Magnus Eze, Enugu
The alleged assault and battering of a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Ejike Fabian Odunze, in Nkomoro community of Ezza North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State by some youths in the area has caused tension in the community.
Fr. Ejike Odunze, Catholic Priest in charge of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Nkomoro was beaten to a pulp on Wednesday, October 7, by some youths allegedly led by one Kelechi Nwali, brother to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) youth leader in the area; Chika Nwali. This came barely one year after another Catholic priest was equally attacked in the same community. Saturday Sun gathered that the incident occurred after Father Ejike reportedly flogged and locked up the son of the councillor of Nkomoro ward, Mrs Ngozika Onele, for allegedly destroying his cassava farm. The incident had angered the brothers of the councillor who stormed the priest’s quarters demanding immediate release of the boy. But Fr. Ejike had reportedly vowed never to release the child without seeing the parents, having warned her several times in the past, against destroying his crops.
The priest’s refusal to free the boy angered his family members who went and reported the matter to the Chairman of the Parish Council. The source said: “When the Chairman of the Parish Council arrived the Father’s house, alongside Kelechi Nwali and Chika Nwali, who are the brothers to the Ward Councillor, he sought to know what happened.
“But Fr. Ejike asked him to ask the people who brought him into the matter. It was in the process that a quarrel ensued. Then, Chika Nwali insisted that the Father must release the boy to them without further delay. His outburst angered Father who ordered that he should leave his compound. But he refused.
“Chika said he would not leave without Father releasing the boy. In anger, Father brought a cane and started flogging him to leave his compound. Immediately Father used the cane on him, he collected it and broke it into pieces, before Chika and his other brothers who were around, started beating him (Father) mercilessly.”
It was further gathered that after the incident, the priest who could not bear the assault, left the community, and was currently at the Bishop’s quarters in Abakaliki, where he was also receiving treatment. Bishop of Abakaliki Diocese, Michael Nnachi Okoro and the entire Catholic community were said to be very furious over the development. When contacted on telephone, Fr. Ejike said he could not talk on the matter because of his unstable health condition then. “I’m not stable to talk to you now,” he said. Asked whether it was as a result of the attack, he said: “Allow me be for now, please,” and he hung up the phone. But one of the suspected attackers, Chika Nwali, told Saturday Sun that the priest was in the habit of tormenting and intimidating the sister’s family members. He accused the reverend father of torturing his nephew whom he said had been admitted in the Alex Ekwueme University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki for treatment. Chika further explained that the family had issue at all with the church regarding boundary but regretted that the priest was always using his position as parish priest to torment them in the area despite that it was his in-law that donated the land where his house was built.
He said: “The Father beat up and held my sister’s son over flimsy excuse of destroying his cassava. We approached him and appealed to him to release the child but he refused. The next thing he did was to go inside his room, brought out cane and started flogging me.”
It was further gathered that the police have arrested the principal suspect, Kelechi Nwali, his sister and Councillor of Nkomoro ward, Mrs. Onele, and another girl living with her. They were being detained at Onueke police station in Ezza South Local Government Area. Chika in a telephone interview told our correspondent that he took the nephew to the police station on Thursday, where his statement was taken.
Saturday Sun learnt that the development has caused serious anxiety and tension in the community which prompted the traditional ruler and other leaders of the community to convene an emergency meeting Friday morning, to ensure the immediate settlement of the dispute.