It was a bloody Sunday morning in Ofufe-Amakwa Ozubulu community in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State yesterday, as gunmen invaded the St. Philip Catholic Church in the community shooting indiscriminately and at the time the smoke from the guns cleared, 11 worshipers were left dead with many critically injured.
An eye witness said the gunmen had come into the church where early worshippers had gathered for the 7:30 a.m. mass, identified a man and shot him.
According to him, the shooting was followed by panic and stampede from the frightened worshipers who all tried to get out of the church auditorium, but this perhaps angered the gunmen who started shooting sporadically into the crowd, leading to the death of the 11 persons, while many sustained various degrees of injuries.
The dead and wounded worshipers were taken to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, where a team of doctors were still battling the save many as at press time.
Though the motive behind the attack is not clear, but the source said that it was speculated that it was a result of disagreement between two brothers from the community who are in diaspora.
It was also confirmed that the officiating priest at the mass was not injured in the shooting.
Earlier, the Parish Priest of St. Philip’s Catholic Church, Jude Onwuaso, said that the attack took place at about 6.30 a.m. during a Holy Mass celebration.
According to the priest, an unidentified man came into the Church, shot at a man, Akunwafor Ikegwuonwu, before shooting sporadically at other worshippers.
A witness, who simply identified herself as a choir member, said that the church was dark as there was no light.
She said that the generating set suddenly developed fault; so, the mass proceeded with the congregation using candles.
According to her, the gunman, after the shooting, immediately jumped into a waiting car with a driver.
The Police Commissioner had earlier confirmed eight people dead and 18 others injured in the attack.
However, some eye witnesses has exonerated Fulani herdsmen of any complicity in the shooting.
An eye witness account of the ungodly act told The Daily Times hours after the incident, that some unknown gunmen stormed the village around 6 am on Sunday allegedly to assassinate a billionaire son of the clan, Chief Alloysius Ikegwuonu (a.k.a Bishop Ebubechukwuozi 1 of Amakwa Ozubulu), unfortunately he was not at home when they visited his residence, which they had ransacked before heading to St. Philips Catholic Church, where the billionaire usually attends and which is close to his house.
The gunmen were said to have held everyone hostage while they combed the church premises searching for Ikegwuonu to no avail.
The church members, according to the eye witness, were accused by the gunmen of hiding the chief, a situation that caused them to start shooting sporadically on the congregation thereby leaving many dead and numerous persons injured including ‘Bishop’ father who was shot on his hand.
Meanwhile, the governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, who visited the scene of the incident as well as Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, to ascertain the level of damages and sympathise with victims, said preliminary security investigations shows that the shooting was caused by a feud between two brothers from the community living outside Nigeria.
“This is sacrilegious, totally unacceptable in Anambra State,” Governor Obiano said.
However, the deeply saddened governor asked the people to go about their businesses without fear or panic, noting that this isolated case must be followed to the root and all perpetrators must be brought to book.
“We can’t allow this happen in Anambra, we must get everyone involved to face the music,” the governor declared.
At the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, where the injured are being treated Obiano thanked the over 50 doctors who were on hand looking after the injured, and promised that all medical bills will be taken care of by the state government.
Reacting to the incident, President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, expressed deep sadness over the massacre.
In a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki stated that the killing of worshippers represents the purest kind of evil, and the security services must not stop until the perpetrators are brought to justice.
“Today, my heart goes out to Nigeria’s Christian community, Governor Willie Obiano, the people of Anambra State, and the families of the victims and the survivors of this terrible massacre,” the Senate President said, adding “this brutal act of attacking innocent and unsuspecting worshippers represents the purest kind of evil.
“Our security forces must not stop until everyone involved in the orchestration and execution of today’s massacre in St. Philip’s Catholic Church, Anambra State are brought to book by the strong arm of justice.
“The Senate will continue to offer any form of necessary assistance in this endeavour, because today, all of us, as Nigerians have been attacked by this senseless act committed by evil people,” Saraki stated.
Also reacting, former Minister of Aviation, Chief Osita Chidoka, said he was saddened by the incident.
Chidoka decried what he called the desecration of the temple of God, noting that nobody attacked anyone in the church even during war times.
“This is tragic; the church is a place of refuge to anyone who runs into it, and this wicked, barbaric and mindless bloodletting, shows that something has gone wrong on our psyche.
“My heart goes to the bereaved at this moment of pain. I pray that God grants the soul of the departed eternal rest as I urge the security agents to fish out the perpetrators and make them face the law,” he said.
On his part, Oseloka Obaze, a former Secretary to Anambra State Government, said such callous attacks dehumanised the society.
“Our heart goes to the family and parishioners of St. Philips Catholic Church, Ozubulu, where unidentified gunmen reportedly killed several church members and wounded several others early today.
‘’Such violent incidents dehumanises our society.”
In his reaction, Victor Oye, the National Chairman, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), said that no amount of provocation could justify the killing of innocent people who had gone to worship in a Church.
Mr. Oye, who described the attack as wicked, urged the security agencies to unravel those responsible for the dastardly act.
“As a political leader, I totally condemn the Ozubulu Church shooting as dastardly, unjustifiable and callous.
“Nobody has the right to kill innocent citizens. The Police and other relevant security agencies should ensure that the perpetrators of this crime are caught and made to face justice,” he said.
Jude Emecheta, who hails from Ozubulu, said “a dark cloud has befallen my peaceful town”.
Emecheta, who is the Managing Director of Anambra Signage and Advertisement Agency, ANSAA, said that the losses from the attack were too much for the people to bear.
He wondered why brothers could visit such attack on their people and urged those involved to “sheathe their swords.”