THE OZUBULU CHURCH KILLINGS: THE INSIDE STORY OF ‘BISHOP’
By Anthony Opara
Readers of James Hadley Chase novels would appreciate the drama of the gory details of what can now be referred to as the Ozubulu Church Killings. It’s a complicated story with many facets and dimensions being told from several quarters. According to Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart spectators need to move around to appreciate a masquerade. This is because if you don’t move around you are likely to give a one sided description of the masquerade.
The story of the Sunday morning killings in St Philips Catholic Church is one that would be talked about in the years to come and as it is told salt and pepper would be added such that it will over time enter into the realm of ‘the unbelievable.’
The story which broke in the media the next day read thus- unknown gunmen had entered the St Phillips Catholic Church where the morning mass was going on and shot into the crowd of worshippers. When the dust settled, several people lay dead while many others sustained injuries and in a jiffy the morgues and hospitals in Ozubulu and the surrounding villages as far as Nnewi were filled with the dead and the injured. The Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano and some officials of his government including his Personal Assistant on Political Matters, Owelle Onyeka Mbaso who also hail from Ozubulu were in the town to commiserate with the people. The Governor stated that the shooting was the result of a business dealing between brothers that went awry. He also promised to pick the bills of the injured.
Also, in a swift response the Anambra Commissioner of Police told the media that the killing had nothing to do with herdsmen as was being speculated but that it was essentially a ‘drug war’ between brothers, a statement that has been roundly condemned as being too hasty as it appeared that the Police knew something beforehand about the attack and as such if they had all of that information, then why didn’t they nip the problem in the bud since it appeared that the big men behind the tragedy were known to the Police.
As has now filtered into the public space, the big masquerade in the infamous church killings that occurred on the morning of 6th August, allegedly is the 36-year old businessman, High Chief Alloysius Nnamdi Ikegwuonu Ebubechukwuzo alias Akuchinyere Nwata 1, Uzochukwu Kwalu 1 of Umueje, Ofufe Amakwa, Ozobulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State. He is the main benefactor of the Catholic Churches or parishes in the area and was in fact the builder of the Parish in which the killings occurred. Reports have it that when the gunmen who were apparently after him discovered that he was not in the church, they shot in the direction where his father normally sits and in fact killed him but later reports indicate that the father was not killed.
The young millionaire is said to be a friend of the Anambra State Governor who had also promised to deliver Ekwusigo to the APGA Government of Obiano in the election coming up later in the year and had indeed given each ward money towards the electioneering. The brain behind the Ebubechukwu Foundation was also in the habit of not only building churches but also doles out cash from time to time to the different parishes in the area and buys cars for newly ordained Rev Fr’s in the area.
His highest level of education was the Secondary School Certificate after which he moved to South Africa where within a few years he became very wealthy from allegedly dealing in hard drugs. He became so wealthy that in a short period he took as many young men from his locality especially some of his mates in the secondary school he attended where he also was the Senior Prefect, along with him. Some of the young people who joined him in South Africa didn’t know what he was into until they arrived there and were converted into being foot soldiers in the drug business. The young Bishop had tasted poverty as his parents were poor and he barely completed secondary school but all this changed when he returned back home with too much money that he became well known throughout Ozubulu and neigbouring communities. He also became a philanthropist overnight and courted the church as many priests can be counted among his friends. When he celebrated his 36th birthday in May, several priests were in attendance. It was a carnival of a celebration. Most families in Ozubulu have benefited from his philanthropic gestures.
As would be imagined, his drug business was a bloody one as he fought for turf with both Nigerian and South African gangs and as is the practice in most drug wars, deaths were frequently harvested. But the main twist in the tale presently has to do with information that Bishop turned on some of his boys and it’s their associated deaths and imprisonments in South African jails that led to the Sunday bloodbath in the house of God. In this light, there are three stories that when pieced together will begin to explain what happened at the church on that fateful Sunday morning.
One is what insiders refer to as the Mbaise Connection. This story is that one of the boys that served Bishop in South Africa was an Mbaise Imo state indigene called Ginika Nwoye alias Ginee, and who had been a classmate of Bishop at Comprehensive Secondary School (CSS) which was formerly College of Basic Studies (CBS) Egbema, Ozubulu. Ginee who later fell out with Bishop over the ownership of a drug pack which had been brought to South Africa by Bishop who needed a trusted right hand man. Ginee had to abandon his university education at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka to join his friend in South Africa.
It was at this time that Bishop was said to have become very oppressive and tyrannical in his drug business such that it didn’t take long for killings to start between him and his opponents in the business. As was to turn out, Ginee could not stomach this development and soon a war of sorts ensued between them. As the story further goes, Bishop at a time was said to have given Ginee a drug package to deliver but the said package was not delivered as Ginee claimed that Bishop had set him up and thereafter sent gunmen to collect the package on the way but Bishop insisted that the money which he would have made from the deal be remitted back to him or heads would roll. This disagreement led to the killing of foot soldiers on both sides and attempts were made to take the case home where the traditional ruler of Ozubulu allegedly tried to mediate between the two drug lords. His intervention didn’t yield any fruit as Ginee was later killed.
As would be expected in the drug kingdom, his people swore to avenge his death. It is being alleged now that it was the Mbaise people that had planned and executed the Sunday morning incident which was targeted at Bishop to avenge the death of Ginee, who is said to be an only child. Bishop who had ears and eyes all over the place had also at this time become almost impregnable as he went about with a platoon of soldiers and police men and had left Ozubulu for Owerri in the midnight having received information that the hunters were closing in on him. The killers, unaware of his flight, had proceeded on schedule and on getting to the rendezvous point, fired in the direction their target was supposed to sit in the church and in the process killed innocent people including women and children. The casualties was initially said to include the father of Bishop according to one unsubstantiated account. The Mbaise people were said to have stated that nothing will satisfy them other than the head of Bishop and those of his family members.
There is also the war between Bishop and one Obrocho said to hail from Ozubulu who was said to have been set up and later killed by Bishop who it was alleged became envious of Obrocho’s rise in the drug trade in South Africa. His people are said to be also hunting Bishop in order to kill him to settle the scores.
There is also the war between Bishop and one Nonso from Nnobi which also led to killings. Nnobi people also swore to revenge Nonso’s death in the hands of goons allegedly associated with Bishop.
Some eye witnesses however suggest that the killing had nothing to do with a drug war as the killers wore army fatigues and spoke in a strange language. For these witnesses the killers were either Boko Haram elements or herdsmen. Even a group called Biafran writers, an arm of IPOB said their investigation proved that it was no drug war as, according to them, Igbos would not kill innocent people in a church but that Boko Haram are known for their lack of respect for religious houses as they have in the past killed innocent people even in church settings. They cited the example of the killing of Deeper Life Christian Fellowship members inside their church in Kogi state. On his part, the Anambra State Governor has doused the allegations against herdsmen or even the dreaded Boko Haram by saying that it was war between brothers that led to the bloodbath,
Some questions however remain. Who approved a platoon of soldiers and policemen to an individual in a country at war with insurgents where men were needed in action and where the police claim that they do not have enough men to secure the country?
Why did the Church become so cozy with an individual like ‘Bishop,’ allowing him to build churches, buy cars for priests and dole out money to the clergy?
What do the NDLEA, Interpol and indeed the South African authorities know about the background to this clash?
The Difference Newspapers obtained the full names of all the categories of victims affected in the Sunday attack. As at the time of filing this report, 15 victims were in Accident and Emergency ward, 1 in Intensive Care Unit, 2 were in Pediatric Surgical, 1 in Trauma Center and two discharged. 13 dead people were recorded.
In the interim, the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi has opened an account at the United Bank for Africa, UBA for the care of the injured who are still in the hospital. In a statement issued by the Bishop, Most Reverend Hilary Paul Odili Okeke, the church will assist the victims and their families and the purpose of the account is to enable full accounting of the proceeds that would come from the faithful and volunteers.
One thing is clear at this point. Bishop may have escaped death now but he cannot sleep with his two eyes closed but will always have to continually watch his back. How long he can do this may determine how long he will live before his enemies get him or he in turn would take them out. And there are of course also the other alternatives of working out acceptable peace terms with his antagonists or turning himself over to the authorities in the hope that they can help him out of his very difficult predicament, even at a very steep price of perhaps spending the rest of his life behind bars. So where indeed then is the glory that he had so carnally sought all these years?
Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari