The traditional ruler of Ozubulu community in Ekwusigo council area of Anambra State, Fidelis Nnamdi Oruche and Mrs. Carol Ikegwuonu , step-mother of Aloysius Ikegwuonu, popularly known as Bishop, talk about the Anambra Catholic church massacre with Chidiebube Okeoma and Tony Okafor.
Can we know you sir?
I am HRH Fidelis Nnamdi Oruche, the traditional ruler of Ozubulu community in the Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State.
Who is Aloysius Ikegwuonu otherwise called Bishop to you?
I didn’t know Aloysius Ikegwuonu until he returned from South Africa as a rich person. The truth is that everybody in Ozubulu is my subject. So, I will say that Chief Aloysius Ikegwuonu is my brother. He is a well-known philanthropist in this town and beyond. He had started helping the downtrodden, the less privileged and paying hospital bills of people before I met him. He had also started building projects like churches before we met. In all honesty, I will say that he is a very good person. He is not a bad man at all. He has a good heart and he is always ready to help people. Continue…
Do you know what he does for a living?
How can I know what he does when he is based abroad? He does not live in Ozobulu. He told us that he does some business abroad. He is not the only person from Ozubulu who lives abroad. We have many sons and children of the community who live overseas especially in South Africa.
What can you say about the killings in the Catholic Church which report noted that he built for the community?
I was not in the church when the incident occurred. Somebody called me on the phone to tell me about it. St Philip’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu, where the incident occurred, is a bit far from the palace. When the person called on the phone, the background was very noisy and I presumed that all was not well.
I was not feeling well on that day so I had to send somebody to the church. The report I got was devastating. The massacre took place around 6am. I was told that a tragedy had occurred in our community. I was told that gunmen invaded the church and opened fire on people who had left their various houses to worship God. I was told that lifeless bodies littered everywhere. I was saddened by the report because those who died were all my subjects, my brothers and sisters. I quickly called my council head and informed him of the horrifying development. The governor, who is the chief security officer of the state, together with security officers, arrived in the place quickly. Who has ever seen such a crime in the house of God before? Who has seen or heard that some invaded a worship place and didn’t say anything and only opened fire on people who didn’t do them any harm? The community is in mourning. Our land has been desecrated by the perpetrators of this crime and they will not go scot-free. We will assist the security agencies and the government, both at the federal and state levels to make sure that justice is served.
What could have led to such killings?
I don’t know of any drug deal as being reported. But I know that about three years age, Ozubulu Development Union in South Africa, was having serious leadership tussle. Our children who are living there were having a disagreement over who becomes the chairman of the union. They didn’t agree and couldn’t resolve the issue among themselves. Mind you that we have Ozubulu Development Union all over the world. The union is for peace and development of our community. So, when they couldn’t resolve the issue among themselves, all of them, numbering hundreds returned to the country from South Africa. The issue was brought before the President General of Ozubulu Development Union, Chief Nobert Anigbogu. Anigbogu tried his best but couldn’t solve the contentious issue. The factions insisted that the matter must be brought before me as the traditional ruler of the community.
Before then, some people disagreed that they would take a peace covenant in any shrine. The day the matter was scheduled to be heard in my palace, the crowd was overwhelming. I cannot recall the number, but we took minutes of the meeting including names of the attendees.
The meeting was a heated one but it wasn’t anything except a disagreement between brothers over who occupies the position of Ozubulu Development Union in South Africa. After ensuring peace, we invited the bishop of the Catholic Church diocese and a reverend father who came and prayed for us. The Blessed Sacrament was used as a covenant oath for everybody. The crowd was over two thousand people. We admonished them to be peaceful and live in harmony.
Have there been similar killings in Ozubulu community?
Yes, it has happened before and that also was very saddening and mysterious. Up till today, we are desperately waiting for the killers of those four young men to be nabbed. This incident I am telling you happened around 2007. Four of our security men were killed in a very agonising and painful manner by unknown people. Their body parts were not complete as we buried them. Their tongues, eyes and even private parts were taken away.
They were dragged into a bush where they killed them. It was painful. My brother was among the 2007 victims. The government and security agencies are aware of the issue. Their killers disguised by wearing camouflages. The victims were blindfolded. The palm wine tapper who saw them told us. We are still asking questions to know why they were killed and where their organs were taken to.
Do you think the Catholic Church killings have any link with insurgency?
I don’t think so because we have been living peacefully and harmoniously with other ethnic groups residing in the community.
There is no crisis between us and them. Even our relationship with the Hausas is cordial and peaceful. We do not have any reason to suspect that they were the ones who attacked and killed our people during the Sunday worship session at St Phillip’s Catholic Church. Many of our people live in other parts like others live in our community too. We have no reason to accuse anybody. Other ethnic groups who live among us are peace-loving. They do not disturb us and we give them the best support and protection.
What is the community doing to ensure the arrest of the fleeing killers?
Such a crime, such massacre in our community is not what we will fold our hands and watch. We have started finding solution to it. Our community has a rich culture and tradition. We have traditional ways of unmasking such a crime. We will explore all avenues to make sure that the perpetrators do not go unpunished. We have started the traditional and spiritual approach towards finding a solution to it. It includes all approaches that are in line with the culture of our people. We are also calling on the government, the press and everybody to support us because we want to get to the root cause of this crime. We are applying our old and sacred culture in this circumstance. We are confident that our tradition will unmask the perpetrators and bring them to justice. This is not a crime that we will allow to die a natural death. Our community is in the news for the wrong reasons and we are not happy about it.
Has the community begun mourning and purification processes?
Yes, we have started already. Like I told you earlier, everyone who got killed or injured in the deadly attack was from this town. So, you should know that the community is mourning already. Every one of us was directly affected. There are wailings in our land. We have already invited the bishop of the diocese who came to pray to rededicate our land to God.
We are working with the government to approve a day for us to mourn the victims of the attack.
Do you think the attack was fallout of a drug business gone awry?
I don’t know what you are talking about. People are free to say or alleged whatever they want. But the truth of the matter is that our people are not known for dealing in drugs. We are known for buying and selling of cloths. Go to Onitsha main market and you will understand what I am talking about. Dealing in cloths is our identity and not drugs. But I cannot speak for anybody. We are very industrious people.
I don’t know who the attackers are. I don’t know about the Mbaise connection in this. I have told you that the only altercation that happened was about the leadership problem among the community indigenes in South Africa which we resolved.
I initially told you that it was the president general that handled it for the first time and later, it was brought to my palace where it was solved amicably. Let me put on record that our community is pained by this development and we are insisting that the persons who desecrated our land the church of God must be caught and punished. I told you that the spiritual solutions to the development have begun. We are bringing back our old culture into the spiritual inquiry. We are going to approach the issue using the Igbo spiritual method of seeking solutions to their problems.
I’m lucky to be alive — Bishop’s step-mother
Tell us about yourself.
I am the stepmother of Aloysius Ikegwuonu, popularly known as Bishop.
What can you say about the killings in the Anambra Catholic church?
We were in the church early in the morning of August 6 and while the service was in progress, a gun-wielding man arrived the entrance door and opened fire on the worshipers. He started shooting sporadically at a close range. We ran to escape the bullets flying around and in the process, one of the hit me. That was when I lost consciousness and was revived in the hospital. The bullet hit me in the stomach but I am getting better. I am waiting for the doctors to discharge me. I want to go home.
How many people fired shots into the church?
I only saw one person and he was the one who stood at the door and opened fire on us. He didn’t say anything. I cannot really say if he wore a camouflage. I was only bothered about my escape at the time. I thank God that I am alive. The experience was a terrible one. Though the wound is giving me pain, I am better now and I want to go home.
Do you think bishop who is your stepson is quarrelling with anybody?
I don’t know and I wouldn’t say what I don’t know. All I know is that while the service was ongoing, a man entered, stood at the exit door and opened fire on us. People ran, some survived and others died. I am among the lucky ones hit by bullets but survived.