25 YEARS AGO, SILENCE SAVED FUTURE PRIESTS OF NSUKKA DIOCESE
THE STORY OF WHAT HAPPENED AT ST JOHNCROSS SEMINARY SCHOOL NSUKKA ON AUGUST 21ST 1997 - TWO DAYS TO THE PRIESTLY ORDINATIONOF 1997 SET OF DEACONS AS NARRATED BY ONE OF THE PRIESTLY CANDIDATES, REV. FR. JOSEPHAT ODO.
This was during the retreat for ordination to the priesthood of 1997 sets of deacons. Number of deacons who had the retreat were six and our retreat moderator was Rev. Fr Dr TaddeoOnoyima now Msgr. T. Onoyima when he was lecturing at Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu. Fr Dr. UcheObodoechina was the Rector of the seminary then.
Telling a story of this sort gives a special joy and a good sense of responsibility. The story would have been a success story but unfortunately our gateman by name Emmanuel Asogwa from Lejja was shot dead during the incident. May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace for dying in active service. Amen!
To God be the glory for our narrow escape from the hands of terrible armed robbers who invaded the Seminary on Thursday night of August 21st 1997 at about 10:30pm. Minus the grace of God there would have been no ordination that year if the robbers had discovered where we were hiding.
We had just finished our supper and were having our recreation in the refectory. Then an argument arose among us who would take the only bottle of bear we had on the table. Unlike the previous days when we used to have some drinks after meal, that day we had mineral bottles with only one Monarch bear (when Monarch was in vogue). The bone of contention of the argument was “who would take the only bottle of bear”. Someone suggested that Rev. Joe Odo who was the smallest in size among the group would have the bear since it would not be enough for the bigger persons. When Odo refused, as the argument was going on, Rev. Lambert Ejionueme just stretched out his hand and picked the bear bottle, opened it and instantly began to gulp it down and there was a roar of laughter. We eventually dismissed our recreation and went back to the various rooms where we were staying. I was paired with Rev. LivinusNnaji in our own room.
There was a Divine intervention as regards electricity that night because the transformer supplying light to the whole compound of the seminary blew up that evening and the whole place was in complete darkness.
Rev. Jude Nwodo was the last that came into the hostel and he used an iron rod to close our gather as if it was locket with a padlock.
All of us did not sleep at the same time. Some were fast asleep. Among those who slept earlier were Rev. Lambert Ejionueme and Rev. Celestine Ngwoke.
However, some of us were still awake but we were in silence because of the darkness of that night. This attitude worked miracle for us. All of a sudden we began to hear unusual noise at the gate side of the compound followed by gun shot. We got alarmed and began to hide because it was becoming clear that the house had been invaded and we were no longer safe. Unknown to any of us, the gun shot we heard was the killing of one Mr. Emmanuel Asogwa from Lejjawho was one of the gate men. They caught the person by name Bennett and dragged him to show them the rooms where Rev. Frs. were staying. They had then used the back of their machete to frighten the gateman more after they had killed his colleague. They showed him the corpse of his neighbour and asked Bennett whether the man was alive or dead and he answered them that the man was already dead. Then, they told him that if he fail to comply to their instructions he would soon be dead like the other one. In fear and trembling he led the gang of robbers to the Frs’ rooms.
It was not easy for them because the iron door to the Rector’s office was still locked. After they had tried to break the door with strong pick axe it was impossible because of the concrete wall. Then they resorted to shooting the glass windows of the up-stair of the Frs’ house and making a hell of noise.
Fortunately for us the Rector had miraculously made an escape. When they eventually gained an entrance through the stair case, they went to the Frs’ houses room by room. It was then that they gained entrance into the room where Fr. SylvesterUgwu now late Msgr. SylvesterUgwu (Kobina) was resting for he was sick then. They caught him and struggled with him to bring all he had, the leader of the gang ordered that they should give him one shot and the person commanded gave him two shots of the bullet on his femur and it bled furiously and within a short time, Fr was in a pool of blood. Then they ransacked every room in the Frs’ houses and did a lot of damage including the destruction of a new mass box with its chalice beyond repair. It was a sacrilege. From the Frs’ house they went to the domestic quarters and started robbing house to house threatening people.
The robbery lasted over three to four hours and each time they came close to the dormitory where the deacons were staying to try to know whether people were there one of the robbers was telling them that there was no need because the student were on holidays. He was shouting it but one of the stubborn robbers was seriously advancing and shouting that people must be there. The last time he insisted and came to the iron gather but the iron rod which Rev. Jude Nwodo placed on the hook made him feel that the gate was locked with a padlock so he left. Thanks to the Holy Spirit who drove him away.
After at about one hour of dead silence we felt that they had left so we started coming out tip-toeing in silence to know what happened. We went to Fr SylvesterUgwu’s room and found him groaning in a pool of blood. At this time we did not know that one of the gatemen was killed except when we heard the Rector wailing aloud that his gate man had been shot dead. We all ran to the gate and found him lying dead – the worst that happened on this incident.
Then quickly Fr Sylvester (Kobina) was rushed to Bishop Shanahan hospital when he was almost fainting. Thanks be to God he latter survived miraculously. When these entire incidents were taking place Rev. Lambert and Rev. Celestine were sleeping snoringly. When Rev. Lambert woke up from his sleep he asked what was happening and we told him. His question was “what did you people do when this was happening?”. We told him we kept quiet and he lamented and told us that we were all women. He was so sad that we did not raise any alarm. For me that was God’s will. God showed us the importance of silence. That same night the same gang went to St. Patrick’s Parish ObolloAfor and robbed the parish and also gave the Parish Priest Rev. Fr Dr Charles Onuh a gun shot at his arm.
The gang was later discovered to be the same who went to St. Francis Parish Ovoko when Fr Ambrose Azegba was the Parish Priest.
After our ordination on the 23rd of August 1997, we began to be having a get together which use to take place on 22ndAugust yearly to mark the occasion. We called it Passover night and those Frs who were involved in the incident joined us.
N.B: Fr CajethanIyidiobi the Vice Rector and our Retreat Moderator Msgr. T. Onoyima would have been in St John’s seminary that night if not that Onoyima left on the morning of Thursday 21st August for Enugu and Fr Cajethan went for (off-shore) outside mass which was to be celebrated very early the following morning.
Words are not enough to thank the good Lord that granted us a miraculous escape that night. Join us in thanking God and continue to pray for us.
Narrator: Rev. Fr JosephatOdo