From David Onwuchekwa, Nnewi
in the wake of the killings of innocent worshipers at St Philip’s Catholic Church, Amakwa Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State on August 6, 2017, the Catholic Bishop of Nnewi Diocese, Most Rev Hilary Odili Okeke has been playing host to scores of sympathizers trooping in from various parts of Nigeria and beyond to Nnewi where the diocesan bishop’s court is located to commiserate with the bishop.
The Diocesan bishop while speaking with newsmen lamented the desecration of the church by the tragic incident. However, he said its cleansing would have been possible, if the church had been dedicated in the first place, but because it was not dedicated, Bishop Okeke ruled out its re-dedication.
His words: “It is very disastrous, I really believe it was a terrible thing that happened to us. That it happened in the church even makes it worse and it is unacceptable to us or any other one. Violence in the church is church desecration and the implication is that the devil is at work. The devil can work anywhere. That the devil led people to come into the church to kill shows that the devil is very much at work.
“As for the cleansing, we would have done that, especially if the church was dedicated, but this church was not dedicated. If it were a dedicated church, it would be rededicated. All we have to do is to pray. We have already done that. The day we went there, we discovered that it was sealed and we went to a nearby place and celebrated mass, not only for God to give eternal rest for the dead but a speedy recovery of the wounded and also for God to touch the lives of those who committed the heinous crime.”
However, some people have opined that the church generally should have internal security arrangements because of rising crime wave all over the country. It is for this reason, according to the proponents, that some personalities go to church with their security details including the army and the police. The bishop said the church would continue to hand over the worshipers and security issues to God. He supported his submission with what is written in the scripture that if God did not watch over the city, the watchmen are watching in vain. He said that even in developed countries like America and in Europe, criminals still strike with all the security arrangements put in place.
According to him, some time ago Pope John II was shot despite the security around him. He, however, said that if the church would begin to make security arrangements that it needed no publication, that it should be done unannounced.
Asked what lessons could be learnt from the massacre, Bishop Okeke said people should always be careful wherever they are as the devil has been at work both in the church and everywhere.
“The lessons are for mankind to know that the devil has always been at work, so they have to be careful. I always call upon people to change, that the kingdom of God is at hand. Those who think that they can gain the whole world should know that live is vanity upon vanity. The important thing is to live in such a way that when we leave this world, we will go and live with God forever. That is my life, that is my vocation and that is what I’m here for. That I die today does not mean anything to me. The important thing is to be ready to die, ready to go to God.”
Even though the Bishop is writhing in pains over the massacre of his parishioners, some people in some quarters have begun to call for his resignation as bishop. Confronted with this call, Bishop Okeke who was visibly angry over that said: “They themselves will resign first. If they want me to resign, let them resign first. Let them resign. People just open their mouth and begin to say what they like and you should not listen to all that people say. If people who know everything will come out and bring any criminality upon the bishop, bishop will take action, the church will take action. Not that someone opens his mouth to say whatever he likes. They are free to say whatever they want to say.”
A major area that bothers some Christians and non-Christians alike is why church organizations accept offers of church buildings and other donations from groups and individuals without bothering to find out source of income of the donors.
On this touchy issue, he said: “But if you get the information that the person is making his money through a dubious way in criminality, then you know what to do. It is not just a question of anybody who brings money or offers anything to the church, you go to the police and ask them to investigate this man’s source of wealth before you accept it. It is not done. If you do it, then even in the church we should not be accepting any money because evil people can come to church and give. It is God who knows if the person is giving the money from criminal or immoral source. God knows everybody and will reward the person accordingly. If you know that the person is a criminal that is when you now tell him, my man go and change.”
He said about fifteen churches in the Diocese were built by private individuals and noted that it is only someone who had been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction that the church would not accept offers from. “Even in the Bible it is not the work of the church to begin to cast people away. The church is for the saints and sinners and it is our duty to continue to preach to the sinners.”
He told the parishioners not to be scared from going to church by the incident but rather exhibit their faith in this challenging period.Drug, church link must be probed–Archbishop of Lagos, Adewale Martins
By AYO ALONGE and EDHERIGHO EFEMENA
the Archbishop of Lagos, Alfred Adewale Martins, bares his mind on the Ozubulu massacre, lamenting that the country’s security system is porous and insisting that a thorough and revealing investigation be carried out on the incident.
What is your general impression of the Ozubulu massacre?
It is rather a huge shock to hear that news on Sunday. We couldn’t imagine just anybody going into the church, randomly killing people; just opening fire on people. It seems like someone has taken leave of humanity or his own humanity to have just gone and shot people who you have never met, who you do not know and to do that in a more sacred place — inside the church where people were gathered to worship. It is so completely inhuman and the world is yet to recover from the shock of it that people would just go and worship God and that happened. Whatever the cause may have been, I don’t see why anybody with his correct senses would just go out and shoot people in cold blood. So, it’s a real big shock, something I think is unprecedented in this country.
What is the present mood of the Catholic Church?
We are all sad and worried that a thing like that happened at all. That happened within a diocese, the Diocese of Nnewi and I am sure that the Bishop of Nnewi has been making effort, first of all, to console people and assist them to cope with the loss, trauma and all the terrible things that happened but beyond that, I know that the Bishop is not only consoling them but is also praying for them with the highest prayer we know in the mass. Apart from that, he is also working to see that financial help and assistance is given to those who were wounded and traumatised.
In the first instance, how bothered are you as to the several accounts to the rationale behind the blood shed?
Of course one is bothered but one shouldn’t expect that there wouldn’t be a complete investigation about the incident, until there is an adequate investigation carried out. That investigation is needed and all these different explanations should be pursued in order to find out which is the correct one. I am glad to hear that a number of people have been arrested; it must be that there is a connection with the activity and it is necessary that those different theories, lines of explanation be pursued so that we would be able to know what steps to take.
After hearing all the accounts, it leaves one to bother what would have connected the church to a community dispute or drug war. What do you make of this?
Obviously, those are the things that need to be investigated. What we are told is that it was expected that the families who are in vendetta would be in the church on that day and so they went for their targets. Obviously, how they would have gone for the person and just open fire on the congregation is beyond understanding.
Looking at it critically, what does this say about the country?
Well I think that in my own estimation, it is another example of the fact that there has been an erosion of the dignity and value of human life. If our country still holds the dignity of the human person and the value of human lives, no one would raise their hand and kill people. Also, it is an indication that we really need to return to the original values that make us humans, that makes us Christians, that makes us people of whatever faith that we have because if anybody that has been brought up, in this case does not think twice as to human lives, then something has gone wrong with his psychic. This is why we are also talking about Boko Haram killing people anyhow. This is why we are talking about ritualists anyhow. The Badoo group is another example of loss of respect for human rights, the same way we talked about people who kidnap others and subdue them, then the value of human lives has become so cheap in our country and we need to continue to find ways and means of establishing the importance of this in the minds of people. Then of course, if one of the theories behind it is true about drug deal, it also shows that we have lost the value of the integrity of human person that involves ensuring that if you have anything at all against anyone, get it through the appropriate means. In other words, the love of money, get rich quick, seem to have overtaken us in a lot more way than we should as a nation. That is why all of the corruption things are also out there, somebody acquiring so much at the expense of others. Just these values of integrity of lives and honesty, they seem to have been lost, compared with many more years ago when people had the fear of God, had respect for their own good family names. These things should make us rethink of our value and respect.
Do you have any suspicion?
I was not there when it happened and so it becomes difficult for me to suspect anything. But from the unfoldings, I would say I am in deed flabbergasted as to how the incident happened. The onus now lies on the security agencies to be able to investigate the matter to a logical point.
Would you then say that the Christian community is under any seige or threat now, if we are to believe any of the accounts posited so far?
I think it is important that those people who have the responsibility to investigate should sit and do thorough investigations and ensure that they really get to the root of that which has happened. I have been hearing different kinds of theories and postulations about what may have caused it. The one that the governor told us is that the criminal activities are importing their own vendetta into the community and brought it worse of all into the church, a place of worship. That is what the governor has mentioned to us, and of course he should know better. If there are any other reasons, then, obviously, investigations should be able to let us know.
Honestly, I cannot be talking about Christianity being under threat. There are so many other peculiarities that would portray that Christianity is under a threat. We have part of the North where Christians cannot get any piece of land to build their churches. That is the threat. Also, if we are to talk about the removal of CRK from the curriculum, but thank God that ithas been disentangled, all of these are a threat in all estimation, rather than just this singular issue. The issue of Boko Haram is also an indication to the testament that Christianity is under threat.
A gunman stormed a church and allegedly opened fire on the worshippers. What does that say about the security apparatus of the country?
Obviously, there is need for us to be more proactive with regards to security. The security apparatus needs to be upped such that any one who wants to commit a crime will take caution. Ordinary fingerprint is difficult to investigate, let alone CCTV cameras. There were the days we were talking about installing CCTV cameras all around but it’s now eroded.
Would you say that the security system of the country is porous and needs to be given maximum attention?
There is no doubt about that. The welfare of the security agencies should be taken care of. An average policeman doesn’t feel much pride about his job. Other security agencies have not also helped the situation as expected. So, the problem of security is multidimensional and needs to be seriously addressed.
How do we begin to address this anomaly in the security system to avert a recurrence of such bloody massacre?
In the first instance, we must equip the security personnel with the adequate resources to carry out their duties. The public must also be up and doing. There are times when the members of the public are not willing to give the much needed information. It is all a responsibility of the government, security personnel and we the ordinary citizens. As it is now, everyone is his own security operative. We must always be aware of happenings in our sorroundings and be very vigilant.
What is the Church doing about the family of the dead and the survivors?
The diocese is already organising people to contribute in order to help people injured, particularly those who are hospitalised at this point in time and it is really necessary that everybody should rise and support them because the trauma of it is beyond expression.
What is your message to the people of Ozubulu and Anambra people at large?
First of all is that we commiserate with them and we feel the pains too. I pray for them that God consoles them and make them overcome the trauma and sorrow that is upon them at this time. Everyone should also make contributions towards relieving the agony of the people, at this time.
What is your level of confidence in the Federal and Anambra State governments to be able to get to the root of the matter and ensure justice?
Giving the fact as it is now, it is the duty of the security agencies to take the test of integrity and be able to get to the root of the matter. To an extent, one can say that a level of confidence can be placed on them to do the right things they would do it. We want to charge them to do what is meant to be done and so we can be confident of that.
When the present government came on board, Nigerian in general believed we had the best. On the one hand, we can say that a measure of hope that things are getting better in the area of fighting Boko Haram that was addressed to an extent. In the area of the economy, their impact has not been much felt if we begin to evaluate the results. Perhaps we are getting out of the recession from the technocrats point of view, but we are yet to see the much impact in the lives of the people. For me, it is a mixture in the area of the gains of the present administration. People have the right to protest against that but what is more important to me isn’t the fact that the president had been away for so long due to health reasons, it is an indictment on the health system of the country. We travel to India and the rest of the world on the basis of health tourism, why can’t people also travel down here for the same reason This is more of a greater problem that we need to address as a country, not minding that the president has been away for so long, on health grounds.
Ozubulu massacre: Bishop warns of more killings
From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye (Abuja), Geoffrey Anyanwu (Awka) and David Onwuchekwa (Nnewi)
Catholic Bishop of Nnewi, Most Rev. Hilary Okeke, yesterday, warned that there might be more killings in Ozubulu community should the perpetrators of the August 6 attack on worshippers at St. Phillip’s Catholic Church, Amakwa Ozubulu, Anmabra State, refuse to repent.
The Bishop spoke just as the Federal Government reaffirmed its earlier vow to track down the perpetrators of the crime.
Okeke, who spoke when a delegation of the Federal Government led by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, paid him a courtesy visit at the Assumption Cathedral Nnewi, described what happened in Ozubulu as terrible.
Other members of the delegation were: Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama; Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibril; and the Minister of State for Education, Prof. Anthony Anwuka.
The cleric, in whose diocese the incident happened, said the church has celebrated a special mass in the community for the perpetrators of the heinous crime to repent and turn to God.
He said: “The incident is terrible, which I can’t say why and how it happened. We’ve celebrated mass in the place. The church in question has been sealed off; so we had to use another church in the community to celebrate the mass for the souls of those who died and for the quick recovery of those who sustained injuries. “We also prayed for the perpetrators to repent and accept Christ. We are not saying that government should not play their role by prosecuting them. But for me as a Christian, I would want them to repent so as to save their souls. Besides, if they don’t repent, more people will be involved.”
While informing the delegation that the diocese had set up a fund raising committee to assist the victims, the Bishop appealed to both the federal and state governments to intervene and help families of the victims.
He commended the Federal Government for the show of concern on the matter, saying, “this shows that the Federal Government cares for her citizens, whether in the East, South, West or North.”
Earlier in his speech, Ngige said the Federal Government would track down the perpetrators of the crime, noting that President Muhammad Buhari had earlier sent his condolences to the state through Governor Willie Obiano.
“But we felt that letter was not enough, so the Acting President had to send us to come and commiserate with you, the state and the Ozubulu community,” he added.
He noted that the Ozubulu church attack was a call to more security consciousness, assuring that the Federal Government would work out measures to prevent a recurrence of such incident.
The federal delegation also visited the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, where some of the victims were being treated and scene of the incident, St. Philip’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu, where they interacted with the natives.
Speaking at the NAUTH, Ngige said the Federal Government has resolved that any of the victims whose case is beyond the hospital should be flown abroad at the government’s expense.
“Our mandate is to take abroad those who cannot be treated here. It could have been worse, if this hospital is not located here. We thank the CMD, the doctors, nurses and other hospital workers who have been working round the clock to save the lives of victims,” he said.
The Chief Medical Director (CMD) of NAUTH, Prof. Anthony Igwegbe, who took the delegation round the wards where the victims were admitted, disclosed that six of the victims were at the Orthopedic Trauma Centre of the hospital located at Oba, Idemili South Local Government Area (LGA) of the state.
He said that while seven of the victims had been treated and discharged, some of the victims admitted at the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital had been relocated to the regular wards.
The Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Dr Nkem Okeke, who represented Obiano at the visit, told the delegation that last Sunday was a sad day for the people of the state, adding that when the incident happened, there was speculation that Boko Haram insurgents and Fulani herdsmen had struck, but the Governor promptly cleared the air after visiting the scene of the incident.
Meanwhile, in a statement by Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the Acting President, Laolu Akande, announcing the delegation, Osinbajo again extended his deep commiserations to the families, friends of the victims and the Ozubulu community on the death of their sons and daughters, while praying for the speedy recovery of the injured still in the hospital.
He said the Federal Government under President Buhari remains undeterred and would continually commit to deploying all available resources towards ensuring adequate security of lives and property in Anambra State and across the entire country.
He reiterated that the law enforcement agencies would bring perpetrators of the heinous crime to justice without any delay, adding that he would remain engaged with Governor Obiano, the Police authorities and other security agencies to ensure that the lives and property of citizens of Anambra State and indeed all Nigerians are well protected anywhere they may live.