Residents of Ikabigbo community in Uzairue clan, Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State, will never forget the sad incident of June 26, 2022, when the priest in charge of St. Michael’s Catholic Church Ikabigbo, Rev. Fr Christopher Odia, was abducted from his residence by gunmen while he prepared for the Sunday mass.
The peaceful community on the Auchi-Agenebode Road was thrown into confusion as residents ran helter-skelter, not knowing what to do.
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Until his kidnap and subsequent murder, Fr Odia was the Administrator of St Michael’s Catholic Church Ikabigbo and also the Principal of St. Philip Catholic Secondary School Jattu.
The priest, it was gathered, was abducted from his residence at about 6.30am and whisked away into the bush.
Daily Trust on Sunday findings revealed that as soon as the news filtered into the community, the youths, hunters and vigilante mobilised for bush combing in order to get the priest released.
One of the leaders in the community, who gave his name as John, told Daily Trust on Sunday that it was God that averted a repeat of Owo massacre in the community as the abductors’ plan was to kidnap him from the altar, which would have been resisted by the people.
He said the kidnappers dragged the priest through the bush path while the hunters and the vigilante continued to trail them.
“Not up to 20 minutes after the kidnap, the vigilante and hunters who were later joined by security agents commenced bush combing in order to rescue him,” he said.
Continuing, he said after about four hours of bush combing, they encountered the kidnappers who were armed with sophisticated guns, adding that it was at that point that the altar servant, Bernard Tenabe, was shot on the stomach and was rushed to the hospital.
He said soon after that, the kidnappers ambushed them, shot two members of the team – Nurudeen Umosor and Yakubu Sadiku. Nurudeen died on the spot while Sadiku sustained an injury.
He said the development didn’t deter the courageous youths in their determination to rescue the priest, as attempts by the kidnappers to stop them from advancing despite their superior weapon met stiff resistance.
Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that thereafter hunters and vigilante groups in the neighbouring communities of Ugbenor, Irekpai, Ayogwiri, Ogbona and Uzairue among others also mobilised into the bush in search of the priest.
After about eight hours’ search, they found the corpse of the priest in the bush about 30 kilometres away from where he was kidnapped.
A member of the vigilante, who craved anonymity, said the casualties recorded gave them the courage to continue combing the bush in search of the kidnappers even after over 10 hours of bush combing
One of the injured hunters, Sadiku, who spoke to our reporter from his sick bed, said the desire to protect the community against criminals gave them the courage to go after them.
“They were armed with AK47 while we only had hunter’s guns. We didn’t know they had AK47 at first but that didn’t stop us.
“We trailed the kidnappers from our community to other communities, a distance of over 15 kilometres, before one of us was shot and rushed to the hospital. Despite that, we were determined to rescue the priest.
“Between Ayogwiri and Ogbona forest, they ambushed and shot us with their Ak47, I fell down and my colleague Nurudeen fell on top of me.
“When I opened my eyes, I saw the kidnappers coming towards us, I pretended to be dead, they collected our phones and other items and left thinking we were both dead,” he said.
He said they believed he was dead because blood was all over him as his colleague fell on him.
He lamented that the prime suspect had been living in the community for years.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that the prime suspect, Mal. Kabir, who is known in the community as Papa Aisha, was a security guard in the community for a long time before relocating to Auchi, as an Okada rider.
“The kidnappers said one of their brothers named Malam Kabir, who had been living in our village, engaged them at Zongo Aviele, near Auchi, to kidnap Fr. Odia for ransom,” a community source told our reporter.
The community’s traditional ruler, Bramah Alegeh, who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday described the incident as unfortunate and painful, saying the community least expected it.
He commended the bravery of the hunters, vigilante, youths and the entire community members for uniting against criminals.
He also commended the security agents, other neighbouring communities and their vigilantes and hunters for the solidarity in the fight against criminal activities.
“We lost a hero – Nurudeen, who died fighting for the community, and the priest. Two other community members were injured and are receiving treatment at the hospital. They will always be remembered as true heroes,” he said.
He, however, called on the state government to beef up security in the area, noting that the activities of kidnappers, who masquerade as herdsmen, have become a problem in the area.
On his part, Gabriel Osigwe described the late priest as a good and Godly man who was committed to the development of the church and humanity.
“We have had other priests before but this Odia is the best. He was to complete the renovation of our Church before the end of the year. We will all miss him,” he said.
Meanwhile, the state Acting Governor, Philip Shaibu, who led heads of security agencies to the scene of the incident, condemned the killing of the Catholic priest and the hunters.
Shaibu commiserated with the Ikabigbo Community head, Aleghe Braimah; family of a member of the Edo Vigilante Network who lost his life in an attempt to rescue the priest, Yusuf Nurudeen, and the Ogieneni of Uzairue, Kadiri Omogbai.
While calling for calm among residents of the community, he said the assailants will be brought to book and made to pay for their crimes.
However, the State Commissioner of Police, Abutu Yaro, assured the community that the security outfits will not rest until the criminals are brought to book.
Meanwhile, former governor of Edo State Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who condemned the kidnapping and killing of the priest and Mr Nurudeen, praised the exceptional gallantry and bravery of Ikabigbo youths who mobilized at a very short notice and challenged the marauders.