By JOHN BULUS
Peace has taken flight from Gombe, forcing people, especially Christians from the southern part of the country, to leave the town. Those who have the guts to stay behind are in perpetual fear. Some who travelled for Xmas and New Year holidays are refusing to come back. Shops owned by most of the southerners have remained under lock and keys.
Gombe, prior to now, qualified for an award as the most peaceful state in the north east. No doubt it is a Muslim dominated state, but, to most people, there is an appreciable level of religious harmony and tolerance. This is in the light of the fact that there exists in most families, biologically related siblings of same parents who are Muslims and Christians.
When, in 2009, the Jos crises peaked, Gombe State became a safe haven for most displaced people.. Again, when Bauchi, another neighbouring state, boiled in similar circumstance, Gombe became a destination for safety for victims. In 2009, when Boko Haram evidently debuted, the then governor of Gombe, Alhaji Mohammad Danjuma Goje, resisted their incursion into the state and encouraged religious harmony and peaceful co-existence among the people.
But, at the moment, the state cannot be seen or portrayed in that light. People have been killed. The land is soaked in human blood. But it is not a problem the state brought upon itself; the dreaded Boko Haram did.
Gombe, since its creation in 1996, may not have been completely free from civil disturbances and unrest but, definitely, not in the manner of the mayhem visited an the state early this month. On January 5, 2012, members of Boko Haram unleashed terror on a Deeper Life Bible Church at the Nassarawo area of the state capital, killing over 10 persons and injuring over 14 persons.
It was death at dusk. The church was in the middle of a service and the attackers, who later turned out to be members of Boko Haram,. came with sophisticated weapons. Shooting in the air heralded their arrival. From the windows of the church, they shot indiscriminately; worshippers dropped dead.
Barely one week after, precisely on Friday, January 13, another shooting occurred at a bar at the BCGA, a suburb of the metropolis. Two persons were killed while one person was critically injured. Most of the victims of the two incidents were Christians and southerners.
Governor Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo expressed shock over the Gombe attacks. He directed the police to unmask the perpetrators. He could not hide his feelings when he visited one of the scenes of the attacks, the Deeper Life Bible Church. He pledged to pick the medical bills of those hospitalised and assist in the burial of those who lost their lives while acknowledging that the killings had challenged security in the state.
Those killed include the wife of Pastor Johnson Juaro who is in charge of the church that was attacked. Juaro said: “I lost my wife when they began to open fire on us through the window of the church. They were in large numbers when they attacked us. We just began to hear gunshots inside the church and everybody started to run for safety.”
A youth corps member, Mr. Alade John Olarewaju, from Isanlu, Isin in Kwara State, serving with the church, didn’t get lucky either. But Mr. George Onyemachi and his wife were fortunate to have escaped with their lives but not without injuries. George’s left upper arm was broken. His lower abdomen and a part of his chest were pierced by bullets. He was cut open by doctors who evacuated the bullets. At the moment, he is lying in the Federal Medical Centre, Gombe where he is undergoing treatment.
Finding the Gombe attackers has become a Herculean task for the police. The state police command, on daily basis, assures the people of protection. But they have not apprehended those who carried out the two attacks, fuelling the speculation that more attacks were in the offing, and that suspects arrested in connection with the church attack had been released on “orders from above.”
According to a release issued by the state police public relations officer, ASP Ahmad Muhammad, the police said there was no iota of truth in the speculation.
“The command wishes to state, unequivocally, that no arrest was made in connection with the ugly incident let alone pressure from above to undermine the investigation process. Every bit of our activity in connection with the incident in question will be made known to the public. I therefore call on the members of the public to desist and shun rumour mongering”, Muhammad said.
Pleas to Boko Haram
Following the unfortunate incidents in Gombe, many people are asking if the state will ever continue to play host to non-indigenes. Though calm is returning to the “Jewel in the Savannah”, as Gombe is sobriqueted, it is yet to be known if Boko Haram has heeded the calls by the people to spare innocent lives.