Ondo massacre: Henceforth Native Leaders ‘ll Protect Us, Our Churches — Says Catholic Bishop
Following the Ondo massacre, Catholic Bishop says Henceforth Native Leaders ‘ll Protect Us, Our Churches
As condemnations continued to trail the gruesome murder of over 50 worshippers at St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo state last week, Saturday Vanguard cornered the Catholic Bishop of Ondo Diocese, Most Rev. Jude Arogundade.
He lamented that the security agencies acted dumb and unprofessional on the killings, and that Nigerians and the church have lost confidence in the Buhari’s government securing them. He stressed the need to resort to self-defense.
How will you describe last weekend’s attack at Saint Francis Catholic Church in Owo by gunmen?
I’m very disappointed, very angry and humiliated. In a country that has a history of cohesion, unity, and collaboration among citizens, in a country where we have lived together for more than 60 years as a nation and having built this country together, all of a sudden we are experiencing an unprecedented division to the point that tribes no longer trust one another.
Just within these few years, one tribe is trying to dominate others, one religion is trying to dominate another and the passion with which a group within the entire nation is working to overrun other parts of the country is quite troubling because we all came together and voted APC government into power.
So I feel disappointed that those we elected into power in Nigeria are not carrying out their primary responsibility. Their number one responsibility is to protect the lives and property of Nigerian citizens.
Are you comfortable with the promises made by top government functionaries, who visited the town to console both the victims and the church?
Again, how can we trust this kind of government? They promised they would rescue the Chibok girls but it was an empty promise. This is the 7th year that promise was made.
They promised to arrest these terrorists and some of those who were arrested, they claimed they have rehabilitated them and we know the result of their rehabilitation but nothing has been done to resettle those whose villages and lands have been taken over.
And if what we are hearing in the news is true that these villages have been renamed by this group of people trooping into the country, how can we just sit down and feel that everything is alright. Everything in Nigeria is not alright.
What is the official figure of the casualties?
People have been asking me about the figure of those who died. The figure that we can account for presently is 38. But we know that many people were taken to private hospitals.
Even some people came to take the bodies of their loved ones. We are trying to trace those people so that we can have a recount for all. But in the catholic hospital which is Saint Louis Hospital in Owo and the Federal Medical Centre in Owo, we have 38 bodies.
There were reports that the security agencies failed to respond to distress calls while the terrorists were operating in the church. It is the same story all over Nigeria. Even when it happened, we called the military and the police who went there.
That night there were no security men in that compound after all that happened. In my little experience, when a place is a crime scene, you have to secure the place but you allowed the whole crowd to mess up the entire crime scene.
So, the police could not secure the crime scene and do proper investigation?
Do you know that it was God that saved us? I don’t want to say this because it will embarrass the whole nation. But the police later discovered undetonated explosives inside the church after the attack.
I went with to the governor, the police were with us, and the highest level of security outfits in Nigeria were there. We went through the entire compound and left. But later the anti-bomb squad came in, just where we were standing, they discovered that there were two explosives there and the police could not recognize that we were in danger at that point.
God forbid, if one of them had exploded. This is what I’m saying, there is a crisis in our country, and that crisis is begging and calling for remedy, for experts to come in and rectify the situation. There is no country where people behave like this.
What do you think went wrong and your candid advise
I understand when people behave professionally and when people play dumb. Nigeria is a regional power. We went to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and other places to fight; the same Nigeria that other countries bow to her professionalism. All of a sudden, a group of thugs, criminals who infiltrated our country are over running Nigerian military? This is unacceptable.
There’s this insinuation that the attack at Owo, the governor’s country home was a reprisal attack to cow the governor for evicting Fulani herdsmen from the state.
Whatever reason those attackers have, they didn’t have to do it in a church. Even in a situation of war, people tried to avoid the churches and the mosques. Even in war ethics, when an enemy runs into a church or mosque you leave him.
You can surround the church and the mosque and wait until he comes out. We even have it in Yoruba tradition. When a father is running to beat up his son or to punish his son and the son runs to another elderly person, you dare not touch him because he is seeking refuge.
We have it in our culture. Anyone who goes into the church to seek refuge in the presence of God, you dare not, you don’t do it.
During war, you don’t even kill priests. Priests go into the war to administer sacrament. Two enemies will lay down their guns and make the priest attend to them. When the priest leaves, they can start fighting again. This is war ethics.
In a war, you do not kill children. If you go and watch all the movies in this world, no matter how dirty the movie is, a child may even carry a gun and shoot a General and when the child is no longer armed, you take the child. But here, without provocation, without any form of political agenda that the church has in this environment, somebody will come from nowhere to attack the church in order to make a point. What point is there to make? What do they hope to achieve by this action? Whatever they hope to achieve, they never achieved anything.
What’s the position of the Catholic Church on this unfortunate incident?
Catholic Bishops’ Conference has been issuing communique upon communique about the situation in Nigeria. We have even threatened, we have used all kinds of strong statements and what we get is just cold silence.
Even the entire country has screamed that it has never happened that all the leaders of all the military and para-military outfits in Nigeria are headed by one tribe. The President just ignored everybody, what kind of thing is this? Do we still own this country? What is this agenda about? I have called on the international community, I have called on anyone that cares to listen and I have called on Heads of states all over the world to please ask the leadership of Nigeria what is going on. Ask our President, sit him down and ask him, this is not the Nigeria we used to know.
You alleged during the visit by some state governors that the attackers have some powerful backers, what exactly do you mean by this?
Everybody knows that, even the government knows that. In the papers sometimes ago, we read that UAE had submitted the names behind these attacks even to Nigeria. Some Nigerian Generals have come out that they have identified those behind this evil to government and cold shoulder was turned to them. And that is why I’m asking what is going on?
What is the church doing in respect of the victims, many of them are groaning in pain in different hospitals?
We are making all efforts at this point. We have started to reach out to them to make sure that they all have whatever they need. Our hospitals here in Owo are all occupied fully and we are doing everything to make sure that their needs are met in the shortest time possible.
Their treatments are going on, surgeries have been done and nobody is going to be charged for anything. I don’t speak for the government but the church will make sure that every bill is paid.
It’s a pity that Nigerians seem not to believe in this government anymore as regards securing their lives, where do we go from here?
Nigerians no longer trust their government and we have no confidence that the government can protect anybody. In that kind of situation, you protect yourself. What happened in Owo is a challenge. I’m challenged by the Nigerian constitution, I’m challenged by the system. When the system does not work for me, I look for a way to work for myself and that is not against the law, self protection is not against the law. We will protect ourselves and we know how to do it better.
What’s your pastoral message to members of the Catholic Church, Owo
My message to the entire catholic in Ondo Diocese and all over Nigeria is that this is not new in the church. There has been persecution right from the time of Christ who founded the church, persecution is part of the history of the church, persecution doesn’t weaken the church, it strengthens the church. So that is my message that they should all be strong, that we will come out of this stronger and vibrant.
Don’t you think this ugly incident will affect the church programmes across the churches in the state.
We cannot even reach the security people because nobody trusts them anymore. Any moment from now, we will start to call native leaders, and community leaders to begin to try to protect themselves, protect our churches. Yes, we do not have sophisticated guns the way they have but we will do everything within our own ability to secure all of our environment.
What lesson has the church learnt from this incident?
There is no lesson to learn from evil but the church has always matched evil with goodness. The church has always confronted darkness with the light. So, the lesson that I want all of us to know is that we should all protect ourselves. Do whatever you can do to secure your life, the lives of your family members, your business and your community so that we don’t become places like Zamfara where the local natives have been displaced to give way for other people who are coming in, which is the agenda. And I want the government to come out to disprove that. This agenda will not work because it is now very real and very clear to everybody.