•Death toll rises to 13
• Bishops’ conference condemns attack
• Ohanaeze calls for thorough probe
The head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has expressed sadness over Sunday’s attack at St. Philip’s Catholic Church in Ozubulu, Nnewi Diocese of Anambra State, which death toll rose to 13, yesterday.
Police linked the attack to disagreements among feuding locals who were allegedl to be members of drug cartel in South Africa.
In a telegram sent on his behalf by Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, the Pope said he was saddened by the violent attack and “extends his sincere condolences” to Bishop Hilary Paul Odili Okeke, Bishop of Nnewi, “and to all the faithful of the Diocese of Nnewi, the families of the deceased and to all those affected by this tragedy.”
The Pontiff invoked “the divine blessings of consolation and strength” on the whole diocese.
Also, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Rev. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, expressed shock and sadness about the attack.
“This attack is terribly inhuman and barbaric and we condemn the killings wholeheartedly,” he said in an interview at the Vatican Radio in Rome.
The CBCN president on offered his thoughts and condolences to the Bishop of Nnewi, the priests, religious and entire laity of Nnewi diocese.
“Despite these attacks, Catholics in Nigeria will continue to be strong and committed Christians. We urge them to be ready and willing to continue to show their commitment to Jesus through a life of witness,” Kaigama advised.
The Bayelsa State government and the apex Igbo organisation, Ohaneze, also joined in condemning the attack whose death toll rose with the death of two more victims, yesterday.
In a condolence message to the government and people of Anambra State, the Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Jonathan Obuebite, described the incident as most disheartening, shocking and barbaric.
The statement condoled with the Governor Willie Obiano and the families of the dead, the entire Christian community as well as the government and people of the state.
While, commending the state government and the police for the steps so far taken to bring the perpetrators to book, it called for greater vigilance on the part of the law enforcement agencies to check future occurrences.
In its reaction, Ohanaeze described the killing as despicable, mindless, horrendous and evil and also called for probe.
President General of the body, Chief Nina Nwodo, in a statement said the apex Igbo organisation was shocked that such act could be perpetrated by anybody.
“The variety of the angles emerging as the likely cause of the incident make thorough and unhindered investigation on the matter inevitable and imperative,” he said, adding that getting to the root of the matter was the only way to nip this type of grievous crime in the bud. Ohanaeze said it would want the Church, especially the Catholic to be part of the investigation so as to get to the real genesis of the incident in particular to “locate the reason for such strange sacrilegious crime in the Igboland.”
According to him, “In Igboland and indeed the entire Christendom, the Church is known as the custodian of peace and reconciliation and not for violence and this is why the August 6 devilish attack on the church remains shocking and strange.”
While condoling with the bereaved and sympathising with the injured, Nwodo admonished the people of Ozubulu particularly and the Catholic worshippers to remain calm and await the out come of the investigations and avoid taking the law into their hands
It commended Obiano for his timely intervention especially on the plight of the injured in the hospital.
Chairman of the Umezekwe Ofufe Welfare Association, Amakwa-Ozubulu, Mr. Sunday Adinnu and his deputy, Mr. Hyginus Ikegwuonu confirmed the death of two more persons at the hospital early yesterday. They said the community was still in shock and called for prompt investigation of the attack, which they alleged has political undertone.
They absolved South Africa-based businessman, Chief Aloysius Ikegwuonu of involvement in the attack and cleared him of charges of drug peddling.
Another native, Prof. Linus Amobi Ilika said the shooting of was an abomination against the land.
But the one time secretary general of Ozubulu Development Union refused to collaborate the stories making the round that Chief Nnamdi Ikegwuonwu, who built the Church where the lone gunman shot worshipers, was involved in drugs trade or may have offended his business partners, who may be his own town’s people.
“He has not been charged or arrested for such offences. So, how do you know? There is a spate of shooting in South Africa and they bring down the corpses of our people living in South Africa. The person who built the church resides in South Africa. There is likely to be dispute and struggle among them, but I cannot say exactly what are the issues. But for whatever it is, there is no single justification for the invasion and mass killing of innocent worshipers.”
He appealed to people to join in prayers of atonement and reparation to God for that heinous sin and sacrilege.
Many prominent people have been visiting the community to condole with families of the victim.