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Widespread angst and condemnation have greeted the gruesome murder of Reverend Father Paul Offu, the Catholic priest of St. James the Greater Parish, Ugbawka, area of Enugu state by suspected herdsmen.

Orient Daily checks revealed that since the Catholic Diocese of Enugu broke the news of the killing of the clergyman along the Ihe-Agbudu Road in Awgu local government area of the state on August 1, condemnations have poured in from all quarters.

Although, the state police command, has confirmed the murder of Fr Offu in a statement issued through its public relations officer, SP Ebere Amaraizu, it insisted that it was wrong to ascribe the killing to herdsmen as the identity of the gunmen was yet unknown.

“We are on top of the matter and everything is being done to unravel the circumstances surrounding the incident that claimed the life of the priest,” Amaraizu said.

Rev. Fr. Paul Offu
Rev. Fr. Paul Offu

The inspector general of police, Mohammed Adamu, also over the weekend, ordered massive manhunt for the killers of the priest as crack detectives from the IGP-Intelligence Response Unit (IRT), the Forensic and Homicide sections of the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) were deployed to Enugu state.

Force public relations officer, DCP Frank Mba, who made the disclosure in a statement, added that the AIG in charge of Zone 9 Headquarters had been directed to mobilise more units of Police Mobile Force (PMF) personnel to black spots in Enugu state.

President Muhammadu Buhari, in his official reaction, expressed shock and dismay over the killing of the priest and ordered thorough manhunt for the killers and their immediate prosecution.

Buhari, in a statement signed by his senior special assistance on media and publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said he was disturbed by the killing of the priest and condoled with the Catholic Church over the loss.

Ohanaeze demands action:

Ohanaeze Ndigbo has called for immediate arrest and disarming of Fulani herdsmen in the South East region to forestall further violence and killing of unarmed citizens. President General of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, who made the demand while reacting to the death of the priest, warned that Ndigbo would no longer tolerate such heinous act.

He said that “We’re all very angry and flustered; this is not the first time. Militant Fulani herdsmen went to a church in session in Benue state and attacked the church, killed two priests there and all the members of the choir. They took over their uniforms, wore them and danced hilariously in jubilation of their dastardly act. They were photographed and the video went viral in Nigeria.

“The faces of the herdsmen in the video were not hidden but not one person was arrested. This is about the third priest murdered in Enugu state. I know about three that were kidnapped and released after payment of ransom.

“I’ve said it today that if the FG does not arrest Miyetti Allah people, disarm them and stop them from the licentiousness they have encouraged them to enjoy, we’ll begin to retaliate because self-defence is a legal and legitimate instrument of law. We’ll never accept this again.”

Nwodo equally rejected moves by the Buhari-led federal government to set up Ruga settlements in parts of the country, saying it was against the people’s wish. “We’re called a federation but what we practice, in practical terms, is unitary system of government where a president will be in Abuja and tell us we must give up our land for some foreigners that have so many similarities with him without minding how the owners of the land will feel. That will be over, our dead bodies,” he hollered.

Similarly, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council Worldwide (OYC) condemned the death of the priest and urged the federal government to take more proactive measures to protect citizens, especially Christians in the country.

OYC, in a statement signed by its president general, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, raised alarm over what it called “ongoing deliberate plans with evil intention to unleash terrorism on church leaders in the Southern Nigeria.”

The group, however, warned that “if care is not taken, with urgent steps to halt this ugly trend, youths might revolt, along religious and ethnic lines; there’s need to beef up security around the churches nationwide.

The statement read in parts: “The murder of the priest is a calculated but provocative action with evil intent, aimed at stopping the proposed establishment of Forest Guards and Community Neighbourhood Watch proposed by the South East governors.

“With the rising tension in the Southern Nigeria, especially in the South East, over the killing of Clergymen and Religious leaders of Igbo stock, it’s high time we flushed out all the remnants of killer herdsmen hiding in all the forestry reserve areas across the 95 local government areas of South East.

“This is a clarion call for Igbo Youths, all Biafra agitators, and Neighbourhood Watch groups, to volunteer and do the needful across the bushes and forests in search of the killer herdsmen in the South East, in a bid to flush them out.

“We equally call for the unconditional release of (the) abducted five ministers of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, along the Ijebu Ode axis on their way to attend the church’s ministers conference in Lagos. We insist that their fellow pastor, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President, should use his office to negotiate for the release of the kidnapped pastors.”

MACABAN challenges FG to secure the country

Meanwhile, the Miyetti-Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) has dissociated its members from the killing of Fr Paul Offu. Chairman of MACBAN in Southeast, Alhaji  Giddado Siddiki, who gave the clarification in his condolence message on Saturday, also described the murder of the priest as a most dastard act by criminals who care less about the value of human life.

“It is painful that the security apparatuses of the government have not been able to contain the excesses of these men of the underworld who have continued to diminish the value of life in our society,” Siddik said.

The cattle breeders also urged federal government to rise to the challenge of providing adequate security for Nigerian citizens.

“We maintain that crime, in whatever form of its perpetration, is anti-society. Criminals of any guise cause pains to society and should therefore be properly identified and made to face the full wrath of the law. While we mourn the sudden departure of Father Offu, we are very hopeful that this occasion will agitate the government sufficiently to respond to the challenge of criminality among us,” the group said.

Enugu Government, others react:

The Enugu state government described the killing of Fr. Offu as a sad reminder of worsening security situation in the entire country. A statement signed by the secretary to the state government, Prof. Simon Ortuanya, said the state government had summoned a crucial meeting of all local vigilante and Neigbourhood Watch groups with the governor on August 5 at 1pm. The government also notified the public of air surveillance by the Nigerian Air Force along Ihe –Agbudu axis, Awgu, Aninri, Nkanu East local government areas and their environs and enjoined citizens not to panic in the course of the exercise.

However, at the end of a security council meeting summoned by Governor Ifeanyi  Ugwuanyi, which was also attended by religious leaders in the state, far-reaching decisions were taken. Apart from heads of security agencies, Archbishop Emmanuel  Chukwuma of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province (Anglican Communion), representative of the Catholic Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Rev. Fr. Dr. Nnamdi Nwankwo, among others, were present.

Briefing journalists on the outcome of the meeting, the state commissioner of police, Suleiman Balarabe, stated that they “condemned in totality the dastardly act and we all prayed that his soul rest in peace”, adding that the governor mandated the security agencies to fish out the perpetrators of the heinous act.

Balarabe disclosed that the state government resolved to have air surveillance in all the flashpoints, stressing that the exercise would commence today, Monday, August 5.

The police commissioner added that the meeting resolved that the security architecture of the affected areas would be reviewed with immediate effect. He said that the meeting observed, with deep concern, the proliferation of dangerous arms in the state, stating that those in possession of illegal weapons had been given three days to submit them to the police after which “anybody found with illegal weapons will be dealt with in accordance with the law”.

Meanwhile, the Catholic bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, has urged the government of Enugu state to take proactive measures to ensure the immediate arrest of the perpetrators of the dastardly act. “What we are witnessing today is simply a coordinated attack against certain individuals and groups. This senseless killing of innocent Nigerians is becoming a daily occurrence. Why can’t our government put a stop to these killings here and there? Enugu government should not allow this matter to be swept under the carpet,” Bishop Ezeokafor stressed.

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