It was a day many of them would look back at and not forget in a hurry, a day terrorists decided to feed their appetite not on food but on human blood and unfortunately, they decided to feed on worshipers who have gone to engage their souls in discussion with their God
If the story have been told, one might be tempted to say it was a movie. Maybe a scene from a war film – a crowd of worshippers in a church – perhaps praying, their eyes shut – and suddenly, the eering sounds of guns – pandemonium, tears, bloods and anguish. But this was no movie at all. It was real on Monday night in Kogi state when unknown gunmen opened fire on worshipers of Deeper Life Bible Church during a Bible study evening service, killing sixteen people at a go and wounding several others.
The gunmen it was gathered stormed the evening service and went straight to the generator stand and switched it off before entering the uncompleted church building and started shooting the worshipers at close range. In an operation that was well thought of, some of the gunmen also stationed themselves outside the door to stop any of the members from escaping.
By the second day, the death toll had risen from 16 to 20 with nine children counted among them.
All visitors, sympathizers, passers’ by, and commuters who stopped at the scene of the event could not control their emotion. The state governor himself who tried to be brave could not hide his feelings over the act as drops of bloods were still visible even 24 hours after the attack.One of the victims, Lawal Saliu Itopa currently receiving treatment at the Okene General Hospital due to gunshot wounds he sustained revealed that his escape was just by divine grace.
Narrating how it happened, he said: “We started the Monday service by 6 pm as usual without any premonition that something bad would happen to us. At about 7:30 pm, in the middle of the programme, our generator went off and before we knew what was happening, two men with guns entered the church and started firing at us. Some of our members who attempted to run out of the church were trapped at the door by some of the hoodlums outside. Everyone started running for safety”.
He said most of them dashed under the benches to take cover but the assailants came close and were spraying bullets under the benches to ensure no one escaped the onslaught, adding that he could not really tell how he managed to survive with gunshot wounds on his body.
A brother to another victim at the Okene general hospital, Samuel Ayodele who is still in coma lamented the state of his brother’s health. He said his brother lost his wife and daughter to the attack, wondering how he will convene the news to him when he fully recovered. “As you can see, he is getting better today but what is disturbing us is the fact that he lost his wife and child in the attack. We have not disclosed this to him yet and we don’t know how to tell him.”
He said Ayodele told them that he was going to church but was surprised when he received a phone call that he was attacked by gunmen who forced their way into the church, shooting sporadically
The gunmen did not only succeed in killing Christians, some have lost their breadwinners . Among the people who died from the attack was Dr, Pastor Stephen Lambe, a senior Lecturer at the Kogi State Polytechnic, Osara Campus and Coordinator of Deeper Life Bible Church, Otite district. Also in critical state of health is the Dean of Science, Federal College of Education, Okene, Mrs Esther Omeiza who according to a family member was shot in the arms and leg and has now been transferred to the Federal Medical Centre in Lokoja alongside others in the same state of health.
However, The General Overseer of the Deeper Life Church in Kogi state, Raymond Egunjobi wondered why people should murder innocent worshipers, saying that they have been worshipping at the Church without any problem with any group of people irrespective of their religious inclination.
Meanwhile, Governor Idris Wada assured the people that the perpetrators of the crime would be arrested and that the government will do everything possible to protect lives and property in the state. While sympathizing with the families of those who lost their lives in the incident, governor Wada urged them to take solace in God.
“For one to die while worshiping God is very sad and this shows the level the people have gone to destabilize the country. We cannot allow some miscreants to destabilize the country.”
He commended the security agents for prompt intervention, urging them to fish out the criminals and called on the people to co-operate with the security agents by reporting strange people to the appropriate authority, promising to foot the hospital bill of all the victims.
As if their thirsts have not been quenched, the gunmen again in less than 24 hours after the attacked on Deeper Life Church found their way to the Okene Central Mosque and killed two soldiers. An eyewitness said the armed men came in a Hilux pickup van chanting Islamic songs before attacking the mosque where some Moslems were said to be holding tobsil (Ramada) lectures at the central mosque Okene leading to the death of the soldiers who were keeping surveillance at area.
The gory incident caused the state governor, Captain Idris Wada to declare dusk to dawn curfew in Okene and its environs to forestall the reoccurrence of the dastardly act.
The governor who gave the order in a State-wide broadcast, said the State would not spare any resources to bring the perpetrators of the act to justice.
The governor who also said the decision was taken after due consultation with security agents said commercial motorbike activities would be restricted between 6am to 6PM in Lokoja, the state capital until the situation is brought under control.
There was a spill-over of the attack the second day when bomb was discovered to have been deposited in a Church in Lokoja, the State capital, causing pandemonium as residents were seen running helter-skelter. Rumour was rife that bomb was discovered at Revival Hour Church and was said to have exploded while been deffused by security personnel which caused panick across the city.
The development paralyzed government and commercial activities as residents, workers, taxi drivers and commercial motorcycle operators were seen scampering for safety. Before 12 noon, the town was deserted as commercial banks hurriedly closed their doors against the numerous customer who in turn took to their heels for safety. Shop owners, restaurants, beer parlours and other joints were not left out as they were forced to close.
At the Government House, workers closed their offices and police stations locked their gates against any eventuality. There was an immediate midday “public holiday” as some workers hurriedly returned home for safety. The ever busy Ganaja Junction was completely deserted as the daily paid labourers also ran for cover. Churches and Mosques were being manned by security operatives.
Saturday Vanguard reporter who visited the Revival Hour Church gathered from a member who spoke on condition of anonymity that some people discovered a black polythene bag around the church, which fueled the rumour but the polythene was later discovered to contain a different thing instead of bomb being speculated by people.
Presently, the dusk to dawn curfew imposed in Okene, Kogi state and its environment following the attack has now turned to twenty four hours as residents of the area have sealed their respective houses. A source in the town who spoke to Saturday Vanguard on phone said the area has turned into a grave yard as residents are unable to move around, while businesses and commercial activities have remained dormant.
According to him, security operatives have taken over Okene town, the headquarters of the senatorial axis, searching from house to house and effecting some arrest. “We have been sealed at home; no one is allowed to move around without harassment from the security personnel. Presently, the town has become silent and police are moving from one house to another arresting people who cannot give adequate information about who they are.”
The source who further stated that the Deeper Life gunmen attack has led the town to the present situation which has hindered legitimate activities wished he had left town before the gory incident
However, police sources confirmed that all they are doing is to ensure full compliance with the directive of the IG who ordered a 24-hour surveillance on the town, saying what they are doing is a normal routine to get to the bottom of the crime in the city, positing that those who are innocent will be released.
But what could have been responsible for the dastardly act? Saturday Vanguard gathered that the situation may be linked to two women who were healed by the pastor of the church. The healing which later led to the conversion of the women from their original religion to Christianity, the source stressed, might not have gone well with extremists who taught of staging the attack.
But another group of thought believes that the gory situation is not only religious but has political undertone.
However,nothing justified the killing of people observing their religious service without prejudice to others. The question on the lips of the people is what could have caused this attack? Why would a right thinking human being resort to bloodletting to quench his appetite. Why attack innocent children ?
However, it seems the prayers of people have been answered by God.The Kogi state police command has said that some persons have been arrested including a woman in connection with the attack on the Deeper life Church. The Police commissioner, Muhammed Katsina who disclosed this while parading the ring leader said they were picked at Ibilo in Edo state after his men attacked the gunmen at their operational base.
The state police boss who said his men overpowered the gunmen at their hideout said they sustained injuries but were taken away by members of the gang who fled with their wounded partners until some of them were apprehended at Ibilo, a border town with Kogi state.
The woman arrested, CP Kastina said, is an accomplice who aided the treatment of the ring leader. Though he refused to mention the number of those arrested, he said they are already in police custody. “Arrests have been made in connection with the Deeper Life Church but I cannot give their names or accurate figures. They are in our custody and we have already commenced investigation to ascertain their involvement so as to deal with the situation once and for all. More arrests would be made in due course,” he said
However, he warned hospitals and traditional bullet extractors to relate to the police, any suspicious person with bullet wounds or else, face being treated as an accomplice.
“Whoever conspired with criminals to inflict pains on the people would be dealt with. The campaign to rid the state of crime and criminality holds no bound.”
The CP who also said they were able to recover the rifles used for the attacks promised that the command would ensure that the citizens pursued their legitimate ventures without fear.
According to him, the police would enforce the curfew imposed in Okene and its environs as well as the restriction of commercial motorcycle operators from 6pm to 6am, saying that whoever violates the law would be dealt with decisively.