EVERYTHING in the vicinity was hushed, eerie. A certain, stifling stillness was cast around St. Philip’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu, denying it known boisterousness that accompanied the end of morning Mass. Something was amiss.
New arrivals waved weakly to recognised faces as they weaved their way to wherever held promises of the juicy accounts of what happened, or should not have happened. There were no songs not even a requiem yet you would feel like singing one to avoid the void. The gathering of hundreds looked like indiscriminate amateurs waiting the start of a poorly organised marathon. In muffled tones, barely audible in the thickness of their dangling thoughts, they were rehashing tales of a macabre massacre.
It was Sunday, August 6, 2017. A holy, jolly day had been thrown into an unfathomable pit of sadness that seeping through social media smeared grisly images to a world that witnesses new savagery by the minute.
St. Philip’s was attacked a few hours earlier. The early morning Mass had been abridged by gunmen who rose as the congregation worshipped, emptied a hail of bullets on substituted targets. Their aim Aloysius Ikegwuonu, who bore the impressive title Bishop, was unavailable.
Thirteen were killed; some of them died in hospital, and 29 were injured. Among the dead was Chief Cyril Ikegwuonu, 75, Bishop’s father. The attackers seemed to have known where he was seated. Most of the shots were reportedly in that direction. They were said to have felled him in lieu of his son.
Trail of blood, fast drying on the tiled floor, disappeared behind the secured church door. Bloody foot prints of the fleeing attackers, eyewitnesses, and the tape that ringed the building, denoting it a crime scene, were the remaining confirmations of the violation of the sacredness of a place of worship.
Rev. Father Jude Onwuaso was drained from recounting the incident to photo opportunity seeking VIPs who discovered Ozubulu on that day. His one-storey abode, newly completed, like the church, was another of Bishop’s generosity to the promotion of his faith – St. Philip’s was one of three churches he single-handedly built. The asphalted road that snaked off a dilapidated Nnewi-Onitisha Road to St. Philip’s was also thanks to Bishop. A billboard displaying Bishop, Governor Willie Obiano, on the occasion Bishop baptised his young son, was a decent distance from the church, yet it dismissed any disputes over the territory until the gunmen arrived.
Father Onwuaso recalled, “We were reciting ‘I believe in one God’, to which the congregation chorused amen and, immediately, as I introduced the Prayer of the Faithful, huge sounds like volcanic eruption filled the church. Initially, there was total silence, but moments later, pandemonium set in. There were sporadic shootings inside the church and people started running in different directions. What we had left behind were pools of blood of fellow human beings inside the church.”
Nothing was new in a church being attacked in parts where laboured attempts at scuttling the Christian faith were routine. But in Igbo land such attack was unthinkable. Nobody could remember a precedent.
Was it an attack on the church or an attack in the church? Speculations persisted and percolated to a more plausible position that it was a chosen settlement for a business dispute that originated in South Africa between Bishop and partners.
Did the clergy visit the woe on the congregation through its chummy relationships with Bishop or the police that praised Bishop for building their stations when their lethargic investigation of the case was challenged?
A muted point was that Bishop was so wired that Governor Obiano was his son’s godfather. Catholic Bishop of Nnewi Diocese Most Rev Hilary Odili Okeke had a hard time explaining his closeness to Bishop. Ozubulu was doomed to be forgotten with similar dispatch as the one with which the gunmen fled. It has been consigned to the heap of forgotten issues as we plough through labyrinths of nation-building.
The church re-opened a week after the attack. Governor Obiano promised through his Secretary to the Government Professor Solo Chukwulobelu that the Anambra State Government would do everything possible to ensure that victims obtained justice in the matter. On 13 April 2019, Justice Fidelis Aniukwu released the last two of the four suspects. The prosecution had failed to prove its case.
Ozubulu preceded unknown gunmen. Bishop, ever-generous, never-changing, reportedly compensated families of the dead, paid hospital bills, shared COVID-19 palliatives, and has kept his ranking in the community, in one of the never-ending stories of our society.
.SOUTH East Governors and the region’s leaders must take control of the area by stopping the weekly disruption of lives and enterprises IPOB has imposed. This can be done without loss of lives. The Federal Government has no interest in whatever IPOB does in the South East except if it provides further opportunities to devastate the region.
.OUR abilities to be divisive no longer bear boundaries. Abba Kyari’s tangle with FBI has thrown up a coalition of lawyers for his defence known as Northern Lawyers. The move sustains the self-serving narrative that the South pulled down a rising Northern super cop and super star.
.WE only assume the wheel of justice is slow until the high and mighty need appeasement. Alhaji Yakubu Numan, a Yola businessman, has been jailed less than a month after his Facebook publications offended Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri of Adamawa State. The publications were made on 11, 12, 13, 17, 20, 29 July 2021, in Hausa and Fulfulde. By 12 August 2021, Numan was jailed. If the case was about a Governor stealing billions of Naira, it could last 10 years before a conviction, if any.
.SAM Sochukwuma Okwaraji died 12 August, 32 years ago, playing for Nigeria. The poor medical services that partly accounted for his death have worsened. Doctors are currently on strike. The official position is to abuse them.
.Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues