Nigerians are living at the mercy of dangerous elements. On Sunday, this bitter reality sank home again after rampaging gunmen stormed St. Philip’s Catholic Church in Ozubulu, Anambra State, and massacred 12 persons with a family losing three members. Essentially, the atrocity is linked to a (drug) “gang war that has spilled over to Anambra State from another African country,” according to Governor Willie Obiano. In giving chilling details of the gruesome scene, the Parish Priest, Jude Onwuaso, lent credence to this speculation. The attackers, who invaded the early morning mass, were reportedly after a suspected drug baron, Aloysius Ikegwuonu (aka Bishop), who is a member of the parish. Although the target was not in attendance, one of the attackers that entered the church succeeded in killing Bishop’s father, and shot his stepmother.
What is not in doubt in the community is that Bishop is allegedly involved in a drug war with another indigene of Ozubulu, with the control of turf in South Africa their aim. Apart from Boko Haram terrorism, mass shootings are a rarity here, but gun deaths are all too common. No doubt, the epidemic of gun violence has turned our country into one of the deadliest places to live on earth. It is estimated that 70 per cent of the 10 million illegal weapons in circulation in West Africa are in Nigeria. During police raids of some criminal hideouts in Anambra, Edo and Rivers states in 2013, more than 8,741 arms, 7,014 pieces of ammunition and 164 loaded magazines in AK 47 rifles were retrieved. The same year, assorted arms and ammunition, including AK47 rifles, General Purpose Machine Guns, rockets, rocket propellers/launchers, 5,830 AK 47 ammunition and 1,135 rounds of ammunition for GPMG were on display as exhibits in the trial of three suspected kidnappers in a High Court at Onitsha. Fulani herdsmen have suddenly replaced their bows and arrows with assault rifles as part of their ornaments.
The prevailing evil in the country also finds expression in drug crime. A pointer to this fact was the 2005 case of 101 drug convicts that were never brought to the prison to serve their jail terms, which Justice Gilbert Obaya, who chaired a federal panel that probed it, said, brought the “… total of convicts evading jail to 197, within the period.” What a shame! Nigeria is a major hard drug transit hub for European, Asian and North American markets, says the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Therefore, preventing more of last Sunday’s Ozubulu drug war shootings and killings will take a well calculated effort by the authorities to close this evil corridor in our land. The right thing to expect is the immediate arrest and trial of these scoundrels.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is a weak state with a legal system that can be easily manipulated by criminals to escape justice. This has made it easier for Nigerian criminals to be brought to book abroad than in Nigeria where the offences were committed. A typical example is that of Henry Okah, the presumed leader of the militia group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, who was extradited to Nigeria in 2008 after his arrest in Angola for gun-running the previous year. Okah, who could not be convicted in Nigeria, was later released under an amnesty extended to Niger Delta militants. He was found guilty in a South African court in March 2013 of 13 terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 24 years in prison for masterminding the 2010 Independence Day twin car bombings in Abuja that claimed no fewer than 12 lives and injured 36 people. So too was the case of James Ibori, a former governor of Delta State, against whom 170 counts of stealing and money laundering were summarily dismissed by a Nigerian court only for him to be convicted in the United Kingdom.
Even criminals such as notorious armed robbers and kidnappers, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, also known as Evans, and the late Henry Chibueze, aka Vampire, had once escaped from the law. While Vampire, who was later gunned down during an exchange of gunfire with security operatives, was able to shoot his way to freedom as he was being arraigned at a court in Owerri, Evans once bribed his way out of detention before his last arrest in Magodo area of Lagos in June. The first assignment is for the police to nab the perpetrators of this heinous crime and very quickly too. No effort should be spared to go after the kingpins. Once a new type of criminality berths in Nigeria, the country soon climbs to global championship status. In less than a decade since its debut, Nigeria was ranked the fifth highest kidnap territory and first in Africa in 2015 by Control Risk, a United Kingdom-based consultancy. Illegal oil bunkerers were until recently stealing between 200,000 and 500,000 barrels of oil per day while piracy, arms trafficking thrive and the dexterity of some of our delinquent compatriots has forced the term, “Nigerian internet scam”, into the English language lexicon.
Therefore, the law enforcement agencies must not allow this new type of atrocity – the mass shooting of the innocent – to take root. Indeed, this should serve as a wake-up call to strengthen the laws and vigorously tackle the alarming proliferation of arms in the country. Strengthening the extant and expanding bilateral and multilateral protocols on crime control, drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism should be an urgent priority. A closer cooperation with South Africa, where Nigerians are said to be active in drug trafficking, is essential. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency should intensify its efforts and collaboration with INTERPOL and law enforcement agencies in South America where the UNODC has also identified as a base for Nigerian drug trafficking groups. Very strong cooperation is required among our security agencies, the lack of which the US
Department of State recently blamed for lapses in combating money laundering, among others. The NDLEA needs to be reinvigorated for effective intelligence-based interdiction of the barons rather than merely nabbing small time traffickers at the airports. Rising insecurity informs the need for public places, especially worship centres, to deploy CCTV cameras round the clock. States and federal authorities should take a hard look at existing laws and consider categorising such horrible tragedies as the Ozubulu church carnage as terrorism and prescribing swift prosecution and harsh punishment for perpetrators.