Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Some residents of Uruebo Village in Nkwelle Ezunaka Community, Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State, are angry. They recently marched round the streets of the community in protest against what they termed the unlawful detention of some youths from the village in the facilities of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) since June at the Akwuzu office of the squad.
They accused a cleric and member of the community, Reverend Father Emmanuel Chibuzor Obimma (Ebube Mmonso) of masterminding the arrests after tagging the suspects kidnappers. Eleven youths have since March been in detention.
The villagers, including elderly men, women and youths, bore placards with messages seeking the release of the detained persons.
The eldest man in the village, 89-year-old Ogbuefi Abel Okafor, led the protest. He appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obiano, Inspector-General of Police and Anambra State Commissioner of Police to order the release of the detainees to prevent their impending movement to the Onitsha Correctional Centre.
He accused Ebube Mmonso and his brother, Charles, of instigating security agents against the youths and people of the community over leadership and land matters. He said the suspects were against the sale of communal land and intimidation going on in the community.
Okafor said: “He wanted his brother to remain as the chairman of the community even after he had served out his two tenures of six years. We refused and elected another person but he accused the new chairman of kidnapping. He arrested and detained him with four others before they were released.
“They are interested in our communal land at Uruagu, Ugwuegede, Ezenwedi, Ishintoroka, and so on. In 2014, Charles Obimma, a brother to the priest, Fr. Obimma, emerged as the chairman of the village for a three-year tenure. After his first tenure, we returned him for a second term, which expired on December 31, 2019.
“We were to conduct another election on December 31 to elect another chairman. We were there, but he refused to come home for the election. We conducted the election and another person emerged as the chairman of the village, Mr. Francis Okey Okafor. But after four days, the new chairman was arrested in his house by SARS. We went to the police and they told us that Charles alleged that Francis came to kidnap him. But he was later released and continued as chairman.
“On June 7, when the chairman and land committee went to the land with bulldozer to repair the road, SARS came again to our community to arrest 11 of our youths, alleging that they were kidnappers. They are still in detention.
“When the youths went to his brother the priest to beg his brother so that the village leadership could continue with their job, the priest accused them of being kidnappers. They stormed our village with SARS and other security agents to arrest them. Those whom they couldn’t arrest, their motorcycles were taken away.
“We have not seen over 60 youths who ran away from the village since the incident. Three of my children are among them; we don’t know whether they are still alive or not. I don’t know their whereabouts till today.”
Also, 75-year-old Ogbuefi Augustine Okadigbo said some youths arrested in 2016 stayed in detention for 11 months. He corroborated Ogbuefi Okafor’s assertion that youths in the village were wrongfully arrested
“We are appealing to Fr. Obimma to leave the community alone and face his pulpit, which is his vocation. He should come to court to prove his false kidnap allegation against our children. He should stop intimidating his people using security operatives. He is the seventh priest we have produced in this village and none of them ever caused trouble in the community,” he said.
The representative of women, Mrs. Christian Edegwogu, as well as the wives of detained persons also appealed to the government to intervene and release their sons and husbands who have been in detention for over five months.
“Some of us who were pregnant when they were arrested have put to bed but could not see our husbands. Some had stillbirth due to the shock of the arrest. We are dying of hunger with our children. Our children cannot go back to school because our husbands are not around to provide money for school.
“We are appealing to the police authorities, the President and our governor to intervene and allow our husbands to come back home alive,” Mrs. Edegwogu said.
The youth leader of the community, Mr. Anthony Okafor, also condemned the use of operatives of the disbanded SARS in the community.
“They used SARS to arrest five of our youths in 2013, arrested five in 2016, four in 2019 and they arrested 11 in June 2020 for no just cause. They have turned our community to a war zone. Some of those in detention include Nnaemeka Edegwogu, Nduba Omodi, Charles Okadigbo, Ifeanyi Okafor, Vincent Obiozo, Andrew Okeakpu, Ogechukwu Okoye and others,” Okafor said.
However, Fr. Obimma, who spoke with our reporter, denied all the allegations levelled against him by the elders and other members in the community. He said, on the contrary, he escaped death by the whiskers when the suspected cult boys in the community attacked him because of a sermon he preached in the church.
He said the incident took place after his homily during a funeral service at St. William’s Catholic Church, Nkwelle-Ezunaka, where he fearlessly preached against the evil of cultism, which, according to him, has permeated the very fabric of the community.
His words: “In the course of my homily during the funeral mass on June 12, 2020, I vehemently preached against cultism and cult groups, terrorism and hooliganism, which was common among young men in the community. Our youths are used to forming cult groups, which they use as weapons to intimidate people and unleash terror on innocent residents of the community.
“At Nkwlle-Ezunaka, people, including elders and the elite, sleep with their two eyes open, because of cultists. Many elderly men and women in the community have been rough-handled, beaten and flogged by these hooligans,” he said.
He expressed surprise that, after his sermon in the church, some of the suspected cultists waylaid him, rough-handled him and smashed his vehicle, to the chagrin of other members of the community.
“As I was at home talking with my mother after the church service, my brother’s wife called my attention that some bad boys, popularly known as Searchlight, were outside our compound, chanting their war songs and saying that they would humiliate Fr. Ebube Mmonso. I thought it was an empty threat. But on my way out, the boys attacked me with dangerous weapons. They threw stones at me, smashed and damaged my vehicle. In the course of doing so, I had to put a call across, and, eventually, a combined team of police and army arrived and rescued me. Even when the soldiers arrived, the bad boys still brandished their weapons, so that the soldiers even threatened to shoot them. But I pleaded with them not to shoot.
“Eventually, I petitioned the police. Eleven of them were arrested. They were tried in the court of law, and, eventually, remanded in prison custody, to serve as corrective measure, and also to deter them and others from such acts. As if that was not enough, their sponsors and allies, who escaped arrest, started blackmailing me, peddling all sorts of falsehood against me on the social media. I don’t own any land in the village.
“They are doing this to intimidate me as they intimidated others; but Fr. Ebube Mmonso cannot be intimidated. I hold no malice against them. The reason they are still in the correctional facility is to discipline them, so that when they come out, they will become better and more responsible members of society. They need to be tamed, so that they will understand that hooliganism is bad. I do not pray that they stay long in prison. My aim is to tell them that what they did was wrong.
“I had wanted to release them based on people’s plea, but as you can see, they are not remorseful. Let’s see how it will end. Let them prepare for court,” Fr. Obimma observed.