by Emeka Mamah & Chika Ugwunyi
ABOUT 10,000 members of the Catholic Church yesterday staged a protest in Enugu over last Thursday s death of 14 worshippers at the Government Technical College (GTC). They also protested the arrest and detention of the Vicar-General of the Church, Rev. (Prof.) Obiora Ike described it as sacrilegious and a threat to peace in the state.
A coalition of the PDP, APP, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) and the Association of Retired Civil Servants in the state has also condemned the death of the 14 worshippers, and alleged that government used poison gas on the victims.
The protesters who chanted anti-government songs accused the state government of seeking the life of Rev. Father Ejike Mbaka because of his critical views against the state. The placards which they carried read: "Father Mbaka is God sent to Enugu State and Nigeria in general, leave him alone," "No weapon fashioned against the son of God can prosper," "Fear him who can destroy both the body and soul but he who can destroy the body alone need not be feared," "Those who use blood as pure water and wash their hands in blood are evil," "No adoration no Chimaroke," "This is the beginning of the end," "This is another Abacha in Enugu State," The church should be left out of politics."
The protest lasted over two hours as anti-riot policemen patrolled major streets to avert trouble makers.
However, coalition of PDP, APP, CLO and Association of Retired Civil Servants rejected the commission set up by the state government to probe the Thursday incident and urged the Federal Government to step into the problem.
Addressing a joint news conference in Enugu, the coalition said "an accused person can not probe himself." It alleged that the commission members appointed by the government were friends of the governor who would not "write one line against him" (governor).
Former National Secretary of the PDP, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo and the former military governor of Imo State, Navy Commodore Anthony Oguguo spoke for the coalition.
They claimed that the death of 14 persons at the Rev. Father Ejike Mbaka was planned and executed by the state government, pointing out that a Peugeot 504 station wagon car brought two people who approached the gate to the Adoration Centre and fired canisters of some poisonous gas when people were leaving the centre at about 5.30 a.m. on the fateful morning.
"We have talked to those who scaled the fence in order to get out. We have talked to those who came after that incident and only saw slippers and shoes scattered at the gates and asked what happened here?
"The thing is that lots of people who came after the incident didn t even know that anything happened and those who went through the GTC gate will tell you they had a beautiful adoration, nothing happened ...
"Everybody we interviewed who went through the main gate told us that a Peugeot 504 wagon with a siren on top arrived there and one of the two occupants brought something out and fired into the air, shortly after, those who inhaled this poisonous gas started collapsing one after the other. The other thing is that in spite of the fact that morticians were invited to prepare the bodies of the victims before they were taken to the mortuary, they were decomposing very fast, indicating that they did not die naturally," they said.
Nwodo said that as a medical doctor, he knew that the bodies of the victims would not have decomposed as fast as they did if they had died naturally while Commodore Oguguo said that "having come from the armed forces, I can say that poisonous gas was used on them because I have seen people die like that and I know how they decompose very fast."
The coalition said the only way to avert trouble which was now coming in the state was for the Federal Government to step into the matter by setting up a judicial commission of enquiry "because this problem is beyond what Enugu State can handle."
Meanwhile, the six-member commission of enquiry which was set up to probe the circumstances have been sworn in. However, apart from the chairman of the commission of enquiry, Justice Innocent Umezurike, none of the other five members earlier appointed was sworn in as they were replaced with new names.
Apart from Justice Umezurike, who is chairman those earlier named as members were the Anglican Bishop of Enugu, Rt. Rev. Emmanuel Chukwuma, Monsignor Patrick Ugwu, Deputy Superintendent of Police Sam Chukwu, Dr.Bona Onodu and a representative of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
Those who made the new list at the swearing-in ceremony at Government House yesterday were Rev. Chike Nwizu, Chief Peter Orjiekwe, former director in the state Ministry of Information, Prof. C.O. Okonkwo (SAN), Dr. Elleanor Nwadinobi, while Chief Goddy Ogbo, the Special Assistant to the Governor is the Secretary.