——petitions Pope Francis over threat to life by Catholic Church in Anambra
—-Pope I am dying in sorrow— Woman cries out
—22 workers arrested
——-Catholic Church frowns that her daughter is dumping her Catholic for Pentecostal
From Odogwu Emeka Odogwu, Onitsha
Is old age today a crime? Can one’s favourable dispositions to humanity kill her? That was the words on the lips of a 92 year old Madam Juliana Onuorah, the proprietor of Our Lady’s Industrial Centre, Nkpor in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State.
Mama Onuorah made money in billions and opened several businesses in a very large expanse of land that is a village of its own in Nkpor. She became popular because of her bread industry known as Our Lady’s bread even when she has chains of businesses in Anambra and abroad.
She is one woman uncomparable to any man in terms of landed property in Anambra as she has acquired land when people were still blind on the import of land. She didn’t just buy lands but utilized it wisely in creating business that at a time over 5,000 people work in her Nkpor Industrial center. In that compound there is school Nursery to Secondary, poultry, fish pond, domestic science centre, piggry, rabbit farm, bread bakery, Orphanage, Widows center among others.
Mama is old now but majority of her businesses are still on but like while she was in her prime. She has only one daughter and her husband died few years back. She is from Agulu , Anaocha local government area and her late husband too was from Agulu, Governor Peter Obi’s community. Prof Dora Akunyili is from there too among other prominent Nigerians.
The community ruled the state if not the zone and the country at large in bakery and bakery materials until recently but the old woman is in pains and could not help crying. She has petitioned the Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis and the Council of Bishops to intervene before she dies like a fowl rather than a hero. All her plea to the Archbishop of Onitsha by proxy and by her counsels as she cannot move about again fell on deaf ears. Even when the Bishop visited the compound on Friday after the incident, he could not come and see her but left.
She appealed to them to ask the catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha to hands off her multi billion property in Nkpor and stop from further destruction of the said property. She sent a strong worded petition to the Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Madam Onuorah said her life is in danger and needed only the intervention of the Pontiff for the Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha , Most Reverend Valerian Okeke to order his priests to stop bullying and harassing her and her daughter and destroying her property as well as arresting her workers.
She cried out to Pope Francis and conference of Catholic Bishops to stop the unjust persecution of Onuorah family by the Catholic Church in Onitsha as their plans were not far from to frustrate her to die untimely.
She further appealed to the Inspector General of police to ensure his men are not used to cause high blood pressure and heart attack for her as her wealth used for charity and philanthropy should not kill her.
She alleged serious threat of life by the catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha over a church she single handedly built and dedicated for worship in her multi billion naira estate to the archdiocese of Onitsha.
Mama’s agony stemmed from the fact that she built the Church to enable thousands of her workers going outside the compound searching for a worship place to worship with easy but today it has turned to hunt her wondering whether priests are seeking for wealth and fighting for God unjustly rather than searching for souls and working to liberate the oppressed, rather than being the oppressor.
Madam Juliana who sobs uncontrollably disclosed to this reporter that her life is now in danger over her own property wondering why the leadership of the church should allow the matter escalate to this point.
“I built this place because I am in good term with the priests and bishops. How can I instigate my workers to set my property ablaze and it is even a taboo to burn a church. I don’t know why the church is fighting me over my property. I built the church in fulfillment of my promise to God. I never know that my magnanimity will turn against me. They arrested some of my workers, closed my bakery and the Catholic Church have been chasing my only daughter around, pulled down my perimeter fencing and threatening to also burn me alive here. Let God reward all of us accordingly. I leant that my Archbishop came here yesterday but he never visited me and the priests are right here under my nose but they have never come here. My son, I am gradually dying in sorrow.
“And for this, let me state clearly that the church is for worship of God, they should come and worship God and go but leave my property alone. I am not interested in the proceeds they get. I even give the little I have to support the work of God but what I cannot tolerate is fighting me with my own sweat and that is why I am calling on the world, the government, activists to hear my cry. I don’t have anything to fight the church and I don’t want anything to happen to my only daughter. The Inspector General of Police , the President , Senate President , Speaker of House of Representatives and our father Pope Francis as well as Council of Bishops in Nigeria should intervene and let me not die in sorrow having accomplished myself in many aspects of human endeavour,” she emphasized.
Saturday Nation recalls that Madam Juliana in 1985 built Our Lady’s Catholic Church Nkpor, which was dedicated by the then Archdiocesan Bishop, Cardinal Francis Arinze in thanksgiving and fulfillment of her promise to God that she will build a befitting Basilica to God if she comes back to Nigeria alive from Western Germany where she went for medical treatment. On arrival to Nigeria, Cardinal Arinze laid a foundation stone for the church and one storey building was also erected for priests that will superintend the church for worship by her thousands of workers numbering over 5,000 as at that period.
The landlady of the church has only one female surviving child, lady Patricia Onuorah who is now into hiding for fear of being killed ,arrested or molested by the security as the Catholic church have been allegedly after them because of the massive land worth over N10 Billion excluding structures . The Catholic Church has for sometimes now allegedly laying claims over the ownership of the land/church.
The alarm was sequel to fire out break in the premises that gulfed the Parish priests house. The priest alleged that security officials of the massive compound were responsible, an allegation they have since denied pointing out that electrical surge/fault may have been responsible.
The Resident priest in the building, Rev Fr. Ben Oguejiofor was said to be inside the house as at that time of the fire incident while the Parish Priest, Rev. Fr. Martin Onukwuba was in the church celebrating mass.
The two priests fingered the security operatives in the industrial centre, an incident that led to arrest and detention of over 22 workers of Our Lady’s bread bakery within the compound by the Nigerian police from Ogidi Police Division. The Catholic youths of the parish in anger for attempting to burn their priests alive also invaded the industrial centre destroying some items and pulling down some perimeter fence. The property destroyed is worth over N100 Million including Electronic Moller machine, fridge and doors as well as already baked bread for distribution. The workers deserted the company for three days causing more damages to the factory.
On her part, the daughter of the old widow, Lady Patricia Onuorah who spoke to our reporter on phone from where she is hiding, expressed disappointment on the church for oppressing the old widow which she said is a ploy to get at her.
Her words: I am disappointed that a catholic bishop will be there to oppress a widow. There is nothing he has not done to deal with us. He closed our orphanage home that was housing over 300 orphans and also closed our widow’s programme. They have publicly announced in the church that they either take the church built by my mother or it will not be and they were doing all that because my father is not alive.
“So, the best option for them now is to leave as we have examined them and found out that they have no conscience, no fear of God and also violence. The church was built to win souls for God and not to win wealth. They alleged that I am no longer a catholic and wants to give the place to Pentecostal church. Well, only God Knows but I challenge them to mention the church I attend now if not catholic. They said am not a parishioner and should stay away and even filed an ex-parte order in court against my mother’s property. They have also attempted selling our properties at the estate.
“The latest is the arrest of 22 workers in our bread bakery and chasing them away from the workers quarters and threatening to kill them if they don’t leave the factory. Will they create job for them if they leave? They were just doing all these to frustrate my mother to death and get at me. We have donated churches in other places but they are interested here because they want to take over the factories we have in this estate. Here, we have, school (Nursery to Secondary), we have poultry, fish pond, domestic science centre, piggry, rabbit farm, bread bakery among others. These things are what they are after because my mother has no male issue.
She blamed the fire disaster at the priests house to electrical fault thus, “It could be electrical fault or any other thing. This is hammathan season when anything can happen in terms of fire disaster”.
However , an eye witness and a site Engineer from Benin, Engr. Alex Wilcox who escaped death from the catholic youths from Our Lady’s parish narrates his ordeal thus;
“I was in the site where we were constructing the spectator’s gallery and the school field when the mob came with machetes and other dangerous weapons. They whipped my workers and injured some of us. They latter took us to the father’s house where they threatened to burn us alive accusing us of burning the Reverend father’s house. They tortured us severely and latter allowed us to go on the order of the bishop”.
On her part, the manager of the bread bakery, Mrs Paulina Obidiaso threw emotions to the winds and wept uncontrollably while recounting their encounter in the hands of the police who they said, beat them to stupor.
She said ,“As we were working that morning, police came from Ogidi division and arrested us. They beat us mercilessly and latter took us to father’s House asking us why we burnt Father’s House which we know nothing about. But, before that, they broke all our doors looking for our security men and other workers. They even spoilt one of our machines. The worst torture was throwing tear gas canister on our mouths including women.
‘’At the priest’s house, we were asked to kneel down including some parents that were about 50 and 60 year’s above. They later took us to Ogidi Police station and from there to CID Awka. At night on the same day, we were transferred to Neni police Station where we saw hell. We were denied of food for 2 days before our bail out. They confiscated our phones, our money and motorcycle but they later released other things except the motor-cycles”.
Other workers including the senior driver in the company, Mr Andrew Onwuasoanya, the machine operator, Mr. Emeka Osafini confirmed what the manager of the bakery said and even shared more unpalatable experiences they had in the hand of the police and the catholic youths and regretted why the Bishop of Onitsha Catholic Archdiocese should allow such to happen to their benefactor. They confirmed the old woman had spent fortunes on the church and priests in the state without looking for reward as nobody remembers her during Mothering Sundays rather she still spends. They wondered why the priests are acting strangely wondering if they were acting a script by the Bishop or somebody superior since there is freedom of religion in the country.
But the parish priest of the church, Rev Father Martin Onukwuba agreed that the church was built by Madam Onuorah and given to them for worship alleging that their landlady’s daughter, Patricia Onuorah dumped Catholic church to Pentecostal church and wants to take over the church and give to Pentecostal church.
When contacted, the Police Public Relation Officer (PPRO) in Anambra State Mr Emeka Chukwuemeka said he has not been briefed on the matter and will not comment on the matter while the Spokesperson of the Onitsha Archdiocese, Rev Father Pius Ukoh did not pick his calls nor respond to the text message sent to his mobile phone by this reporter
Speaking on the legal implication of this matter, an Nnewi based lawyer from Oseloka and Osigwe Chambers, Barr Sam Anozie said that somebody who gives a gift can as well, take it back.
“Somebody that gives a gift can as well take it back either by deed or by parole. It is evidently that the church is a gift to the church which is for enhancement of God’s kingdom. But from what is going on now, it seems the church is more interested in the estate than the church work and hoodlums took the advantage of those things and burnt down the Father’s house so that both parties can lay counter claims”
But in a further reaction when the incident occurred , the Parish Priest of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, Nkpor in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State, near Onitsha, Rev. Fr. Martin Onukwuba and another priest-in-residence, Rev. Fr. Ben Oguejieofor, alleged that he escaped death by whiskers on 17th December morning when some suspected arsonists invaded the church premises and set the priests’ house ablaze.
It was alleged that the incident occurred while Fr. Onukwuba was celebrating a morning mass inside the main church building, while Fr. Oguejiofor was in the fathers’ house.
The Nation investigation showed it could not be confirmed the arsonists were but the police at Ogidi Division on the alleged prompting of the priests have arrested no fewer than 12 suspects, including some workers at Our Lady’s Bread Bakery and Industrial Centre within the compound.
Frs. Onukwuba and Oguejiofor had confirmed to newsmen at the scene that when they noticed unusual movements within the church compound, they scaled the fence and jumped into neighbouring compound in order not to be burnt alive. But that however contradicted investigation reports that said one was in the church and he other at the razed building.
They also confirmed that the attackers, who they suspected to be security operatives guarding the compound, started their operation in the early hours, shooting sporadically in the air and into the two-storey building where the Reverend Fathers reside.
According to them, when the attack became too hot for them, they escaped by jumping through the fence into an adjacent compound.
They further confirmed that although there were some gun shots, Tuesday night, around the area, the main attack came in the early hours of Wednesday.
Specifically, Fr. Onukwuba disclosed that the Ogidi High Court had earlier issued an order that the blockages mounted by the security officers inside the Our Lady’s Industrial Centre to block vehicular movements to the priests’ residence be dismantled, an order which he said did not go down well with the security men.
Onukwuba further alleged that when the attackers could not get him or the resident priest, they set the two-storey building ablaze and also burnt the boy’s quarters.
The Parish priest, however, said those arrested by the police were just members of staff of Our Lady’s Industrial Centre and bakery as the security guards who attacked them were on the run. He insisted that those who were arrested had nothing to do with the arson and may probably know next to nothing about it.
The counsel to the church, C. J. Asiegbu also told newsmen that he was seriously suspecting the security operatives in the compound who are in the employ of the land lady who he said was in court with the church, prior to the incident.
Several calls to the phone number of the Archbishop Valerian Okeke was not answered after attempts to the spokesperson Fr Pius Ukoh failed even as efforts to speak to the Bishop during his visit failed too.
The Divisional Police Officer at Ogidi, Mr. Yusuf Abdul who confirmed the incident, but said he had deployed some policemen to the church premises to affect more arrests.
But rather than police making more arrests, the Men of Discipline and Order of the Church invaded the Bakery molesting and beating up aged factory workers and haranguing them out of their rooms.
They allegedly did that thrice even whisking away some three members of the staff before the police were invited to rescue them but the police allegedly only asked them to release those they detained and only advised them not to take laws into their hands.
But they continued beating them when the police left as testified by a lawyer who came suddenly to the factory premises and warmed them sternly over the overzealousness they are exhibiting in a case they know little to nothing about. They have reported to the Criminal Investigative department Awka. Utterances from the youths and members of the church was indicative that if something urgent is not done the woman may not wake up one morning as life may have sniffed off her by her traducers.