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Returnees from South Africa including children with Archbishop Anthony Obinna during their visit

– Seek Archbishop Obinna’s intervention

About 100 returnees from South Africa to Imo State, victims of the recent xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in that country, stormed Maria Assumpta Cathedral Owerri on Tuesday Sept. 24, pleading with Most Rev. Anthony Obinna, Catholic Archbishop of Owerri to help them reach the Imo State Government for rehabilitation.

The returnees who hail from different parts of the state, comprised men, women and youths as well as tender babies.

Speaking on behalf of other members of the group, their co-ordinator, Mr.Ifeanyichukwu, a native of Nekede in the Owerri West LGA, said that they were distressed and traumatized by their tragic experiences in South Africa, as all of them had lost their properties while some even lost their lives. “We returned without a kobo,” he lamented.

He disclosed that while they were leaving Johannesburg Airport, an official of the Nigerian Consulate advised victims of the xenophobic attack that, on arrival to Nigeria, they should go to their various state governments to seek rehabilitation. He said that they believe that the House of God, the church, was the proper place to start seeking for such help and hence they chose to come to a servant of God, a loving father, Archbishop Obinna. He further disclosed that their counterparts from other states such as Lagos and Abia have started to receive the much needed assistance from their state governments.

Mr.Ifeanyichukwu said that they had come so that the prelate would bless them and like the sympathetic and loving father who he is, facilitate their audience with the state governor, who they are confident holds him in high regard. As far as they know, nobody else can help them meet the governor faster than the Archbishop, he said.

Responding, the Most Rev. Anthony Obinna, who had earlier prayed for them thanking God for their lives, explained to them that he was neither the state governor nor his office part of Government House.

He thanked God on their behalf praying for God’s blessing on Barr. Allen Onyema, the Igbo philanthropist, who provided the free aircraft that brought the returnees back to Nigeria. The Archbishop charged them not to lose hope or be downcast, recalling that during the Nigerian-Biafra crisis, millions of people suffered worse displacement. Many Igbos who were returnees from various parts of Nigeria, especially the North, also lost their lives and properties, he told them.

The Archbishop, there and then, made efforts to contact the Imo government officials on behalf of the returnees. He was informed that government had already directed a special Assistant to go to Abuja to look for Imo returnees from South Africa. He was assured that since they were in Owerri already, arrangements would begin immediately to convey them to Government House to meet Government officials.

In his remark, Rev. Fr. Dr. Gerald Njoku, the Director Justice, Development, Peace and Caritas Commission, JDPC, thanked the Archbishop for his fatherly intervention. He emphasized the need for synergy between government and church.

Fr. Njoku assured the returnees that the loss they sustained in South Africa should not make them despair, for there might yet be open to them greater opportunities at home.
Fr. Njoku had earlier told The Leader that the xenophobic attacks in South Africa had affected many businessmen, young graduates and artisans of Imo State origin, as well as turned into widows, those women whose husbands were killed there.

He disclosed that on arrival at Abuja, they were instructed to go to their various state governments for necessary assistance.

The JDPC Director stated that such experiences as this, underscore the importance of a synergy between the church, the civil society and government. “It is good that government and the church work together to uplift the people. That is why the victims themselves trust that our position as the church could be used to plead with the present governor who is good in due process, to work with us to achieve the common good.


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