By Oludamisi Ojo
Sunday, June 5, and Friday, June 17 will ever remain two horrible days in the annal of events, particularly in Ondo state and Nigeria as a whole.
June 5, 2022, was when dare-devil gunmen struck and killed several innocent souls at St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo who were worshipping at Sunday service.
No fewer than 40 persons were gruesomely murdered in the temple of God when the gunmen rained bullets on the Worshippers during service.
Similarly, Friday, June 17 which should be the beginning of a weekend was set aside for the burial of the victims of the dastardly act perpetrated by the evil doers.
It was a day of fury and anguish in the ancient town of Owo, as sorrow pervaded the community and Mydas Event Centre where victims’ families and sympathisers thronged to bid the departed souls farewell.
Bodies of the victims were brought in a hearse in separate coffins
Their remains were deposited at the morgue of St. Louis Catholic Hospital before being laid for the mass at the Mydas Event Centre.
The funeral mass began at 10am after the caskets bearing the bodies of the deceased were brought in.
The venue of the mass, Mydas Resort was filled to the brim with Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, an indigene of Owo, with other top personalities in attendance. The solemn funeral mass took off following the procession into the hall by scores of Catholic priests.
Before the attack, Owo was so peaceful. Worshippers on that fateful Sunday had gone to the church as usual without the inkling of the danger ahead.
The affected St Francis Catholic Church was very close to Olowo, Oba Gbadegesin Ogunoye’s palace, and people were there to serve their God, unfortunately, many of them landed in the mortuary as terrorists struck and killed many them.
They opened fire on the worshippers and killed about 40 persons, while over 80 others were seriously injured. It was a gory sight to behold. The development remains an issue of discussion among residents of Owo and beyond. It has created fears in the minds of the people as if they are still coming back from a similar bloody encounter.
As families and friends of the deceased are mourning the departed souls with torrents of tears, none was ready to speak with our reporter.
They insisted that the present mood did not call for that as they are leaving judgement with God Almighty.
However, one of the deceased’s husband, Jerome Amaechi, from Imo State described the situation as terrible and pathetic.
He said” We have been in Owo for the past 30 years, and there was no Sunday we missed the mass here except if we were not around, but on this fateful day, I had a serious fever laced with headache and I managed to take my wife, Angela, and one of my daughters to the church and drove back home to relax.
“I intended to come back and picked them back home, but my hope was dashed. I would have been with them now in the coffin, but even for this escapade, missing my dear wife, and daughter, Doris was so painful. Their blood will be on the head of the perpetrators of this heinous crime.”
Before the commencement of the funeral programme, the state Police command had deployed its armed men to beef up security in and around the new cemetery, Emure Road, Owo, the venue for the mass burial of the victims.
The mass burial started some minutes after 10am and was attended by Governor Akeredolu, and other top government functionaries while religious leaders will be led by Bishop Jude Arogundade, Catholic Bishop of Ondo Diocese.
The atmosphere was so tense that the governor and his wife wept profusely.
The speech delivered by the governor was so emotional. Many sympathisers also joined the governor in this mood as tears flowed uncontrollably especially when Akeredolu said the government failed to protect the victims of the terror attack.
However, the Bishop of Ondo Catholic Diocese, Dr Jude Arogundade, swiftly declared that Akeredolu has not failed in protecting his people.
According to the Catholic cleric, “You didn’t fail. You are a strong soldier. Your determination to protect those who voted you into power is unquestionable. This was done by cowards. You have tried your best.”
Akeredolu stressed that the forces on the other side were evil, assuring that they would not triumph forever.
He said, “We have failed to defend these people. Not because we have not tried. But because these forces on the other side are evil and they have support. They will not triumph over us forever.”
The governor noted that something must be done in the country, adding that the security architecture of the nation needs rejigging.
He said “When I see the sea of heads that are here it speaks volumes. What has happened to us in Owo in Ondo state is indescribable. A lot of words are used to qualify it. Dastardly, horrendous. But I still believe there are words to use to describe it but I am still short of those words.
“We have just 22 (deceased) in this hall. A few of them have been buried. Because the relatives couldn’t wait till today. But as at the last count, these animals came to the church and murdered 40 people.”
Bishop Arogundade wondered why the people of the country need to beg for state police, despite the endless attack and killings.
He thanked the governor for accepting to designate a memorial park in honour of the victims, stressing that those who created the situation that made the incident happen have blood on their hands.
Members of the state House of Assembly, led by the Speaker, David Oleyelogun, were also at the service with members of the state executive council, led by the Secretary to the State Government, Princess Oladunni Odu.
Former Governor of Ondo State, Dr Olusegun Mimiko; the state Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Ade Adetimehin; and a chieftain of the APC, Chief Olusola Oke (SAN), and local government chairmen were also led by the chairman, Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALCON) Ondo State chapter, Augustine Oloruntogbe.
With the final interment of these innocent souls within the temple of God, many sympathisers described this as an abomination with the belief that the killers will face the full wrath of God in no distant time.
Several eminent Nigerians had paid condolence visits to both Governor Akeredolu, the Olowo of Owo, and the Catholic Mission in Ondo State for the huge loss.