By Emma Nnadozie, Crime Editor
The attack on worshipers last Sunday in Owo, Ondo state took every one by surprise. No one saw it coming, although there had been clashes with herdsmen following the enactment of a law banning open grazing by the state government. But the clashes happened in the forest and not in the town.
For many families, in Owo, last Sunday’s attack in broad daylight will remain a sad chapter of their lives as their loved ones were killed. Some of the families have been expressing their pains and sorrow.
The younger brother of one of the victims of the gunmen attack, Christopher Nwanyi, has given a heart wrenching account of the tragedy that befell their family inside the church last Sunday.
The 45-year-old timber dealer in Owo said he would forever live with the trauma of the death of his 55-year-old elder brother and his niece whose lives were brutally cut short last Sunday during the attack on St. Francis Catholic Church, Owa-luwa Street, Owo, Ondo state. He gave vivid details of the ugly incident.
“I was not in that church on the day of the tragic incident because I was in another parish. My elder brother and his family attended the church where the attack took place. He went with his son but his wife didn’t go to church that day. She said she had pains on her feet and wouldn’t be able to attend.
“Their 15-year- old son, Victor, who is in SS1, however miraculously survived the attack. When the gunmen started shooting inside the church, he laid down flat on the ground. He decided to lie in a pool of blood so that if the attackers saw him they would think he had already been shot. That was how he laid down until the attackers finished and left.
“By the time he stood up, he discovered that his father had been shot. He then began to look for his sister and and at the same time seeking help for his wounded father because he was still talking but gave signs of giving up. When help eventually came and he was taken to Federal Medical Center, FMC, he was however rejected for lack of space.
“They then rushed him to St. Loius hospital which is also a Catholic hospital in Owo. That was when they discovered he was dead. I didn’t know what was happening as I was searching for them, before I heard that his father had died.
“I asked about the children and I was directed to go and check at the mortuary. As I was going towards the mortuary, I saw the son on a bike on his way to the mortuary and when I asked after his father, he told me he was dead. I asked after his sister and he showed me her corpse which he was taking to the mortuary.
“Immediately I started crying, sympathisers gathered, they carried the corpse from him and took it to the mortuary. And we started consoling him, that at the age of 15 years he could summon the courage to carry the corpse of his sister. The sister was eleven years old.
“The event is heartbreaking, I’m in pains. We were confused on what to do to ensure that the deceased were properly documented because the day we took the corpses from the hospital to the mortuary, all the dead bodies were on the floor. After they had embalmed the bodies, I later gave them the details of my late brother and his daughter.
“The deceased girl was in primary six, her father, who was my elder brother was the Bursar at Technical College, Owo. He was 57 years old. I am a wine seller, I am a graduate but I am self employed. My late brother was born in Owo. I was born here but I didn’t school here. I graduated from University of Jos in 1996. My father and mother are dead, I am the only son in my family now, my other siblings are women, I have six sisters.
Any premonition of the sad incident ?
We had no premonition about the incident before it happened. My late brother was a practicing Christian, most of the time he was the one who made the announcement during the Sunday service at the altar, it was while he was coming down from the altar that the attackers started shooting and was hit on his chest.
“Since the incident, his wife has been crying, threatening to take her life. I learnt her blood pressure has risen beyond normal. His wife’s name is Florence, we are from Amy in Igbo-Etiti Local Government Area of Enugu State.
“The entire incident is devastating because, in my town, whenever we were having any engagement, it was my brother who would represent our village as the eldest. But now the mantle of leadership has fallen on me at this age. That is the challenge. And how the wife will be able to cope with the teenage son is the problem. I have my own children also, I am 49 years old, I have four boys.
The location of the Church is inside the town. It is the first Catholic Church in Owo, it is a big Church like a cathedral. So, the question is, how did they enter the church and they started shooting without anyone coming to rescue anybody till they left.
Any previous attack or threat?
The state government passed the law on ban on open grazing. Since then, there have been clashes which usually happened in the bush not in the town.
Kelechi Ugwummadu is a timber dealer in Owo. He lost his mother and a niece during the attack. His account: “My daddy has been down; I was just trying to console him. He said he can’t forget my mother because my mother saved his life twice. When they were young, he was sick and thought he would die. It was my mom that helped him.
“I was born in Akure. My father came to Owo after the war. We were born and bred in Owo, it was only higher institution that took us out of Owo in Ondo.
“For now, most of the dead bodies are yet to be released to their families. My nephew who is two years old sustained injuries, he had bullet wounds on his back. He is the younger brother to Ekene, my niece that was killed with my mother. Yesterday, I saw the video of how my mother and my four-year-old nephew were murdered. It is uncalled for. Look at my mother, we were preparing for her 70th birthday next month.
“I am the first son, but I have an elder sister. I was not in the Church when the attack occurred.
“I was at a meeting after the church service in Akure when my brother called me to say that his wife called to say that some gun men came to St. Francis Catholic church, Owo and that they killed Mama, and our nephew. Immediately I left for Owo and on getting there, I went straight to FMC and I saw how my deceased nephew.
How some worshippers escaped
“The way Catholic Churches are built is that you have the pew on the left and on the right. Those on the left pew didn’t suffer much casualties unlike those on the right which recorded more casualties. Most of the people who escaped sat at the left side in the church.
“The people who attacked the church came from the entrance that faced the main road. The few people that escaped passed the other entrance to the toilet.
Everyone in the family will miss the small boy, he was very intelligent and smart. I cried so much yesterday.
“My mom was an easy going woman who could not hide anything from anyone. Anytime you asked her for anything, unless she didn’t have, she would always give. She was the best woman. She was not a troublesome person. When I saw her corpse at they mortuary yesterday, I cried bitterly.”