By Dayo Johnson
PALPABLE fear has gripped church founders and general overseers across Akure, the Ondo State capital following the invasion of their churches during vigils by robbers who dispose them and their members of large sums of money, laptops, electronic gadgets and the offerings collected during their services. Reports from one of the robbed churches located along Ondo road in Akure the state capital indicated that the wife of the founder who challenged the robbers for lack of respect to the things of God and for their effrontery to rob the house of God ended up in the hospital as she was dealt with by one of the daring robbers.
She was reportedly hit with a big cudgel held by one of the hoodlums. South West Voice learnt she spent over a week in a private hospital in the metropolis nursing the deep wound inflicted on her. This sacrilege, South West Voice learnt had temporarily halted the conduct of vigils in many part of the state capital in the last one month as the news of the robbery attack spread across the state like harmattan fire.
Sources said that the matter was tabled at the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, meeting and some measures were agreed upon to put an end to such attacks. Reports had it that a Save Our Soul SOS letter has been forwarded to security operatives in the state on the “embarrassing development in the churches” by founders and general overseers of the affected churches.
Churches which organized vigils after the invasion now pay security operatives for protection. Vigilante groups in many areas where the churches are located have equally profited from the situation as churches now engage them to provide security during their programmes whenever it extend till late at night. Attendance at vigils in many churches after the incident have reduced drastically.
Many of those whose churches were invaded said that the experience would remain with them for a long time. Those who spoke with South West Voice said they would prefer to attend only programmes fixed during the day for the time being while vigils would have to wait until adequate security was provided by their churches.
Investigation by South West Voice showed that the recent attack on the churches located at Leo junction, Fanibi, Lafe, Ondo Road, Olusegun Agagu Road, Danjuma, Okuta Elerinla, Oyemekun road amongst others have sent jitters down the spines of church founders, general overseers and their members. Reports had it that the robbers always entered the churches immediately after the offerings had been taken and were about to be counted by the cashiers, a development which showed that there exist a syndicate within the churches coordinating the robberies.
Coordinating the robberies
South West Voice gathered that the churches that were “visited” by these unwanted visitors have put all vigil programmes on hold till further notice while others across the state have done same for the fear of the unknown. Church members who spoke with South West Voice in confidence said that the robbers spent hours carrying out their operations, moving from one church to the other without any hindrance while they also took time to share the money among themselves before leaving each church to avoid controversies after the operation.
A member, Bidemi Akintoye said “the incident happened during the end of the month prayer and vigil services of the churches. The armed men operated for about three hours between the hours of 1.00am and 4.00am on the fateful day.” Akintoye said, “four members of the robbery gang came to our own church, they beat us with sticks after which they asked us to submit all our phones, laptops and wrist watches into one of the offering basket. Other members of the gang were busy giving directives to the church cashiers who were in one of the rooms in the church to gather together the offering and put them in a nylon bag and be handed over to their leader.”
He said the hoodlums had robbed about five other churches before they arrived at their church adding that the robbers were armed with guns, machetes, iron rod and big sticks. He told Vanguard that the armed men attacked members of the church, beating those who failed to comply with their orders.
According to him many of their members spent weeks in hospital after the attack by the hoodlums.
Another member of a church robbed which is located at Leo Junction Isaac Aderoboye while narrating his experience said “ After we finished our vigil at about 3am on Saturday, all of us were going home when some armed men met us on the road. They told us they were members of the vigilante group in the area and they asked us to go back to the church because it was not safe to go home at that time.
“ We didn’t suspect that they were armed robbers because they were eloquent and were kind the way they spoke with us. They even escorted us back to the church and even entered the church with us.
“It was when one of them closed and lock the door from inside and another brought out a pistol and asked all of us to lie down and face the ground that we knew there was problem.
“There countenance changed and those that spoke kind words started ordering everybody to bring out their phones, wrist watches, laptops and to keep quiet.
“In the rowdy situation, I heard one of them who is elderly asking for the Pastor in charge and where they kept the offering they collected during the service. They collected everything on us, especially our phones ,money and the offering which was their main target.
“ As we faced down, we heard them sharing the money they had stolen from other churches they had robbed earlier. From their conversation, we discovered that they must have robbed no fewer than five churches before getting to us. “
Aderoboye added that the robbers fled through the window when they heard that policemen were around the area.
He said the robbers before leaving removed the sim cards from their phones and dropped them on the chair before they fled.
According to him it took over 15 minutes after the robbery left before the men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad arrived the area.
The men of the SARS according to him recovered a gun and a mobile telephone that dropped from one of the robbers when they hurriedly left the scene to escape from the Police.
Meanwhile, residents of Akure metropolis have called on the state governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu and the state commissioner of police, Mrs. Hilda Harrison to save them from incessant robbery attacks in the areas which according to them occurred on daily basis.
The residents speaking through a Community leader, Chief Alani Kolawole said, in order not to fall victim of robbery attacks, many churches in the affected areas had stopped organizing daily, weekly and monthly vigils.
Vanguard gathered that the police divisional posts in the affected areas have been flooded with complaints of the activities of the bandits in the areas.
The community leader explained that the robbers usually spent hours to operate at the areas without any interruption, alleging that the police would not arrive the robbery scenes until when the robbers had left.
According to him many residents of the affected areas had lost their valuables to the hoodlums.
“ We are always helpless whenever the robbers strike because if we call the police they would not come until the robbers have left. That is why we are calling on Governor Akeredolu to assist us, robbery has now become a regular occurrence in the metropolis.
“The robbers did not even have respect for God again because they also attacked churches, that is why many churches don’t hold vigil again, this is not good for this state. “
The state chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria CAN, Rev John Ayo Oladapo who spoke with Vanguard described the attack on churches as worrisome adding that the development is baffling and unacceptable to the churches.
According to him the association has asked churches across the state to put in place a formidable security measures to guide against future occurrences.
Oladapo said that “aside the regular security in the churches we have asked our members to put in place additional security measures to forestall future occurrences.
“ We have also asked our members to ensure that movement within and outside their churches are strictly monitored. They should also avoid leaving their places of worship before daybreak after vigils.
He appealed to the security agencies to rid the state of the activities of the night marauders terrorizing the people of the state.
Contacted, the Image Maker of the state police command, Femi Joseph equally expressed regret over the attack on churches noting that the command had commenced investigation on the complaints by church founders and General Overseers.
According to Joseph” We have take action on the incident, we have deployed our surveillance to the affected areas and very soon we shall arrest the hoodlums .”
He urged the resident to call on the Divisional Police Officers in their area whenever there is robbery attack.
“ We have to appeal to our people, I have given the telephone numbers of the four D.P.Os we have in Akure and if any one of them did not respond, the people should report him at the police headquarters.
Joseph insisted that the command was doing everything possible to ensure the state capital city was free of robbery attack both during the day and night .