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7 Aug 2017

Anambra Massacre: Why Gunmen Attacked the Church on Sunday

A suspected drug deal that went wrong is assumed to be the cause of the massacre in Anambra which left 11 people dead and several others injured.
The Church premises in question

It was a bloody Sunday in Anambra State, yesterday, as unidentified gunmen invaded St Philip’s Catholic Church, Amakwa Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of the state, killing no fewer than 35 worshippers and injuring scores of others now receiving treatment in different hospitals in the state.

But the state police command said only eight persons were killed, while 10 others sustained various degrees of injuries. It was learned that trouble started for worshipers who were in church for the 6:00am Mass, when at about 6:45am, the gunmen rode into the church in a Lexus SUV, as one of them entered the church and shot at close range an elderly man, later identified as Pa Ikegwuonu, while others remained in the vehicle outside.

An eye-witness told Vanguard that after killing the old man, the gunman opened fire on other worshipers, as those who tried to flee were cut down by the gunmen outside the church. Pa Ikegwuonu is the father of Chief Aloysius Ikegwuonu, a businessman from Amakwa, who built and donated the church to Nnewi Diocese, while his wife was shot on her right arm and still on admission at the teaching hospital. It was gathered that the gunmen were looking for his son, Aloysius, who was said to have returned to the village on Saturday and left later in the day.

According to a source, the gunmen had thought  he was in the church and had wanted to deal decisively with him over a yet-to-be ascertained business deal.

How it happened — Witness

A survivor, Mr. Stephen Ohamadike, told Vanguard at the church premises that the gunmen entered the church around 6.45am as they were about to begin prayer of the faithful.

He said: “Those of us who were to say the prayers of the faithful had just assembled at the altar and I had Number 2 which meant that I was to say the prayer for Nigeria. Suddenly, I saw someone who was 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 altar and the Mass came to an abrupt end.

“I counted 11 dead people and many were wounded. I used the vehicle belonging to Pa Ikegwuonu to take him and his wife and others to Evans 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.”

The parish priest, Rev Father Jude Onwuaso, declined comment on the incident, saying the Bishop had directed that only the Diocesan Director of Communications should speak on the matter. Several other parishioners, who sustained bullet wounds were being treated at the hospital, with over 50 medical doctors from Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, NAUTH, and other private hospitals around Nnewi battling to save their lives at the Emergency Unit of the hospital.

Governor Willie Obiano, who visited both the church and the teaching hospital, described the incident as very worrisome, adding that preliminary investigations by the Police showed that it was a case between two people from the community who were resident abroad.

He said: “It is tragic that these two people had to bring their quarrel abroad to the village and to the church where innocent people had to be killed and injured. We are not going to relax until those who perpetrated this heinous crime are apprehended. That I can assure you.

“It was so bad that the gunmen went round the church to ascertain that the car belonging to the person they were after was there before they entered the church and started shooting, not knowing that it was his parents that came in the car. “I don’t want churches in this state to become apprehensive because of this incident because it is an isolated case.”

The governor commended the doctors for their quick response to save lives, adding that but for their intervention, more lives would have been lost. He promised that the state government would offset the bills of those being treated and assist in bearing the cost of the funeral of those who lost their lives.

The police boss told Vanguard on phone that they were yet to know perpetrators of the massacre but urged members of the public to give Police information in order to round them up. According to him, so far, we have not been able to know the exact number of gunmen that attacked the church.

He said:  “It could be one, two or more.  They came but did not get their target and they went to the church. We have not declared their target wanted because he is also a victim.  He built a church for his people and that was where the killing took place.

‘’They were after him but ended up in the church. We strongly suspect that the killing is related to a drug cartel. Whatever the problem, they should have sorted themselves out there instead of coming to Anambra to wreak havoc. We will certainly involve Interpol in cracking this case and we have already swung into action.”

In a separate statement, the state police command said it would leave no stone unturned in fishing out the gunmen.

The statement read: “Unknown gunmen had today (yesterday) Sunday, August 6, 2017, entered the church, while the Mass was going on and shot at worshipers. Following a distress call, men of the police force rushed there and are currently rescuing the worshipers.

“The hospital authority has confirmed eight persons dead and 18 injured. The command assures Ndi Anambra that the police is on top of the situation and will fish out the perpetrators soon.

“Intelligence report/preliminary investigation proved that it is a fight between the two sons of the community living outside Nigeria that caused the incident because one of them built the church which the incident happened.

“It is sacrilegious but for now it is still premature to disclose the identities. We will brief the public after investigation is concluded.”

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