BY UCHENNA AWOM, HAMZAT BABA, AND MIDAT JOSEPH, 8 AUGUST 2012-Barely 24 hours after some unknown gunmen stormed Deeper Life Church, Otite, near Okene, Kogi State and killed 20 worshippers, gunmen yesterday killed two soldiers
in a fresh attack at Okene, the heart of Ebiraland, in the central axis of the state.
Our correspondent reliably gathered that some gunmen clad in white garment stormed the Central Mosque adjacent to the local government secretariat in Okene yesterday, killing the two soldiers on patrol.
The gunmen, who reportedly came in a Hilux pickup van, opened fire on the military men on patrol around the Central Mosque, chanting Islamic song of praise.
Some Muslims who came to attend the annual Ramadan Tafsir were said to have scampered for safety, as the incident took them unawares.
Following the development, the people of the area are now living in fear, as the dust arising from the Deeper Life Bible Church attack was yet to settle.
The commissioner of police, Kogi State command, Mr. Muhammadu Katsina, confirmed the incident in a telephone interview with our correspondent.
He disclosed that two soldiers and a woman were killed during the incident.
How gunmen invaded our church - Survivor
Meanwhile, one of the survivors of Monday's attack at Otite, near Okene, Kogi State, has given a graphic account of how gunmen invaded their place of worship, the Deeper Life Bible Church.
The survivor, Lawal Itopa, told one of our correspondents that it was by sheer miracle that he survived the horrible incident that has so far claimed about 20 lives.
Itopa, who is currently receiving treatment at the Okene General Hospital, said when the worshippers commenced service in the church, they never had any premonition that the worst was about to happen.
He disclosed that the faithful started the service at about 6pm, but that the service was interrupted midway at about 7.30 pm when the generating set went off.
He pointed out that before the church members could ascertain the problem, two gunmen stormed the building.
He said, "Before we knew what was happening, the gunmen started firing at us. The most painful aspect was that some of our members who escaped through the door were stopped by other members of the gang who waited outside the church and started shooting at them. "Following the confusion, some of the church members took cover under the benches while the assailants were firing at close range to ensure that no one survived to tell the ugly story.
"I wonder what could have triggered the attack, as there is no dispute on the uncompleted building where our church is situated. It was by sheer miracle because I don't know how I meandered my way through bullets and sustained wounds.
Another victim, Samuel Ayodele, who lost his wife and a child in the ugly incident, is also in a critical condition in the hospital.
His brother, Odama Yusuf, said although he thanked God that he survived the attack, he was finding it difficult to inform his injured brother that two members of his family had been lost in the incident.
He said, "As you can see, he is getting better today but what is disturbing us is the fact that he lost his wife and child in the attack. We have not disclosed it to him yet and we don't know how to tell him".
Yusuf also said that Ayodele told them he was going to church but was surprised when he was later called to be informed that his brother and other worshippers had been attacked by unknown gunmen during a service.
Also speaking, the state overseer of the Deeper Life Bible Church in the state, Raymond Egujubi, wondered why the gunmen should murder innocent worshippers, saying that they have been worshipping at the church for quite some time without encountering any problem.
Meanwhile, 20 people have so far lost their lives to the Monday attack, with four other victims losing the battle for survival yesterday.
The commissioner of police, Kogi State command, Mr. Muhammadu Katsina, disclosed this yesterday while conducting Governor Idris Wada round the church when the latter paid a visit to the area.
He revealed that 17 other victims who received injuries were currently in hospitals just as he vowed that the perpetrators of the heinous crime would not go unpunished.
But the spokesman of the Federal College of Education, Okene, Peter Otomorihi, has debunked the rumour making the rounds that most of the victims of the attack were officials and students of the institution.
He, however, disclosed that two members of staff of the institution lost their lives in the incident, while some were also among the injured.
Meanwhile, Governor Wada has assured that government would stop at nothing to ensure protection of lives and property in the state.
Sympathising with the families of those who lost their lives in the ugly incident, the governor prayed God to give those who have lost their loved ones the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.
He noted that for someone to die while worshiping God is very sad and which had shown the level some people had gone to destabilise the country, saying that the state government will not sit by to allow that to happen.
Wada further commended the law enforcement agents for their prompt intervention, urging them to fish out those behind the dastardly act.
Calling on the people of the state to fully cooperate with security agents to discharge their duties effectively by reporting strange and suspicious movements, he promised to foot the medical expenses of all the victims.
Confusion in Lokoja as banks, others close shops
Following attacks on worshippers on Monday night in Otite, near Okene, fear has enveloped residents of Lokoja metropolis as the ancient town is now deserted.
The residents were gripped with fear yesterday when information filtered into the hitherto sleepy town that there was a bomb explosion around the Phase Two area of the city, with everyone scampering for safety.
The development heightened when some residents got another information that an improvised explosive device (IED) was found at the premises of a Revival Fire Church at the same area of the city.
Following the confusion, government and commercial activities became paralysed as workers, taxi drivers and commercial motorcycle operators and financial institutions closed shops, at about 10am, to avoid being caught napping.
Shops owners, restaurants, beer parlours and other joints were not left out as they were all compelled to suspend services, even as the development caused some residents to be stranded due to the panicky situation.
The state secretariat in the town was under lock and key, as civil servants ran out of their offices and returned to their various homes for safety.
Worst hit by the ugly trend was the ever-busy Ganaja Junction, which became as quite as graveyard. The daily paid labourers stayed indoors, while security was beefed up around the police stations and other security posts in the state capital.
Men of the police command were seen keeping vigil at strategic locations as even as they intermittently fired sporadic gunshots to scare away would-be assailants.
But the policemen were patrolling the streets with armoured personnel carrier and pick-up vans to halt any possible breakdown of law and order.
A member of the Revival Fire Church who didn't want his name in print said the fear was as a result of discovery of a black polythene bag around the church.
He added that, on closer scrutiny, it was discovered not to be bomb as speculated by people.
The spokesman of the state police command, Mr. Ile Simon, told newsmen that no bomb was found at the church premises as being rumoured in the town.
He pointed out that the men of the command were currently patrolling the streets of Lokoja while others were stationed in strategic locations to tackle any eventuality.
Attacks desecrate Ramadan
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) yesterday condemned the killings of worshippers in Kogi State by armed men suspected to be members of Boko Haram sect.
According to the northern Forum, "the attacks and killings of police in both Damaturu and Sokoto as well as some churches in Kogi State by armed men suspected to be members of Boko Haram is very disturbing and horrible".
In an email message sent to our correspondent in Kaduna by its spokesman Anthony Sani, the ACF stated that the attack was horrible because "the killings are more dastardly than those of the past because they desecrate the holy month of Ramadan".
The forum added that "Ramadan is a month of sober reflection, of depuration and of forgiveness that comes with true reconciliation needed for peaceful coexistence which we all share".
According to them, "the forum is not expected to be tired of saying that, since God expects genuine commitment to His injunction from the heart, and not through force, it still calls on all those who kill themselves in order to kill other people - for whatever reason - to lay down their arms and embrace peaceful approaches to addressing concerns/perceived grievances and attaining their goals."
"This is because in peace, it is very possible to make the most of our diversity, respect them and love them for common good," the statement read.
Says Attack on Deeper Life ungodly - Mark
In a related development, Senate president David Mark yesterday called on Nigerians to be more vigilant in their daily activities even as he condemned the renewed attack on places of worship by members of the Boko Haram sect.
Reacting to the deadly attack on Deeper Life Bible Church in Okene, Senator Mark urged Nigerians to take the routine check of their environment as important, noting that the communal living of Nigerians is being abused by the sect.
"We can no longer take our communal lifestyle for granted. We should begin to ask questions when we find strange people and strange development around us.
"The dictum of being our brothers' and sisters' keeper have to be re-examined. When you find strange people and strange things around your environment, make immediate report to security agencies that are close to you for immediate and necessary action", Senator Mark further said.
Describing the activities of the sect as more daring, the Senate president urged Nigerians to make information about the sect available to security agents or those who occupy elective offices around their constituencies.
He also advised security agents to take routine surveillance of their beats very seriously.
According to him, the attack on the Deeper Life Church, Okene, Kogi State, as well as the places of worship in other states is "ungodly and wicked" adding that "Boko Haram members are not fighting for God and they must be exposed by those who have information about their activities".
He condoled with the government and people of Kogi State over the loss of lives in the Okene attack and urged the state governor, Capt. Idris Wada, to remain undeterred in his task of developing the state.
Kogi imposes curfew in Okene
Meanwhile, Governor Idris Wada has imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Okenne.
In a state-wide broadcast to the people of the state, Wada also restricted the operation of commercial motorcycle operators in Lokoja metropolis from 6pm to 6am.
He pointed out that the action became necessary to ensure protection of lives and property in the state.
The governor added that everything humanly possible would be done to bring the perpetrators of the ungodly act to justice.
According to him, the measure was arrived at after consultation with the law enforcement agents, saying that there is the need for law-abiding citizens to go about their normal businesses.