•I’m not sure I will be able to walk with my two legs again — Survivor
BY VINCENT UJUMADU
SUNDAY, August 6, 2017, was just like any other Sunday at Amakwa Ozubulu, in Ekwusogo Local Government Area of Anambra State. Parishioners of the beautiful St Philip’s Catholic Church in the village trooped to the church as early as 5.30am to attend the first Mass of the day. The church was built by a prominent son of the village residing in South Africa, Chief Aloysius Ikegwuonu, and was dedicated by the Bishop of Nnewi Diocese, Most Reverend Hilary Okeke.
Physical elements conspired to create a welcoming atmosphere for evil. First, there was no public power supply that fateful Sunday. For whatever reasons, the two generating set serving the church could not start that morning. The only option open to the worshippers to light up the church that morning was the use of candles.
The Mass sequence looked normal until that day. Then, suddenly, at 6.45am, something no one could ever dream of in a house of God happened: In what looked like a horror movie, a trigger-happy, manifestly demented young man, wearing black outfit with a face cap which concealed parts of his face, entered the church and rushed towards the front roll where the father of Aloysius, the builder of the church, Mr. Cyprian Ikegwuonu, was seated with his wife, Caroline, and others and started shooting indiscriminately.
There was pandemonium and many people tried to escape through the two available doors.
By a wicked twist of fate, those who were mowed down happened to be those who attempted to escape from the gunman’s bullets because he trained his gun at those trying to run out of the church. The celebrant of the Mass and the parish priest, Rev Father Jude Onwuaso, being human like others, defied protocol, headed for the sacristy, and made his escape. The Mass servers, following the priest’s lead, hurriedly followed him.
Despite the shouts of Jesus, Jesus by most people in the church, the gunman, now consumed by evil, continued to shoot. About a dozen died on the spot while many were injured from gunshots and the stampede that ensued. The few who could escape without injuries ran far out of the area into safety.
Volunteers took the wounded to the Acess Hospital in Ozubulu and those in critical condition were taken to the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi. By the time the counting was done, 12 people, including Cyprian Ikwgwuonu, father of the builder of the church, were confirmed dead, while 27 others that were wounded, including Ikegwuonu’s wife, Caroline, were admitted at the Emergency Unit of NAUTH. Of the 12 people confirmed dead, 10 were females, including a baby, while two were males. 10 of the bodies were deposited at New Haven Mortuary, Ozubulu.
As expected, the social media practitioners were at work and quoting various figures as the casualties, with some people quoting as much as 50 deaths. Stories also began to make the rounds as to the reason for the attack in the church. While some people said it was those who Alysius Ikegwuonu allegedly cheated in a business deal that came to the church to finish him as he was billed to attend the service; others said the gang deliberately came to kill his father since he had remained elusive in their thinking.
Some of the people who spoke after the incident said they never imagined in their life that a human being created by God would enter the church in this part of the country with the aim of killing worshippers, no matter the type of provocation.
One of the survivors, Mr. Stephen Ohamadike, told Sunday Vanguard at the church premises that the gunman entered the church at the time they were about to begin the prayer of the faithful. He said: “Those of us who were selected to say the prayers of the faithful had just assembled at the altar and I had Number 2 which meant that I was to pray for Nigeria. Suddenly, I saw someone who was dressed in a black attire putting on a cap, shooting indiscriminately inside the church.
“There was pandemonium and in the midst of the confusion, I just lay down on the floor. The officiating priest and the Mass servers quickly left the alter and the Mass came to an abrupt end. I counted 11 bodies and many were wounded. I used the vehicle belonging to Pa Ikwgwuonu to take him and his wife and others to Access Hospital where the doctors advised us to go to the teaching hospital. I used the car to convey many other people to the hospital before I came back to Amakwa.”
Mr. Joel Obunadike, who lost his uncle, his brother’s wife and a baby girl, said they were facing the altar when the gunman shot them from behind and the bullet caught them where they were sitting.
According to him, they sustained injuries and died later at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, adding that his brother whose wife and child were killed had not even returned home. It was gathered that the baby was taken to the theater for operation yesterday where she later died.
Joel said: “We were in the middle of the service when I noticed that a vehicle was parked outside. The car later moved from the spot and turned back few minutes later and parked at the same spot.
“A young man came into the church through the back door of the church and started shooting while backing the alter. Many people tried to escape through the two doors and to our surprise, the gunman started shooting at them on both doors. It was a terrible thing. I did not rush out like others immediately and it was most of the people who tried to escape that were either killed or wounded.”
Two other victims, Samuel Ndulue and Chinasa Chukwueloka, also narrated their experiences. Ndulue, who said he may no longer use his two legs said: “I was sitting on the third roll from the front of the church when the shooting started and I got up to run away only for the bullets to hit me on my two legs. I became unconscious and it was when I woke up that I discovered that I was in the hospital. But I am happy to still be alive”.
Miss Chukwueloka said it was a miracle that she was still alive, adding that she followed other people to run when the shooting started only to fall at the middle of the church when she was hit by the bullets.
Mrs. Christiana Okafor, who hailed from the neighbouring Ihembosi community and whose village people worship regularly at the church, said she had to return from Enugu to ascertain the situation, adding that though she did not lose anyone, she was sad that people had to lose their lives under such circumstance.
Chairman of Ekwusigo Local Government, Mr. Ikenna Ofodeme, said he was compiling details of the casualties and wondered why someone should enter the church to kill innocent people.
According to him, it was possible that God wanted to use the incident to expose some bad people in the community and prayed that it would be the last time such an incident would happen in the local government.
The Nnewi Diocesan director of communication, Rev Fr Hyginus Aghaulo, on Wednesday released the names of the casualties, saying that 12 people lost their lives, while 22 were wounded.
Fr. Aghaulo said:” It is regrettable that our people are more and more losing their sense of their sacredness. What on earth should make people open gun fire on innocent unarmed worshippers on Sunday morning, including children and women? We condemn this ungodly act in its entirety and pray to Almighty God to console the affected families and we assure them that our hearts are with them.
The Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis also sent a condolence message to the Bishop and the families of the victims. Just a day after the incident, the Bishop celebrated Mass in an uncompleted building near the church since the congregation no longer had access to the church itself.
The fear of the parishioners is that the police occupation of their church might take some time, going by the fact that there had not been any service in the church since the incident.
Fr Aghaulo said in an interview that it was not likely that the gates of the church would be opened for today’s service, adding that the parishioners of St Philip’s were already making alternative arrangement for their Sunday worship.
While the police said some people had been arrested over the incident, Governor Willie Obiano observed that it was a quarrel between two people from the area. He said: “What happened in Ozubulu was neither a terror attack as we know it, nor a violent action by some agitators. We are dealing with a dangerous gang war that has spilled over to Anambra State from another African country. But this is the last time it will happen under my watch!
“I want to assure you that we are on top of this situation. We are completely in charge here. The people directly and remotely involved in this crime are known to the law enforcement agencies. But no suspect, no matter how highly placed, is above the law. So, we have taken bold steps to bring them to book and restore the peace and tranquility that Anambra State has enjoyed since the past three years.
“Sincerely, there is no cause for fear or alarm here. Anambra State is safe. Our churches and places of worship are safe. So, our people should not be discouraged from going to church to serve their God because what happened in Amakwa, Ozubulu is an isolated case.”
The governor was however worried that in the 25-year history of the state, never has a single act of senseless violence consumed so many lives and called on the people to join hands with his administration to rid the society of all vestiges of crime and criminality.
But the nagging question was the motive behind the attack. While some people said it was drug barons that carried their war in South Africa to Nigeria, others said it was the tussle for the leadership of the community in the Diaspora that triggered the killing of each other by Ozubulu indigenes in that African country.
Traditional ruler of the town, Igwe Fidelis Oruche, said the community had tried severally to settle the matter, but to no avail and hoped that the innocent people whose blood had been spilled would serve as a turning point to the trouble makers in the community.