Last Sunday’s attack on St. Phillips Catholic Church in Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State, resulting in the death of many people is unfortunate and condemnable. Anayo Okolie writes
The bloodbath that took place last Sunday at St. Phillips Catholic Church in Ozubulu community of Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State is a sad commentary on the security situation in the country.
The carnage, which left not less than 13 worshippers dead and several others injured, according to reports, started at about 6:45am on Sunday, August 6, when unidentified gunmen drove into the church premises in a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) Lexus, one of whom entered the church and shot at an elderly man identified as Pa Ikegwuono, the father of Chief Aloysius Ikegwuono, who contributed hugely to the building of the church.
The wife of Chief Aloysius Ikegwuono was also shot in the arm. The gunmen were said to be looking for Aloysius, who according to report, returned to Ozubulu, a day before the incident took place but left the same day. It is, however, believed to be the fallout of a rivalry war between two drug lords from Ozubulu.
Initially, there were speculations on the number of persons killed in the attack, but to lay to rest speculations about casualty figures, the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi, where the incident took place, recently released the names of victims of the attack.
A statement by Hilary Odili Okeke, Bishop of the diocese, listed 22 surviving victims as Ikegwuonu Caroline, Nwakile Anthonia, Okoye Odinaka, Okoye Patriciam Isaac Chinedu, Oramadike Chinagorom, Oramadike Chinecherem, Udegbunam Chidimma, Ndulue Samuel, Udegbunam Obiageli, Ugochi Obiajulu, Chukwueloka Chineze, Oramadike Chioma, Azuka Basil, Oramadike Chiamaka, Uchechukwu Chukwueloka, Nwanya Ngozi, Ngwuta Chinemelum, Asomba Chukwudum, Nnudule Leonard, Muomah Michael and Oramadike Favour.
The dead, according to the church, included Cyprian Ikegwuonu, Hyacinth Oramadike, Cecilia Ewin, Eunice Akanigbo, Rose Okoye, Anulika Obunadike, Uchenna Obunadike, Anthonia Ufondu, Oluchukwu Uhelu, Christiana Igbeja, Udeze Pauline, Victoria Uzokwe and Florence Nweke.
The Diocese described the attack on worshippers as regrettable and ungodly and added that the act was a sign of loss of what is sacred. The church also disclosed that the Parish Priest, Rev Fr. Jude Onwuaso, escaped unhurt.
According to the church, “It is regrettable that our people are more and more losing a sense of what is sacred. What on earth would make people open fire on innocent unarmed worshippers including children and women on a Sunday morning?
“We condemn this ungodly act in its totality. We pray Almighty God to console the families affected and assure them that our hearts are with them as we pray for the quick recovery of the wounded. For the entire parishioners, we call on them not to be discouraged in their usual practice of faith. It is when the forces of darkness attempt to overshadow goodness that the light of God shines even brighter than ever just as it happened on Easter Sunday.”
Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, who visited the Church later, revealed that preliminary security investigations showed that the shooting was caused by a feud between two brothers from the community living outside Nigeria.
“It is tragic that these two people had to bring their quarrel abroad to the village and to the church, where innocent people had to be killed and injured. We are not going to relax until those who perpetrated this heinous crime are apprehended. That I can assure you!
“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.”
An apparently saddened governor asked the people to go about their businesses without fear or panic saying the isolated case must be followed to the root and that all the perpetrators would be brought to book. He also assured the families of the victims that all their medical bills would be taken care of by the state government.
Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Garba Umar, while reacting, said the act was carried out by a lone wolf gunman, who is an indigene of the area.
“From our findings, it is very clear that the person, who carried out the attack must be an indigene of the area. We gathered that worshippers for 6 o’clock Sunday mass at St. Philip Ozobulu were in the service when a gunman dressed in black attire covering his face with a cap entered the church and moved straight to a particular direction and opened fire. The man, after shooting at his targeted victims still went on a shooting spree, killing and wounding other worshippers,” he added.
The police already learnt that the attack followed a quarrel between two natives of Ozubulu residing overseas, precisely in South Africa, saying it was wrong for the perpetrators to extend their quarrel into the church. Such conduct, Umar said, showed the people behind the act do not fear God. He said the police had launched a manhunt on those behind the act and gave an assurance that everybody behind the act would be brought to justice.
National Auditor of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief George Moghalu, described the gruesome attack and murder of innocent worshippers as devilish act and a crime of unimaginable description.
In a condolence message made public at his Nnewi residence, Moghalu stated that the dastardly act was evil, saying ‘’I’m shocked beyond words that a normal person will invade a holy place of worship and when there is a congregation at a Sunday Mass to commit a murder of this proportion. This is evil and the perpetrators must be found and brought to book, as soon as it is possible.”
The governorship hopeful therefore called on the government and the Police authorities to do everything within its powers and act with dispatch to arrest the perpetrators of this horrifying crime and bring them to justice.
Moghalu also called on both the federal and state governments to as a matter of priority promptly address the rising issues of insecurity in Anambra State, especially now that the elections are around the corner.
It is incomprehensible that two sons of the same community could descend so low to turn the house of God into a killing field. But particularly disturbing is that the police even after almost a week that the attack took place and in spite of the promises by the authority to unmask the faces behind it have been unable to record any breakthrough.
And coming 16 months after the massacre of over 50 people at Ukpabi/Nimbo in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State, incidences such as these may have reignited the debate for a multi-level police system. With increasing insecurity in all spheres and ramification, the idea of multi-level police is becoming the way to go, whatever the reservations about it.
A pro-democracy and non-governmental organization, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), while condemning last week attack, said it was absolutely unacceptable that humongous budgetary releases were made towards maintaining armed security forces but “when the occasion calls for the operatives to exercise their lawful obligations, they are not only found wanting but also scampering for lazy excuses.”
HURIWA accused the federally controlled security forces in Anambra State of abysmal failure in their constitutional responsibility and duty to the citizenry by the clear lack of coordinated security operations in that part of the state, which made it much easier for hoodlums that are well-armed to drive straight to an important place of worship on a solemn day and commit horrendous mass murder.
HURIWA said the inability of Nigeria’s federal police to secure Nigerians all across the length and breadth of the country gives urgency to the need to bring about a multi-level police system, composed of well-trained, well-motivated and well-mobilised police operatives to secure all parts of Nigeria.
It was against his backdrop that the group demanded the sack of the Anambra State Police commissioner and the Director, Department of State Services (DSS) for sleeping on their constitutional duties, which allowed armed freelance killers to embark on their despicable rampage with far-reaching damage to the precious lives of worshippers.
The group also asked state houses of assembly and governors to set up armed vigilante groups to be stationed in communities and made up of well-trained, motivated and paid volunteers from the communities to bridge the apparent lacuna noticed in the modus operandi of existing security forces, which are centrally located only in major cities or attached to politicians as bodyguards.
With rising and overwhelming crime rate, an efficient security system is required to not only protect life and property, but also to help stimulate the economy and ensure sustainable national growth. This is why a multi-level police system may have become unavoidable.