Hail was let loose Wednesday evening, in Awka, the capital city of Anambra State, as members of the Awka Catholic Diocese and natives of Umudioka village, Awka, had a bloody clash over dust-to-dust burial rites. In the clash, over 30 persons were seriously injured while about four vehicles were damaged.
Though some of the victims of the bloody clash have been discharged from the hospital, about eight, including a 70-year-old man, were still lying critically at the Regina Caeli Hospital, Awka, as at press time yesterday.
The clash, which was said to have taken place between 4.30pm and 7pm, caused pandemonium in the area, as various dangerous weapons, including machetes, were freely used, forcing residents of the area to run for their dear lives.
While the Catholic Church claimed that her members were attacked by the Umudioka youths, as they where coming back from Mass at the family of the late Mr. Samuel Nwanna Nnebolise in Umudioka, the villagers said they were attacked by thugs brought by the Catholic Church over their insistence on their burial customs and tradition.
It could be recalled that there has been a feud between the Catholic Church and the Awka community over the dust-to-dust burial rite, which escalated on May 23, 2013 during the planed burial of the late Nnebolise, when the youth of Umudioka allegedly disrupted the burial and desecrated holy things.
At the hospital yesterday, some of the victims, who could speak, alleged that they were ambushed by Umudioka youths, on their way home from the Nnebolise family, after the prayers.
Nurses said they battled all night to save the lives of the victims, especially, 19-year-old Moses Ogah from St. John’s Church Umuokpu, whose throat was almost chopped off and 23-year-old Aduaka Jonah Ekene, from St. Martins Church Abagan, who had severe machete cuts all around his body.
Narrating his ordeal to Daily Sun on his hospital bed, 70-year-old, Sir Peter C. Offodile, a knight of St. Molumba said: “Someone sent me a text yesterday that the Bishop wanted to address us by 2pm.
I came and they said that we should go and pray for the family of Nnebolise and everybody should march to the place for the celebration of Mass. All of us, including priests, indeed, about 50 of them, we went there and celebrated Mass and sermon was said and communion served.
“After the Mass, we all marched through Majoua Street on our way home. A group of boys from Umudioka stopped us and started attacking us with sticks and stones. They pushed me into the gutter.
One of the boys broke my hand with a big stick and some used their machetes to hit me. I managed to get out of the gutter almost naked, holding my trousers; I even lost one pair of my shoe. It was at the end of the road that we saw the police.
From there we were taken to the Cathedral and then to the hospital, Regina Caeli, where I am being treated.”
Another victim, Sir Obuekwe Obikwelu from Umuanaga village Awka, whose head was bandaged because of the machete cuts he got said: “We went to celebrate Mass at Umudioka at late Nnebolise’s family and after celebrating the mass, we were coming back when we were waylaid by some bad boys.
As we were running I looked back and saw an old man my fellow knight of St. Molumba being beating by the boys and I felt if I left him, they may kill the old man. I went to them and said this person you are beating is an old man and your brother; why beat him?
They turned round and swooped on me, the first one gave me a machete cut here, as I was holding the side, stones were rained on me and I was rushed to this hospital.” The Cathedral Administrator, St. Patrick Cathedral Awka, Rev. Fr. Patrick Amaobi Chukwuma, who has been at the centre of the matter, told Daily Sun at the hospital that they went to Nnebolise family to pray for them only to be attacked again by the Umudioka youths.
He said: “Yesterday some priests from Awka Diocese, from Awka region and Adazi region and some laity, including Catholic men, Catholic women and some youths we went to identify with poor family of Nnebolise, who have been suppressed by some people from Umudioka because they are poor.
This thing has been happening since May 24, when their father, Samuel Nnebolise, died.
The man before he died willed that he will be buried according to Catholic rite but the villagers said no, he would be buried according to traditional rite that is the controversy.
“But the family invited us to bury their father, according Catholic rite, which they refused and the corpse was returned to the mortuary and the family went into prayers.
Last week, they wanted to stage a prayer and after putting canopies and chairs for the prayers, the same youths masked themselves, with about 20 masquerades; that was last Monday.
They came into the family, armed and destroyed the canopies, took away the seats, snatched handsets, destroyed the altar set and carried everything away with some clothes.
“Yesterday, the church organised herself to celebrate Mass with the family. We went there with many priests and laity.
After celebrating the Mass, we were about to go when stones started flying from hidden places, from uncompleted houses, some houses. Stones were being thrown by unknown people. Our youths have to defend the members of the church.
They threw back the stones. We were going, not knowing that the Umudioka youths were armed with machetes and they started stabbing people. You have seen some of the victims.
They were about 36, who sustained injuries from machete cuts and stones. About 36 of them were affected. Some have been discharged. Those who are critical are still in the hospital.” Disagreeing with Rev. Fr. Chukwuma’s account, the Chairman, Okolobia Umudioka, Chief Ejike Nwude, said the church members attacked the village.
He said: “It’s unfortunate, the mayhem was caused by the thugs. They waylaid us yesterday, beat up our boys, destroyed our houses, even vehicles. Yesterday morning we went to the Area Command with Father Chukwuma for peace, and the Area Commander instructed everybody to be at peace and not to go to Umudioka again.
“We accepted what the commander said and left, everybody went home and that was why they took us unaware because we were not expecting them.
We thought we’ve reached a point of agreement. Unfortunately, around 4pm, I started getting phone calls that the Catholic priest, with heavily armed people, marched from St Patrick through Majua and when they got to Majua Street, they started breaking glasses of Umudioka buildings, throwing stone, singing war songs and making abusive insinuations.
“In the process, one Igbogi Ejikeme, unaware that they were coming for war, ran into them and they pounced on him. The young man is still in the hospital as I am speaking with you.
While they were going, they saw Chukeudeme’s house and they destroyed it. “They started throwing stones on anybody they met on the way. We ran away.
We could not do anything because we were not expecting such magnitude of thugs.” On who injured the church people, Nwude said: “Because they came from different places. They did not know themselves.
They attacked themselves, because immediately you step out of the land and tried to come back they take you as an enemy. They inflicted the injuries on themselves because they came from different places.They were hired. Some came from Nise, Mbaukwu and Nanka and so on.”