Fr. Anthony Aneke, Njideka Eze & Chikezie Ogbonna
The rise in insecurity in Enugu State and the country in general has become a source of concern in many quarters. With the recent kidnappings and unwarranted attacks on Priests in Enugu and other states, The Choice Flame Newspaper led by her Editor In Chief, Rev. Fr. Anthony Aneke had a conversation with His Lordship, Most Rev. CVC Onaga. His Lordship in this exclusive interview spoke extensively on the issue of rising insecurity in the state and how it could be effectively nipped on the bud.
The Choice Flame: My Lord, crime is on the increase in Enugu State and its environs, what do you think might be the cause?
Bishop Onaga: I find the recent happenings really extraordinary.
In 2010 we were battling with Bokoharam and other forms of insurgency. We can say they were restricted to some particular places, in North East, Middle Belt etc. But then, since 2015 it spread to other parts of the country. The Catholic Bishop of Ida Diocese once ran into our house from where he visited someone in Kaba with his bullet ridden car. Up untill today, we still have Priests who got missing and have not been found. We don’t know where they are. We may say that the priests are few, what of lay people who fall victims every now and then to Kidnappers, armed Robbers and other vices.
The issue of herdsmen which was previously prevalent in the Middle Belt has degenerated into a national issue. We have the case that happened in Attakwu in 2017 where a young seminarian was cut down in the prime of his life by these herdsmen. Herdsmen now come to people’s farms, not even in the real farmlands or farm settlements but in gardens, and around people’s houses to graze, to eat their cassava or maize planted.
One of our priests working around Nike once came and showed me a picture of herdsmen getting into his farm. He confronted the man and the man said ‘you can’t do me anything; he recorded it and brought to me. These things continued to increase and you begin to wonder if it is the same Nigeria we used to know before, where people were coexisting. As a small child, I used to know these Fulani herdsmen as friendly people. Then, they used to bring in their cows when they get weak and ask people around to buy them. So what could have led to this kind of violence and this kind of distrust that is existing among Nigerians.
It is really a concern for everybody. So many people might misunderstand me, but the issue is, one has to really call a spade a spade. Time has come for us to really tell the truth. Even when you identify a particular terrain or route where these hoodlums operate, it’s not a guarantee that the security operatives will do something about their menace. You get excuses of not having what it takes to combat their menace, so one wonders if it is an attempt to cover the truth. You know in life, the moment you begin to cover the truth or become too diplomatic, you can never progress. This is because you will not confront problems squarely. This is exactly what is happening to us, everybody is trying to play to the gallery. They will tell you, ‘don’t try to heat up the polity, don’t create panic. One needs to know the truth and those in Government should also know that people are aware that things are not going right.
Unfortunately, People are just keeping quiet and are watching. Since 2014, one or two priests from this Diocese have experienced abduction .But the last one was the climax and the last straw that really broke the camels back. How would somebody go to a priest’s house, wait for the priest to come out and take him. Probably as you are about taking him, he wanted to escape; you shoot him on the leg and still carried him. I was so uneasy when I heard the whole narration; my premonition told me that my priest was in great danger.
I was uneasy all through, because of the way it happened; I felt it was an assassination attempt. How many kidnapping cases would happen in somebody’s homes? Just a few of them!
Yes, we’ve had cases of Priests being robbed in their Parishes. But they’re just being robbed and left to go their way and on rare cases too, because our society still respect Priests, especially the Catholic Priests. During the first election that didn’t hold, one of our Monsignor who left very early to where he registered to vote was stopped along the express going out to Ugwu Onyeama. They were young men who just covered their faces, he saw cars standing and at first, he thought the Policemen were on check only to discover that they were robbers. One of them jumped into the Monsignors vehicle and told him to move.
Along the way, the young man who jumped into his car saw him wearing soutane and asked him in Igbo ‘Ibu Father’ (are you a Priest). The priest said yes and at that point he asked him to stop and he left. These were armed robbers picking people on the road, just this February. This is to tell you they still respect priests.
At Abuja, during our meeting, the Bishop of Nsukka Diocese had asked us to pray for the release of his priest that was abducted; the very day his Priest was released, our own was picked. So, that is why we must confront this very problem squarely. We have to tell ourselves the truth. Yes, unemployment is there, young men are not employed, but each time I talk to the young people, I will always say, if things are difficult they are not just difficult for you, but for every body.
It will be unfair to just go and sniff out somebody’s life just because you think you can collect his things and you have the guns. I was looking at one of this video clips on social media where one of these hoodlums was being interviewed. He was asked where he shot the Brazilian and he said in the heart. A Brazilian, an engineer who came out to do construction work here to give you good road, you kidnapped to collect 2 million naira, then you shot him?
When you look at these boys sniffing lives out of people and how haggard they look, it points to the fact that even with the 2million, he couldn’t take care of himself? So you see, it’s like allowing the little bad eggs in our society to take over the whole society, No! Something has to be done and everybody has to be involved.
We are really not pointing fingers at the sitting Governors or sitting President, but they are the Chief Security Officers. I’ll always call them. When you come to Enugu Dioceses and something is going wrong in the Catholic Church, you will come to me naturally.
I cannot totally extricate myself and say it doesn’t concern me; it concerns me because I call the shots. They are doing their best, but they need to do more. My take is simple; let us do the little we can do, everybody including traditional rulers. I tell the Igwes that it’s not about collecting money from the Government but they need to protect the people under them. They owe them that
And now I feel as a church leader that I have to do something to protect the flock under me. It’s becoming unbearable that you have to watch your own children die ordinarily.
So I say, it’s a national issue because if you go to Lagos you’re not safe, go to Cross River, you’re not safe, go to the North you’re exposed to all kinds of danger. I want to remind our fellow Nigerians that until 2009 the northern part of this country had always been considered the most peaceful. You can travels early as 5am in the morning, I did it. As a very young Priest, I left Idah to Enugu by 4:30am and nothing happened to me
Well we may blame external factors. But I ask why we have left external factors to infiltrate the unity and peace of this country. And worst still we are politicising our own life. This is the worst scenario anybody can get, when people don’t realize that you don’t politic with Life. In politics, we protect life, we do not use life to do politics, but that is what is happening, we don’t have values. There are priorities and values even in ordinary life. Life comes first in the order of priority, but here, life does not mean anything again.
We have sacrificed the importance and value of life on the altar of materialism, so we have to pray.
The Choice Flame: can we say there is a sudden interest in kidnapping of Priests and Religious?
Bishop Onaga: No, I wouldn’t say that. With the exception of Late Father Clements case, most of these kidnappings of priests were carried out not in their houses but on the road.
So, I wouldn’t say that Priests are the target as such. With the nature of their apostolate, the Priests are always on the go, whether it is a safe area or not. Actually they work in remote and dangerous areas. I wouldn’t think that most of these people don’t respect Priests, they do.
Most of these criminals, even when they come to your house, they take few things and run away because they know, there’s nemesis. Ordinarily, there are nemeses and repercussions for crimes and not to talk of someone that is consecrated like Priests.
Let us forget every joke, a priest is consecrated. I am not trying to even quote the bible now, but I’m talking ordinarily. Any person who is tampering with this group of people who have dedicated their lives to Christ, no matter how imperfect you think they are, would actually know the person is stepping on a very dangerous ground and I know some of these rough boys know that.
Even with what have happened, things are happening to show that the perpetrators would be found in no distant time.
The Choice Flame: How did the security agents respond to the call to late Fr. Ugwu’s case and what is your reaction to the actions taken by the security team in respect to their response?
Bishop Onaga: It is a plain truth, how can you say that you have checked the places, only for Fr. Clement to be found a few meters away
The only group that searched the areas was the ones organized by the Local Government Chairman. The place where Father Clement was found happened to be just at the boundary and probably these hoodlums having seen that he was dead, dropped him so callously away from the main road.
I understand the DPO came to check. But you came at night to check what happened, how he was kidnapped. The normal thing would have been to comb the areas and with arms. If people are going without arms and they are going to face those with arms, usually they will be scared.
If they had brought about 20 Policemen to comb the area, they would have found Father. They say we shouldn’t blame them, but I’ll blame them. If, as a priest I have my duty to take care of a particular group, I’ll do everything to do it well. They are always excusing themselves, they don’t have equipment, car etc. The young boys who eventually started combing the areas had neither equipment nor vehicles. I would like to know how many police men we have in this state; they will not be anything less than 1000. I don’t know how they divide them, so why wouldn’t a police division have up to 50 Policemen working there? I would doubt if they don’t, if they don’t have it, then it’s a pity. I think they are trained for this, that’s why they get annoyed that people are calling them and saying they are not doing things they are supposed to do correctly.
If they had done the least they could do, Father Clement would have been found in a better state of being. We met a very awkward corpse. Father was taken; he was shot on the legs. Despite that, they took his ATM card and were using it to withdraw money. Worst of it was that they were using his phone to make calls and demand for ransom; ransom on a dead man? But the whole issue is very clear. Even if we live in a primitive society, people would have used their initiatives to discover what happened. Somebody was making withdrawal with a dead man’s ATM card, nothing was recorded, and nothing was seemingly done. If it’s in any other clime, they would have really nipped the whole thing in the bud, but they didn’t do it, everybody felt so complacent. What we need is the will to work, to impact on the society. Things have really gone bad; the Police have not always been this bad.
I remember in the 80s as a young Priest working in St. Joseph, Emene, my car was snatched at Owo. We had gone to rescue a car that got spoilt around that area not knowing that it was armed robbers that shot the tyres.
On getting there, we didn’t know the robbers had laid ambush. Once we finished and kick started the car they jumped out of the bush again and took my car
We went back, called the police at Emene and by morning they discovered this car. They took us with them in the vehicle and you’ll see them combing. I had to stay in the Police’s Station Wagon. You will see these young gallant Policemen jumping into the bush in the night. It was just as they were driving out to the main road that they saw something under the moon and it was the car.
So, formerly Policemen were working, they were people who saw it as a profession and were interested in it. But unfortunately like many other things happening in the society now, money is the only thing that interests them. That time they didn’t tell us; give us money to buy fuel or give us car. What the DPO did was to call all the pilot vehicles in most of the divisions in EMENE and environ and they all moved towards that area, that night. Some people of course say it up on till today, ‘‘when they want to do their work they do it well’’.
The Choice Flame: You were quoted to have raised concern of criminals immigrating to Enugu from Anambra, what do you think should be done to arrest the Situation?
Bishop Onaga: It means that our own security agencies need to step up their actions. There was a time people where coming from Anambra to take shelter here in Enugu, to spend their holidays here. So what I’m saying is that whatever thing they did or they are doing to contain criminality there could be borrowed.
People borrow technology, borrow ideas. I don’t see anything wrong going to borrow whatever they are doing. It may not be totally true they are migrating, but i was just trying to tell our people and everybody that the kind of criminality we are having now is a little bit out of hand.