Barely a week after a Catholic priest was killed by suspected kidnappers in Imo State, the parish priest of St Thomas Catholic Church, Onilekere, Ikeja, Lagos, Rev Fr. Daniel Nwankwo, was shot on Friday morning and he is battling for his life at the state university teaching hospital, LASUTH.
On September 1, a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Cyriacus Onunkwo from Umuotuasi village in Osina, Ideato North Local Government Area of Imo State, who had returned from Lagos State for the burial of his father, was abducted and his corpse was found in Nkwito, Omumma, Oru East LGA, the following day.
A serving corporal with the Imo State Police Command, Jude Madu, from Umukishi Amuze, Ahiara Mbaise LGA, fingered to be the leader of the five-man kidnap gang was arrested by the police and had confessed to have abducted and killed the priest.
On the Lagos incident, an eyewitness who identified himself as Valentine Umenweani told Saturday Sun that three gunmen gained access into the church shortly after parishioners left after the Friday morning service.
“After the confession session, most of the parishioners left the church premises and there were few persons especially women and children who stayed behind to pray. I believe that they had gone into the church and partook in the morning mass before approaching us.
“I was standing at a corner of the church with the priest when the three of them approached us. They asked to see the parish priest and the priest told them that he was the one.
“They told him that they were sent by a parishioner who is sick to collect N5000 from him. The priest told them that he does not know who they were referring to and cannot grant such request.
“Suddenly the young men who were carrying a bag brought out their guns and started asking the priest to bring out the money or they will kill him.
“He told them that there is no money with him and they started threatening to shoot. The priest handed over his mobile phone to me but they immediately collected it from me and put it in their bag. The priest suggested that they should go to the parish house that he has some money over there but they refused and started beating him.
“While they were dragging him, one of them shot him in the face. Although he was hit, the priest miraculously escaped in the confusion while I ran to another direction. They searched for him and when they could not find him, they also started looking for me. Since they do not know much about the church, they took to their heels and scaled the fence of the church and escaped.”
On how the priest landed in the hospital, Valentine said he managed to run to the nearest medical centre before he was able to contact members of the church. “Miraculously, despite the bullet wound, the priest dragged himself to the nearest hospital. Unfortunately, the security man who normally stays at the church gate was not in the premises when it happened.”
Confirming the incident, the Lagos State Police Command spokesman, ASP Olarinde Famous-Cole in a statement said around 6.30am during mass at St Thomas Catholic Church Onilekere Cement B/Stop, Ikeja, some unknown hoodlums posing as worshippers who also took part in the morning mass after the prayers at 8.30am, requested to have a dialogue with Rev Father Daniel Nwankwo who heads the parish.
“The Rev Father who unsuspectingly granted the hoodlums an audience outside the church auditorium for a yet to be determined reason was shot by one of the hoodlums with a locally made pistol.
“After the incident the Rev Father raised the alarm, while the hoodlums jumped the fence and escaped towards an adjoining canal. The Rev Father was immediately taken to LASUTH for medical attention. He is in stable condition.”
According to the statement, the Commissioner of Police Imohimi Edgal also visited the scene while five suspects have been arrested. “Commissioner of Police Imohimi Edgal who was at the scene and spoke with a witness who confirmed that the attackers who were not known to be members of the church were seen conversing with the Rev Father before he was shot.
“CP Edgal has also visited the priest and confirmed that he is recuperating fast. He has also deployed a crack team of detectives to the scene while five suspects have been arrested in connection with the incident.
He has also ordered that 24 hours police protection should be provided in all churches and mosques across the state instead of the usual Friday and Sunday deployment.
“He also assured Lagosians that every asset of the police command will be deployed to make sure these hoodlums that made an attempt on the Rev Father’s life will be arrested and brought to book.”