The Olowo Owo Kingdom, Oba Ajibade Ogunoye, speaks with PETER DADA about last Sunday’s attack on St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, where many worshippers were massacred by suspected terrorists.
How do you feel that the age-long peace in Owo was suddenly disrupted by some hoodlums who attacked the Catholic Church in your community last Sunday?
Well, I’m not happy; I’m very sad about the incident. I am also telling you that the whole of Owo kingdom is in mourning at the moment. This is a thing that we never expected, and never experienced before, though we are not oblivious of the fact that Nigeria, as a nation, has been experiencing this type of sad incidents and we have been very apprehensive and praying that it wouldn’t get to our end. But behold, we are experiencing it. It’s quite unfortunate.
It happened right at the backyard of the palace. Were you in the palace at the time of the attack?
I was in the palace.
Did you hear the sporadic gunshots?
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I heard everything.
What instant efforts did you make to ascertain what was happening and maybe call for help?
We made several efforts to call the security agencies and I, immediately, made a call to the Governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who was in Abuja then. He immediately assured me that he would find a means of getting back to Owo immediately and he was able to arrive here, I think less than two or three hours after the incident.
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You said you called security agencies but the killers were said to have operated unchallenged for about 30 minutes before they eventually left. What do you think went wrong?
It is very unfortunate; even the policemen that are around here are not equipped. That is the truth. They couldn’t even face those miscreants. They don’t even have patrol vehicles. Besides, they would need to get an order from Abuja before doing anything. And that’s what I have been saying because if we have state police, they would have been more proactive in facing those criminals because they will be closer to the people. So, that is the essence of the call for the creation of state police. So, federalism should be practised the way it should be.
Would you describe the mass killings as a sacrilege to the ancient land of Owo?
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Yes, indeed, it is! It is! Our position has always been that nobody can wage war against us and succeed and we will not fold our arms on this matter.
If you won’t fold your hands, what exactly does the kingdom plan to do in response to this attack?
We are discussing, we are taking steps; the issue of security cannot be discussed in the public; it shouldn’t be a media affair but we wouldn’t relent, we will find a means of protecting ourselves and take actions to forestall any future occurrence. We can’t open our eyes and allow hoodlums to wage war against us; it will not be possible.
Some people are saying the attackers are criminal elements among Fulani herdsmen and we also learnt that some people in the community were planning to retaliate the attack on the Fulani/Hausa community in your domain. Are you aware of this and what are you doing about it?
Yes! I’m aware; it was some hours after the incident. A lot of our youths came out; they were very angry, they showed their anger. I learned that some people wanted to begin an action against the Fulani/Hausa community in Owo, so, I had to call everybody and advised them that retaliating the attack on Hausa and Fulani people might affect the innocent ones and I don’t want crisis in my domain. These Hausa/Fulani people have been living among us over the years, conducting their lawful businesses without trouble. So, I told them to please drop any such plan because I know that those criminals, who mastermind and carried out the dastardly act, are not living with us here.
Those who carried out the act have run away, they should allow security agencies to do their work in terms of investigation and possible apprehension of those who came for the attack. I have a very good relationship with the non-native people who are living with us. They all agreed with me and every one of them just went home in their mourning moods and since then we have been mourning.
It’s days after the attack, yet one can still feel tension and panic in the air in this community and its environs. What are you doing to restore calm?
We have been talking to the people, we have been appealing to them not to cause crisis or take the laws into their own hands. We know this is our sad moment and I believe we will overcome; it is just a phase. But the government, particularly the Federal Government, needs to wake up to its responsibility. They should address this security challenges. There is very little that a state government can do. If not for the Amotekun corps in Ondo State, the story would have been different. The little that Amotekun is doing is why people in the state have been able to have some rest of mind. If the Amotekun corps are licensed to carry sophisticated weapons, they would have been able to do more than what they are currently doing. That is why we should have state police.
There is a feeling that the attack has a political undertone, particularly because the attackers chose the home town of the governor. Is this a view you share?
Well, we can’t rule anything out. Any conjecture could be possible. It behoves the security agencies to investigate and we pray to God to intervene but God will not come down from heaven to intervene. In this country we pray but we don’t work. God has given us everything we need to progress, to develop, so it behoves us to make proper use of these gifts. God will not come down from heaven, even if we pray from morning till night. It is good to pray, but we must back our prayers with actions; we must have a change of attitude. Developed nations in the world don’t just pray; they work also.
What is the community doing to assist the injured victims who are still in the hospital?
We are doing everything within our capacity to assist them, including donation of money by our people to assist the victims.
As a traditional ruler, what advice will you give the government on the issue of insecurity in the country as a whole?
It is the Federal Government that has the instrument of suppression; the security apparatus of the country is in the hands of the Federal Government. The Federal Government needs to be very proactive. Nigeria, as a nation, has been experiencing this over time, especially in the northern part of the country. So, it behoves the Federal Government to engage in practical actions rather than mere comments. It requires action and the security agencies should exercise the power, authority given unto them to crush these criminals and make our country safe and free of terrorists. I know that the Nigeria Police and the Nigerian Army are professionals and they have the capability to forestall all these (killings). They should know they are challenged to exercise the power given to them by the laws of the land and by the Federal Government.
Over time now, we’ve been complaining that our forests, surrounding us in Owo here, even in the whole of Ondo State, and the Yoruba land, have been invaded by the Fulani herdsmen who have settled there. This environment is predominantly a farming community. So, our people have been unable to access their farms for a long time and when this continues to be, that means these people will face famine and famine will lead to death.
Have you at any point raised the alarm over the presence of killer herdsmen in the forest?
I have made several recommendations and requests, pleading with the Federal Government that the forests should be combed and the criminals should be flushed out and that has also been the mission of the Ondo State Government and we know that the Governor of Ondo State has been trying in his own little way through the establishment of the Amotekun corps. If not because of the presence of the Amotekun, what we experienced on Sunday would have happened before now because we’ve been experiencing attacks here and there by the Fulani on our people. So the government must wake up. Then Nigeria, as a nation, as we often say, we are practising federalism, why not allow the features of federalism to be so followed as it is being done elsewhere across the world – in Canada, India, United State of America, and others, whereby the states would have the authority to have their own police, well-equipped? I think until we are able to achieve that we may not find it easy in this country. I think we are challenged. Let us practise true federalism with its tenets. We don’t have any options now; it’s a big challenge to the Federal Government. If the Federal Government is centralising the instrument of suppression, then it should live up to the expectations of protecting the lives and property of citizens. When this kind of thing happens, it calls to question our humanity. And the question that: are we really ready to continue living together as a nation? All other nations of the world are progressing every day; look at Ghana, look at Rwanda, which was ravaged by war some years ago, they are now progressing. I don’t know what our problem is, for God’s sake! When are we going to progress? Development can only take place where there is peace, good relationship and others. Those who are saddled with this responsibility, I don’t know what they are doing. The leadership of this country needs to wake up. We are just moving backwards everyday instead of progressing. This is disheartening because there is no sign to show we are moving forward. We need to discuss among ourselves.
You spoke passionately about the state of the nation. Have you and your fellow traditional rulers in the country met and engaged the Federal Government on these issues, particularly the issue of true federalism and state police?
We have not; you know we, traditional rulers, are not given any recognition by the constitution unlike in the pre-independence era. It is a great challenge to us. We may talk, we may advise, we may recommend but those in authority have the option of taking or ignoring what we say.
About having meetings, I believe we will begin to do that because it is now necessary. But our problem is that we are constraint by the laws of the land.