Africa-Press – Uganda. Relatives of a woman, who was flogged to death at a church in Omoro District, reportedly raided Aremo Village, Palwo parish in Aremo Sub-county in a revenge attack last week.Poly Grace Akullu died last month after she was allegedly flogged during a deliverance prayer session at Aremo Pentecostal Church. Police on May 10 arrested Ms Betty Acaa, a self-proclaimed prophetess, over the death. She was remanded to prison last week. Police are still hunting for other suspects. Residents reportedly lost property and livestock of about Shs30m in the raid.
Mr Geoffrey Ocaya, the village defence secretary, said the attackers were armed with machetes, bows, arrows, axes and sticks, among other weapons. “They beat up so many people. They looted food stores, shops, slaughtered goats, chicken, sheep and cattle during the two days they camped here claiming to be mourning their sister,” Mr Ocaya said.
The attack has since cast a spotlight into mushrooming churches in Acholi Sub-region with local leaders and analysts accusing pastors of ripping off their followers.Prof Ogenga Otunu of peace, justice and conflict studies at DePaul University in Chicago, US, said it is unfortunate that religion is failing to play a role in the reconstruction of Acholi due to greed and selfishness.
“Churches are unfortunately now a market place in the worst possible way with various Christian sects in Gulu City. Why should they continue preaching a gospel that instead causes poverty and turns the population to be very submissive subjects?” he asked. He said religion, which is supposed to be a tool for preaching hard work and prosperity, has instead turned out to be for ‘robbers’ since their gospel does not challenge poverty but blesses those who give more to the church even when they are poorer.
Security officials also note strange practices in the churches that are misleading.For the late Akullu’s case, Mr Ocaya said Ms Acaa has always influenced her followers to believe that a demon-possessed person can only be relieved of bad spirits through flogging.“It is not the first time she is flogging somebody. In April, she flogged a man so badly that it caused our intervention. She also beat up her two brothers claiming to be relieving them of the demonic spirits of laziness,” he said.
Mr Hassan Mugerwa, the district police commander, warned residents against false prophets.Mr Richard Ogen, an evangelist at Christ Church in Gulu City, said many mushrooming churches and masquerading religious leaders have evolved throughout Acholi in the past 10 years. “Followers comprising youth always fall prey to these church movements that emphasise a materialistic approach to theism but tend to pay limited attention to Christian doctrine and teaching,” Mr Ogen said.
However, Bishop James Ochan, the overseer of Born-again Churches in Acholi, said they are now taking measures to ensure professionalism and restore sanity in the faith. A total of 50 pastors, reverends and preachers graduated with bachelors’ degrees in theological studies from the Gate Breaker International Ministries School and Bible University, Gulu Branch in Gulu City at the weekend. “We continue to emphasise to our members to study these professional courses. The graduation is a blessing since the public considers some of us as masqueraders because we fall short of principles and fail to command respect,” Bishop Ochan said.
“Therefore, these studies remove shame from our pastors who have been called gamblers because there have been no schools of theology in Acholi to train us,” he added.In 2019, the National Fellowship of Born-again Pentecostal Churches (NFBPC) of Uganda asked President Museveni to stop being misled by ill-minded advisers on matters of born-again churches in the country. “Government blundered by registering anybody, including ‘demons’ who came in the name of the church; very many people practicing evil have also come in the mix unverified,” the NFBPC chairman, Bishop Tom Ibrahim Okello, said.
ARRESTS OF PASTORS IN ACHOLI IN THE LAST TWO YEARS
Arrests of leaders and members of several churches in Acholi points to gross misconduct and criminality. Last year, five pastors were arrested and charged over various crimes. Three have so far been arrested this year and are being tried over different offences.
For example, police and operatives from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) last month arrested Mr Nelson Ocira, a pastor with New Life Christian Centre in Gulu City, over illegal possession of owl eggs.Mr Ocira was arrested alongside Ms Agnes Achora, a staff at Parabongo Health Centre II, and Ms Sarah Oyella, a resident of Customs Corner in Gulu West Division.
Although UWA said the trio was arrested while trying to sell the eggs to a US market, Mr Ocira had tried for several months to sell them to his followers. In February last year, the army arrested and charged Pastor Florence Lanyero of the Rest Arena Church in Gulu City over illegal possession of property of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces.
In July last year, police arrested Mr Stephen Okwera, a self-proclaimed prophet, for allegedly conning residents in Gulu City. Mr Okwera would allegedly demand between Shs100,000 and Shs200,000 to pray and relieve followers of illness or demonic spells.