Hammed Shittu writes on how irate youths in Ilorin, attacked worship centres on the eve of 2017 leaving many worshippers wounded and property worth millions destroyed 

The eve of every end of the year across the world always witnesses a mammoth gathering of worshippers in various churches so as to thank Almighty God for His mercy, blessing, protection among others and also to seek for more of such in the new coming year. This practice of seeking divine guidance and protection is commonly found among the Christians across the globe at the end of every year. But in recent time, the Muslim faithful had also taken up such spiritual exercise ‎by organising special prayers among themselves at the end of every year as a way of showing gratitude to Almighty Allah during the outgoing year.

But, in Kwara State, christened State of Harmony, the eve of year 2017 was turned into chaos and pandemonium following the attack meted out to some Christians that converged on their various churches in Ibrahim Taiwo area of Ilorin to worship at the end of that year and to usher in the new year, 2018 by some suspected irate youths of the area. In the event, scores of the worshippers sustained serious injuries while churches in that area were also vandalised by the irate youths.

Prior the sad day, the youths of the area had sought the consent of the community leaders of Ibrahim Taiwo area of Ilorin to organise the special carnival to mark the end of the year in the area but were turned down, citing unfavourable security report against such carnival during the period in the state.

Instead of suspending the carnival, the irate youths decided to go ahead and moved out en masse on the eve of last year and started attacking the worshippers at the churches located at the Ibrahim Taiwo area, Ilorin, vandalising churches, vehicles, statues of Jesus among others.

The attack was also extended to the Muslims faithful under the aegis of Al-Fath Quareeb society who had converged on a secondary school in the area to mark the end of the year with a special worship in the school. This however led the members of the two faiths to run for cover so as to avoid being killed by the suspected irate youths in the area,

Upon getting the information, men of the state police command mobilised their officers to the scene of the incident and arrested 10 irate youths in the first day of the incident in the area.

The state police command in a statement issued described the incident as unfortunate.

The statement which was signed by the state police command Public Relations, Officer, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Ajayi Okasanmi said that, the police command has arrested 10 suspected youths in connection with the attack.

He also said that, three people sustained serious injuries during the attack while they were receiving medical attention in one of the private hospitals in Ilorin.

Okasanmi stressed that, “It is important to note that the attack has no religious undertone. It is simply an unlawful act by the disgruntled youths of the area, as both the Christian and Muslim gatherings in the area were attacked.”

He noted further that the state police command has commenced full investigations into the incident adding that, anybody found culpable in the act would face the full wrath of the law.

He therefore admonished the people of the state to continue to embark on their lawful assignment and assured that the police command would continue to be alive to its responsibility in order to ensure full maintenance of law and order.

On the second day of the incident, the state police command also combed the Ibrahim Taiwo area of Ilorin where another 22 additional irate youths were arrested and paraded by the state police command, making it 32 so far arrested in connection with the incident in the state.

Speaking with journalists in Ilorin during the parade of the suspects, the state Commissioner of police, Mr. Lawan Ado, said that the attack was not a premeditated religious attack as it was being speculated in some quarters.

The police commissioner said that the command received a distress call at about 1:00a.m. on the New Year day to the effect that hoodlums, armed with dangerous weapons, were harassing and intimidating people and commercial motorcycle riders along Ibrahim Taiwo Isale area of Ilorin metropolis.

“This group of unruly youths were said to be throwing fireworks, including knock out bangers of different calibres indiscriminately into premises of both the Catholic and Methodist churches and the United Secondary School, where members of the Quareeb Muslim Group and Christian worshippers were having their crossover programmes, causing a stampede in the premises of the school.

“This commotion gave the hoodlums an opportunity to gain entrance into the church premises, snatching handsets of some of the worshippers, they damaged five vehicles belonging to worshippers and three persons sustained varying degrees of injury.

 “On the strength of the report, police men drafted to the scene promptly brought the situation under control while 10 suspects were initially arrested, the injured victims were rushed to hospital where they were treated,” he said.

The commissioner of police also said that investigation into the cause/causes of the incident had commenced, adding that additional 22 suspects had been picked up.

He said that the suspects would be charged to court as soon as investigation was completed.

In his reaction, the state governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed condemned the incident.

Ahmed in a statement issued  by his Chief Press Secretary, Abdulwahaab Oba, described the dastardly attack as criminal, satanic and alien to the state.

Ahmed, who commended those who made efforts to protect some of the victims regardless of their religious inclination, called on security agencies to immediately launch an investigation into the incident and unravel the perpetrators of the unholy act with a view to bringing the culprits to book.

According to him, “peace is sine qua non for the development of any society and the government will not tolerate any act capable of breaching peace, unity and tranquility of the state.”

The governor called on the people of the state to imbibe the spirit of tolerance and harmonious relationship for sustenance of growth and economic development in the state.

Ahmed also called on parents and guardians to monitor their wards with a view to curtailing their likely excesses.

Also, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Dr. Ali Ahmad, called for full investigations into the attacks.

The Speaker, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Abdul Rahman Sanni, expressed disgust over the attack and called for calm.

He however said that the attack was not religious, but by hoodlums, who, according to him, must be brought to book to serve as deterrent to others.

The speaker described  peace as the pivot of socio-economic transformation of the state, and commended the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ado Lawan for ensuring prompt intervention of his men and urged him to “commence full scale investigation, into the incident, with a view to apprehending those behind the dastardly attack on the innocent worshippers.”

He enjoined the State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Barrister Kamaldeen Ajibade, to ensure that culprits were prosecuted, pointing out that the state would not compromise on sustaining the peaceful co- existence, prevailing in the state.

The Speaker further assured that the state legislature under his watch would continue to provide platform for sustainable peaceful co- existence among adherents of all faiths in the state.

The state chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) also expressed displeasure over the incident.

The CAN in a statement issued and signed by its state chairman, Professor Timothy Opoola described the vandalism of the churches and attack on the worshippers as barbaric and uncalled for.

According to the statement, “the attack on the worshippers by these suspected irate youths was dehumanising and should be properly investigated so as to bring the culprits to book without further delay.”

The statement said, “As part of the conclusion, if the police and other security operatives had acted timely for quick intervention to curtail the unfortunate incident the magnitude and intensity of destruction would have been minimised.

“In the light of the above revelation the Christian Association of Nigeria, Kwara State Chapter earnestly and strongly appeal and call on the government of Kwara State for quick intervention to prevent further attack on churches and Christian worshippers in Kwara State particularly in Ilorin metropolis”

On his part, Chairman Al-Fath-Ul Quareeb Society of Nigeria, Mallam Oniye Abdulrasak said the association has had harmonious relationship with the Christian community and dissociated the organisation from any attack on any church.

Following this development, the state governor ordered the Committee on Religious Matters to commence investigations into the incident.

A statement issued by governor and signed by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) Alhaji Isiaka Gold said that, “the investigation into the attack by the committee is in keeping with the present administration’s pledge to religious leaders in the state during a meeting in his office last Tuesday in the aftermath of the attack.”

The statement said that, “the committee, under the Chairmanship and Vice Chairmanship of Alhaji M. S. Koro and Chief P. A. O. Olorunisola respectively, is to unravel the remote and immediate causes of the mayhem.

The statement added that, apart from this, the committee would, ascertain the level of damage to lives and property, identify the culprits in the crises and make adequate recommendations to government.

Gold, however, said that the committee is expected to submit its report within two weeks.

By and large, with the latest move by the state government to ask the Committee on Religious Matters to investigate the incident to know the remote and immediate causes of the crises, to identify the level of damage to lives and property, identify the culprits and make final recommendations, it is hoped that such incident would not reoccur in the nearest future. Such move would also assist the state to reclaim her own earned name as a State of Harmony.