Anxiety Envelops Ozubulu as Community Fears Reprisals
• Osinbajo vows to bring perpetrators to justice
• Police arrest suspects
• Obiano declares statewide mourning
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja and David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka
Palpable fear of further violence Monday pervaded Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State, which was violated by a gunman who killed scores of worshippers at the community’s St Philip’s Catholic Church last Sunday morning.
Although the police said they were on top of the situation and had arrested some suspects, many residents expressed fears of reprisals as opposing gangs were being expected to retaliate over the deaths of their relatives who were hit in the last Sunday attack.
Residents, who spoke to THISDAY, were worried that a gang war might break out, further endangering their lives.
But soothing assurances came from Acting President Yemi Osinbajo Monday, asking the people to remain calm as the long arms of the law would surely rein in the perpetrators of the dastardly act.
The acting president in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, said he had been receiving regular updates on the incident, which the police put the deaths at 11 and the injured, 18.
He condemned it as a despicable act of violence and commiserated with families, relatives and friends of the victims, and the entire people and the government of Anambra State.
He said he had been in touch with the Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, police authorities and other security agencies on the killings and rest assured the public that those behind it would be brought to justice.
Preliminary investigations, according to the Commissioner of Police, Anambra State Command, Mr. Garba Umar, showed that the incident arose from a disagreement between two drug lords from the community but residing outside the country. He said some arrests had been made and promised to give further information in due course.
THISDAY arrived the community about 12 noon to behold a very quiet community, with indigenes wearing long faces and going about their daily activities.
Ugwu Oye junction, a popular area that also has a market, which is the first point on coming from Nnewi to Ozubulu was not the usual bubbly junction it had always been. The loud music from the public address system owned by those who sell music discs was obviously absent.
Commercial activities, however, went on normally, but it was clear that all was not well in the community.
The church where the incident happened was deserted unlike Sunday afternoon when the church was besieged by sympathisers.
An indigene of the community, Mr Calistus Ndukamma, who lives close to the church premises. said: “Those who witnessed what happened yesterday are still in shock, and we are still living in fear. Do you know that if you throw a knockout here, people will take to their heels?”
Meanwhile, three members of a family have been confirmed to be among those killed during the church attack.
Chairman of Ekwusigo Local Government Area, Mr. Ikenna Ofodeme, who spoke to THISDAY in his office at the council headquarters, said one family, which was later identified as Obunadike family, was also involved in the incident.
Ofodeme said the unidentified man from the Obunadike family who was among those shot dead also lost his wife and new born child.
“The lady was carrying her new born child when the bullet pierced her back, came out through her chest and also pierced her baby and they both died,” Ofodeme said.
The council chairman also said that after analysis, it had been ascertained that a total of 12 persons lost their lives in the attack and that they consisted of nine women, one baby, and two men.
He said that he had also written an official letter to the hospital authority for proper identification of the dead and injured persons for record purposes.
Most of those who were hospitalised were also said to have been discharged, while 27 others who were still in the hospital were in stable conditions.
The council boss said it was not true that the killing was motivated by a feud between two drug lords, saying that the said suspected drug lord, Mr. Aloysius Ikegwuonu, who was allegedly targeted by the gunman left the community on Saturday.
“Ikegwuonu was here, and for two days he played football with youths in the community and even gave out football boots to people. If it was he they needed, they would have come then and taken him.
“What I can say is that there may be a political undertone to this attack. Why is it coming now that election is coming? Remember that security is the biggest achievement of our governor and some politicians may be seeking to discredit him by doing this.
“I believe that in the fullness of time the true story will be unveiled. The police are working and I believe they can do it. Saying that drug barons did this or did that is wrong because if it is true, then the police will just work on that, but it is not true,” the council chairman affirmed.
At the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital where several victims of the attack were being treated, Mr. Samuel Ndulue, who sustained two broken legs, while speaking to THISDAY recounted how he was saved from the bullets sprayed in the church by the gunman.
He said: “I was sitting in the third row of the seat, right in front of the church when it started. It was only one man that entered the church, but I suspected that their members may be in a car outside. The man was dressed in all black attire, with a fez cap. Immediately he entered, he neither said a word nor made any enquiry, I was in front and he was behind. So, he stood close to one of the three doors of the church. He started immediately, shooting at everyone.
“I took cover, lying on the ground, but as the man continued to kill people, I decided to stand up and run towards the door because my thought is that the man may have enough bullet to finish everybody. It was while rushing towards the door that I sustained broken legs because the man was standing close to one door, leaving us with just two doors to use.”
He said most of the people that sustained injuries were those who tried to escape through the door, but because too many people were using it at the same time, they sustained injuries.
The state police boss, Umar, said his men had made some arrests but would not give details because disclosing further information on the arrested suspects might jeopardise the investigation.
In a statewide broadcast Monday, Governor Obiano declared a day’s mourning in honour of those killed.
He said: “We shall observe a minute of silence in their honour at 12 noon today and special prayers shall be offered for them in churches and prayer houses across Nigeria and in the Diaspora. We have also opened a condolence register for them in the Government House.”
Members of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) joined in condemning unequivocally the barbaric attack, saying it was untrue that the killing was caused by a business deal between brothers that went bad.
A statement by the media and publicity secretary of the group, Mr. Emma Powerful, said the conclusion by the police that the killing was a result of a business deal gone wrong in faraway South Africa was a hasty one and could not be said to be true.
It said: “It is unfortunate that the Nigeria police who are required to enter into a detailed investigation with the view to apprehending the culprits, merely concluded within an hour that they knew the cause and the perpetrators of the crime.
“We don’t know when Nigerian Police acquired this level of efficiency and excellence that enabled them to conclude their investigations within an hour. Does it mean they had prior knowledge of the crime and if so, why weren’t measures put in place to pre-empt it?”
The group wondered why with all the countless police and army check points along the roads in Anambra State, especially along Onitsha-Owerri Road leading to Ozubulu, the killer was not intercepted, given that crime detection and prevention was often cited as the main reason why AK47 brandishing police and army recruits littered the roads.
It said: “We are alerting the international community, men and women of good conscience to prevail on the Nigerian and Anambra State Governments to constitute an independent and transparent panel of inquiry to ascertain what actually happened because this level of brutality is unheard of in Anambra State and entire Biafran land before now.
“This massacre of our people in Ozubulu as with other indiscriminate slaughter of our people around Nigeria is a constant reminder to us all of the threat we face each day we delay our exit from Nigeria. Unfortunately for us, these heinous crimes will be visited upon us at predictable intervals until we collectively summon the courage to demand for our right to a referendum that will settle this once and for all time.”