Sunday, 4th June 2023

Owo Attack: Why protecting worshippers, sanctuaries is vital

By Chris Irekamba and Isaac Taiwo
19 June 2022   |   4:05 am
It’s cowardly evil and a show of desperation by the forces of darkness to foist inter-religious tension, mutual suspicion, reprisal attacks and war. It is an attack on religion, good conscience and uprightness.

FILE PHOTO: A view of St. Francis Catholic Church where worshippers were attacked by gunmen during Sunday mass, is pictured in Owo, Ondo, Nigeria June 6, 2022. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja/File Photo

The recent terrorist attack on St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, where gunmen killed over 40 worshippers and left several others injured has raised the importance of security, especially at worship centres. To this end, what are the measures put in place by churches and mosques to protect their members and the house of God? Is there any historical antecedent that reflects the current situation and since security of life/property happens to be the cardinal mandate of government, in what ways should authority handle the current situation? CHRIS IREKAMBA and ISAAC TAIWO report.

‘Mosques Should Do Thorough Screening Of Worshippers, Increase Surveillance’
(Imam Abdurahman Ahmad, Missioner, Ansarudeen of Society of Nigeria)
It’s cowardly evil and a show of desperation by the forces of darkness to foist inter-religious tension, mutual suspicion, reprisal attacks and war. It is an attack on religion, good conscience and uprightness.

In times like this, the temptation to resort to self-help is very high. After all, if government proves incapable of protecting lives and properties, citizens will be left with little or no choice but self-help.

This, however, comes with potential risks that could further worsen the overall security situation. For now, churches and mosques are taking such preventive measures such as thorough security screening of worshippers, increased surveillance and vigilance among many others.

I’m sure religious scholars can find historical parallels in the scriptures and other doctrinal principles.

In Islam, for instance, a time like this is foretold as part of the portents of the hour consequent upon general moral descent into abyss.

More vigorously than they spent and campaigned for votes, as a national emergency and by paying much more than lip service to national and internal security, government must not become undertakers, they must be seen to be proactive, responsible and to secure lives and properties.

If, however, government becomes overwhelmed and confused, it should at this be upfront with Nigerians and throw in the towel.

We are on the brink of a precipice to an ignominious fall…unless urgent action is seen to be taking by government.

‘Churches Are Admonished To Employ Detector Machines To Screen Worshippers’
(Rev. Dr. Samson Olasupo Ayokunle, President, Christian Association of Nigeria / Co-Chairman, Nigeria Inter-religious Council (NIREC)

THE current spate of attacks on places of worship is worrisome. As Christian leaders, we are greatly concerned and worried. It shows the perpetrators have no respect for God and the sacredness of the places of worship. It is a direct affront to God. Some people may interpret it as hatred for Christianity, which may cause further religious tension. However, on the other hand, if one remembers that they have been attacking mosques as well, the argument that it is hatred for Christianity may not be sustained.

Whatever may be their motive, their action is wicked, inhuman and therefore, each church is admonished to beef up security in their domains. Churches should endeavour to have fences and entry gate that are well manned by locally but well trained security personnel or hire the services of the police and other security agents during times of worship or special events.

Additionally, proper checks should be conducted for people entering worship centres by using security gadgets such as detector machines that can help detect dangerous objects that any intending worshipper may carry.

There are many similar attacks on the church during worship like this before. For instance, St. Theresa Catholic Church, Mandalla in Niger State was similarly attacked some years ago including Southern Kaduna church, among others, but the number of worshippers killed were not as many as this.

People are tired of condolences and condemnations sent by the government when things like this occur. What people want from government is to take the war to the criminals wherever they may be hiding because these criminals are not spirits, they are human beings. The government should use technology in tracking them and should equally improve on its intelligence gathering for the good of all. On-the-job training should as well be done for security personnel to improve their competency and job delivery. We need more police and other security agents to cater for our increasing population and as well curb rising criminality.

‘We Organise Seminars To Sensitise Our Members To Be Alert’
(Rt. Rev. Dr. Isaac Nwaobia, Archbishop of Aba Diocese /Bishop of Isiala-Ngwa South), Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)
WHEN the issue of insecurity began to spread, what we did was to start by organising seminars for all our church workers. In fact, the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) was in attendance. During the programme we emphasised on the security check for those coming to the church and we even went as far as pointing out that church workers should have insurance in case of emergency. We see this as very important because no one knows tomorrow as the incidence may come unexpectedly either from the left or right. We sensitised them on the importance of being at alert and also encouraged church leaders in this direction.

The issue of involving the government on security of church members is the basic problem because we expect them to even do more than what the church authority is doing. They should do what is expected of them, no matter, how little because that is even statutory. Government exists to protect lives and properties. It is the primary assignment of the government to secure its citizens and their properties. It is unfortunate that the government of the day does not care. If we probe it further, it would be seen that the government has not been responding positively to the issue of insecurity in the country.

Looking into the history of the church, it has never been like this except the religious riots in Kano, Jos, Kaduna that we experienced in the church. Then, it did not last long, within 24 hours it ended. But this one that is continuous and spreading by the day with those that are attacking telling their victims that they are in charge until they are given the land or do one thing or the other for them. We have never seen it in this fashion, that a church is brutally attacked like this.

We can only encourage our members not to be moved by whatever is happening, but to rely on God and continue to repose their confidence in Him who has brought them into His fold because their lives belong to Him. They should not take any revenge because that is not in our character but should always be conscious of their environment.

Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev. Dr. Alfred Adewale Martins

‘Owo Massacre Has Shown Clearly That We Need State Police’
His Grace, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins, Catholic Archbishop of Lagos
The massacre is certainly a horrible desecration of a place of worship not to talk of gruesome unprovoked mass murder of innocent people. This just shows that the terrorists are spread all over the country in the forest areas. This means that the security agencies must improve on gathering of intelligence while our people must also be extremely vigilant.

People must remain vigilant and take note of strange faces in the community and the police must develop a way of getting people to be comfortable in volunteering information. Let people be able to trust them enough as to report strange movements.

We have never seen anything like this in Southern part of the country. This seems to say that our security agencies are losing the battle as the terrorists are gaining ground and growing in confidence. The security agencies must wake up. This is another evidence of the need for state police to be formed.

Imam Onike

‘Managers Of Religious Centres Should Strengthen Their Security Units Like They Did During COVID-19’
(Imam Abdul-Azeez Onike, Chief Missioner Worldwide, Nasrul-Lahi-l-Fatih Society (NASFAT)
IT is highly condemnable. Killing in the house of God, desecrating the places of worship and terminating the lives of fellow human beings are the most heinous crimes against humanity.

The Almighty Allah says in the holy Qur’an, “Were Allah not to check people by means of others, there would have been demolished the monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is often mentioned,” (Q22:40)

Hassan Al-Basar reportedly said about the verse: “The houses of worship for non-Muslim citizens are defended by the believers.” This is a clear divine instruction to all, that places where God’s names are mentioned should be collectively protected by all of us.

It is beyond the comprehension of any reasonable human being that someone, no matter what, would choose the sacred places to carry out his dastardly acts. Places where people think they will get comfort, solace and solutions to their various problems are now being turned into slaughter slabs by the criminal beings among us.

While we believe that Almighty God is the ultimate protector, worship centres should be provided with adequate security measures by their management, just as they did at the height of COVID-19 pandemic, many have activated, retooled and strengthened their security units responsible for the security of the worship centres including access control, screening of visitors, deployment of CCTV system, metal detectors and intelligence gathering.

Islam teaches that, we should always try our best and leave the rest for Allah. We have this aphorism in Islam, “Tie your camel.” It has its origin in the following hadith: Anas ibn Malik reported: A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, should I tie my camel and trust in Allah, or should I leave her untied and trust in Allah?” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Tie her and trust in Allah.”

There have been several failed and successful attacks on the houses of worship in the past. Going down memory lane, as narrated by Islamic Basics (2017): In the year 570AD, the year that was later named Year of the Elephant by the Quraish, a Yemen ruler by the name Abrahah made an attempt to destroy Kaabah, the Muslim holy mosque, Abrahah was said to have put armour on his elephant and drew up his troops for battle. He intended to destroy the Ka’bah and then return to Yemen. At that moment however, the elephant knelt down and refused to get up, no matter how much the soldiers tried to get it to move by beating it. But when they turned its face in the direction of Yemen it immediately got up and started off.

In fact, it did the same in any other direction, but as soon as they pointed it towards Mecca it knelt down again. Suddenly, flocks of birds appeared from over the sea. Each bird carried three stones as small as peas and they dropped them on Abrahah’s army. The soldiers suddenly fell ill. Even Abrahah was hit by the stones and fled in fear with the rest of his army back to Yemen, where he later died.

I will implore the government to double its efforts in ensuring security of lives and properties, by improving the welfare of and providing more equipment for the law enforcement agencies, including the military. Underpinned by robust community policing and intelligence gathering; and with improved justice administration to ensure perpetrators are caught and dealt with quickly, justly, fairly and equitably.

On seeing their enemy flee, the Arabs came down from the mountains to the Kaâbah and gave thanks to Allah.

And talking of recent incidents, gunmen have attacked a mosque in Bali Jali village, Bali Local Council Area of Taraba State as worshippers were breaking their fast in April this year. Also in December 2021, some gunmen murdered 16 worshippers in a mosque in Ba’are village in the Mashegu area of Niger State.

Similarly, during Christmas in 2011, the deadliest bombing took place near Saint Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, near Abuja, Nigeria’ capital city, where worshipers celebrated a Christmas Day mass, many worshippers lost their lives.

Also, on February 3, 2020, one Nathaniel Samuel attempted to bomb the Living Faith Church, Sabon Tasha area of Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State. The suspected suicide bomber was reported to have parked a car at the church premises with explosives programmed to go off at the end of the service.

The catalogue of attacks on churches and mosques by the criminals in our midst is a clear indication that they are not respecters of any religion.

I will implore the government to double its efforts in ensuring security of lives and properties, by improving the welfare of and providing more equipment for the law enforcement agencies, including the military. Underpinned by robust community policing and intelligence gathering; and with improved justice administration to ensure perpetrators are caught and dealt with quickly, justly, fairly and equitably.