Saturday, September 23, 2017 6:17 am
It was the Operation Python Dance mounted by the Nigerian military against Biafran agitators that tends to push this episode to the back burner. This does not make it less worth of attention by the authorities that should clean the society of crimes and bring culprits to book. This is the purpose of this story: to unravel the recent deaths and rid Ozubulu (notorious for past high wire vendetta) of more
By Richard Elesho
It was a church service like no other. No praise and worship. No programs and hymnal-clutching ushers or deacons to welcome people with their trademark smiles by the doors. In their stead were, stern looking and arms bearing security operatives, reminiscent of Nigerian soldiers on the fringe of Sambisa Forest awaiting unpredictable advances from Boko Haram insurgents. They mounted every door of the church. In fact, all around the worship Centre and the roads leading therein, scores of eagle eyed operatives were on red alert.
Graveyard silence reigned in the neighborhood. It did not look like parishioners will turn up for this symbolic service. But, with about 20 persons, including Secretary to Anambra State Government, SSG, Prof. Solochukwu Onogwe present, the officiating ministers led by Most Rev.Hillary Odili Okeke, Catholic Bishop of Nnewi solemnly began the Solidarity Service. Perhaps, reassured of their safety by heavy security attachment, mournful parishioners slowly but steadily came to participate in the initiative, with many of them fighting back tears during the brief church service. That was on a recent Sunday at St. Philips Catholic Church, Amakwa Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government of Anambra State. Things could hardly have been different.
On Sunday, 6th August, in the same church, a gory spectacle plagued the eyes of all that beheld it and tinged every ear that heard of it. It was an incident that ‘mocked’ the image of Jesus, livid with anger overturning the tables of money changers and chasing out defilers from his fathers house, the temple in Jerusalem. He warned “is it not said that my house shall be a house of prayers, but thou have turned it to a den of robbers?” That Sunday, about 5:45am, just as the priest in charge, Rev. Fr. Jude Onwuaso was giving the closing remarks, a gunman stood at the door and indiscriminately sprayed bullets on the congregation.
Even to someone who may have been a home video freak, watching such a live horror scene was far from being entertaining. Instinctively, those who could, among the parishioners, hampered to safety. Obinna Nwaogu, 27, narrating his experience to TheNews said it was difficult to explain how it happened. Pointing at a direction he recalled, “I was praying up there when I first heard sound. Before you know what another sound. Then I opened my eye and saw somebody holding gun and shooting. There was commotion. …As in, I did not know how I escaped. I cannot explain. It is the mercy of God that preserved me, that I did not die that day.”
Fr. Jude shared in his belief in the preservation of God. Genuflecting and in an obvious attempt to fight back the trauma and tears, he said he was standing on the ‘pulpit here’ when as if from dreamland the gunman opened fire randomly at his members. He watched helplessly as the gunman abridged the life of many right in the house of God, with a bold statute of the suffering Christ on the Cross of Calvary firmly embossed on the wall and looking at the massacre. Instinctively and unable to explain the reflex, the clergyman bolted for the door to escape. Needless to say, many of the parishioners followed his example.
By the time a semblance of normalcy returned, 13 members, mostly women and children had been killed on the spot, about 22 others (3 of which also eventually died, bringing number of the dead to 16) received different degrees of injuries. Among the dead was Pa. Cyprian Ikeogwuonu who, on sensing danger, also made for the door. The gunman’s bullet caught up with him, he staggered, crashed on the floor and breathed his last. His wife , Caroline was luckier, as she escaped with bullet wounds. It was an eerie scene. The blood which flowed on the floor of the church was such that will make Dracula- that fictional vampire in a gothic horror film, green with envy.
“Except I am not a messenger of God… They cannot go free,” said Fr. Jude. His enthusiasm is yet to be fulfilled. As at the time of filling in this report, the church, the entire Ozubulu community and the Nigeria Police Force were still on the trail of the perpetrators of the heinous malady. Then began the conjecture of different hypothesis.
Quickly, words circulated that Boko Haram insurgents were responsible for the shootings, as a bold attempt at spreading their fundamentalism to the South. Another school of thought said Fulani herdsmen, bent on executing a benign hate agenda fired the Ozubulu shots. The latter carried the imprimatur of Nnamidi Kanu, self styled leader of the Igbo self determination group, Independent People of Biafra. IPOB.
In his haste to explain the massacre within the prism of ethnic chauvinism, the IPOB leader said it was carried out by Arewa youths, who incidentally had given a quit notice to Igbo to vacate the northern region of the country. A remix of the Kanu narrative added spices by claiming that those who carried out the attack were dressed in Nigerian Army fatigue uniform and spoke Hausa language all through!
For a while, fear walked the entire region on four legs, like a dinosaur. Dr. Willie Obiano, Governor of Anambra under whose territory the pogrom occurred, shelved his re-election activities and promptly visited the spot. Then came the change of beats. Obiano, who is chief security officer of the State during inspections to the church and Nnamidi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, NAUTH, Nnewi where the wounded were recuperating, disclosed that preliminary investigations revealed the killing was the direct result of a fight between two indigenes of Ozubulu living in another country.
“What happened in Ozubulu was neither a terror attack nor a violent action by some agitators. We are dealing with a dangerous gang war that has spilled over to Anambra from another African country. It is tragic that this two people had to bring their quarrel abroad to the village and to the church where innocent people had to be killed and injured. It was so bad that the gunmen went round the church to ascertain that the car belonging to the person they were after was there before they entered the church and started shooting, not knowing that it was his parents that came in the car. I don’t want churches in this state to become apprehensive because of this incident because it is an isolated case.” He vowed to fetch out the perpetrators and promised to foot the medical bills of the wounded. The governor’s revelation has been the most appealing to rational minds.
Police authority in the state echoed his chorus. Mr. Garba Umar, Commissioner of Police in the state disclosed that early findings showed that the crime was a spill over of a fight between two natives of Ozubulu. “From our findings, it is very clear that the person who carried out the attack must be an indigene of the area.” He said the attacker was speaking undiluted Igbo language at the time he was shooting his victims.
With the revelations from the Governor and the police, tongues have gone wagging over nature of the conflict that allegedly spilled to the house of God. Two schools of thought namely ‘drug war’ and ‘leadership tussle,’ were discernible in the debate. In the community, fear was palpable when TheNEWS visited and the few people that volunteered information, did so only in hushed tunes. But irrespective of the school of thought and no matter who the tale bearer was, one name, Alloysious Ikegwuonu, aka Bishop remained a constant in all the accounts. Here are the sketchy details.
Bishop is a South African based businessman and notable philanthropist. The 37-year-old is an indigene of Ozubulu and son of Pa. Ikegwuonu one of the victims in the early morning cathedral massacre. Born in 1981, Alloyee, at birth did not have a golden spoon in his mouth. He was in fact, born and raised in poverty. As a young boy, he often assisted his mother in her petty trading at Orie Akpu market, off Ugwu road, Amakwa-Ozubulu.
Alloysious attended Comprehensive Secondary School, Egbema-Ozubulu, (formerly School of Basic Studies), a school said to have been established by a United States based Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Nwabaju Izuchi. Alloyee’s performance was generally above average and he was popular in school. Little wonder, he emerged senior prefect among his peers in 1999.
Not long after his secondary school final examination in May/June, 2000, his search for greener pastures propelled him to travel to South Africa in the year 2001. Within a very short time, he hit it big in that country. When he returned home after sojourning for about a year abroad, he was the cynosure of all eyes as the ‘being to’ flaunted his sudden wealth unhindered.
The nature of his business is shrouded in controversy. While some paint him as a drug baron, others insist his businesses are legitimate. But, legitimacy or the lack thereof, Bishop’s enormous financial muscle is beyond questioning. So much is his wealth that he is said to have tarred many roads in Ozubulu and in 2013, he single handedly built and donated the St Philips church, Amakwa to the Catholic community in Nnewi. He dedicated the church to the memory of his late mother, madam Calista Ikeogwuonu and apparently to silence critics who have accused him of alleged complicity in her death. He also built or renovated other churches in the three major districts of the community. They are St. Francis Egbema, St. Aloysius Eziora and St. Michael Amakwa.
One of such rifts was said to have erupted between him and an old friend and classmate Ginika Nwoke aka Giniyee, around 2013. Findings revealed that Aloyee and Giniyee (as the duo were known then) were best of friends from their secondary school days at CSS. After becoming successful, Aloysious encouraged his old classmate to follow him to South Africa. There was however a snag.
Ginika was already pursuing further learning. He was then a 200 level Psychology student at Nnamidi Azikiwe University, Awka. Among his friends in the school was another CSS old boy and roommate, one Nonso Ewulu, alias Ajagara Igwe, then a Political Science student. Gimika eventually abandoned his studies to honour the invitation. Although Gimika was raised in Ozubulu, his roots were in Mbaise, Imo State. Gimika was an orphan and an only child. He was brought up by his uncle Ite Ego, who was then a butcher in the same Orie Akpu market where Alloys was helping his mother in her petty trading.