Sunday, 28th May 2023

Akeredolu weeps at Owo mass burial: We failed to protect these people

By Oluwaseun Akingboye, Akure
18 June 2022   |   4:20 am
Like the forlorn look on the faces of sympathisers during the funeral of former American President, John F. Kennedy on November 25, 1963 at the St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Central Washington DC...

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Like the forlorn look on the faces of sympathisers during the funeral of former American President, John F. Kennedy on November 25, 1963 at the St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Central Washington DC, those who were at the burial of the slain residents of Owo in Ondo State yesterday were with mournful eyes.

It was a murder too many for the people of ancient Owo Kingdom and Ondo State at large as gunmen invaded St Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Owaluwa, Owo on Sunday June 5, 2022 and opened fire on 127 worshippers, killing 40 of them.

As thousands of mourners lined up the streets to watch the coffin procession of the former American President Kennedy from the Capitol, all the roads led to Owo, the headquarters of Owo Local Government, to give the slain residents a mass burial.

It was indeed a gloomy look on the faces of people who converged on the church from all walks of life for the requiem mass as the coffins lay on the altar with name tags for the journey of no return.

The expansive hall of the Mydas Resort and Hotel was filled to the brim as families of the victims, people of Owo, and other sympathisers thronged the venue of the funeral mass with the Catholic priests and bishop adorned in their vestments.

The venue of the requiem mass at the Mydas Resort and Hotel was pent up with pains and agonies of bereaved families and loved ones. The clergy and laity who came to bid the victims farewell could not control the tear streaming down their cheeks.

Even the heaven wept as the sky opened to pour torrential rains in some parts of the state as Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu and his wife, Betty could not hold their tears over the untimely death of their kinsmen.

Akeredolu, who wept profusely during his speech, said the government failed to protect the victims of the terror attack, describing the forces on the other side as evil.

“We have failed to defend these people not because we have not tried but because these forces on the other side are evil and they have supports. They will not triumph over us forever,” he said.

The governor, who affirmed that the culprits would soon suffer a waterloo, said something serious must be done about the rising insecurity in the country.

“The security architecture of the nation needs rejigging. When I see the sea of heads that are here, it speaks volumes. What has happened to us in Owo in Ondo State is indescribable. A lot of words are used to qualify it. Dastardly, horrendous. But I still believe there are other words to use to describe it but I am still short of those words.

“We have just 22 (deceased) in this hall. A few of them have been buried because the relatives couldn’t wait till today. But as at the last count, these animals came to the church and murdered 40 people,” Akeredolu lamented.

In a swift response, the Bishop of Ondo Catholic Diocese, Dr. Jude Arogundade, declared that Governor Akeredolu had not failed in protecting his people.

”You didn’t fail. You are a strong soldier. Your determination to protect those who voted you into power is unquestionable. This was done by cowards. You have tried your best,” the cleric said.

Bishop Arogundade wondered why the people of the country need to beg for state police despite the endless attack and killings.

He thanked the governor for accepting to designate a memorial park in honour of the victims, stressing that those who created the situation that made the incident happened have bloods on their hands.

Also present at the funeral were members of the House of Assembly led by the Speaker, David Bamidele Oleyelogun and members of the State Executive Council (SEC) led by the Secretary to the State Government, Princess Oladunni Odu.

Other dignitaries include former governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko; Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Ade Adetimehin and a chieftain of the APC, Chief Olusola Oke (SAN).

The local government chairmen were led by the Chairman, Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALCON), Ondo State chapter, Augustine Oloruntogbe.

The Olijebu of Ijebu-Owo, Oba Kofoworola Oladoyinbo Ojomo, condemned the Federal Government for failing to stem the tide of ongoing terror attacks across the country.

Ojomo, who reacted to the attack by the gunmen on the innocent worshippers, alleged that the Federal Government did not value people’s security making the gunmen to have audacity to commit mindless attacks on the helpless citizens.

The monarch, who made his reaction a few days ago while receiving members of the Krown Club in Owo at his palace, added that the government’s attitude to the issue had been one of controversy and suspicion.

The monarch told his visitors led by Yanju Alabi that the Federal Government should reconsider its resistance to state police by creating a more effective and efficient security system at the local level.

“We have less than 300 policemen to police activities here in Owo. The security of our people does not mean anything to the present administration. They are just waiting for the administration to end without any solution in sight. They are not giving enough encouragement to those at the state level to do what they should be doing.

“When criminals succeed with the first attack without apprehending them, the next attack will be bigger. So we have to find ways to prevent repeat attack.

“If it is not for the initiative of our Governor Akeredolu, the situation in this place could have been worse than this. But it seems this is a direct attack to intimidate us.”

The monarch emphasised that the attack was meant to test the resolve of the people but failed, insisting that government should do more for the people instead of paying condolence visit.

The members of Krown Club had earlier visited the attacked church where they donated N500,000 to the victims. The members including Ademola Oshodi, Adesina Kareem, Owolabi Daramola and Olurotimi Asolo, called on all Owo sons and daughters to rally round the authorities to provide effective security in the area.

They also sought support of everyone to provide succor to the affected families and St. Francis Catholic Church especially to ameliorate the great loss they have suffered.

“We also commend the Southwest governors for the actions they have outlined to make the region more secure. It is important at this juncture for the Federal Government to reconsider its opposition to state police.

“The state government must also reinforce, reinvigorate and enlarge the Amotekun security outfit for it to be able to provide adequate security cover for not only Owo but Ondo State as a whole.”

While expressing gratitude to the club for their support to the victims and church, the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Ondo, Jude Arogundade, revealed that some decisions would be taken, adding that many issues would be tackled headlong over the incident.

The Olowo of Owo, Oba Gbadegesin Ogunoye, who commended the club for its efforts stated that “we are already taking steps to ensure that such won’t repeat itself in the town.”

The tragic attack united the people of the ancient kingdom beyond religious divides to condemn the heinous killing as the Olowo of Owo, alongside the Olu-Ode, Chief Dada Aderobagun and Ogun worshippers, rained curses on the killers.

The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Oyo, Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, in his homily from Wisdom 3: 1-9c; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Psalm 27, Luke 12: 35-40, condoled with the bereaved families, referring to the mourning of Christ: Eloi Eloi lama Sabachtani.

“Believe me, when I say that this is not a homily I am happy to preach, I know it is not an occasion which any of you ever prayed to witness. We all gather today I believe in deep sorrow and distress for the funeral mass of over 40 of our departed people who were brutally murdered, mindlessly massacred while at worship in St. Francis Catholic Church Owo on Pentecost Sunday, June 5, 2022.

“Indeed, if the sun shone on the sunshine state at all on that day, it surely did not penetrate the darkness in the hearts of the murderers who invaded St Francis on that Sunday. The event catapulted the Catholic Church in Owo, the Catholic diocese of Ondo and Ondo State of Nigeria to the limelight of world attention, unfortunately for the very wrong reasons.

“Since then, the entire world has condemned the crime perpetrated against humanity and against God in this state. We thank all for their messages, gestures and visits. The governor of the state particularly has done all in his power since then to bring succour to the affected people and to the church. Thank you, Arakunrin.”

The cleric recalled: “We have seen tragedies in Nigeria and we have seen brutal murders but a few can really compare with the brutality and gruesomeness of that Pentecost Sunday.

“On a visit to the church with innocent blood still spattered on the floor and walls of the sanctuary, I could almost hear the victims as they were attacked, right inside the church, cry out like Jesus Christ did on the cross Eloi Eloi lama sabachtani meaning ‘My God, My God why have you forsaken me’?

“May that desecration of the sanctuary, the desecration of the body of Christ and the desecration of our collective claim as Nigerians to sane humanity not go unpunished.”

The bishop listed the victims to include “an 85 year-old, Bridget Ozulumba, young people and children, Chukwuemeka Emmanuel Njoku who was 2 and Mathilda Ogungbade who was 3. None of these did anything wrong except that they came to worship God at the foot of the cross and altar on that day.

“Their sudden death was inflicted upon them and deep sorrow upon their dear ones left behind. These dear ones died and many others met with trouble while at the foot of the cross. What a pity! The Christian religion teaches us to lay all our troubles and sorrows down at the foot of the cross so we know that they are safe in the arms of Jesus.”

He recounted cases of religious brutality that had occurred since March 1987 till date, expressing displeasure at the level of attacks against Christians.

“According to SB Morgen Intelligence, a Nigeria-based research firm, almost 900 Nigerians were killed in violent attacks in the first quarter of 2022 alone. We are compelled to ask: Nigeria, our leaders, are you still our leaders? Are we at war? How many more must die?

Leaders must be leaders not mere dealers. Few, indeed, are the courageous leaders who are able to raise their voice against the ongoing persecution and injustice in many sectors in Nigeria and who act up at times like this to stem the surge of violence and bloodshed that threatens to engulf Nigeria.

“We pay tribute to the few leaders in some states like Borno and Ondo who have shown uncommon courage in denouncing some of the perpetrators of evil in their areas and taken some actions. This murder shows that far more must be done.

“Ritual killings, abductions, murders, lynching, kidnappings, armed robbery still increase the bloody tally of innocent deaths day by day. All these go on while many of our leaders and people in power tweak their fingers, feign deaf and dumb or worse still continue with their macabre rallies and dance merely to grapple for positions and privileges.

“God is not amused and judgment will come. I call on President Buhari, and our other leaders in the Federal Government and state governments to wake up, sit up and act up. I ask again: how many more must die? Does life really have any value any more with you?

“Are we to believe that insurgents, bandits, Boko Haram, ISWAP and murderous herdsmen are more powerful than the Federal Government of Nigeria? Is the glaring weakness and helplessness of all our security agencies real or deliberate?”

The Catholic Bishop insisted that the leaders must listen to the agitations of the people to overhaul the security architecture of the nation, warning that failure to oblige the cries of the people may lead to self-defence.

“So many have cried out in frustration for a review of the security apparatus of our country. I urge leaders at every level to listen to the cry for help of the people they claim to serve, shun discrimination and hypocrisy and perform their duty to secure life and property.

“Why, even God Almighty listens to us in our distress. Death occurs in any organism when the lower order dominates the higher one. One wonders whether the lower order of lawlessness and crime has not already dominated the higher order of the rule of law and governance and begun to strangulate this beloved country of ours.

“The present situation must not continue so that people may not resort to self-help and kill this country entirely.

“In the Catholic Church’s teaching, there exists a moral principle and right to self defence which does not mean aggression and is justly mitigated by public security. Life is God’s most precious gift and by that token it must be defended in the face of unprovoked aggression and imminent danger to life.

“The authentic Christian is pro-life. Because he chooses and defends life, the Christian knows he/she is called to ‘love thy neighbor as you love yourself’ and so does all in his power to reject violence. Like every citizen, he is called to respect the right to life.

“In this context, the right to self-defence remains an important Christian value, an integral part of Catholic teachings which in times like this cannot be jettisoned (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn.2261-2265). I see as a corollary of the self-defence principle that we Nigerians must take our country back to the path of righteousness.”

Bishop Badejo tasked Nigerians to conscientiously perform their civic responsibilities, saying: “In reality, we all need two PVCs to be good citizens, namely the Permanent Voters Card for voting during elections and the Positive Verifiable Character that gives you integrity and trustworthiness, qualifying you for good citizenship and heaven. Work hard for both and put both to good use.”

The cleric appealed to the perpetrators of the massacre to repent and believe the gospel. “The God of life calls on you to repent. The Church of Christ invites you to a change of heart, to cast away your arms, to repent and embrace peace. Why would you be agents of destruction of life in which you yourself share?

“Why be an instrument of bloodshed in this beautiful country given to all? Why would you abuse and destroy humanity of which you yourselves are part? You may make us cry and mourn but we shall never stop inviting you to come share in the love and joy of God who loves you as He loves everyone.

“Fill your heart with love and cast out hatred. Come out of the bush and the shadows. Together, let us build a country that once more can be filled with laughter, with peace and prosperity. You too can experience the joy of salvation,” he charged the murderers.