Angst was let loose yesterday on a new generation church in Akure, capital of Ondo State, Sotitobire Miracle Centre, aka Ipe to shano, over the disappearance of a one-year old boy, Gold Kolawole, who was reported missing from the church last month.
Visibly angry youths mobilized to the church situated at Oshinle Quarters, Akure, and destroyed the church auditorium, setting the building and property worth millions of naira on fire. They started shouting: “Ipe to jona,” meaning an anointing set on fire, as a parody of the name popularly used to describe the church and its founder: “Ipe to shano,” meaning the anointing and call that is powerful.
Besides properties that were destroyed, a police officer and another person, a commercial motorcyclist whose identities were yet to be identified were killed during the pandemonium that ensued. A police van was also set ablaze. The policeman was killed by a mob at the scene of the incident while the motorcyclist was allegedly shot dead by a stray bullet from policemen deployed to the scene to put the situation under control.
Similarly, two journalists from the state-owned Hope Newspaper and a correspondent of Western Post/Sahara Reporter were assaulted by worshippers, who were trying to defend the church and its founder.
The trouble began when unconfirmed news spread like wild fire that the body of the missing boy was exhumed from the church’s altar. This led to a mob gathering in front of the church and calling for the founder, who had weeks earlier been picked up by officials of the Department of Security Services (DSS) for investigation. Canisters of tear gas were fired to disperse the rampaging protesters who burnt down the church.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Ondo State command, Mr. Femi Joseph, confirmed the development to our correspondent on phone but dispelled the digging of the altar as mere rumour, describing the incident as a mere mob action.
“It is most unfortunate that this misleading information spearheaded by a popular TV station, has ignited a spontaneous reactions from the people leading to wanton destruction of properties and injuries to many. The church building was also set ablaze by irate youths. Some of our officers dispatched to the scene to contain the situation were pelted with stones with many of them sustaining injuries. Their patrol vehicle was also badly damaged.”
According to him, “this rejoinder became necessary to disabuse the minds of many Nigerians who might have fallen for this wicked lies and propaganda. The public should also not be hoodwinked by reports that the command has abandoned the investigation of the incident, as the case file is already on the way to the DPP for legal advice. Notwithstanding this latest incident, more reinforcement has been sent to the scene to contain the situation,” Joseph said.
The sudden disappearance of young Kolawole had generated a lot of controversy since his mother, Mrs. Modupe Kolawole, could not find the boy at the Children Church, where she kept him with the caregivers on November 10, 2019.
After four weeks, the DSS waded into the matter and whisked away the founder of the church, Prophet Alfa Babatunde, alongside nine caregivers who took custody of the boy, for investigations.
The Guardian gathered that the prophet, who was accused of using the boy for rituals by parents of the missing kid, was led to the church by the DSS yesterday morning. According to an eyewitness, who pleaded anonymity, the security team got to the church while some members of the church were holding morning prayer session.
“We heard that one of the caregivers who was arrested had confessed to the offence. They brought Sotitobire in when some of his church members were praying and he (the founder) pointed to where the boy was buried behind the altar. The baby boy was brought out to the astonishment of everyone in the church, and members that were praying secretly deserted the church. The way the body was brought out showed the boy was buried alive.”
He disclosed that the news spread across the metropolis like wildfire as people gathered in their hundreds to destroy the church and eventually set it ablaze.
Another source recounted that the boy was found half dead on the altar of the church during the service, which did not stop, to the chagrin of people around who wanted to begin a protest.
She mentioned that while a zealous police officer made efforts to quell the uprising, he shot accidentally at a victim in the crowd and killed him on the spot. This, according to her, was the immediate cause of the arson.
“That was the major genesis of the crisis. The police officer was killed by the mob and was set ablaze alongside his police van and AK 47 rifle.”
Meanwhile, the prophet’s lawyer, Mr. Akinyemi Omoware Esq, had earlier filed a petition, dated December 12, for the release of the prophet and demanding N100 million damages from the respondents, including DSS.
Also, wife of the embattled General Overseer, Prophetess Bisola Alfa, had cried out that the life of her husband was in serious danger at the custody of DSS. In a statement issued on Tuesday, the prophetess lamented that the health of her husband has been deteriorating rapidly since operatives of the DSS detained him.