A Nigerian businessman unveiled what he believes is Africa's largest statue of Jesus, describing it as a symbol of peace in a country wracked by Islamist insurgency. Obinna Onuoha commissioned the nearly 30-foot tall "Jesus de Greatest" statue in 2013, hiring a Chinese company to carve it from white marble.
Standing barefoot with arms outstretched, the 40-ton statue towers over St. Aloysius Catholic Church in the mainly Christian village of Abajah in Nigeria's southeastern state of Imo, reports Vanguard news.
Onuoha, 43-year-old chief executive officer of an oil and gas distribution company, said, "Definitely pilgrims will come."
More than 100 priests and hundreds of Catholic worshippers attended statue's unveiling on New Year's Day, reports the Daily Mail.
Nigeria, Africa's largest country with 170 million people, is split between a more prosperous Christian south and a poor Muslim north.
More than 17,000 people have been killed in Islamist group Boko Haram's six-year quest to create an independent state but the violence has been mainly confined to Nigeria's Muslim-majority north, according to local news reports. "We think religions can exist side-by side. We hope that people can live in harmony," Onuoha said.
He said he has been wanting to build the giant statute since 1997, after his elderly mother fell seriously ill and then "made him promise" he would build a church if she survived. He built the 2,000-capacity church in Abajah during 2012, and now also placed the "Jesus de Greatest" statue there. He reportedly timed the statue's unveiling to coincide with his parents' 50th wedding anniversary.
"It will remind them of the importance of Jesus Christ," said Okwuoma.
"This statue is a great symbol of Christian faith, and I pray that for the Catholics that the statue will continue to constantly remind us of what Jesus Christ stands for us," said Bishop of Orlu Catholic Diocese, Most Rev. Augustine Ukwuoma, who performed the unveiling ceremony.
"For other passersby, looking at the statue will also bring them closer to Jesus," the bishop said.
"Asking why I constructed this statue is like asking how I came to this world, I am a Christian and a Catholic and Jesus statue represents my faith," Okwuoma told the News Agency of Nigeria.
"I believe we are here on earth for different purposes and each person moves with his or her instincts, and I was motivated to do this to build up the faith of this community."
The cost of the statue has not been revealed. The Jesus statue is heavier than the 66-foot Ramesses II Abusimbel statue in Egypt, reports NigerianEye.