June 5th, 2022 will go down in the history of Nigeria as a Black Sunday as scores of worshipers at St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State moved from Sanctuary to Mortuary.
Recall that 40 Iives were lost with at least with 26 survivors after gunmen invaded the church, putting the country on the edge since the day of the unfortunate incident.
Before she left for church that Sunday, Mrs Caroline Agboola did not know that would be the last time she would be setting her eyes on her son, Ibidowo Tope and her 10-year-old granddaughter, Fagbeun Ayomide, who she passionately doted on.
Until her horrific death at St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo Ondo State, Agboola was a petty trader producing beans cake, known in Yoruba language as akara.
Mrs Agboola’s surviving son, Tope said that his 65-year-old mother was killed by one of the dynamites thrown into the church by the assailants.
He recounted how his mother’s head was instantly decapitated from her body due to the impact of the explosive.
On her part, Ayomide, who was at the children’s section of the church, gave a gory description of the drama that ensued when the incident happened. According to her, barely had the church’s Mass ended when the shooting started.
She said she was waiting beside the altar alongside other children for hands to be laid upon her by the priest, who was already coming down from the altar, when the pandemonium broke out.
The seven-year-old girl further stated that she only survived from being killed by a mere chance and luck, adding;
They immediately led some of the children into the Sacristy.
From there, Ayomide said, someone started lifting them to the back of the church so that they could run and escape.
The Owo shootings, which resulted in the death of at least 40 people, including women and children, have continued to attract condemnations and sympathisers from within the state and all over the country.
The Catholic Church and the state Muslims had, during their separate visits to sympathise with the church’s leadership, described the incident as “horrific and barbaric.”
According to ICIR, upon visitation to the scene of the incident last Tuesday, parts of human flesh and bloodstains could still be seen all over the tiled floor of the more than 400-capacity church auditorium.
‘I survived by mere miracle’
Narrating what he saw, the church’s head of Man of Order and Discipline (MOD), James Anagu, who was at the main entrance of the building, said that the gunmen, numbering about four, entered the compound through the main gate.
Anagu expressed that when the first shot that killed a petty trader that was waiting to sell his candies to children coming out from Mass at the entrance of the church’s gate sounded, worshippers thought it was the usual cult clashes in the town.
His efforts to shut the thick wooden door of the church’s main entrance were not enough by the time it dawned on him that the worshippers were the target.
He said the only thing that prevented him from being killed was that he immediately took cover under one of the benches close to the entrance.
When we heard the first shot, we thought it was the activities of cultism because that is how they usually clash with each other.
However, immediately after the first shot, I saw two young guys with guns shooting directly towards the church, so I quickly rushed to close the door because I was very close to the entrance.
He noted that two of the gunmen had immediately positioned themselves by the side of the church from where they were shooting indiscriminately towards worshippers, who had already gathered themselves at the church’s altar.
According to Anagu, the next thing he heard was a loud bang from an explosive thrown into the midst of the large gathering at the altar.
The MOD head, who is from Anambra State, said that by the time the shootings, which he said lasted for more than 20 minutes, were over, scores of people had been confirmed dead.
I have been in this town and church for more than 40 years. My entire family and I worship here. I have not seen and experienced this terror attack all my life. Until the last Sunday, I only heard and read about terror attacks of this magnitude on the pages of the newspapers.
I am happy I survived. I am also glad that my mother-in-law and my children that were with me in the church that day survived. But some people were not as lucky as I am.
Anagu lamented that about five persons from Ihiala Local Government Area, where he hails from, had been confirmed dead.
‘My life is shattered but God will sustain me’
Meanwhile, 43-year-old Atah Magret will have to start learning new survival skills by the time she is discharged from the Orthopedic and Trauma Department of the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owo.
Magret, who works as a nurse at the state’s General Hospital, Owo, lost both legs to one of the explosives thrown into the large gatherings that converged on the church altar. The explosive also affected one of her eyes.
The mother of four said that although her life is shattered, she believes that God would sustain her.
“My life has been shattered. Yes, but my God will sustain me,” she murmured.
For Nwanyi Florence, she would forever remember that Sunday as the day her husband, Neveginus, and her only daughter, Chidugor, were brutally snatched away from her.
Her late husband’s younger brother, she was still weeping and hoping that what has become a sad reality was a dream.
She said she heard the news of the shooting from a concerned neighbour as she was not in church due to body pains, but her late husband went with her late daughter and Victor, his only 15-year-old son to Mass.
Florence noted that when the gunmen started shooting inside the church, Victor was lying down flat in a pool of blood so that if the attackers saw him they would think he had already been shot. He was there till the assailants left.
Meanwhile, Chief Medical Director of the FMC, Owo, confirmed that 17 persons were brought in dead to the facility on the day of the incident.
He added that 13 other persons who sustained injuries but made it alive to the hospital died on Friday when this reporter spoke with him in his office.
The CMD cited inadequate personnel as one of the challenges the hospital faced in attending to the victims.
On his part, Chairman of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Owo Local Government Area, John Ogwebuka, said that by Wednesday, the Igbo community had been able to identify, at least, 24 persons from the South-East that lost their lives in the course of the shootings.
For now, we have confirmed that 24 of our people died on Sunday. About 48 others, including women and children, were still receiving treatments at various hospitals they were taken to.
He added that yet-to-be-identified five corpses were discovered in nearby bushes almost 48 hours after the incident took place.
According to ICIR, several attempts to get comments from the parish priest, Reverend Father Andrew Abayomi, were rebuffed.
Abayomi said, “Please, leave me alone, I don’t want to speak to the press again. I am traumatised.”
Several efforts to speak with the ancient town’s traditional ruler, the Olowo of Owo, Oba Ajibade Ogunoye, were also unsuccessful.
However, the Akowa of Owo, Sydney Ogunleye, one of the chiefs the palace assigned to speak to reporters, expressed concerns about the deteriorating security situation in the town.
Citing recent kidnappings in various parts of the town, Ogunleye said security operatives should have been placed on an alert to confront the kind of killings that happened at St. Francis Church.
He expressed that more worrisome was the fact that the church was just a stone thrown from the king’s palace. The only thing separating the church from the palace and police post is a wall.
“Look at the church, it is just behind this palace,” Ogunleye said.
Pointing towards a police post beside the entrance to the palace, he added;
Over there are police officers. Inside this palace, there are three policemen meant for the king’s protection. Those criminals operated for more than 20 minutes, yet there was no police response for the period they operated.
Even if they can’t confront them, can’t they, at least, fire shots to scare away those murderers. No single shot was fired.
He noted that the police would always complain of inadequate patrol vehicles each time a security crisis required their attention in the town.
The chief called for the total decentralisation of the nation’s police force to enable state police. When asked about the effectiveness of the Amotekun Corps in combating the security crisis, Ogunleye said the Corps was supposed to complement, and not take over the constitutional duties of the police.
Which Amotekun? How much gunpower do Amotekun Corps operatives carrying local guns to confront criminals wielding sophisticated guns have?
SOURCE: ICIR NIGERIA