortunate list of catholic priests killed for yet to be explained reasons. Father Onunkwo was abducted from his car by gunmen on September 1. According to Police reports, earlier that day, another priest – Fr. Jude Udokwu – was also attacked by kidnappers in the same village, but he managed to escape.
Within 24 hours, the body of Fr. Onunkwo was found in the bush in a nearby village where he was identified. Those who saw the body revealed that there were no visible wounds, and so local authorities suspect that he may have been strangled to death.
It was further discovered that the Toyota Corolla car abandoned at the scene of the crime belonged to the dead priest. Before him in this unconscionable habit of killing the Lord’s anointed, were Rev Father Raphael Pankyes from Plateau State who was also killed and abandoned in the bush, Rev Father Gabriel Oyaka, Rev Father Dennis Osuagwu and Rev Father Goodwill Onyeka, all Nigerians.
Outside the country, some Catholic priests had experienced bizarre deaths. They include Rev Father Vincent Kamunzu from the Republic of Congo, Rev Father Felipe Carullo of Mexico, Rev Father Pedro Gomes Bezerra of Brazil and Rev Father Kenneth Walker of Phoenix Arizona, the United States of America. The list is not exhaustive but it goes to point out that the biblical injunction ‘touch not my anointed and do my prophet no harm’ is honoured more in the breach.
Catholic priests are not known to belong to the wealthy class and Nigeria is not a totalitarian society that abhors criticisms from the pulpit. Observers of what is going on and the frequency of the occurrence are beginning to suggest that it could be a trend of violence targeted at prosperity pastors. If that is the case, which we doubt, Catholic priests can hardly be found in that league. With the way the church is run, Catholic priests hardly live the kind of flamboyant lifestyles that can possibly attract evil minds intent on reaping where they did not sow. The cars, if those are the attraction, belong to the parish.
The most intriguing aspect of this fear-inducing development is that unlike in regular kidnappings where ransom is demanded from families and relations of victims, in these cases, relations and colleagues of the Nigerian priests that had suffered gruesome death in the hands of their abductors were not given the luxury of a demand for ransom. The most recent case, Father Onunkwo, was just abducted and within hours his strangulated body was abandoned in a bush. The police are reported to have made some arrests in connection with the crime. It is hoped that when the culprits are arraigned the world will get to know why a harmless young man minding his priestly vocation will be anyone’s target.
The death of Father Onunkwo and others in such circumstances brings to the fore not just the level of insecurity in the society but also an emerging saddening scenario of the bastardisation of the sanctity of human life in the country. No day passes without reports of killings for no immediately justifiable reason. When it is not herdsmen attacking and killing farmers, it is kidnappers killing their victims after collecting ransom.
Recently, there was a state- sanctioned murder in Owerri, Imo State of a ten-year old boy Somtochukwu Ibeanusi, shot and killed allegedly by soldiers drafted to supervise the demolition of the Ekeukwu market in the state capital.
We are not alleging that there is an orchestrated onslaught specifically aimed at Catholic priests. But we are worried at the regularity of these crimes against humanity. When put side by side with the general unease around the country, it becomes decipherable that perhaps Nigerians are under siege by criminal elements out to make the nation ungovernable.
The security agencies and their operatives claim to be doing their best in the circumstances. But are their best good enough? It is like driving from the back seat when they wait for the crime to be committed for them to move in and arrest those involved. Nigerians will prefer a situation where the crime is stopped, nipped in the bud. Let it not happen at all. Even if the criminals are sentenced to death, will that in itself, bring back the dead? The law would only have succeeded in giving relations and friends of the deceased mere cold comfort. Nobody is interested in that. Prevent the killings so that there will be no need to avenge them.