By Suzan Edeh
BUT for the timely intervention of neighbours, February 26, 2012 may have become a black Sunday for worshippers of the Church of Christ in Nigeria, COCIN, LCC, Bauchi State. These vigilant neighbours were said to have risen to the occasion in foiling a plan by a rival faction within the church to attack the place of worship with bombs and explosives, a development that could have ended in tragic loss of lives and large scale destruction of property.
The incident which curiously coincided with an attack same day on another branch of COCIN church in Plateau State, caused pandemonium among residents in Miya Barkatai village in Toro Local Government Area of Bauchi State.
Vanguard Metro, VM, gathered that the eight persons who attempted to bomb the COCIN LCC with locally made weapons, including manually operated explosives are presently in Police custody.
One account has it that on that fateful Sunday with the early morning service in full swing, the eight suspects, riding in three vehicles, had stormed the church over alleged disagreement they had with the authorities of the church.
But their mission to take over the place of worship was thwarted as they were forced to beat a retreat. Luck further ran out on them when some youths residing in the area who got wind of what was happening, angrily swooped on them and apprehended seven of them. The youths then contacted the police.
A Toro local government official who witnessed the incident said the suspects were arrested with sophisticated weapons and all of them are Christians living in the area. He said they are from the neighbouring villages near Miya Barkatai.
The official said: “After they were arrested, there was pandemonium among the residents and Christian worshippers, which raised tension in the area. The residents almost took the law into their hands by attempting to lynch the suspects, but the security personnel took away the suspects to Bauchi for further investigation”.
Narrating what led to the alleged disagreement with the rival faction of COCIN LCC church, the wife of the pastor, Mrs Esther Agwom Iki, in charge of COCIN Tudun Wada in Toro local government told VM on phone that the authorities of the COCIN church concluded that five branches of the church in Panshanu, Salarma, COCIN 1, COCIN 2 Tilde Fulani and Tudun wadan would gather at Miya Barkatai in Toro local government to take the holy communion, which normally comes up every last Sunday of the month.
Mrs Agwom Iki explained that some members of COCIN 1 Tilde Fulani disagreed with the plan, adding that they came to the church that fateful Sunday claiming that they have some belongings to collect in the church. “When they stormed our church in Miya Barkatai, they said they wanted to search the church for what belongs to them, so we allowed them to search.
“Fortunately, they did not find any of the things they were looking for in our church where over 200 people gathered to take the holy communion, being the last Sunday of the month of February,” she said, adding that sensing that danger was lurking around the corner, they immediately stopped the Holy Communion service and sent some members to call the police.
Mrs Agwom Iki said that the regional church council at Fobur in Plateau State knows about the crisis and made efforts to settle it by inviting members of the warring groups in the church for a dialogue.
She lamented the incident which she said had given the church a very bad image, saying that it was very unfortunate that members of a church would go to the extent of bringing bombs and other weapons to the church over a disagreement.
According to her: “We are not happy with the situation, but we will not stop praying in the church and our faith in God will never be shaken. We thank God because he did not allow the attackers to carry out their evil acts in the church”.
Confirming the incident, the Bauchi State Police Commissioner, Mr Ikechukwu Aduba, in a press statement in Bauchi, explained that it was as a result of rivalry and acrimony between the COCIN Church members within Toro Tilden Fulani axis of the state.
He said the police arrested eight of the attackers. He said around eight o’clock in the morning one rival faction stormed COCIN Church at Unguwar ring Tilden Fulani and demanded for documents belonging to the Church, which led to commotion.
The Police Commissioner who revealed that the Police authorities acted on information and sent a crack team of detectives to the church, said that the timely intervention of the police prevented an outbreak of unwholesome violence in Bauchi State.
According to him: “Police detectives rounded up the rival faction-cum-suspects, and upon on-the-spot search conducted, recovered improvised explosive device, IED, from one of the suspects, thus thwarting the evil machination of the culprits.
“After the bomb experts carefully examined the recovered IED, it was confirmed that it was a locally-made bomb which was to be manually operated. This is the second time we are seeing this kind of IED as it is clearly similar to those used in the foiled Ganjuwa invasion, very potent and dangerous”.
Investigation of the matter
Aduba said the suspects arrested in connection with the case were currently helping the police to investigate the matter and that they would be made to face the full wrath of the law.
He, however, drew the attention of the members of the public to the proliferation of IEDs which he said now come in various shapes and sizes in tin cans and plastic materials, saying: “People should be wary of persons procuring or demanding such tin cans and plastic materials and alert the security agents whenever they observe such unseemly behaviour”.
But in a swift reaction, the Bauchi State chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, through its Chairman, Reverend Lawi Pokti, said the cause of the disagreement was over the relocation of its local church council headquarters which was burnt during the post-election violence in Tilden Fulani Miya Bakate in Toro Local Government Area of the state.
Pokti said: “The true position is that some members were aggrieved over the relocation of the church. A series of meetings were held between February 5 and 25, this year to resolve the issue so that the headquarters would be taken back to its former place in Tilde Fulani.
On February 26, 2012, about seven members from the congregation at Tilden Fulani came to find out the outcome of the previous meetings, for which they were being briefed by the Pastor in charge, Rev Adamu Azi.
Attention of worshippers
“However, one of the members(names withheld) went and sat outside, and an alleged device was reportedly seen near him. The worshippers who were coming into the church saw it and shouted bomb! bomb!! This attracted the attention of other worshippers, the public and the security agencies.
“We wish to state that contrary to a report in one of the national newspapers, no weapon was found in the possession of any of the arrested members except the suspected device. We are worried that the Commissioner of Police, Ikechukwu Aduba, addressed the media and gave out information before any investigation was carried out.
“We also wish to state that though the incident happened on the same date with the bombing of COCIN headquarters in Jos, they are two different incidents as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the bombing of COCIN headquarters in Jos”.
The CAN Chairman then called for a thorough investigation over the matter, so as to unveil those connected with the said suspected device before any other statement is made.