BY SAM EYOBOKA, KINGSLEY OMONOBI, INALEGWU SHAIBU, OLAYINKA LATONA, ISIAKA OYIBO & Boluwaji Obahopo
LAGOS — TWENTY-FOUR hours after gunmen attacked worshippers at Deeper Life Church, Otite in Okehi Local Government of Kogi State, killing 16 persons, suspected terrorists yesterday attacked men of the Joint Task Force (JTF) guarding Okene Central Mosque and killed two soldiers attached to the team.
Sources said that the gunmen came to the premises of the mosque in a white Hilux Jeep trying to force their way into the mosque when Muslim faithful had gathered for their Tafsir prayer, opened fire and killed two soldiers.
The Military men, who were stationed at the Central Mosque returned fire and killed two of the gunmen before the rest escaped.Kogi State Police Commissioner, Mr. Muhammed Katsina, who confirmed the incident, said that operatives of the command were on the trail of the gunmen.
Responding to the situation, the Kogi State Government declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew within Okene town and its environs.
Governor Idris Wada, who had earlier visited the church and General Hospital, decked in bullet proof vest, promised that the state government would pay the medical bills of victims, gave the directive during a statewide broadcast. He also restricted the movement of commercial motorcycle operators from 6am to 6pm in Lokoja, the state capital and Okene town and its environs.
Unexploded bomb discovered in another church in Kogi
To worsen increasing fear of insecurity in the state, a bomb was discovered at the Revival Church in Lokoja, the state capital. The Church which is located at Eika Adagu in Okehi Local Government Area is now surrounded by officers of the Nigeria Police Force and soldiers as family members of the deceased are coming around in tears, to identify their bodies.
IG orders 24-hour surveillance
Following intelligence reports that such attacks may be repeated in other parts of the state, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar has ordered a 24-hour surveillance of all places of worship and other vulnerable areas in Okene and other parts of the state.According to a statement signed by Police Spokesman, CSP Frank Mba, the IG also ordered the immediate deployment of additional units of the Police Mobile Force from other Squadrons to beef up security arrangement in the state.
“The IG further appealed for calm among the people of Kogi State, promising that the perpetrators of ‘this heinous crime will certainly not go unpunished”.
Gunmen planned to kill all worshippers — Victims
Narrating how they survived the blood-chilling attack, some survivors said, yesterday, that if the gunmen, who attacked worshipers at the Deeper Life Church had their way, none of the about 80 worshippers would have survived.
Speaking on a day that the death toll of the attack rose to 20 following the death of four of the victims receiving treatment at one of the hospitals in Okene, the Zonal Coordinator of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Omotosho told Journalists that the plan of the gunmen was to kill everyone in the hall.
The presiding pastor of the church, Pastor Lambe Emmanuel was among those killed in the attack. The church Bible Study meeting usually attracts an estimated population of 80 per service.
He said that they received a distress call from one of the surviving pastors of the church that they were under attack, adding that when they rushed to the scene, it was a gory sight that greeted them as corpses of the worshipers littered everywhere in the church.
One of the victims who spoke from the hospital stated that when the gunmen came, they blocked the main entrance of the church and put off the generating set and instantly opened fire on the worshipers.
“We were in the Church for normal Bible studies on Monday evening when they besieged us. After shooting, they started spraying under benches in the church to ensure no one survived the onslaught.”
However, few members were lucky to have managed to find an escape route amidst bullets fired randomly while they were trying to run for cover.
Another survivor, Mr. Lawal Saliu, who sustained several gun shot wounds, told newsmen on his hospital bed at the Lokoja specialist hospital: “I only saw two gunmen, who entered the church in a flowing gown during our usual bible study at around 11pm. Before we could say anything we started hearing gunshots I only woke up to find myself on this hospital bed, I don’t even know how I got here.
Another victim, Mr Samuel Ayodele, said he lost his wife and a child. The Okene overseer of Deeper Life Church, Pastor Roland Egunjobi said the incident was the saddest moment of his life as most of the worshippers who were killed were children who came out for bible study with their parents.
This is coming as leading clerics, CAN, Senate President David Mark among others condemned the attacks and urged decisive action to stem the tide of insecurity.
Among clerics, who condemned the attack yesterday were CAN President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor; the Primate of the Anglican Church, Reverend Nicholas Okoh; and Director of Social Communications at the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Rev. Monsignor Gabriel Osu.
Attack ungodly, wicked —Mark
Kicking against the mass killings of worshippers in Okene by gunmen, Senate President Mark, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Kola Ologbondiya, said, “the attack on the Deeper Life Church, Okene, Kogi State as well as the places of worship in other states is ungodly and wicked.”
He stressed that the wanton murder of people being carried out by gunmen must be combated through communal vigilance and enjoined Nigerians to take routine check of their environment very important to stop the abuse of communal living by gunmen.
Clerics condemn attack
Clerics expressed disgust over the continued attack on churches and innocent Christians across the country, without concerted efforts by the security outfits in the country to stop the perpetrators. They were unanimous in their belief that insecurity invariably breeds instability and therefore called on the Goodluck Jonathan administration to demonstrate the necessary political will to address the problem before it escalates to a full blown sectarian war.
The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, condemned the mindless attack on innocent worshippers. Speaking through the Special assistant to the National President of CAN, Mr. Kenny Ashaka, the CAN helmsman, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor said: “We don’t want a situation where many Christians are daily being slaughtered like animals. The latest attack on Christians is totally condemnable, intolerable because it is callous and inhuman.”
The CAN president therefore called on the Federal Government to take a decisive action on this nagging issue before it is too late, noting “we have been at the forefront of this call”.
Speaking in an interview, National Secretary of the umbrella body of Pentecostalism in Nigeria, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, Pastor Wale Adefarasin condemned the attack on innocent Christians in Kogi State, saying it was extremely frustrating to continue to read of these mindless killing of innocent worshippers.
Reacting in a telephone interview, the Director of Social Communications at the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Rev. Monsignor Gabriel Osu also totally condemned the attack and the killing of 16 persons who were said to be attending a Bible study Monday evening.
“Anybody with his right senses and desires peace will condemn a barbaric act such as that,” he said, noting that life is sacred and what has happened has again demonstrated that life no longer means nothing.
According to him, the latest killing in Kogi should be seen as a wake up call for the security personnel, political office holders and even the president of the Federal Republic, President Goodluck Jonathan and indeed everybody in the country.
Meanwhile the Deeper Life Christian Church has kept mum over the Okene Massacre. All efforts to get the leaders to comment on the issue had failed as they either refused to pick their calls or like in the case of the church secretary, Pastor Jerry Asemota simply told this reporter “No comment” and cut off the line. All other calls to his numbers were simply ignored.
Anglican Primate condemns attack
The Primate of the Anglican Church, Reverend Nicholas Okoh has condemned Monday’s attack on a church in Okene, Kogi state which claimed the lives of 16 people.
Reverend Okoh who spoke with journalists in Abuja said that securing places of worship should not be left in the hands of the church alone.
He called on government to expedite action to secure the lives of its citizenry.
Responding to the call for the resignation of the president by members of the Boko Haram sect, the Anglican Primate said that the sect members are not responsible for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s election and should therefore not call for his resignation.
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