Father Andrew Adeniyi Abayomi, the assistant parish priest conducting the Mass before the Sunday attack at St Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, has given an account of how the church was attacked.
Abayomi, who spoke with journalists at the church premises on Monday, said the gunmen struck as the church service was coming to a close.
He said: “From what I can still recall, towards the close of the mass, in fact, I had told the people, ‘Go forth, the Mass is ended’, and they responded. It was at that moment we heard a loud noise; within me, I thought somebody fell but when I looked at the sanctuary, I saw one of us who could have seen the gunmen from outside.
“So, he quickly closed the door. From that moment, a message got to me in the sanctuary that armed gunmen were around. From that moment, I told the people to enter the Sacred; it is a place behind the sanctuary, to have an escape route. I ran to the inner room with some children and they were saying, ‘Father, pray, pray!’ And I told them to calm down. So, within that moment, I heard about four explosives.
“I didn’t see their faces because already, some of us had moved inside the other part of the church where people were using as escape. After over 20 minutes, where I was, I was able to pick up my phone, then call the parish priest (the pastor in-charge), because I am an assistant. ‘Father where are you?’ He said he was still at this other place where he had gone to celebrate Mass. I told him, ‘This is what is happening, if you have the contact of security agencies, please call them.’ Then, I called the first assistant too.
“So, after 20 minutes, I got to know that they’ve gone. That was when I came out and I saw the casualties lying on the floor. So, I called members who still have courage, ‘Let us drive our brothers and sisters to the hospital.’
“When I was going to the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, I was told that St. Louis Catholic Hospital, Owo is already filled and rejecting people. Even when I got to FMC, they were already rejecting people and I had to beg them that even if it is to attend to them outside.”
Another eyewitness who was in the church, Ezenma Kingsley, said most of the victims were women and children.
He said: “I was in the church and I heard gunshots along the gate; I came out from the church and I saw a tall man with a long face cap, he shot the gun at my side but I guess he didn’t see me. He shot another one again, then I told myself, who is this foolish man shooting a gun here? He shot another one; so, I knew there was danger.
“So, I went back inside and I locked the entrance door. Before I could peep through the window, the man was already going through the right side of the church and entered through the other door and he started shooting a gun. The shooting was too much.
“Then, I heard another sound like bomb, after I regained myself, I looked up and I told myself that the church has not fallen because I was thinking that the bomb will bring it down. They repeated it again and were also shooting. I wanted to jump through the window but I thought some of them could still be outside.”
Meanwhile, the Christian Association of Nigeria, Owo Local Government chapter, has protested against the killings, calling on international bodies to intervene.
The protesters carried placards with various inscriptions such as: ‘Stop killing Christians’; ‘Stop playing politics with our lives’; ‘To be united needs peace; address insecurity in Nigeria’; and ‘Stop the persecution of Christians’.
“We feel so sad with this evil occurrence. This is a clarion call to not only Nigerian leaders but to the international communities that these incessant attacks, most especially to churches and Christian bodies in our nation, should not continue,” Joshua Oladapo, chairman of the association said.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and presidential aspirant, has donated N50 million for the families of the victims of the terror attack and N25 million for the Catholic Church.
“Whatever we can do as politicians and as government supporters, we will do. We pray that Almighty God will continue to spare our lives. Government will not relent,” Tinubu said.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said: “One is almost completely speechless because looking at the extent of tragedy that took place here on Sunday, the evil is almost unspeakable.
“It is a horrible thing indeed. That people will gather on a Sunday morning for worship bad then be confronted by this sort of heinous and barbaric murder. I think it is just terrible. I’m here on behalf of the president as well as the government to express our sincere condolences first to the church and then to the people of Owo and to the people of Ondo State.”
The Olowo of Owo, Oba Gbadegesin Ogunoye, who also spoke on the incident, said the perpetrators of the ugly attack wanted to make a statement.
He said the federal government needs to be proactive, saying, “Our forests here in Owo in Yoruba land have been invaded. Our farmers can’t go to farms again. Those in our forest illegally must be flushed out.”
Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, the governor of Ondo State, has directed all public buildings, facilities and official residences to fly the Nigerian flag at half-mast for seven days in honour of the victims of the attack.
He said: “Those who unleashed this unprovoked terror attack on our people have tested our collective resolves. We will not be deterred in responding appropriately to this dastardly act.
“In honour of the victims of this unfortunate attack, I hereby direct that all flags be flown at half-mast for seven days, starting from today, Monday, June 6, to Sunday, June 12, 2022. It is a collective loss to the people of our dear state.”
However, as of the time of filing this report, the total number of casualties has not been ascertained as the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Funmilayo Odunlami, said she could not give an account of the figure.