Christians will soon be mobilised to defend themselves, churches —Ondo Catholic Bishop, Arogundade
The Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Ondo, Bishop Jude Arogundade, in this Interview by HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, speaks on last Sunday’s terror attack on St. Francis Catholic Church, Owaluwa, Owo, Ondo State, and the effect of the tragedy on the church and the people of the state.
How would you describe the attack on Saint Francis Catholic Church, Owo?
I am very angry and humiliated. This is a country that has a history of cohesion, unity and collaboration among citizens, where we have lived together for more than 60 years. We built this country together but 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 has been trying to dominate others, one religion has been trying to dominate the other and the passion with which a group within the entire nation is working to overrun other parts of the country is quite troubling. 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 the citizens.
Since the incident happened, you have been receiving visitors, particularly people in authority who have been making promises…
How can we trust this kind of government? They promised to rescue the Chibok girls. Empty promise is what they give everytime. That promise was made seven years ago but nothing has been done. They promised to stop terrorism but some of the terrorists they arrested, they claimed they have rehabilitated 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 press, that these villages have been renamed by this group of people trooping into the country, is true, how can we just sit down and feel that everything is all right? Everything is not all right in Nigeria.
There was a report that security agencies were contacted during the attack but there was no response and the hoodlums left unchallenged. What is your take on this?
It is the same story all over Nigeria. Those in charge of security will come out every time we have an incident of this nature to say that the people are not right to make this kind of claim. You know what? It is the same story. I have never seen worse unprofessional acts of security agents. In fact, I am even better than them and I am a priest of the Catholic Church. I was even the one pointing to the straps of bullets that were on the floor. They picked them up and left. That night, there was no security men in that compound. Everybody seems not to understand the basic principles of security and the professionalism that goes with the job. In my little experience, when a place is a crime scene, you have to secure the place but you allowed the crowd to mess up the entire crime scene. So, our police cannot secure a crime scene and do proper investigation? Do you know that God saved us that day? I don’t want to say more on this because it will embarrass the whole nation.
But the police said they discovered undetonated explosives on the church premises after the attack…
I went with the governor to the church. The police were with us. Officers at the highest level at security outfits in Nigeria were there. We went round the entire compound. Later, the anti-bomb squad came and just where we were standing, they discovered that there were two explosives there and the police could not recognise that we were in a dangerous situation at that point. What if one of them had exploded? This is what I am 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 except bush country.
As a servant of God, what is your advice in view of all this?
I understand when people behave professionally and when people play dumb, ignoring the issues, the facts. We grew up in this country. Nigeria is a regional power. Nigeria settles wars. We went to Sierra Leone, Liberia, we went all over the place in the world to settle disputes. The same Nigeria that other countries bow to its professionalism. All of a sudden, a group of thugs, criminals who infiltrated our country, are overrunning the Nigerian military. This is unacceptable. Whoever is doing this should stop.
There were insinuations that the governor was the target of the attack for being at the forefront of tackling insecurity in the South-West, the attack having been carried out in his hometown. What do you say about that?
Whatever reason those attackers had, they didn’t have to do it in a church. Even in a war situation, fighters avoid churches and mosques. According to war ethics, if an enemy runs into a church or a mosque, you leave him. You can surround the church and the mosque and wait until he comes out. We even have it in the Yoruba tradition. When a father is trying 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 do not touch. Yu don’t do it. During war, you don’t even kill priests. Priests go into wars to administer sacraments. Two enemies will lay down their guns and make the priest attend to them. When the priest leaves, they can start fighting again. These are war ethics. In a war, you do not kill children. If you watch all the movies in this world, no matter how dirty the movie is, a child may even carry gun and shoot a General. When the child is no longer armed, you take the child. But here, without provocation, without the church having any form of political agenda, somebody comes from nowhere and attacks the church in order to make a point. What point is there to make? What did they hope to achieve with this action? Whatever they hoped to achieve, they achieved nothing.
Has the Catholic Church in Nigeria met on this matter?
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference has been issuing communiques upon communiques about the situation in Nigeria. We have issued all kinds of strong statements but what we get is 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? I have called on the international community. I have called on anyone that cares to listen. I have called on heads of state all over the world to ask the leadership of Nigeria, to ask our president what is going on. This is not the Nigeria we used to know.
When some governors visited you, you told them that the attackers had the backing of some powerful people. What did you mean by that?
Everybody knows that. Even the government knows that. In the newspapers some time ago, we read that the UAE submitted the names of the people behind these attacks even to Nigeria. Some Nigerian Generals have come out that they have identified those behind this evil to government but the cold shoulder was given to them. That is the reason why I am asking: what is going on?
What is the church doing in respect of the injured victims, many of whom are still in hospitals?
We have started to reach out to them to make sure that everyone has whatever they need. Our hospital here in Owo is packed and we are doing everything to make sure that we meet the needs of everyone. 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 we will make sure that every bill is paid.
Nigerians don’t believe in government anymore as far as security is concerned. Where do we go from here?
Nigerians no longer trust their government and we have no confidence that the government can protect anybody. In this kind of situation, you protect yourself. What happened in Owo is a challenge. I am challenged by the Nigerian constitution. I am 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.
What is your message to the congregation, considering the tension everywhere in the community?
My message to the entire Catholic community in Ondo Diocese and all over Nigeria is that this is not new to the church. Persecution has been happening 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 it. My message is that they should all be strong; that we will come out of this stronger and more vibrant.
How will the incident affect the programmes of the church in the state in terms of security?
We cannot even reach the security people because nobody trusts them anymore. Any moment from now, we will start to call community leaders to begin to try to protect themselves, protect our churches. Yes, we do not have sophisticated guns like theirs but we will do everything within our power to secure our environment.
What lesson has the church learnt from the 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 light. So, the lesson that I want all of us to imbibe is that we should all protect ourselves. You do whatever you can do to secure your life and the lives of your family members, your business, so that we don’t become places like Zamfara where the natives have been displaced to give way for other people who are coming in from outside the country, and that is the agenda. And I want the government to come out to disprove that.
Is there an official casualty figure from the church yet?
People have been asking me about the number of people who died. The number 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 account for all. But at the Catholic hospital, which is Saint Louis Hospital and the Federal Medical Centre in Owo, we have counted 38 bodies.
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