Humiliation Of Rev. Fr. Okorie: Archbishop Obinna Demands Open Apology

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A new twist has opened in the unfortunate saga of the humiliation of Reverend Father Eustace Okorie by the security operatives attached to Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State. In a press release which appeared in the August 29 – September 5 edition of “The leader Newspaper” the Catholic Community of Owerri Archdiocese specifically demanded for “a public apology to the Christian community of Imo state over this incident to douse their anger” Furthermore, the release states: “In making this demand, we are not unaware of reports in some news media that His Excellency, the Governor of Imo State, Chief Sir Dr. Ikedi Ohakim has apologized to His Grace, Archbishop A.J.V. Obinna, over the incident. This gesture is not enough. It should be followed up with an official government statement as is conventional.

i All security officials involved in this despicable act shall be redeployed out of Imo state

ii The Imo state government should repair the Reverend Father's vehicle”.

The press release was dated 23rd day of August, 2010 and signed on behalf of the Catholic Community in Owerri Archdiocese by the Presidents of the sodalities (societies) in the Archdiocese.

The sodalities include the following:
1. Catholic Men's Organization (C.M.O),
2. Catholic Women Organization (C.W.O)
3. Catholic Laity Council Owerri Archdiocese
4. Catholic Youth Organization Owerri Archdiocese

5. The Knights of St. Mulumba Nigeria Owerri Archdiocese

6. Knights of St. John International Owerri Grand Commandery

“The Leader Newspaper” which was founded on August 15, 1956 is the official mouthpiece of the Owerri Catholic Archdiocese

As a result of the strict insistence on the tendering of open apology, being demanded by the Catholic faithful in the Archdiocese, the Archbishop, His Grace, A.J.V. Obinna, has also beaten a retreat from his former stance of an unconditional pardon to the Governor.

Archbishop Obinna who had earlier granted an unconditional forgiveness to the Governor Ohakim now says that the Governor and government should tender a direct and open apology to Imo people, especially, the Catholic faithfully and other Christians who felt aggrieved by the sad incident of the humiliation of Rev. Father Eustace Okorie, a Revered Father of the Catholic Church.

The Archbishop, His Grace A.J.V. Obinna, made these remarks while addressing journalists on Tuesday, 3oth August 2010. An excerpt of the Archbishop's statement reads: “The challenge remains for the Governor and his government to express directly to the Imo people especially to the Catholic faithful an other Christians an apology over this sad incident, sanction, redeploy or remove those responsible for the violent humiliation of the priest. In addition, the Governor should ensure that in the future our people whether priest or not be treated with respect and the fear of God even when the Governor's convoy is on the high way, especially on our gullied and narrow highways”

It is pertinent to recall that on 8th August 2010 Rev. Father Eustace Okorie of the Owerri Catholic Archdiocese was humiliated and harassed by security agents attached to Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State. For the benefit of those who are not conversant with the details of this sad episode, the Catholic faithful in Owerri Catholic Archdiocese had in its press release in “The Leader” Newspaper edition of August 29-September 5 given a graphic account when they reported thus:

“At about 6.00 P.M on Sunday, 8th August, 2010 a Catholic Priest, Rev. Fr. Eustace Okorie of the Owerri Catholic Archdiocese, who was returning from a Vigil Mass at Atta in Ikeduru Local Government Area of Imo State, was accused of obstructing the Governor's convoy, ordered out of his car, forced into a jeep in the Governor's entourage and driven to the Government House, Owerri, where he was handed over to the Governor's Chief Security Officer (CSO). After interrogating the clergyman, the CSO took several photographs of him before handing him over to the Director, State Security Services (SSS) in whose office he was thoroughly dehumanized. The Priest was among other insults, stripped to his pants and detained in a cell overnight without any other covering. On Monday, 9th August 2010 at about 9.00 p.m. when he was released following the Archbishop's intervention, he was directed to report back to the State Security Service office by Tuesday, 10th August 2010 morning. When he reported on that Tuesday, in obedience to the directive, he was asked to sign a prepared letter of apology to the Governor of Imo State for obstructing his entourage. On his refusal to do so, he was thrown back into the cell with a threat that he would remain there for one year, if he failed to sign the prepared letter of apology. He was later released on Wednesday morning, a day after the intervention of the Archbishop's emissary, Rev. Fr. Dr. Innocent Osuagwu, co-ordinator of Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province.

Following the front page publication of this ugly and provocative incident in the August 15-22, 2010 edition of “The Leader Newspaper”, the Imo State Christian Community and its citizens at large became aware of what happened. The matter was a subject of public discussion among the entire citizenry and the Catholic Church became an object of ridicule. This type of maltreatment has become a recurring decimal in the State under the present civilian and supposed democratic governance. The case of one Ikenna Samuelson, said to have been flogged by the Governor himself in his office, a case taken up by one barrister Festus Keyamo, a Human Rights Activist, easily comes readily to mind. As a result of the public outcry over this heinous and intolerable persecution, the Governor of Imo State, His Excellency, Chief Sir, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, on Monday the 16th of August, 2010 paid an unscheduled night visit to the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri Archdiocese, Most Dr. A.J.V. Obinna.

Amidst the uncertainties surrounding the visit, the “Newspoint Newspaper” of August 19-21, 2010 edition published on its front page a blackmail of the clergyman titled “Female Companion indicts Priest”. The purported content of the juxtaposed photographs of a Lady and the Priest can be easily likened to the aforementioned prepared letter of apology which the Priest refused to sign. As if that was not enough, the “Announcer Newspaper” of August 20-22, 2010 edition, carried a front page news item titled “The Government Washes Hands Off Detained Priest”, thus giving the impression that Government is no longer aware of the subsequent incisive and indicting publications aimed at creating a diversionary attention on the principal intolerable act of persecution and intimidation of a clergyman. Ironically, the era of Military administration in Imo State never witnessed these callous and dastardly incidents”

John I Mgbe