Masquerades in African setting and Igboland in particular are seen as the reincarnation of some late heroes acting as guardian angels for the individuals and families they represent. More importantly, they are a huge source of entertainment with their electric dancing steps. But these seem not to be the case in Awba Ofemmili, a community in Awka-North Local Government Area of Anambra State, where masquerades have literally become purveyors of sorrow, tears and blood.
In Awba Ofemilli, masquerades are generally regarded as supreme beings. But a particular masquerade known as Obianuchichi (night masquerade) is a nightmare to many residents of the community, particularly at the end of the farming season. The appearance of Obianuchichi is usually heralded by another group of masquerades known as Adugala. Women are forbidden from seeing them as they go about singing and dancing.
The mood in the community changes immediately the announcement is made that Adugala would be coming out. The women abandon whatever they are doing and run into their houses. There must be no light or sound other than the ones produced by the masquerades.
The practice is one that has given the Christian population in the community a lot of concern over the years because all religious activities are paralysed once it is 6 pm. At a time, an agreement was reached with the leaders of the community to extend the deadline to 9 pm. But penultimate Tuesday, the masquerades and their worshippers went berserk, burning down churches and severely injuring about 60 Christians, including a two-year-old boy.
The Christians and other inhabitants of the community who are not loyal to the masquerades have since deserted their homes. They have sought for refuge in other climes for fear of being attacked further. An unconfirmed report alleged that one person died as some masquerades and their youthful followers attacked some churches in the community where vigil was being held.
Eye witness accounts said the victims were either shot at or attacked with machetes. The rampaging youths also burnt down about 10 churches. Some of the churches burnt were: Assemblies of God Church, Grace of God, Deeper Life Bible Church, Winners’ Chapel, Christ Holy Church, St. Paul’s Catholic Church and the vicarage for the parish priest of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in the community.
When contacted, the Public Relations Officer of the Anambra State Police Command, Emeka Chukwuemeka, said the incident had been brought under control. He also said that no arrest had been made yet.
A victim and Parish Priest of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Awba Ofemmili, Rev. Pat Odinanwa, whose vicarage was burnt, said there were threats of more attacks on Christians in the community. He accused the policemen at the nearby police post in Ugbene community of not coming to the aid of the hapless Christians when the trouble started, even though they were informed about it.“Another town crier went and announced another thing, saying that anybody going for night programme in the church should leave by 5 pm, which is contrary to the agreement. But that is for the women, because the men are free to move at any time. They were ordered to get to the church before 9 pm. In fact, on the first day, most of the women who attended the programme were stopped and harassed on their way and ordered to go back. Those who left by 6 pm were able to get to the church before it was late.”
“Around 11 pm, they started shooting sporadically, causing everybody to shiver. Around 1 am on Tuesday, they stormed the church and razed the parish priest’s house. Then they started pursuing everybody in the church. We hid under the stair case and under the pews.
The victims are currently receiving treatment at Regina caelis hospital in Awka.
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