By Vincent Ujumadu and Chima Nwaiwu
THERE was tension at the Nnewi High Court premises yesterday during the arraignment of four suspects over the shooting at St Philips Catholic Church, Ozubulu in which 13 persons lost their lives on August 6, 2017, with a star witness, Mr. Chukwujekwu Eze narrating how one of the suspects invited him to participate in the attack against Chief Aloysius Ikegwuonu, popularly called Bishop over alleged unpaid debt.
The suspects— Great Chinedu Akpunonu, 44; Vincent Ike, 57; Chukwudi Ugwu, 30, and Onyebuchi Mbanefo, 46— were arraigned on a 24-count charge in Suit No: HN/36C/2017 bordering on conspiracy and murder. Others allegedly involved in the shooting were still at large.
The court premises was filled to capacity and Saturday Vanguard discovered that most of the people who came to witness the court proceedings were Ozubulu indigenes based in South Africa.
There was near commotion as security operatives tried to stop people from taking photographs of the suspects after the court session.
Apparently due to the tension in court, the presiding judge, Justice F.I. Aniukwu ordered that nobody should be allowed to stand in and outside the court from the next adjourned date, while nobody should be allowed to enter the court with a telephone.
Eze, the second witness, who hailed from Ugbawka in Enugu State, told the court that he lived in South Africa for 11 years before he was deported, adding that he had remained unemployed since his deportation.
Led in evidence by the prosecution counsel, Mr. Jay Jay Ezeuko, SAN, Eze said: “There is a boy named Okpanda who told me that they were going to the Bishop’s place at Ozubulu to execute a job. I asked him the nature of the job and he told me that they were going because Bishop was owing some people some money in South Africa. He said they wanted to go and destroy everything in Bishop’s house and shoot at every living thing.
“I asked him who was sponsoring the job and he told me it was Obrocho. When I mentioned it to Okpanda, he said he would assist me if I would agree to follow in the hit job at Bishop’s place. I told him I would not be involved because I won’t want to shed any blood.
“Okpanda invited me so he could explain the whole thing to me and when I went the following day, he told me it was only if I took part in the job that he would help me to go back to South Africa. It was in Okpanda’s place that I met Dobby (Onyemaechi Mbanefo), the 4th accused and two of them tried to convince me to join in the job. I refused to join.
“After the shooting in the church, I saw Okpanda again and he told me that they had done the job and when I asked if he could help me since they had made the money, he told me he couldn’t help me since I refused to join in the job.
“I then told him I was going to approach Bishop since I didn’t have any other person to help me. He told me not to go to Bishop because the Bishop would arrest me.
“I later decided to approach Bishop because of the level of massacre in the church in which the Bishop’s father was among those killed.”