by Albert Afeso Akanbi
‘…what on earth would make people open fire on innocent unarmed worshipers, including children and women, on a Sunday morning…?’ –Rev Fr. Hyginus Aghaulo, Catholic Diocese of Nnewi, Anambra State.
August 6, 2017, will remain a black day in the annals of Ozubulu community in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State.
Not just because of the lives that were cut short in the most gruesome manner, inside a sacred place of worship by merciless killers, but also because, on that fateful day, that sleepy farming community was conspicuously placed on the world map for a very wrong reason.
For years to come, at the mention of the word Ozubulu, images of the blood stained floor of Saint Philip’s Catholic Church would immediately come to mind.
As expected, less than 12 hours after the gruesome attack, statements condemning the perpetrators of the heinous crime, from key figures, including our president Buhari who is on medical vacation, poured in from all directions.
While the Catholic Church expressed concern over arms proliferation, Governor David Umahi said ‘…this type of wickedness…showed how wicked our generation is drifting…’ For Senate president Saraki ‘…it represents the purest kind of evil…’ while his deputy Ekweremadu decided it was ‘…blood-curdling killing…’
Comforting as these statements may appear, none of our leaders cared to seriously ask why ‘…our generation is drifting…’ or cared to notice that we need not tread far to find answers to Fr Aghaulo lament above. They pretend as if they don’t realize that dwindling values and social menaces travel in the same direction.
When a society discards all ethical values, decides to celebrate people with questionable source of wealth, dire consequences would naturally follow.
Ozubulu is a clear case of what a society that pays little attention to conscience gets when the family unit is failing, when moral values are totally eroded, so the blame for the death of those innocent people must be placed squarely at the doorstep of society, especially the church.
Violence against churches is not new in Nigeria, reason why most churches in northern Nigeria today hold services under tight security. But no one expected, even in our wildest imagination what materialized that momentous Sunday, a day, ironically, of the celebration of Epiphany of the Lord in a Catholic parish in Anambra, the ‘Home for Good People’.
In a state where almost 80 percent of the residents are Catholic, where almost every family can boast of a priest, what example has the church been showing that a man with every likely hood of being a Catholic himself, would be so conscience dead so that he would steal into a church with a gun, and open fire sporadically on women and children, when obviously his target was not in sight? Doesn’t this tell a lot how fast our morals values, both clergy and laity, have gone down the drain?
Governor Obiano and the State Police are unanimous in saying it is a battle that is playing out in foreign land that has spilled into the state, even though one Mr Ofomata has come forward to deny any wrong doing on the part of his benefactor, the man at the center of it all, High Chief Aloysius Ikegwuonu, aka ‘Bishop’, a ‘business’ man and philanthropist.
Though celebrated at home, the high chief is alleged to be a ruthless 30 something-year-old millionaire who, in his line of ‘businesses in South Africa’ gave no qualms about dealing with opponents as well as those who work for him. Yet, it is common knowledge that society accepted him, even celebrated him as they have been doing countless others like him, so much so that at 35, one of the churches he built, was named ‘Saint Aloysius Church of Divine Mercy’ after him, and billboards of him and the governor quickly surfaced in strategic corners of the community. One wonders what sort of ‘divine mercy’ the high chief hoped to obtain from God by building Him places of worship, and for what?
At the last count, it was reported that ‘Bishop’ built 3 churches for his community, even built roads and schools, some of which the governor himself commissioned. This of course raises a profound moral query; should a community that is marginalized by mainstream government consent to donations from folks with doubtful springs of fortune?
Even though I don’t have the answer to the above question, I know that we like to make a lot of noise when an incident of this nature happens and thereafter quickly consign such stories to history and return to business as usual, and then all those who may have lost their lives would be forgotten.
We can live with a government who by example, is failing to instil much-needed values in our children by distancing itself from or even probing questionable individuals, but can we justify a church that accepts gifts from and also celebrate such people?
Can the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi deny knowledge of the man’s source of wealth? And even if the entire community and government resolve to turn a blind eye, should we anticipate the same attitude from the Holy Roman Catholic Church?
Then today, one of his ‘business’ deals goes wrong, and blood sucking hit men are drafted in, and a carnage ensues, and our leaders still find the nerve to condemn them rather than blame ourselves?
The truth is, Anambra state, in particular, deserves serious attention because of the level of money related rituals and criminality, increase in cultism, mafia related and gang crime activities, excessive materialism and the get rich-at-all-cost syndrome that is clearly on the rise and has taken over the mind of most youths in the state. And there are individuals from the state who have exported these attitudes to foreign countries especially to South Africa, from where Nigerians, like citizens of other African countries, are still leaking their wounds from recent Xenophobia attacks.
For instance, as far back as 2009, ever before Evans took the kidnapping enterprise to new heights, a group known as Civil Liberty Organization compiled over 500 cases of kidnapping running into millions of naira in 3 years! When the government of the state began to crack down on kidnappers, they exported trade to other states.
In November 2016, Vanguard newspaper reported how many youths in Nkpor and Ogidi had taken to membership of various rival cults and mafia groups. Even in this very Ozubulu, youths had to protest ritual killings in April.
Almost a year ago, another known media outfit reported a gang of mafia boys going on rampage in Obosi because one of their members, a man with questionable source of wealth was arrested by the police.
A resident lamented how at a point, assassinations almost became the norm so that she began to wonder whether people no longer died naturally because almost all deaths reported were violence related.
I pointed out the anomaly in celebrating dubious people simply because they were ‘philanthropists’ to an indigene of the state and his response was; so what? Aren’t our politicians worse? At least the drug barons build schools.
Now Ozubulu has brought to the fore what moral bankruptcy and a deadly quest for wealth can cause.
The incoming government in Anambra State must know it has work to be so, and the police owe it to the dead and their families to thoroughly investigate this matter, bring the culprits to justice and ensure there is no reoccurrence.
The rest of us must know that the time for us to go back to our roots and bring back that cultural heritage that can bring about high social and moral values is now because I am yet to see a society with the kind of moral bankruptcy that we see today that is crime free and develops at the pace it should.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Albert Afeso Akanbi is a Novelist, Researcher, Columnist and Humanitarian. He lives in Abuja, FCT, Nigeria.
The author tweets @afeso82 and blogs at akanbiafeso.wordpress.com