David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka
At least one person was feared dead on Sounday, while over 22 others sustained varied degrees of injury when masquerades in their numbers invaded the Holy Ghost Adoration Ministry, Uke, Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State.
The masquerades which were said to be celebrating a masquerade festival known as Uzo Iyi festival invaded the worship ground, beating up members and also attempted to whisk away the spiritual director of the centre, Rev. Fr Emmanuel Obimma.
THISDAY gathered that there was an arrest of three of their members by operatives of SARS on the order of the church after they were found to have been extorting members who were coming to the church.
Our correspondent gathered that the leadership of the church called in the SARS operatives to help their internal security to protect worshipers, but on arriving, the operatives arrested three masquerades who were involved in the extortion, but their colleagues attempted to stop them from taking the arrested masquerades away, prompting SARS operatives to shoot sporadically into the air before taking them away.
Personal Assistant to Fr Obimma, Mr. Francis Okoye who spoke to journalists said that a Catholic Priest, Rev Father Henry Nnajiofor, a seminarian and 28 others were injured during the attack on the worshippers.
It was however gathered from some worshipers that one unidentified person was said to be feared dead during a stampede caused by the attack.
Okoye said: â€œThe normal masquerade activities in Uke, to the best of my knowledge, ends by 6pm but as at 8pm on Friday, the masquerades were still parading at the entrance route of Uke Adoration ground, extorting money from the our members and robbing others on the guise of masquerade festival.
â€œAs at 8:30 pm, we started receiving information that group of masquerades were attacking our members, inflicting bodily injuries on them as a result of severe flogging. They flogged some of them, stabbed some with their weapons including machete, while others were robbed of their mobile phones and other valuables.
â€œWe quickly contacted the SARS office to assist our Adoration security that could not handle the situation at that point in time. When SARS arrived an hour later, they arrested two masquerades but on their way back, the youths blocked the road and insisted that the masquerades must be released. That was when SARS officials fired shots on the air to disperse them.
â€œWhen SARS left, they regrouped again and this time came in their numbers to the Adoration premises, beating everybody including the elderly, the sick and pregnant women. Our Adoration youths, in defence, pursued them and arrested one other masquerade who stayed in the Adoration ground with us until this morning when we handed him over the official of the Nigerian Army that came for our rescue,â€ he narrated.
Our correspondent learnt that worshipers had to form human shield to protect Father Obimma, who was said to be the main target of the attack.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in Anambra State, ASP Nkiru Nwode confirmed the incident but denied that the masquerades also attacked the police officers from SARS.
She said the command arrested three of the suspects and is currently investigating the cause of the incident.