Opinion

Last Hours of Fr Nwagbara – How Nnewi Diocese Catholic Priest Died in Fire

f St Peter Clavers Parish, Nnewichi, Nnewi Diocese, reports Jude Atupulazi.

Fr Nwagbara died in the early hours of Saturday, 16 November, following a fire in his room which cause remains a matter of conjecture up to this point.

According to witnesses, at about 2.30am, there was a big bang coming from Fr Nwagbara’s room that woke some people up. They discovered that Fr Nwagbara’s apartment was in in flames. They immediately called the Anambra State Fire Service which responded timeously.
Before then, neighbours had tried to put out the fire but it was simply like a hell, as Fr Hyginus Aghaulo, Chancellor and Secretary, Nnewi Catholic Diocese, put it.

Fides learnt that when eventually the fire service gained entrance into Fr Edmund’s apartment, he was already burnt beyond recognition.

But the curious thing was that Fr Edmund’s remains did not look like someone that struggled before dying. This has led to suggestions, barring the outcome of police investigations, that it is very likely that the fire came from the inverter in his room. It is believed that when it was heated up, the battery blew up like a bomb.

‘The toxin from the burning battery which he must have been inhaling slowly in his sleep might have killed him before the actual fire burnt him. One would expect someone struggling, or trying to escape, to die very close to the door or at a corner and not to relax in his bed,’ Fr Aghaulo told Fides.

Last moments

The late Fr Nwagbara conducted the sacrament of Reconciliation on Friday, November 15, at about 6.30 pm for a couple that would wed the next day, Saturday. Later, he had his supper and went up to his apartment. His 1st Assistant Priest who had adoration for the parishioners that evening – Fr John Akosa, was said to have heard Fr Nwagbara’s voice at about 9pm when he, Akosa, was going into his own apartment. At about 9.30 pm, Fr Nwagbara was said to have escorted his former parishioners who had visited him to the door of the rectory and thereafter was heard locking the main door and going up to his apartment.

Although Fr Aghaulo believed that Fr Nwagbara died before the fire explosion as a result of inhalation of the inverter toxin, he however said it was only the Almighty God that could tell what actually happened since Fr Nwagbara was alone in his room.

Among the first callers after the incident was the Governor of Anambra State – Chief Dr. Willie Obiano, who visited the scene of fire incident the next day, Sunday, 17th November 2019, to see things for himself and to commiserate with the Catholic Bishop of Nnewi – Most Rev. Hilary Odili Okeke, the priests, religious and the lay faithful.

Governor Obiano had gone on to instruct the police to do a thorough investigation to ascertain the cause of the fire.

Hon Greg Obi, Commissioner for Chieftaincy and Local Government Matters and Hon Paschal Agbodike, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly, equally visited the Rectory.

Bishop Ezeokafor Mourns Priest, Commiserates with Nnewi Catholic Diocese

The Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, His Lordship Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, has commiserated with the Catholic bishop of Nnewi Diocese, His Lordship Most Rev. Hilary Odili Okeke, and the entire priests, religious, laity of Nnewi Diocese, over the death of Rev. Fr. Edmund Nwagbara.

Bishop Ezeokafor who reacted immediately after the news of Fr. Nwagabara’s death filtered in at St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral, Awka, expressed worry over what he described as incessant fire outbreaks in the state, wondering what could have ignited the fire that led to the death of Fr. Nwagbara.

The visibly disturbed bishop said he was yet to believe that some of the recent fire incidents were truly mechanical and not targeted at some persons and areas. He said it was about time the government looked inward to ascertain the true cause of the continued fire outbreaks, adding that there was more to it than met the eye.

‘We just have to be careful and cautious. Government should take this issue seriously. Losing a priest just like that, is, to me, saddening. I am deeply worried, touched and unsettled. It could be anyone.

‘Something has to be done to put a stop to these anomalies. I just hope that some unscrupulous elements have not taken this as another way of wasting human lives and destroying property,’ he said, while condoling with the Nnewi Catholic Community.

Describing the latest incident as a big blow, Bishop Ezeokafor said, ‘It is really not a good time for our brothers and sisters out there. We will continue to pray for the quick repose of Fr. Nwagbara’s soul. It is sad he has to go that way. May his soul rest in peace. Amen.’

The late Fr. Edmund Nwagbara (aka Tombo) was generally seen as a jovial person, very friendly and easygoing individual. Those close to him describe him as a simple hearted, likeable and loveable individual.

Giving his impressions of the late priest, Fr Aghaulo said of Nwagbara, ‘Fr. Tombo (as he was fondly called) was as cheerful as he was accommodating and easygoing. He felt comfortable always in the company of the low and high. Fr. Nwagbara remained a seasoned Parish Priest till death. In fact, his parishioners appeared to be the most hit by the sad news of his tragic death.’

Fr Aghaulo also said Fr. Nwagbara was equally a scholar, who, after his priestly ordination was sent by the late Archbishop Stephen N. Ezeanya of Onitsha Archdiocese, to Germany for further studies.

‘He studied Biblical Theology at the University of Bon, and was helping out in the Pastoral Ministry within the Cologne Archdiocese, Germany. At the end of his studies in Germany, Fr. Tombo lectured for many years at the Bigard Seminary Enugu, before returning to take up parish pastoral assignment in his newly created Nnewi Diocese. May God console them and all of us who mourn him with heavy heart,’ Fr Aghaulo prayed.

Additional reports from Abuchi Onwumelu.

The burning Fr. Rectory where Fr. Nwagbara died

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