Lucky escape

ω How Catholic priest survived assassins’ bullets

By Sunday Ani
(nichsunny@yahoo.com)

Like the Biblical Jonah, who went into the belly of a fish and came out unscathed, the Parish Priest of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Ejuona Obukpa in Nsukka, Enugu State, Rev.Fr. Malachy Ikenna Ugwuoke walked into the full embrace of assassins’ ferocious bullets but escaped unhurt. Such miracles are rarely associated with modern times; they belong to the antediluvian age.

However, such uncommon miracle happened on March 18, 2017 at Umuego Obukpa at exactly 6:45pm, when the priest was on his way to Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Emeka Agujiobi’s house at Enu-agu Obukpa.

According to the priest, the assassins, who were five excluding their driver and riding in a Toyota Sienna wagon, blocked his way forcing him to stop. He said as soon as he stopped, five men in black attire jumped out of the car and instructed him not to try any escape move in order to avoid his skull being blown open. He also stated that one of them shot twice into the air as they approached him to assure him that they were really serious.

Recounting how it all happened, Fr. Ugwuoke, who hails from Imilike-Agu in Udenu Local Government area of Enugu State, said: “I was on my way to my friend’s house, Fr. Emeka Agujiobi, that fateful day, when I met them. They were in a Toyota Sienna wagon. They blocked my way, and suddenly five men, dressed in black all through, jumped out of the car bearing AK47 rifles. I heard one of them saying, ‘if you move I shoot.’ Another person actually shot into the air twice just to scare me. I didn’t disobey their order to stop; I stopped.”

The reverend father thought they were armed robbers, who were on robbing spree but instead of demanding money or his car keys, they opened fire directly on him from both the driver’s and passenger’s sides of his Lexus Jeep. “When I stopped as they instructed, two of them approached from both the driver’s and passenger’s sides of my car and opened fire on me at such a close range. I saw myself praying inside the car. I said a short prayer: ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.’ While they were spraying bullets on me, I bowed my head and all I noticed were sounds of the bullets flying over my head,” he stated.

At that point, it was clear to him that they were not armed robbers but assassins, who were determined to take his life. He remained calm, having committed his spirit into God’s hand, until he heard one of the assassins telling another to enter his car. That was when he realised that he had to make effort to escape.

He said: “I maintained that calm position until I heard one of them commanding another to enter my car. That one attempted to open the back door but because it was locked, he couldn’t do that at once. As he pulled harder to open the door, I raised my head and engaged the gear in a reverse position and zoomed off backwards. They followed me with more shootings and I was moving backwards without looking. At a point, I heard a voice telling me to look back and as I did, I saw a big tree that I almost rammed into. I swerved and entered a cassava farm as I dodged hitting the tree. They still followed me shooting at the car, the glasses and the tyres.”

As they spontaneously and indiscriminately shot at the car, the glasses as well as the tyres, it dawned on the priest that they were determined to immobilise his car, catch him physically and possibly strangle him to death since he has refused to die through the bullets. And to escape being caught physically by the suspected assassins, he needed to move towards them and not backwards. “At that point, I reasoned that the only escape alternative was to drive towards them and see if I could escape. I engaged my gear in a drive position and moved towards them, while they continued the shooting. I bypassed them but the driver of the Sienna had already advanced and he tried to block my way again. But this time, I didn’t allow him to do that as I employed all my driving skills and escaped, bashing their car,” he said.

But, he still had not escaped finally as the last man standing at the back of the Sienna opened another round of bullets on him. He said: “As he shot at me, I drove towards him and at a point; I moved the car directly towards him with the intention to knock him down. He jumped into the bush to avoid being knocked down and I escaped.”

According to him, as he escaped from the scene, he looked through his side mirrors and saw the suspected assassins standing in awe with their guns lowered. They never believed what happened. The priest also did not understand the enormity of what happened until he got to his friend’s house. It was at his friend’s house that they noticed how bullet pierced the driver’s seat where he sat. He expressed happiness over the incident and described God as ever merciful and able to save his people from the enemy. “It was when I got to Fr. Agujiobi’s house that he noticed the mark of bullet on the driver’s seat where I sat. But, the bullets did not touch me in any way. I lack words to express what God has done for me. This is the highest miracle in my life. I really thank God for saving my life,” he said.

According to the priest, the windscreen, the shocks and carburetor were all shattered and damaged by the assassins’ bullets but the car was still on the move; a sign that God’s miraculous hand was at work. “From my own assessment, they were hired assassins, who wanted to kill me and steal my car. But, God’s ever faithfulness and his ever presence can never be in doubt. He is always there for us, only if we can be faithful to him. He is ever ready to protect us no matter the danger we may find ourselves in; no matter the situation. I urge my dear brothers and sisters not to relent but to anchor their faith on God,” he stated.

On whether he is suspecting any person or group for the attack, he said: “I will not anchor this incident on any person but one thing I know is that we are in a spiritual warfare. Devil is everywhere roaming around and capturing souls. The essence of the adoration is that people are really in bondage and God is using that work to liberate so many people.”

Parishioners blame evil workers

A cross section of people within Obukpa, who spoke to our reporter, insisted that evil people who are not happy with the priest’s good works in the community were behind the attempt. One of the villagers who simply gave his name as Marshal said: “Fr. Ugwuoke is a very humble priest, who God uses to liberate those in bondage in this community and beyond. By his works, some evil men in the town are not comfortable. His works are disturbing them and they are not happy that God is using him to liberate those they have put in bondage. I am sure they were behind this dastardly act but what they don’t know is that who God has blessed, no man can curse. Fr. Ugwuoke is not doing all that he is doing by his own powers. It is by the power of God almighty that he is able to do what he is doing and so, that same God will not allow him to be killed just like that.”

Speaking about the adoration ministry in his parish, the priest said: “I do have adoration in my parish every Friday and people come and we pray together.”

He said he did not report the incident to the police until five days after due to shock. “I could not report the incident immediately to the police. It was five days after the attack that I summoned the courage to report to the police. I never imagined that that kind of thing will ever happen to me,” he stated.

According to the reverend father, after writing his statement at the police station in Nsukka, he took some police officers to the scene of the incident, where they recovered a bullet that was picked up by a woman who witnessed the incident that fateful day. He said it was from the bullet that the police confirmed it was AK47 rifle that the assassins used for the operation.

According to a witness, who identified himself as Gabriel, the shootings were so intense that he and his colleagues who were at the bakery around the scene scampered for safety.

“The shootings were so heavy that we didn’t even understand what was happening at first. We were at the bakery but when the gunshots became so serious, we came outside and what we saw was just like a war theatre. We saw some men in black attire with long guns shooting at a backward moving car and others shooting into the air. We did not wait any minute longer to see anything again as we dashed through the back of the compound into the nearby bush for safety.

“It was some minutes after the shooting subsided that we came out to behold cartridges scattered at the scene. We picked them and threw away but one woman who lives nearby decided to keep her own. I understand that when some policemen came to the place on investigation, the woman gave them the cartridge, which they saw and said it was for AK47 rifle. I have never experienced a thing like that,” he narrated.

Police reaction

When contacted on phone, the Enugu State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Ebere Amaraizu confirmed the incident but added that the priest reported the matter to the police two weeks after the incident.

He said: “Yes, the incident was reported to the police by the priest but it was two weeks after the incident happened. As it is, we are handling the matter now.”

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