AWKA – It was a tragedy for the Catholic community of Nnewi Diocese in Anambra State on Saturday, November 16, 2019, when, at the St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, Nnewichi, Nnewi, a midnight fire killed the Parish Priest of the church, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Edmund Nwagbara, in his residence.
The incident remains one of the darkest times for the parishioners and the Nnewi Catholic Diocese and they are finding it difficult to come to terms with the reality of what happened.
According to investigation, Fr. Nwagbara who was also the Dean of Nnewi, had served over 25 years as a Catholic priest and was 60 years old at the time of his death.
The late Fr. Nwagbara was a lecturer at the Bigard Memorial Major Seminary, Enugu, before he was posted to Nnewi Diocese.
Spokesman of the Anambra State Police Command, Haruna Mohammed, said, “The inferno which cause is yet to be ascertained affected part of the church’s residential building. As a result the Parish Priest, one Rev. Fr. Edmond Nwagbara, was burnt beyond recognition inside his room at the same premises.”
Mohammed said at the time of the incident, the police patrol team attached to the Otolo Division, led by the DPO, visited the scene, and that the fire service department were alerted, but that before they reached the scene, the priest had been burnt to death.
One of the priests in the parish, Rev. Father Francis Offia, told our reporter that despite his short stay with the late Fr. Nwagbara, he discovered that he was open-minded and free with everybody.
The Chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi, Rev. Fr. Hyginus Aghaulor, described the late priest as “a gentle and resourceful academic” who made reasonable contribution to the church in the diocese. On whether, the late priest had any problem with anyone in the parish, Fr. Aghaulor said he (Fr. Nwagbara) was too humble and disciplined to have had problems with people in the parish.
He further said, “He (Fr. Nwagbara) held a big position in the diocese that cannot be given to any person who is not peaceful, disciplined and a team player.”
On if the church suspected any foul play in his death, Fr. Aghaulor said the parish and diocese did not think of any foul play, and that the church and state had given security agencies in the state leave to do their professional job in the investigation.
In a statement issued by the chancellor and made available to Daily Trust on Sunday on Friday, he said, “The fire engulfed St. Peter Claver Parish Rectory of Nnewi Catholic Diocese in the early hours of Saturday, 16th November, 2019, killing Rev. Fr. Edmund Nwagbara, the parish priest while leaving his first assistant, Rev. Fr. John Okosa, with burns.”
However, since the incident, controversy has continued to trail the tragic death of the priest, as some people believe that Fr. Nwagbara might have been killed. A source in the parish informed that there was neither a gas cylinder nor fuel container in the cleric’s room, which could have ignited the fire.
It was learnt that the priest returned from a journey at about 04:00pm and was assisted to take his personal effects to his room; including some parcels.
There are equally some views that the fire could have been caused by an explosion from an inverter battery in the priest’s room; while others are of the view that the fire came from a bomb either planted in the room when the priest was away or wrapped in a parcel he came with. A parishioner, who pleaded anonymity, said a look at the scene of the incident after the fire posed more questions than answers.
A family member of the late priest said, “Although police authorities in Anambra State reported that the priest died in a fire accident, security agencies, the church in Nnewi and the government must look deeper if they want to get to the root of the matter; if there were any known or established problems he had with anyone, and where did the priest come back from at that hour of the night? Whether he actually came back with parcels; who gave him those gifts? How could the contents of such parcels be ascertained? Was it true that another priest, Rev. Fr. John Okosa, was with him as at the time of the incident? If yes, he should lead the investigators into what transpired before the fire.”
A knight in Nnewi Catholic Diocese, Christian Ifejioor, told our reporter that it was not out of place for one to suspect that Fr. Nwagbara’s death was masterminded. Ifejioor said it was evident that only his apartment was affected by the fire, and therefore, asked, “was it possible that fire, not an explosive, could blow off the ceiling and roof of Fr. Nwagabara’s room without affecting other parts of the building?”
He said looking at his corpse and the scene of the incident, one would not be deceived that mere fire killed the priest. (Daily Trust)