Terror attack: Worshippers relive tragic memories as Owo church reopens

10th April 2023

WhatsApp Image 2023-04-09 at 12.55.20

By Peter Dada

On June 5, 2022, terrorists sneaked into St. Francis’ Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State and attacked unsuspecting worshippers leaving 41 people dead. Ten months after the attack, the church on Sunday reopened and worshippers recalled the deadly attack, PETER DADA writes

As the whole world celebrated Easter on Sunday, which is to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, St. Francis’ Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, reopened for mass 10 months ago after it was shut following an attack on it by some suspected terrorists.

No fewer than 41 members of the church were killed while 69 worshippers were injured in the attack as the bandits threw some explosives to the altar scattering the worshippers.

It was gathered that there were many donations from individuals and corporate bodies to the church to assist in the treatment of the surviving victims who were injured in the attack.

Also, the state government has commenced the construction of a memorial park in Owo town in honour of the victims of the deadly attack.

The Ondo State Governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, promised that the park would be completed by May this year.

As usual, on Sunday, not minding the evil incident that had befallen the church, hundreds of worshippers trooped to the church for the celebration of Easter and also to see the new face of the church.

The church was filled to the brim with worshippers, whose appearances and facial expressions displayed joy and satisfaction.

Although the general atmosphere was calm, there were armed security operatives, including those in uniform and those in muftis. They were on the ground apparently to ensure no breakdown of law and order. The patrol vehicles of the men of the state police command were also seen moving around the ancient city, while the men from the 32 Artillery Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Akure, were seen stationed on the premises of the Catholic Church.

It was observed that the worshippers, who shared their experiences with one another, having met for the first time since the incident happened, were weeping and could not control their emotions. They recalled the ugly and gruesome killings that occurred on that fateful day. Some lost their loved ones.

One of the worshippers, Mr John Uche, who said he narrowly, escaped death when the attackers struck, expressed happiness over the reopening of the church, saying that for almost two months, he did not recover from the trauma.

The 45-year-old trader said, “In fact, I am very happy to be back in this church. It took me like two months to recover from that shock because I had never seen a thing like that in my life. While I was running for safety, I fell into a gutter and was seriously injured. But as it is, I know the church has put in place security measures, and I am also appealing to the government and the security agencies to be more proactive so that such an incident would not happen again.”

Another member of the church, Mrs Helen Idowu, said there was a need for the government and the security agencies to step up the security system for the protection of lives and properties. She lamented that it was unfortunate that the criminals were entering the church of God and killing innocent worshippers, and none of them had been arrested.

“Up until now, I remember the attack whenever I entered any church to worship; I have yet to recover from the shock. So we want the government to do more about security. Though Governor Akeredolu is trying his best in that area, we want him to do more. They should arrest the perpetrators and make them face justice. A church should be a safe place; we should not be worshipping God in fear,” Idowu lamented.

Even though the government is constructing a memorial park in honour of the victims, another female member of the church, Mrs Rita Monogbe did not see anything cheering in the memorial park constructed by the state government, saying seeing the park gave her unpleasant nostalgia, having lost her husband and two sisters-in-law to the brutal incident.

“My husband, two sisters-in-law, 10 and 18 years old, died and one of my sons had a serious wound. I don’t like the remembrance park planned by the state government in Owo because it would give us ugly memories. My husband was one of the policemen who died. I have received N500,000 from the church to help the family and me. There should be tight security in the church and the town because I didn’t want to come initially but was convinced to do so.”

During the homily, the Catholic Bishop of Ondo Diocese, Jude Arogundade, decried the alleged insensitivity of the government to the protection of lives and properties of the citizens of the country. He said perpetrators of the attacks had not been arrested and brought to justice.

The cleric said, “We will do our best to recognise human dignity. I have never seen a nation be comfortable with seeing its citizens killed for the past 15 years. There is no apology from the government because it cannot protect its citizens. The government has failed us. On a daily basis, people are dying. What is the government doing? We are civilised people. The government must wake up and ensure that those who perpetrated evil here and in every area of the nation are brought to justice. The government has not come forward to apologise to the people for its failure.

“The killers should stop their evil deeds and stop killing people. Let us build a good country for ourselves, and work together so that, in the end, Nigeria can be at peace. Let us not be people who will live for nothing. Let us build a nation that we can be proud of.”

While praying for those who were involved in the incident, the bishop admonished, “Don’t be afraid; have hope in God – those of you who have been victims of the helplessness of the government. We will continue to help them. The blood of our people that died is crying for vengeance, and God should do what is necessary. I had not heard of those jailed for illegal killings. If you hear something, say something. All efforts to get information on those four arrested in the attack proved abortive. Some are still suffering, but the church will continue to comfort you to ensure that your wounds are healed and that everyone is properly taken care of. “

He confirmed that the church had spent over N35m on members’ welfare, and we would still spend almost N65m for the construction of the church, noting that some politicians donated money and “we have used the money to attend to our members’ needs.

He appreciated the state governor for personally helping the victims.

“Whatever we have spent came from the donors. We are still waiting for Federal Government. The FG is becoming so funny. These are your citizens. Let them know they belong to you. I have criticised you enough, but if you do well, I will praise you. There are still many people who have psychological problems. Some are still suffering psychologically. But we believe that with our support and prayers, they will return,” the cleric mentioned.

There was a thanksgiving during the mass while the attendees sang and danced to the altar to thank God for sparing their lives and those of their families.

However, when contacted about the development, the Olowo of Owo, Oba Ajibade Ogunoye, said he was not aware that the church had been reopened.

The traditional ruler said, “You know, I am not a member of the Catholic Church. I am not aware of anything like that happening here.”

PUNCH

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