Who killed Rev. Fr. Francis Chidiebele Okoye, a Catholic priest attached to St Mary’s Catholic Church, in Afikpo, Ebonyi State? And why was he killed?
These are some of the questions agitating the minds of the parishioners and general public, even as the anniversary of the gruesome murder of the priest holds on July 31.
Fr. Okoye was slaughtered like a sacrificial lamb in the premises of the Church on July 31, 2006. The priest, who hailed from Enugwu Ukwu, in Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State and shared an apartment within the Church premises with a fellow priest, was dragged out of his bedroom by his assailants, who took him to the back of the building and slashed his throat.
A source said he was decapitated. “It was a shocking act of violence. It was a gory sight. There was no doubt that Father Chidiebele’s attackers came with the intention of killing him outright. They butchered an innocent man like an animal. He was almost beheaded. This is the height of wickedness and man’s inhumanity to man,” one of the members of the church stated.
Seven years after, the killers are still walking free, as no arrest had been made in respect of the crime. It was gathered that Fr. Okoye’s murder might not be unconnected with his profound preaching against cultism, political thuggery and corrupt practices, among other social ills.
“He was a thorn in the flesh of evil people in Afikpo. On and off the pulpit, he preached against the unhealthy moral temperature of society. Some politicians, in particular, were unsettled by his ways because he warned them against encouraging young people to be cultists and political thugs. Perhaps, that was why they silenced him permanently,” a parishioner, who simply identified herself as Ugochi said.
It was further gathered that as torrents of tears flowed across the community that day, a heavy downpour washed away the blood of the slain priest. It was one of the heaviest rains ever witnessed in the community.
It was gathered that at the time Father Okoye was being attacked, his neighbour was in the next room. While the former was shouting for help, the later was allegedly praying.
In an exclusive chat in his residence, Mr. Francis Ibe Inyanwachi, head master of St. Mary’s Nursery/Primary School, Afikpo, disclosed that when the reverend father was asked what he did when his colleague was being attacked, he said that he was praying.
“The priest said that he was praying when Father Chidiebele was shouting and calling on him. He said that he knelt down to pray. That was what he told us. Since I was not there, I don’t know what happened but I know that they killed him behind the house because we saw the blood on the ground in the morning,” he said.
Offering insight on the barbarous treatment meted on the priest, Mr. Inyanwachi, who described the deceased as a family friend, said: “After Reverend Father Chidiebele’s ordination, he was posted to Afikpo as assistant priest, to come and help another reverend father. I think normally after one year, they (assistant priests) are usually posted out. So, when his mates were posted out, he was so good I think the reverend father asked the bishop that he (Father Chidiebele) should continue.”
“He was so outspoken that he condemned everything that was bad or evil. I think that day he was killed, he had gone from house to house, cautioning some group of students whom I learnt were cultists. He was trying to tell them to come back, that cultism was not good. They said when he came back, he did not even eat. Then he went to Mgbom (a neighbouring village), where one of them asked him to preach to him. Thereafter, he returned to his apartment at the church. I suspect that his attackers were cultists, who didn’t want their members to be retrieved from cultism.”
Inyanwachi, whose son is also a Catholic priest, added: “The room of the other reverend father was before his own room. I don’t know how they managed to know his room. They came into his room and brought him out from where he was sleeping. He was shouting: Father! Father!! Father!!! They brought him out and cut his throat or so. I think he died while they were rushing him to the hospital.
“That day, I didn’t initially know what happened; it was my daughter who went to Mass at St Patrick’s (at Ndibe) that informed me. They said the Catechist announced that armed robbers attacked Father Chidiebele and that they should be praying for him. On her way to the hospital, she heard that he had died. So, when I was coming back from Mass at St. Patrick’s, I saw the girl, crying. I asked what was wrong and she said they had killed Father Chidiebele. That was all. He was a young man.
“On the day his corpse was buried, it was brought here before being taken to his home town. It was announced that his people said they would retaliate on anybody, coming from Afikpo. I insisted that I must go. It was only the priest, my daughter and I that went there. We had to stay with the family. There were seats kept for the people of Afikpo in the Church but I alone couldn’t have gone to sit there. I went and consoled the mother. In fact, his mother was sitting in the front row and I went and touched her. After the Mass, we took his remains to St. Theresa’s Cathedral, Abakaliki, where he was buried. I’ve gone several times to see his family. He was very fond of coming to my house but he was a priest for the whole parish. He was a special friend of this house.”
Effort to speak with the reverened father, who occupied an apartment next to the late Fr. Chidiebele’s the day he was killed, proved abortive. Our reporter called him several times on telephone but he refused to speak on the matter.
Police sources, which craved anonymity confirmed the incident but said no arrest had been made since it happened on July 31, 2006.
“You know, it is a murder case; so, it remains open. We are still working on it,” said the source at the Ebonyi State Police Command, Abakaliki.