Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka
The Nnewi High Court 3 sitting in Awka on the trial of suspects of the Ozubulu St Philip’s Catholic Church massacre revealed that perpetrators of the crime had issued death threats to some Ozubulu indigenes living in South Africa and Brazil.
Giving evidence in chief, a witness, Chukwuemeka Obi, who resides in Johannesburg, South Africa, told the court presided over by Justice F.I Aniukwu that the killers of the 13 worshippers on August 6, 2017 at St Philip’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu, had threatened to kill him, his father in Ozubulu, his younger brother in Brazil and attack four families in the community.
Obi, who was led in the evidence by the prosecuting counsel, Jay Jay Ezeuko said, “The killers have threatened to kill my father in Ozubulu, attack four families in Ozubulu; kill my younger brother who is living in Brazil and myself who is living in South Africa.
“They are demanding one million dollars from us or they will wipe us all. We have been receiving strange phone calls from these people. They accused me of being a betrayer because, on one occasion, I traveled with Bishop (Aloysius Ikegwuonu) from South Africa to Nigeria, rode in his car from Lagos to Ozubulu.”
Obi alleged that one of the suspects standing trial before the court in the case, Chinedu Akpunonu, was working with two persons he called Gozila and Afam, who are in a South African prison, to terrorize the people of Ozubulu at home and abroad.
Also testifying in the court Friday, another witness Emeka Nzelu, also resident in South Africa, told the court that another suspect standing trial in the case, Onyebuchi Mbanefo, gave him a phone call and threatened to deal with “bishop” for abandoning him at a point in need.
Nzelu, also led in evidence by the prosecuting counsel said, “Mbanefo told me that he would now join forces with Akpunonu to deal with Bishop for failing to assist him to foot his bill for bullet wound surgery, despite the fact that it was because of Bishop that he sustained the wound. He refused to accept all appeals I made to him to forgive bishop.”
When asked during cross examination by the defence counsel, Mr Festus Keyamo, if he ever reported such threats to the police in South Africa or Nigeria, Nzelu answered in the negative, stating he only reported the matter to the chairman of Ozubulu Development Union in South Africa.
Meanwhile, the presiding Judge, Justice Aniukwu on Friday refused bail for the four suspects standing trial.
Ruling on the bail application by the suspects, Justice Aniukwu held that the risk of releasing the suspects outweighed their freedom, adding that they did not prove exceptional circumstance to warrant their bail.
In their application for bail, the suspects said they were innocent of what they were charged and that before the law they remained innocent and entitled to bail just as they stated that they had health conditions that the prison health facilities could not handle.
But the judge, who agreed that ill health was a ground to grant suspects bail in criminal matters however, said in his thinking, since the prosecution was handling the matter expeditiously, it was better to keep the suspects intact to face their case than risk granting them bail where they might abandon the case or jump bail.
The judge said he was not persuaded by their applications that there was any exceptional circumstance about their ill health and asked the prison authorities to ensure that the suspects were given proper treatment.
Justice Aniukwu adjourned the trial to May 16 and 25, June 8 and 22, and July 6 for continuation of hearing.
Speaking to newsmen after the adjournment, defence counsel Mr Keyamo said he had gotten the brief of his clients to go on interlocutory appeal on the bail.