In this report, TOPE FAYEHUN writes about the terrorist attack which has since left the Ondo community in perpetual grief and sorrow.
by Tope Fayehun
The relative peace enjoyed by the residents of the ancient city was immediately fizzled out as everyone including all households in the community was thrown into panic following the sad attack in Owo, the headquarters of Owo Local Government Area of Ondo State.
On that fateful day, the parishioners were in the sanctuary of God to worship him as commanded by the Holy Bible to keep the Sabbath day holy but were killed by a hail of bullets from gunmen suspected to be ISWAP terrorists.
The incident was described by pundits as a bloodbath in the synagogue as gunmen whom sources said were four in number, were dressed in camouflage and armed with assorted weapons stormed Saint Francis Catholic Church in the ancient town of Owo in the early hours of Sunday. They reportedly threw dynamite and shot at sight parishioners.
Some residents who spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend said that the incident shows the precarious state of insecurity in the country. They opined that If those in charge of the security of the country are no longer capable of holding their grounds against terrorists, then “we have a serious situation in our hands, and whatever is causing this needs to be discussed.”
Apart from the killing of a soldier and one other and the kidnap of an expatriate a week before, the killings of the innocent souls in the Owo local government area of the state, however, assumed a worrisome dimension on that fateful Sunday, as pregnant women, children were not spared in the attack.
LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered that heavily-armed terrorists invaded the church and shot continuously into the crowd of worshippers present during the church’s early morning service.
Some witnesses told LEADERSHIP that the invaders made use of both guns and explosive devices during the attack of the church very close to the Olowo of Owo’s palace.
A resident of the community Gbenga Opeyemi who is also a member of the church said “The terrorist made use of IEDs when they attacked the church. They shot at many people within the premises. My cousin was shot in the leg during the attack. She has been rushed to the hospital.
“My grandmother was quite lucky because she was among the first people to leave the church as soon as the service came to an end. The service had ended when the men attacked.
“As soon as they began shooting and making use of explosives, the members that were still within the church hall quickly shut the doors. The people that were mostly attacked were the members that had already left the premises.
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Another resident of the community, Michael Olabamiji, some of the gunmen disguised themselves to join the church to worship during the morning Mass but later opened fire at the worshippers.
Olabamiji who corroborated Opeyemi’s statement that the terrorists threw dynamites inside the church, said “We saw them, they didn’t cover their faces. Initially, we thought they were going into the church for the service not knowing that they were gunmen. Suddenly, we heard gunshots; they directed the guns at anyone on sight, particularly women and children.
“During the period the attack lasted, we did not see any security operative to confront the attackers. We could not even count their number because everybody ran for safety. This is very unfortunate. The attackers fled immediately after they were done and they were not checked.”
Speaking on the incident, some workers of the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, who were on duty, disclosed that the casualties brought to the hospital were over 50. They said some of the victims brought here were dead already while others were still alive.
They said, “They are still bringing people to the hospital. Some have been confirmed dead while others are still breathing. But for now, I can’t specify the number of those who died.
Also, a nurse with St. Louis Hospital, Owo, who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that many casualties were brought to the hospital and he was able to count 12 that were dead on arrival.
He said, “A lot of casualties have been brought here but I can count 12 now that have passed away but we are still trying to save the lives of the remaining.”
Another resident who spoke with leadership Weekend Ojo Amos said that the whole area was enveloped with tension and panic.
According to him, “The church that was attacked was at the back of the palace and we are still wondering how gunmen could carry out such an attack at the centre of the town. This is unbelievable.”
While narrating how she was affected by the attack to LEADERSHIP, a nurse with the General Hospital in the town, Mrs Attach Margret, who lost both legs during the attack, said she was still in severe pain, adding that her life is shattered.
Mrs Margret who was admitted to the Orthopedic and Trauma Department of the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, said “My life is shattered. My breath is failing, I can’t breathe properly; God please help me. I am getting tired, please nurse help me, don’t allow me to die.”
Margret could not fully explain further what happened after the blast of the dynamite due to the pain she was passing through at that moment. But a source in the hospital said when the killers arrived at the church and were shooting sporadically, many of the worshippers scampered for safety, while others ran to the altar.
“The woman who lost both legs was hiding where the dynamite landed. It was after the whole incident that those who were picking the corpse discovered that she was still alive.
“They discovered that both legs had been cut off and she was bleeding profusely. She was rushed to FMC where she was attended to.”
Also, a 43-year-old mother of four, from Ile- Oluji in Ondo State, was hiding at the exact point the dynamite landed inside the church. Consequently, her two legs were severed off by the impact of the dynamite which also uprooted the church altar.
Speaking about the incident, Benjamin Ozulumba, a 49-year-old timber merchant, informed LEADERSHIP Weekend that they were about to go home when they heard gunshots within the compound of the church.
“Before we knew it, they started shooting everybody and they threw dynamites.
“It was when the shooting was going on that I was shot in the leg. I lost my mother in the attack but the rest of my family members are safe.
“My mother is over 70 years old. With blood already gushing out of my leg, I immediately summoned strength within me to move to the back of the Catechist when there was an explosion.
“On getting to the back yard, I saw a ladder and escaped through the ladder. When I was trying to escape, I saw many bodies on the ground. The bodies were just too many. I went to church with my wife, children and my mother. But nothing happened to my wife and children,” he said.
Also speaking on the attack and how he escaped, another victim, Alex Michael, said: “We were set to go home when we heard gunshots outside the church and before we knew it. The gunmen started shooting people and everybody inside the church and in the process, many people died.
“I was with my kids and I tried to defend them and we have to move under the pew when the shooting was going on but the place could not contain us and my legs were outside. They shot my legs but thank God nothing happened to my kids.”
Another victim, John Nwogwu said: “What happened was that we were in the church after the last blessing and prayer by the Father. We just heard gunshots at the entrance of the church and before we knew it, they had started shooting and killing people.
“Before we could know what was going on, we were surrounded and the only thing to do was to hide at the back of the altar. We heard a loud explosion and the ceiling fell on us. Even at that, they were still shooting at us. I crawled to the altar only to be bombed there by the attackers.
“One of our choir masters was hit by a stray bullet on the hip. When I was hiding I was able to see one of the attackers, he was wearing a Khaki that looked like that of Man O’ War.
They bombed the altar. During the attacks, we lost husbands, wives and children.”
Another victim, 28-year-old Gloria John said: “After the priest had given us the final blessings, we heard gunshots outside. The gunmen started shooting at us from outside. We started shouting and crying. We also began to call on God to save us. Over 100 people died, including children. A couple died at the same spot.
“I went to the church alone. My husband did not follow me. I was shot in the leg. I and other victims were rushed to FMC.”
The Chief Medical Director of the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, Dr Ahmed Adeagbo, said: “We mobilised our staff and worked very hard to make sure we didn’t lose any of the people brought in alive. Those that required surgery were operated upon and they are doing well.
“The directive from the Federal Ministry of Health is that we should not collect money from the victims. We also have collaboration with the state government.
“They were able to mobilise 20 units of blood and they still promised to do more. They were able to bring some consumables and also promised to give more.
“NEMA was also here and we have given them what we need but we are still expecting them. People have also been donating voluntarily. Many of the victims require blood.
“People are donating blood and those that require transfusion were transfused and I’m sure we will still have some in our blood bank.”
No doubt about the fact that the situation has given rise to tension and apprehension in the local government as residents now live in perpetual fear of what could happen or where the terrorist may attack next. Shops and business centres in the city now close early as the news of the incident reverberates around the state.
The wanton destruction of property and lives made the state governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu betray emotions and weep like a baby when he visited the scene of the incident.
Akeredolu could not hold back tears when he saw the blood of armless women, children and other worshipers, children, and pregnant women, who were brought down by the heinous act of the terrorist, flowing on the floor of the church.
The governor who was in Abuja to attend the National Delegate Conference and the convention of the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC), cut shot the trip to attend to the dastardly act of the terrorists in home town.
Akeredolu, who described the attack as satanic, noted that the attack was a calculated assault on the peace-loving people of the Owo Kingdom who have enjoyed relative peace over the years.
The governor who vowed to hunt down the assailants assured the people of the ancient town that those behind the attack will surely pay for the deadly attack.
He stressed that he was deeply saddened by the unprovoked attack and killing of innocent people of Owo, worshipping at the St Francis Catholic Church, Owa-Iowa Street, on Sunday.
According to him, ” It is a black Sunday in Owo. Our hearts are heavy. Our peace and tranquillity have been attacked by the enemies of the people. This is a personal loss, an attack on our dear state.
“I have spoken to the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo, Most Reverend Jude Arogundade, who is presently on his way to Owo. Similarly, I have had to cut short my party’s national assignment in Abuja and visit Owo immediately.
“This is an unexpected development. I am shocked, to say the least. Nevertheless, We shall commit every available resource to hunt down these assailants and make them pay. We shall never bow to the machinations of heartless elements in our resolve to rid our state of criminals.
“I commiserate with my people in Owo, particularly families of those who lost their lives to this ugly and unfortunate attack. I extend my condolences to Olowo of Owo, Oba Gbadegesin Ogunoye as well as the Catholic Church.
“I urge our people to remain calm and vigilant. Do not take laws into your hands. I have spoken to the heads of the security agencies. I have equally been assured that security operatives would be deployed to monitor and restore normalcy to Owo kingdom.”
Pained by the act, women in the town, who were mostly traders at the popular Oja Oba Market staged a protest to mourn the victims.
The women were armed with knives and leaves and performed traditional rites at the market, invoking the god of Iron (Ogùn) to go after the assailants.
The women who marched to the church where the incident had occurred, rained curses on the gunmen.
Calling the gods, the women also chanted incantations in their local dialect as they placed the leaves and knives on the floor as part of the ritual process.
Leading the protest, a former Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development in the state, Yemi Mahmood, said that the ritual conducted by the market women was done to track down the evil perpetrators.
She said, “The town has been thrown into mourning since that day (Sunday) and that is why the market women are coming out because this has never happened in Owo.”
“We came out for this protest and to, as well, curse those people who dare to come to Owo to commit this kind of havoc. A ritual has just been done to track them down. Wherever they are by the grace of God they shall be arrested.”
After the ritual, the women also marched to the palace Olowo of Owo, Ajibade Ogunoye where they were addressed by the monarch. Oba Ogunoye who assured that the perpetrators would not go unpunished urged the women to pacify their children to not take laws into their hands, as plans are underway to apprehend the assailants.
The monarch said, “I am with you in all you do. As you can see, I just finished a meeting with other monarchs, we are not resting on our oars until these perpetrators are fished out.”
“But please, I already appealed to the youths yesterday. Go home again and pacify them, tell them not to take laws into their own hands. It is not the Fulanis living with us that are responsible for this but may the deities of this land catch the perpetrators.”
Although, there is still uncertainty about the number of those who died in the attack. But the state governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, disclosed that 127 persons were involved in the attack while 61 survivors are still on admission to different hospitals. He also disclosed that 26 persons have been discharged while 40 persons died.
Those who have visited the state apart from Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who represented Federal Government and President Muhammadu Buhari, include, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum led by its chairman, governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, their Excellencies, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the minister of Interior and Engr. Seyi Makinde, the governor of Oyo State.
Also, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu donated N50 million to the victims and N25 million to the Catholic Church, Owo while the Nigeria Governors’ Forum donated N50 million to the victims.
Also, the pan-Yoruba Socio-Cultural Group(Afenifere) paid a condolence visit to his office in Alagabaka, Akure, the state capital.
The group was led by its national leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo in the company of other members including the deputy national leader, Oba Oladapo Olaitan; former Governor of Ogun State, Chief Gbenga Daniel; Chief Olu Falae; Chief Tunji Alapinni; Chief Sola Ebiseni; Chief Korede Duyile among several others, donated
N1.5m to the church and victims of the attack.
Meanwhile, the Ondo Catholic Church has announced that the church will be organising a befitting mass burial for the lost souls.
Speaking through the Bishop of Ondo Diocese, Most Reverend Jude Arogundade, said the total number of those involved could not be ascertained because some families have gone to pick up the remains of their loved ones and buried them without waiting for church or any government.
According to him, immediately after the incident, some went to the scene of the attack to pick up their relatives either at the private hospital or they went to bury them.
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