Police reinforced by the army are fighting running battles with a group of irate Christians in Arua that reportedly massed overnight in an attempt to evict Arua Diocese Bishop Sabino Odoki.
Heavy gunshots rang throughout the night at Ediofe, the seat of the diocese, about 3 kilometres west of Arua town.
The District Police Commander Jonathan Musinguzi is commanding the ongoing operation.
Security forces overnight evicted some people who had, since the burial three weeks ago of the diocese’s Emeritus Bishop Frederick Drandua, camped at the graveside inside Ediofe cathedral. They claimed to be mourning and protecting the burial site amid reports that some unnamed people planned to tamper with it.
Their expulsion was followed by mayhem outside the cathedral, with Christians razing the makeshift structure for Sunday masses since the cathedral is undergoing renovation.
The church bells tolled in a coded invite for Christians to gather. Police is still firing teargas, but different youth groups are gathered at the football pitch of the nearby Ediofe Primary School; at Yitia, the River Enyau-side trading centre; and, behind the diocese.
Some 15 people suspects have been taken into custody by police. It’s unclear if the bishop is still at his residence.
Relations between Bishop Odoki and sections of the clergy and Christians have been bad for long, with suspension of a number of senior priests, but deteriorated drastically when his predecessor Frederick Drandua fell ill and died on September 1, 2016.
The aggrieved Christians accused the bishop of treating his predecessor badly in his hour of need after the diocese failed to raise money, and allegedly declined guarantee, for his treatment in Italy. Drandua, who served as the ordinary of Arua diocese for 23 years, was widely revered in West Nile.
His death evoked emotions and anger, and angry Christians reportedly pelted Bishop Odoki, Gulu Archbishop John Baptist Odama and Arua Diocese Vicar general with stones during the burial.
Odoki reported the attackers to President Museveni a week ago, calling them “terrorists”. This branding worsened an already dangerous situation.
The bishop, however, says his haters are motivated by tribal sentiments since he does not hail from Arua.
The police barricade the road leading to Ediofe Church that also connects to Radio Pacis. Photo by Felix Warom Okello