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Mass murder in the cathedral


August 13, 2017 | 2:16 am
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Precisely a week ago, gunmen disrupted the peace and tranquillity of Ozubulu community, near Onitsha, Anambra State, spilling the blood of innocent worshippers in a local Catholic church. The incident reminds one of the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, as portrayed in T.S. Eliot’s verse drama ‘Murder in the Cathedral’. But while in the case of Becket he was the sole target of the four knights who were purportedly acting on the orders of King Henry II and his “sins” were clearly known, the dead and the injured in the Ozubulu killings were mostly collateral damage.

The story is that at about 6:45am on Sunday, August 6, a Lexus jeep drove into St. Philip’s Catholic Church, Amakwa Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State while the 6:00am Mass was on, a lone gunman strolled out of the car into the church and shot at close range an elderly man, later identified as Pa Ikegwuonu, and opened fire on other worshippers. As some worshippers tried to flee, they were hit by bullets from the gunmen who remained inside the car. In the end, many lay dead while several others who were injured were rushed to different hospitals in the state, mostly Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital (NAUTH) and other private hospitals around Nnewi, for attention. As always, the exact number of the dead and the injured has remained a matter of controversy.

Nigerians in their entirety have roundly condemned the killings. There have also been several tales around what might have transpired. The official story says the killers were after a certain Aloysius Ikegwuonu (a.k.a. Bishop), who was said to have returned to the village on the previous day but left later in the day, and that the gunmen had apparently assumed he was in the church but when they did not find him, they killed his father and opened fire on the congregation.

“They came but did not get their target and they went to the church. We have not declared their target wanted because he is also a victim. He built a church for his people and that was where the killing took place. They were after him but ended up in the church,” Garba Baba Umar, Anambra State Commissioner of Police, told a national daily.

“We strongly suspect that the killing is related to a drug cartel. Whatever the problem, they should have sorted themselves out there instead of coming to Anambra to wreak havoc. We will certainly involve Interpol in cracking this case and we have already swung into action,” he said.

Governor Willie Obiano, who visited both the church and the teaching hospital, described the incident as worrisome, saying police preliminary investigations showed it was a case between two people from the community who were resident abroad.

“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,” Obiano said.

“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 said.

Let justice be done

Beyond the deluge of condemnations, it is of utmost importance that the culprits in that dastardly bloodshed are fished out and made to face the full wrath of the law. If it is indeed true, as Willie Obiano, governor of Anambra State, and the police have said, that the killings were a fallout of a drug-related quarrel between two indigenes of the town who live outside Nigeria, then it makes the matter much easier.

Already, some names are being bandied as those possibly behind the attack, with the official line being that the so-called Bishop was actually the target. We can only hope that these pointers do not lead to a dead-end.

Nigeria is a reservoir of unresolved murders. Beyond speculations, up till today no one knows the true killer(s) of Dele Giwa, neither has anyone been jailed for his murder 31 years after. Killers of Bola Ige, Funsho Williams, Dipo Dina, and a host of others are still walking free.

Killer herdsmen have been rampaging communities in southern Kaduna, Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Delta and numerous others, how many of these herdsmen have been arrested or prosecuted? Meanwhile, government has always “strongly condemned” every single attack.

So, beyond the declaration of a Day of Mourning in honour of the slain worshipers and holding a special prayer for the peaceful repose of their souls, it is clear that the best honour to these dead people would be that their killer(s) are brought to justice. The governor should, therefore, make good his promise that his administration would do everything within its power to fish out all the people behind the killings and bring justice and closure to bear on the matter.

A dangerous trend

Meanwhile, the killings signal a dangerous trend in Igboland. Rather than crawl into the ethnic cocoon and say, “No Igbo man can walk into a church and shoot at innocent worshippers”, or spin terrorist yarns around this matter, this is the time to carry out thorough investigation and find out the whole truth so that it can be nipped in the bud to avert a reoccurrence. For if it is indeed a drug-related gang war, then this might just be the beginning. Better to look for the black goat before night sets in and darkness swallows up everything.

Larry Iloh, a UK-based Nigerian, hit the nail on the head in a post on his Facebook wall thusly, “This is heart-wrenching and portends a dangerous omen for Ndigbo at this crucial time in our agitation for self-determination. Any sensible Igbo man right now should set propaganda aside and focus on the tragedy we have at hand.”

Loss of moral compass

For now, the story out there remains that Aloysius Ikegwuonu (Bishop), an alleged drug baron in South Africa, was actually the target of the gunmen. An article by Somuadila Ugwummadu, which has been circulating online, says that much. The article narrates how Bishop, a mere secondary school leaver, allegedly became a multi-millionaire barely four months after he travelled to South Africa in March 2001 and returned home in December of the same year to throw money around.

Without dwelling on other matters raised, there is no debating the fact that Bishop spoilt his community with “philanthropic” gestures, apparently shutting everyone up in the process. He constructed roads and invited Governor Obiano to commission them; renovated churches in Ozubulu as well as the Igwe’s palace; built St. Philip’s Catholic Church, where last Sunday’s killings took place, and handed over to Nnnewi Catholic Diocese; doled out scholarships to Ozubulu youths and took several of them to South Africa; instituted a charity foundation; donates to the state police and the local vigilante groups, among other “goodies”.

In all of this, no one bothered to ask the source of wealth of this young man. Even if they knew, everyone decided to silently enjoy the booty, including the church. Perhaps it could be there was really no way of distinguishing between “good” money and “bad” money. So so. But time was when parents and communities took pains to inquire about what their children did for a living and those who happened upon sudden wealth could not be touched even with a long pole. The departure from this noble path is the bane of many communities today.

Chika Unigwe, Nigerian-born writer and winner of the 2012 NLNG Prize for Literature, rightly imputed guilt on all those who should have spoken up early in the day but chose to keep mute.

“The alleged drug baron responsible for it, a man known as Bishop, lost his mother in 2010 (according to the Facebook posts of his foundation). At the time he hadn’t made it (according to the posts which lament the fact that his mother ‘died in poverty’ and ‘didn’t live to reap the fruit of her labour’). How does anyone make enough money – bar winning the lottery or getting a huge advance or being left a huge inheritance – to build 2 churches, buy cars, build a mansion, hand out scholarships like cups of water, establish a salary scheme etc in under 7 years? Did it not occur to anyone that he could not have made so much money, in so short a time, legitimately?” Unigwe asked in a Facebook post.

“Yet, he was given a chieftaincy title and feted by his community. His 35th birthday Mass was celebrated by 15 priests. His gifts were accepted. There are still people today (according to newspaper reports) including his ‘aide’ and the chairman of his LGA defending him. How do you condemn a man whose food you are still eating? It is not possible to speak clearly with a full mouth,” she wrote.

May the departed find eternal rest, may the injured recover quickly and, most importantly, may the lesson of this ugly incident not be lost on all of us.




August 13, 2017 | 2:16 am
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