ABAJAH, Nigeria (AFP) – Nigeria on Friday unveiled a nine-metre tall statue of Jesus Christ carved from white marble, thought to be the biggest of its kind in Africa.
Standing barefoot with arms outstretched, the “Jesus de Greatest” statue weighs in at 40 tonnes.
More than 100 priests and hundreds of Catholic worshippers attended the nine-metre (30-foot) statue’s official unveiling in the village of Abajah in southeastern Nigeria.
It was commissioned by Obinna Onuoha, a local businessman who hired a Chinese company to carve it and placed it in the grounds of a 2000-capacity church that he built in 2012.
In his homily at a Mass before unveiling the statue, presiding bishop Augustine Tochukwu Okwuoma said it would be a “very great symbol of faith” for Catholic worshippers and passers-by alike.
“It will remind them of the importance of Jesus Christ,” said Okwuoma.
The cost of the statue has not been revealed.
Earlier in the week, Onuoha told AFP it would be “the biggest statue of Jesus on the continent”.
The 43-year-old boss of an oil and gas distribution company timed the statue’s unveiling to coincide with his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 170 million people, is split between a more prosperous Christian south and a poor Muslim north – an occasional source of tension.
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.
And even as Nigeria rings in 2016, the ever-present threat of violence by Boko Haram hangs heavy over the country, despite official claims that the battle against the Islamist group has been “technically” won.
“We think religions can exist side by side,” Onuoha said. “We hope that people can live in harmony.”
He said the idea of building a giant statue of Jesus came to him in a dream nearly 20 years ago.
And when his 68-year-old mother fell seriously ill a few years ago, she made him promise that he would build a church if she survived.