A drug war between rival gangs led to deaths of innocents in an Anambra church last weekend.
There is a clean up of the church on Saturdays, choir practice and youth fellowship on Fridays through Saturdays, Christian mothers meet during the week, the Reverend Father conducts confessions most Fridays and everyone shows up in their ‘Sunday best’ for Mass on Sunday.
Sunday service is called the homily in Catholic parlance. The service is often conducted off a manual called ‘order of mass’.
The choir commences service with hymns, there is 1st and 2nd reading of scriptures; the Psalm follows and then the gospel which is read by the priest. What follows is the ‘gospel acclamation’ and then the sermon.
The morning service at St. Philips commences at 5:45am.
MURDER IN GOD'S HOUSE
Minutes into mass last Sunday, however--somewhere between the 1st and 2nd readings--the generator went dead and a masked gunman pranced into St. Philips before opening fire on everyone.
It was dark in church when the bullets began to rain.
By most accounts, the gunman was alone. If he had a supporting cast, no one quite remembers, given the flurry of events that followed. Besides, church service is often a free-for-all and security is often relaxed on worship days.
“We were in the church and I was to handle the second reading”, recalls Ohamadike Stephen who spoke to Daily Sun. He had escaped death by whiskers.
“As the first reading was still on, I heard a sound like a thunder. I dived under a long foam in the church auditorium and from there raised up my head a bit and saw a young man with a fez cap shooting and people ran in all directions for safety in confusion”.
In the ensuing melee and sporadic gunfire, the priest, Rev Jude Onwuaso, slipped out of his cassock and ducked under a table where the communion elements are usually neatly arranged and where the Missal used to celebrate mass, perches.
Stephen says the church house had become a madhouse in a flash.
A worshipper, Akunwafor Ikegwuonwu, was the first to be shot between the eyes from pointblank range.
As he went down, parishioners fled in different directions.
“I remained where I was and that was around 5:45am”, Stephen recalls. “The Parish Priest removed his cassock and hid at the altar while the gunmen continued in the shooting spree.
“When they left, I helped in evacuating the wounded and casualties to the NAUTH, Nnewi.”
Eyewitnesses say the gunman made his way out of the church as fast as he had come in--in a getaway car.
It was difficult to say what he looked like or how big he was. Some say he was burly and imposing. Others say he had the physique of someone who had spent plenty of time in a gym but who still managed to look lanky.
But there was no confusion as to where he came from or who he was looking for.
The gunman who stormed St. Philips on Sunday, August 6, 2017, was a member of a drug cabal, available evidence suggests.
He was in church on a mission to take out the head of a rival drug gang who has since been identified as High Chief Aloysius Ikegwuonu aka Bishop Ozubulu.
Ikegwuonu, reports say, boasts friends in high places.
The police and everyone say this was a drug war that had found its way into the church pews. Sacrilegious as that may sound.
“The Ozubulu shooting at St. Philips Catholic church is a continuation of the drug war that has been going on in South Africa since 2013”, narrated a gentleman who identifies himself as Akukaria and who resides in South Africa.
“More than 30 guys have been involved in this war of who takes control of a park where drugs are sold in Hillbrow. Even wives and relatives have been killed in the crossfire.
“The last time Rev. Fr Ebube Mouso visited South Africa, one of the guys was gunned down right where the Reverend was holding his crusade”.
Akukaria says one kingpin of the drug gang is as bloodthirsty as they come.
“A notorious Nigerian who has been killing people since his arrival here in 1997 and who was sentenced in 2011, is behind these killings. He calls you from prison and tells you that he's not gonna gain freedom soon. And if you don't give his boy X amount, ..they will kill you. All he needs is information about which and which Nigerians are doing well. He gets your number and rings you for ransom.
“He happily tells his victims that he's well protected in South Africa prison and you can't get him. He then sends his guys, mostly South Africans, to kill our people.
“The guy that was targeted today is called Bishop Ozubulu. Arguably the richest Nigerian in South Africa. He built the St Philips Catholic Church and two other Catholic Churches in Ozubulu. Three of his boys have been gunned down in this same park in Hilllbrow.
“For the past two years, Bishop has upped his security details. In fact he's been protected by SAPS because most are his friends.
“He stays in one of the most secure areas in northern Suburbs of Johannesburg. So seeing they can't get him, they decide to go and kill his family members in Ozubulu”, Akukaria narrated.
Other sources corroborated Akukaria’s version of events, while adding that the dude who built St Philips Ozubulu and who was the target of the lone gunman, is friends with Anambra Governor Willie Obiano.
Pulse hasn’t been able to independently verify those claims.
Several sources say the gunman waltzed into this church with instructions to take out the rival drug kingpin. He had been told that the kingpin would be worshipping in St. Philips on the day.
But the target didn't turn up in church.
According to Twitter user, @isinmiri, the shootings at St. Philips had all the trappings of a gang war gone nasty.
“The tragic incident that happened today at St. Philips Catholic Church, Amakwa Ozubulu, is gang related", he wrote.
“The genesis of the beef started in SA (South Africa) between a guy called Bishop and his drug members, years back. Apparently, he made away with their money.
“A few of Bishop's loyalists were killed, he made his way to Naija and built the church -- where the shooting occurred -- amongst other things.
“Word got to aggrieved party that he was meant to hold a thanksgiving service at the church, and as normal, they came for him.
“Being the man that he is, Bishop didn't show up for the thanksgiving service, but his Dad and other members of his extended family did.
“The hit men opened fire on the church believing he was there.
“His Dad was amongst the dead.
“The people that died today at St. Philips Amakwa Ozubulu, were innocent people caught in a chain of events they had no knowledge about”.
The police has promised to track the perpetrators, although at the time of writing, the gunman and all gang members on either side of the drug rivalry, remain at large.
FISHING OUT PERPETRATORS
Said Anambra State police commissioner, Garba Umar:“police teams along with other sister security agencies under my direct supervision, were deployed to the scene to rescue the worshippers. Victims were evacuated to the hospital, and the hospital authority has confirmed 11 persons dead and 18 injured as a result of the shooting.
“The Executive governor of the state visited the scene while I was there, and assured the injured persons of his support in offsetting the medical bills and that the full wrath of the law will be visited on the perpetrators. The Command under my watch will leave no stone unturned in locating and prosecuting those behind the massacre of innocent worshippers.
“The Command assures Ndi Anambra and the general public that the Police is on top of the situation and will locate and prosecute the perpetrators soon. Intelligence report/preliminary investigation shows that the incident is as a result of a feud between two individuals who are from the community but who live outside Nigeria. One of the individuals, we learnt, built the church where the incident occurred. It is definitely not a terrorist attack in the mould of Boko Haram or Fulani herdsmen attack.
“The Command views this dastardly act as sacrilegious but for now considers it still premature to disclose the identities of those involved in the act. The Command will brief the public after investigation is concluded.
“I commiserate with all those who lost their loved ones from this unfortunate incident and pledge that the command would not rest on its oars until the perpetrators are apprehended to face justice. I want to also encourage Ndi Anambra to be vigilant and to report strange and suspicious movement of persons and actions in their locality to the security agencies promptly, please. Thanks and God bless”.
SORROW, TEARS AND BLOOD
Moments after the shooting, a pall descended on Ekwusigo, Nnewi north, Nnewi South, Ihiala, Aguata, and all the communities in Anambra.
There was sorrow, tears and blood everywhere you turned.
The church floor was a sea of blood as worshippers counted the dead and wounded.
“Heiiiii Jesusssss, Heiiiiiiii n’ulo uka kwa oo. Heiiii. N’egodu obara ndi mmadu (o Jesus! In a church? Heiiii. Look at people’s blood)”, one lady howled in palpable agony.
“Jesussss...Chineke mu o. Chineke i dizikwa ndu? Heiii n’egodu obara ndi mmadu n’ime ulo uka. Heiii n’egodu obara ooo. Chi mu oooo. Obi kara ndi ahu nwere me ihe ahu n’ulo uka?
"Chineke mu ooo (Jesussss… my God! God, are you still alive? Heiii Look at people’s blood in a church. Heiiii Look at people’s blood. My God! These people had the mind to do this in a church? My God!)”.
In the distance, a crowd had formed, tears streaming down eyeballs that had become the colour of crimson.
St. Philips; once a bustling citadel of worshippers, the faithful and singers, had morphed into a crime scene.