Commander of South-West security outfit, codenamed Amotekun, in Ondo State, Chief Àdetunji Adeleye, yesterday, boosted the campaign for state police, when he narrated how the outfit arrested some suspected killers of worshippers at St Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State.
The Amotekun commander, who did not give details and identities of the suspects for security reasons, said the security outfit has been on the trail of sponsors of the killers.
Adeleye also did not give the number of the suspects arrested and did not parade them to the public.
It will be recalled that over 40 worshippers were gruesomely murdered during a morning mass on June 5, 2022, while over 100 others were injured during the attack.
Days after the attack, the Federal Government had blamed the Islamic State of West African Province, ISWAP, for the attack, with the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, saying it was orchestrated by international criminals.
Aregbesola also said security agencies had been directed to go after the perpetrators of the act and bring them to book, as security agents were zeroing in on them.
He noted that the attack had no ethnic or religious connection even as he affirmed that the group’s activity had nothing to do with real religion.
But Chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, and governor Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, and his Ondo State counterpart, Rotimi Akeredolu had faulted the Federal Government’s claim, saying it was speculative.
Both Fayemi and Akeredolu insisted the Federal Government’s pronouncement was too hasty.
Suspected killers not ISWAP members—Amotekun source
But an Amotekun official, who spoke in confidence, said those arrested were not members of ISWAP.
A second source, who was privy to the arrest, also told Vanguard in confidence that those arrested were “definitely not ISWAP members. That’s all I can confide in you.
“For security reasons, the outfit would want to keep some vital information secret for now.
“We’re still on the trail of other suspects and their sponsors and if details are divulged now, we may not be able to arrest others involved in the massacre.’’
How we arrested suspects— motekun commander
Speaking on how the suspects were trailed and arrested by Amotekun personnel, Mr Adeleye said: “As regards the Owo incident, we have recovered the last vehicle they used for that operation and we made some arrests and we have also recovered some vital things, which we are working on.
“On that day, we pursued them to the point where we recovered the vehicle and we are still pursuing them.
“We will get to the root; I can assure you that the perpetrators and their sponsors will be brought to book. They came on motorcycles and hijacked a Golf vehicle.’’
71 other criminals nabbed in 1 month
Speaking on the 71 other suspected criminals paraded, the commander said: “In the last few weeks, we have been under serious attack. Men of Ondo State Security Network Agency have equally gone after these criminals; we arrested 71 suspects.
“The suspects were arrested within the last one month for various offences, ranging from armed robbery, cattle rustling, suspected kidnaps, rape, fraud to human trafficking.
“The 71 suspects were picked while committing crime and others were tracked to their hideouts in the forests.
“We have been able to get a cartel that specialises in stealing and dismantling motor bikes, which we all know as okada. Also, we were able to recover over 50 bikes during the operation from the suspects.
“We also got reports from some herdsmen that their cattle were stolen. We went after them and brought the cows back to the Fulani herdsmen, who own them.
“We have a group of armed teenagers that turned themselves into a cartel of criminals in a particular local government in Ondo State. They belong to a cult group called ‘Agbado’. We were able to arrest 12 of the 17 members.
“We have about three to four suspected kidnappers and we intend to take most of these suspects, especially the ones we have concluded their investigations to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, DPP, for onward prosecution in court.
“We want to assure the good people of Ondo State that we will not rest on our oars until we rid the state of criminal elements.
“There is no hiding place for them. They turned the heat on us and we have also turned the heat on them.
“Recently, the number of these sad occurrences in the northern senatorial part of the state had been on the increase. We are intensifying all efforts to get to root of the mischievous and barbaric acts of these criminal elements.
“We will continue with our Operation Clean-Up until these criminals are driven out of the forests.
“Amotekun operatives are working on the waters and land. What we don’t have for now and what we are pleading for is speed and gunboats to confront pirates on the seas.”
‘We’re not aware of any arrest’
Reacting to the arrest of the suspects by Amotekun yesterday, spokesperson of the Police Command, Funmi Odunlami said: “The Police is not aware of any arrest. Our investigation is ongoing. We don’t have information on any arrest.”
However, an official of the command, who preferred anonymity, said the command wanted the suspects handed over, if they had been arrested.
Catholic Church, CAN, Olowo keep mum
When contacted, the Catholic Church declined to react to the arrest of the suspected killers.
In an interview, its Director of Communications, Rev Augustine Ikwu, said the church would not react now until it had full information on the suspected killers’ arrest.
Also, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in Ondo State, speaking through its Public Relations Officer, Daisi Ajayi, pleaded for time to get the full details of the arrest.
Similarly, the Olowo of Owo, Oba Ajibade Ogunoye, said he was yet to be briefed of any arrest.
Oba Ogunoye said: “I have not heard from the security outfit. Until I am briefed, I cannot comment.”
Suspects should be paraded before the public —Victim’s brother
But, a brother to one of the victims, Ngozi Okechukwu, said: “If the report is correct, then it’s good news.
“If Amotekun truly arrested the killers, they should not only tell us the number of those arrested, but parade them to the whole world to see. Until they do this, their story cannot be believed hundred per cent.”
It’s time for State Police —Afenifere
Reacting to the development, National Publicity Secretary of the pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, Mr Jare Ajayi, said if news of the arrests was confirmed, “then it is worthy of commendation and celebration.”
Ajayi said: “We in Afenifere, as is the case with the Yoruba and other well-meaning people, have not recovered from the shock we suffered in the wake of the massacre that took place at St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State.
“This was why we kept praying for the apprehension of the perpetrators of the evil act. So, having them arrested and ultimately prosecuted accordingly would be seen as one of our prayers being answered.”
While commending the efforts of Amotekun, he restated the call for state police.
“The valiant efforts being put up by Amotekun in the states where it has been established, particularly that of Ondo State, justify the need to have willing states to have their police force.
“The heroic performances of those Amotekun corps would be more if they have the full power of the police. We, therefore, seize this opportunity to, once again, call for an urgent approval of state police.
“We commend Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and pray that he, along with his colleagues in other states, overcome those enemies of peace in our midst.”
Oyo govt to register commercial motorcycle operators
Meanwhile, Oyo State Government, yesterday, announced its readiness to issue identification numbers and registration jackets to commercial motorcyclists, popularly called okada riders, in the state.
The government said the registration would help in planning properly for the security architecture of the state, in the long-run.
The Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning, Professor Musibau Babatunde made this announcement during a stakeholders’ meeting with over 100 commercial riders’ association leaders in Ibadan. Babatunde said: “States across the south-west have been banning operations of commercial motorcyclists, but we know that will have its own socio-economic challenges.
“So rather than banning them, we felt it is pertinent to know the number of bike-riders in the state and use that for our security architecture.”
The Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Dr Wasiu Olatubosun, also said the registration would help regulate the influx of commercial motorcyclists into the state.
Olatubosun said: “We will set up a task force, consisting of both the union and other relevant agencies that will make sure unregistered riders don’t operate within the state.”
Responding on behalf of the commercial riders, Mr Yusuf Muritala, said motorcyclists in the state are ready to cooperate with the government to register its members in the state’s database.