Ikonifin, an agrarian town in Ola-Oluwa Local Government Area of Osun State is a quiet and peaceful place where Muslims and Christians lived together in harmony.
But the peace was shattered on Sunday, May 18, 2014 when in the morning, men dressed in flowing gowns, turbans and other clothing commonly used by Muslims, stormed the church on motorcycles. The three men, who were masked, threw explosives into the church. An eyewitness, Mr. Jide Olatomi, told Weekly Trust that the explosion drew the attention of residents, as church-goers ran helter-skelter. “We just heard a loud sound and we saw people running out from the church, so we also ran,” he said, adding that the panic worsened when people began to yell ‘Boko Haram’ repeatedly.
Confused residents even jumped fences and walls, according to eyewitnesses and it was gathered that a large number of people in the town were injured as a result. The injured were taken to the Primary Health Centre in the town.
Alfa Tajudeen Oyedotun, father of one of the injured residents, works at the Primary Health Centre. He was attending to patients without realizing that his daughter, too, was affected. “Good Samaritans who brought injured people to the health centre told us that they sustained injuries in a Boko Haram attack on First Baptist Church, so we became apprehensive,” he said.
Alhaji Raufu Oyesunle, Chief Imam of Ikonifin Central Mosque was at his farm when his wife called him about what happened in town. “She said Boko Haram had invaded and attacked First Baptist Church and that there was an explosion in the church, so, she urged me to return quickly,” but not before she warned him to remove his turban, he said. He took her advice and kept his turban in his bag.
Oyesunle got to town and met a scattered area and after listening to various witnesses, ran to the palace of the traditional ruler, Oba Solomon Ojo. “The monarch told me that he was informed, but that it was just a stage play, dramatized by church members, which got out of hand,” he said, adding that the Oba reassured him that there was no clash or terrorist attack. He also asked about the whereabouts of those nabbed for invading the church dressed like Muslims and the monarch said they were members of the church.
Oyesunle told the Oba that the incident portrayed Muslims in bad light and it would be unfortunate if the perpetrators were not apprehended. He told Weekly Trust that the following day, the monarch called him. “He asked me to accompany him to the divisional police station at Bode-Osi and when we got there, we met the pastor, where he admitted that what he did was wrong,” he said.
When Weekly Trust sought for Pastor Olatoke, he was nowhere to be found and his house was locked. Apart from a young man who challenged this reporter for taking a photograph of the church, no one was sighted on the premises of the church.
Founder and National President of Jama’at Ta’awunil Muslimeen in Iwo, the next town to Ikonifin, Sheikh Daood Imran Molaasan told Weekly Trust that Olatoke staged everything out of mischief. “Please note that the three men who threw explosives which turned out to be fireworks into the church were dressed like Muslims,” Molaasan said, adding that the trio were running off after accomplishing their mission but were caught by brave locals.
Molaasan continued: “When they were caught, people unmasked them and it was discovered that the people behind the masks were Emmanuel Atanda, Peter Oyedepo and Ogunniyi Babatope, who are also members of the same church. The angry mob that gathered wanted to lynch them, but they said it was their pastor who sent them to carry out the task.” He noted that if the three church members were not caught by people of the community, it would have been publicized the following day that some Muslims attacked the church.
Molaasan said nobody would have believed that it was the handiwork of church members in connivance with their pastor. “So, the state government should bring the perpetrators of the crime to book,” he said. According to him, the Osun State Police Command dismissed the story as a rumour, claiming the pastor and his church members were only acting out a stage play when a child set off a firecracker.
A community leader in the area, Professor Olasupo Oyetoro Ladipo called on the state government to investigate the matter thoroughly to prevent a reoccurrence. This prompted Osun State Muslim Community to intervene in the matter and they faulted the police for dismissing the matter without carrying out adequate investigation.
In a petition to the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Ibrahim Maishanu, Muslim leaders frowned at the manner the police handled the case. According to the petition, signed by the General Secretary of Osun State Muslim Community, Alhaji Hashim Olapade and the Vice President, Alhaji Mustafa Olawuyi, OSMC demanded thorough and dispassionate investigation into the matter. The petition was copied to the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Zone 11, the Director of Department of Security Services, Osun State, Governor Rauf Aegbesola and a copy was made available to Weekly Trust in Osogbo.
The petition reads: “A fact-finding mission of the Osun State Muslim Community was dispatched to the town and the police station at Bode Osi and the Divisional Crime Officer, Supol Ankpan was met and he confirmed the incident and said no arrest was made. The Muslim community frowns at the shoddy handling of the case, because if the perpetrators were not caught by the people of the town, the incident would have implicated the Muslims in the town and beyond as Boko Haram insurgents.”
Reacting to the petition by the Muslim Community, the Commissioner of Police in the state promised that the matter would be properly investigated. When Weekly Trust contacted the CP for an update, Maishanu said the pastor and three church members involved in the matter had been arrested. He also said the Criminal Investigation Department is investigating the matter.
The CP said the pastor and the three church members were later released on bail while the investigation continues.
Chairman of the League of Imams and Alfas in Ola-Oluwa Local Government Area, Alhaji Raji Musa Oladapo told Weekly Trust that stakeholders are making efforts to settle the matter and that the pastor is begging for forgiveness.
Oladapo said: “The Local Government Chairman, Mr. Ruben Adegoke called a peace meeting which was attended by Muslim and Christian leaders in the area, including the pastor involved, and he admitted that what he did was wrong and begged for forgiveness. Other pastors who attended the meeting also pleaded on his behalf.” Pastor Olatoke promised to write a letter of apology to all Muslims, which he will forward to Osun State Muslim Community in Osogbo.