NOISOME odour oozing out from the cathedral. The ground was stained with innocent blood. The floor was littered with human flesh. Clothes, shoes, sandals, slippers, wristwatches and other belonging of worshipers scattered around, unclaimed. The owners had been gruesomely killed. The pulpit was not in its usual tidiness; it was filled with wreckages of explosion, stained with blood. Here are some bibles, soaked in blood. The chairs and wall had been perforated by bullets. Some bullets were stuck in the thick wooden entrance door. Pellets of expended ammunition on the floor look like that of sophisticated weapon.
It was 24 hours after gunmen unleashed terror on St. Francis Catholic Church, Owaluwa Street, Owo, Ondo State. The attack occurred around 11am on Sunday, June 5, 2022. Many people were killed, while some others sustained gunshot injuries. The following day, Monday, OSUN DEFENDER was part of other concerned people who visited the church.
Some could enter the church, many could not; because it was a gory site. Those who entered were mindful of their steps; there was blood everywhere. Individual’s feet were cautioned not to step on human flesh and blood clot. Lifeless human brain, skull and leg were part of the dirts on the floor of the church. The leg was that of a child between five and seven years of age. People were holding their breath; many mouths were filled with unswallowed saliva. Security operatives were everywhere.
Emotion was flowing freely, with curses on the perpetrators of the dastard act. It was not a happy or laughing scene at all. People were trooping in and out of the church premises. Some residents were peeping through the perimeter fence of the cathedral. All the shops on the street were shut. And the street was even deserted, except for security operatives who were around the place.
Who Carried Out The Attack?
While at the church premises, OSUN DEFENDER engaged some residents of the area in deep conversations. One of the residents who claimed to have seen the assailants said they were four in number. They rode on a motorcycle, they said. According to one of the residents who refused to mention his name, the assailants were slim and of average heights. Three of them wore black T-Shirt while the fourth person put on green T-Shirt. They kept their guns inside ‘bacco’ bag (sack bag) and removed them at the entrance of the church, the source stated.
He said: “The gunmen came with a motorcycle; they were four on it, including the person that rode the motorcycle. The rider dropped the three assailants and went back. The gunmen wore black and each of them carried a sack bag. They approach the gate of the church, loosed the sack bags and brought out guns. At thr time, a small boy, an orphan, who was a hawker, attempted to run when he saw the gunmen. But he was drawn back. The fourth assailant who put on a green T-Shirt joined them and he was left with the little boy, while the three other gunmen went inside the church. The fourth assailant shot the boy on the head and chest, and he remained at the entrance gate.
“Suddenly, we heard a loud noise; we did not know it was an explosion inside the church. The three other gunmen that went inside the church threw dynamite at the people who were trying to hide inside a small space in the church. The gunmen shot at people directly. The people that died are not less than 40. We did not know the number of people in the hospital.”
Asked why they did not report to the police on time, the source said: “The police station is close to this place. It is few metres away. We rushed to the station but the gate has been locked. There was no police officer in sight. The gunmen operated for about 40 minutes and no security person, including Amotekun operatives showed up. The gunmen escaped through the Achievers University road. They snatched a two-door car when they left the church to escape.
ISWAP Responsible For Owo Killings – FG
The Federal Government has said that the attack on the church was carried out by the Islamic State, West African Province (ISWAP).
Nigeria’s Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, stated this after a meeting of the National Security Council in Abuja, yesterday.
The minister disclosed that security agencies, particularly the police, have been directed to apprehend the perpetrators.
He noted that the attack has no ethnic-religious connection, affirming that the group’s activity has nothing to do with religion.
In his remarks, the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba stated that the imprints of the perpetrators of the Owo killings have been identified, saying that security agencies are now zeroing in on them.
Aregbesola had during a condolence visit to Owo, on Monday, described the killing of the worshipers as devastating and senseless.
The minister who conferred with the Olowo of Owo, Oba Ajibade Gbadegesin on the attack, called for collaborative efforts between traditional institutions and law enforcement agencies in arresting the fleeing criminals, saying that any piece of information on the attack is important.
The former governor of the State of Osun said it was worrisome that the attack happened in the South-West that has a measure of peace and tranquility.
Aregbesola who was also joined by the host Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State and Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State to visit the church. They were received by the church’s assistant officiating priest, Rev Fr Andrew Abayomi.
He said the Federal Government is outraged by the attack and will leave no stone unturned in getting to the root of it.
How it happened by Priest, Survivor
The Assistant Parish Priest of the church Rev. Fr. Andrew Abayomi, narrated how the unfortunate incident happened. According to him, the attack came at end of the service, when people were about to leave for their various homes.
The priest said: “From what I can still recall, towards the close of the mass, in fact, I had told the people, ‘Go forth, the Mass is ended’, and they responded. It was at that moment we heard a loud noise; within me, I thought somebody fell but when I looked at the sanctuary, I saw one of us who could have seen the gunmen from outside.
“So, he quickly closed the door. From that moment, a message got to me on the sanctuary that armed gunmen were around. I told the people to enter the Sacred; it is a place behind the sanctuary, to have an escape route. I ran to the inner room with some children and they were saying, ‘Father, pray, pray!’ And I told them to calm down. So, within that moment, I heard about four explosives.
“I didn’t see their faces because already, some of us had moved inside the other part of the church where people were using as escape. After over 20 minutes, where I was, I was able to pick up my phone, then called the pastor in-charge, because I am an assistant. ‘Father, where are you?’ He said he was still at this other place where he had gone to celebrate Mass. I told him, ‘This is what is happening, if you have the contact of security agencies, please call them.’ Then, I called the first assistant too.
“So, after 20 minutes, I got to know that the gunmen have gone. That was when I came out and saw our people lying on the floor. Some were dead and some were wounded. So, I called members who still have courage to let us take our brothers and sisters to the hospital.
“When I was going to the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, I was told that St. Louis Catholic Hospital, Owo was already filled and rejecting people. Even when I got to FMC, they were already rejecting people and I had to beg them that even if it is to attend to them outside.”
A survivor, Ezenma Kingsley, who was inside the church when the incident happened, said most of the victims were women and children.
Kingsley said: “I was in the church and I heard gunshots at the gate side; I came out and I saw a tall man with a long face cap, he shot the gun at my side but I guess he didn’t see me. He shot another one again, then I told myself, who is this foolish man shooting a gun here? He shot another one; so, I knew there was danger.
“I went back inside and I locked the entrance door. Before I could peep through the window, the man was already going through the right side of the church and entered through the other door and he started shooting. The shooting was too much.
“Then, I heard another sound like bomb, after I regained myself, I looked up and I told myself that the church has not fallen because I was thinking that the bomb will bring it down. They repeated it again with several gunshots. I wanted to jump through the window but I thought some of them could still be outside. Some minutes later when I didn’t hear the sound of gun again, I stood up and saw the lifeless body of some of the church members.”