By Phil Okose, Onitsha
As the trial of the suspects of the August 6 massacre of scores of parishioners of St. Philip’s Catholic Church, Amakwa, Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State, commenced last Friday at Nnewi High Court No. 3, presided over by Justice F. I. Aniukwu, perpetrators of the dastardly act have threatened to kill more people if the case was not settled immediately.
Four suspects were arraigned in the court which trial kicked off with the immediate past President-General of Ozubulu Development Union (ODU), Dr. Ernest Chukwuka testifying as the first Prosecution Witness, PW1, followed by the second prosecution witness, PW2, Chukwujekwu Eze and their cross-examination by both the prosecution and defence counsels.
The suspects included, Great Chinedu Akpunonu, 44; Vincent Ike, 57; Chukwudi Ugwu, 30, and Onyebuchi Mbanefo, 46.
Testifying before the court, Chukwuka, the PW1 noted that few weeks after the incident, the President of ODU in South Africa Quintus Onyebinamma (aka Obasanjo) returned home with a message from South Africa in connection with the church killings and consequently invited himself as the PG then, his executive members, the traditional ruler of Ozubulu, Igwe Nnamdi Oruche and Obis of four Ozubulu quarters.
Chukwuka disclosed that Quintus mentioned the names of those who claimed responsibility for the shootings in the message.
According to him (Quintus), those who claimed responsibility said they have unfinished business with Chief Aloysius Ikegwuonu (aka Bishop) and that more heads will roll if the matter is not settled as soon as possible.
The PW2, told the court in his evidence that one of the suspects who was declared wanted by the police had approached him sometime in July, offering him the job of a hit man so that he could join other hit men to invade Ikegwuonu’s residence and deal with him for owing him a whooping one million South African Rand, adding that when he rejected the offer, he later heard of the killings in August.
When cross-examined by one of the defence counsel on why his evidence did not correspond with his statement to the police, the PW2 stated that the police recorded his statement up to three times, adding that he did not know whether it was the first, second or the third statement that they gave him to sign which he signed at a very late hour when both himself and the police officers were in a hurry to go.
After the cross-examinations of the two witnesses, counsel for the defendants, Festus Keyamo, tendered a written application for their bail, citing health condition and mere suspicion as reason for the bail application.
Keyamo contended that the defendants are still presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, adding that it would be unfair and unjust for them to be languishing inside the prison custody while the trial lasted assuming they were innocent.
Praying the court to grant the application for their bail, Keyamo stated that as breadwinners of their respective families, it would not augur well for them to remain in prison custody suffering, while their family members are starving and possibly drop out of schools
However, the prosecution counsel opposed the motion on the ground that the defendants could jump bail while the proceedings lasted, stressing that such a high-profile case should not be toyed with because what happened at Ozubulu on that day had never taken place since after the civil war.
According to him, instead of granting them bail, the court could go for accelerated hearing for quicker dispensation of justice in the matter, pointing out that the prosecution was contemplating involving INTERPOL in the matter for further investigations and granting them bail could jeopardize INTERPOL investigations.
At this stage, Justice Aniukwu deferred ruling on the bail application and continuation of hearing to February 23 and March 2 this year.
Reacting to the arraignment of the accused, the state Chairman of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Comrade Vincent Ezekwueme, urged the judiciary to ensure justice is done to the case considering the magnitude of the offence committed. He described the massacre as an abomination, adding that it is all about human life.
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