Five years ago, aides of serving Governor Chief Ikedi Ohakim, molested a priest in an action that enraged the whole state and manifested itself at the polls. Last Wednesday, March 11, supporters of Governor Rochas Okorocha did dramatically worse at the Assumpta Cathedral, disrupting a political forum organized by the church’s Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) at Obiri Odenigbo, Maria Assumpta Cathedral Owerri.
Unashamedly led by known public figures and top Government officers such as Secretary to the Imo-State Government – Prof Tony Anwuka, who is also the Governor’s in-law, Chief of Staff – Mr Jude Ejiogu, Commissioner of Lands and Survey – Mr Uche Nwosu, who is also Governor Okorocha’s son-in-law, Commissioner for Information – Engr. Chidi Ibe, Commissioner for Youths and Sports – Mr. Kenneth Emelu, Commissioner for Health – Dr. Ihejirika, Senior Special Assistant on Culture – Mr Paddy Obinna, and other APC supporters and cronies invaded the event, took over the podium, broke chairs, overturned tables, unplugged equipment, smashed the lectern for the celebration of Mass and manhandled some priests.
Trouble began at 9am, just before the start of the programme, when a group of supposedly Imo widows, apparently PDP supporters, dressed in black, started blowing whistles, showing red cards and chanting ‘ka opuo’ meaning let him go, a campaign slogan against Governor Okorocha, whom the supposed widows had an altercation with recently.
Then a group of APC women wearing the Madona CWO uniform – the Orlu version- challenged the widows with their own pro APC chant- Rochas we know- escalating the situation.
Organisers intervened and silenced the women warning everyone against any attempt to use the forum for political campaigns.
Notwithstanding, top Government officials and some APC members named above were not satisfied. They surged forward, charged to the front like solders spoiling for war. They invaded the podium, seized the microphone and started scattering things. They were accusing the organizers of inviting the anti-APC groups to embarrass the governor and their party. All appeals to them to vacate the rostrum and calm their own members went on deaf ears. More and more of their members forced themselves unto the rostrum, accusing the organizers, abusing them, and being aggressive to the priests and other organizers to the point of removing and damaging the eye glasses of the moderator and attempted the same on the priest MC.
The audience fled. Men, women and children took to their heels for safety, while the destruction persisted for about one hour, with some of the so-called supporters welding knives, sticks, iron rods and axes. One of them would have hacked someone with axe, had a Civil Defence officer not intervened.
The atmosphere continued to degenerate and the arena became a space for party campaign as there were groups singing pro APC, pro PDP and pro APGA songs.
Miraculously, in spite of the charged atmosphere, there was no physical clash between the groups – God was in control. An eye witness said it was obvious the APC members in invading the rostrum, prevented the organizers from starting the public forum.
However, it was suspected that the action by APC members may have been pre-meditated One of Governor Okorocha’s men said they did not want the event to hold because they had not been comfortable with the recent statements of the chief organiser of the show, Archbishop Anthony Obinna which he said showed that the cleric was against the governor.
Director of Governor Rochas Okorocha’s campaign organization, Iheukwumere Alaribe, instead of issuing an apology accused the PDP and APGA of sponsoring the violence and inciting the hoodlums.
“We commend the church for the initiative and are ready to honour the invitation whenever it is rescheduled but we are worried that if the PDP and APGA do not refrain from politicizing the church, it may have negative effect on the faith of the worshippers…but we are not worried because we are ready for the election,” he said.
Chief Emeka Ihedioha PDP Guber candidate who arrived in the middle of the commotion also blamed his opponents. “The APC hired thugs and invaded the place because Governor Okorocha knew what awaited him if the debate had held… Few weeks ago, we had a debate organised by the Christian Association of Nigerian (CAN) at the Anglican Cathedral Church, Egbu he avoided that debate. Now he knows that this is a debate, he must either attend or he knows it’s all over. So in order to prevent the calamity that should have befallen him, he has once more, not only disrupted the programme, but of course he had no intention to be here because he should have been accountable to Imo people.” Ihedioha said.
However, APGA’s Capt Emmanuel Ihenacho condemned the action, calling it sacrilege and a show of desperation. He pleaded with the PDP and APC supporters to avoid any act capable of hitting the polity in the state.
In a press statement, the Organisers expressed disappointment at the incident and wondered how the non-partisan and interactive event, ongoing since 2007, could have suddenly turned violent.
“The interactive forum was designed to offer an opportunity to discuss on the political realities in Imo State and seek to provide a level playing field for all candidates, and for the Catholic Church to quell the rising political tension in Imo. It was expected that after the debate the Archbishop would pray for peace and the successful conduct of the elections while offering his special blessings on all the candidates,” said organizers.
“We condemn it in its entirety and call on all peace loving citizens of Imo State and members of the public who witnessed the sad development to add their voices to the condemnation of the act. This is not the way to nurture democracy because democracy cannot thrive in a climate of fear, intolerance and despotic tendencies. The hope and expectations of Imo people have been dashed but albeit, temporarily,” the press release maintained.
Archbishop Obinna expressed shock at the incident but thanked God that no life was lost.