If the bomb ferrying man’s mission was to kill, an unsuspecting commercial motorcyclist, popularly called okada, helped to seal the fate of those present at the St. Rita Catholic Church, Badarwa, Kaduna last Sunday, a Sabbath day.
That was the day when a man of fiendish disposition, determined to end his life and those of other innocent people in a macabre manner, loaded explosives into a Mercedes Benz SUV, black in colour, and headed for the Church.
Badarwa is a rather rundown suburb of Kaduna, where Christians and Muslims live side-by-side in an uneasy relationship that has continued to oscillate between cold, warm and hot.
According to accounts, it would appear that the man was a stranger to Badarwa, because he had driven past a crossing leading to the fortified church and stopped to ask an okada operator for direction, promising to pay handsomely if he would lead him to the Church.
In less than a minute, the bike-man led the stranger in the tinted four-wheel Benz to the barricaded gate of the Church, where Rev. Father Mike Bonni was offering Communion Prayers.
It was about 8: 45 am, and there was no sign of the usual two armed policemen and two members of the Civil Defence Corps there.
Now a drama ensued between the driver of the vehicle and the okada operator. Instead of paying the bike man, the man in the jeep started arguing with the people at the gate to allow him in. But the three lads in brown khaki and brown boots (church cadets) brandishing metal detectors refused him entry, saying only the parish priest was allowed to park his car within the church premises during Mass.
It was obvious that the cadets were bent on refusing him entry.
But strangely, as recalled by those who claimed to have witnessed what happened, the driver hastily reversed some few metres; he then surged forward in full speed, heading directly for the fence of the church.
He rammed the luxury car into the fence and drove through.
A few metres ahead laid the Catholic shrine where the Virgin Mary is usually venerated. He took it down, too. But the shrine slowed his pace. Then, suddenly, just before he could burst into the Church, packed with over 1000 worshippers, the jeep became a mobile bomb. The explosion that resulted could be heard within a five kilometre radius from the blast and created a rattling tremor. It brought down the wall of the church, sending shrapnels and projectiles into the congregation.
Though the vehicle never made it into the church building, its effect was felt by the building. Adjoining buildings were damaged, as well as parked cars, as part of the exploded car bust into flames.
Survivors recalled a scene of chaos. Burnt human flesh and the effluvium of the explosives created an offensive gas.
“The okada man was shouting Arabic in shock", an eyewitness recounted hours after the explosion. “He was saying, ‘If I had known that this man was evil, I would not have directed him here. Oh Allah, what has become of this world!’”.
In Bardarwa, as in most parts of Kaduna town where Muslims and Christians have defined boundaries, there are two kinds of people that respond to such emergencies: those that go for the rescue, and those that maim, kill and destroy property as a means of vengeance.
Unfortunately for the Hausa okada rider, those that first heard his lamentation were of the second category.
“He is with the bomber! He brought the bomber! Kill him! Burn him!” rented the air. According to the eyewitnesses, the crowd, ostensibly Christian youths, descended on the man and set him ablaze, along with his bike.
But, just as the mob began to swell, with youths trooping out from different directions, the Army arrived and stamped out the emerging revolt.
But the arrival of the military men did not stop the pandemonium that was to take over the city.
The body of the suicide bomber, (likely a member of the Islamic Terrorist Boko Haram) was cut into two – his lower and upper torso. His upper torso was flung from the jeep onto the fence where it dangled, with the suicide bomber still showing signs of live.
“Someone came with a stick and started hitting it”, said another eyewitness, “but soldiers chased him away”.
At the end of the whole gory event, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) put the death toll at 8, with 135 injured.
It would however appear that the collateral damage was the painfully slow rate of reconciliation between Muslims and Christians in Kaduna that was again shattered.
Catholic Arch-Bishop of Kaduna diocese, Mathew Man Oso Ndagos, when he spoke to the press after visiting and praying with some 14 injured members of the Church at St. Gerard’s Catholic Hospital, Kakuri, said: “What happened was unfortunate, being the second time that the Catholic Church, and the third time Churches were bombed in Kaduna State. Once again, as Christians and as Catholics, we are challenged to deliver our own faith to witness for us. I think we are even called to witness our faith as more credible and to bear the message of the Bible to those who hate us.
“In the five hospitals we have visited so far, most of the victims are children. And therefore, you begin to wonder if a human being in his full senses could do such a thing. Honestly, as a person, I believe that the person who could carry out such wickedness, deserves our pity and mercy. He has only tested the integrity of our faith; these kinds of people are not in their right senses.
“How could a human-being, who claims to be working for any kind of god, go to a place where people are worshiping God with a bomb and do this kind of harm to them? I know we are in difficult times, but my advice to Christians and my fellow Catholics in Kaduna State is that difficult situations do not make us less Christians. In the same vein, difficult situations do not make us less human. No matter how difficult the situation is. My appeal to Catholic youths and all our Christian brethren is ‘never, never retaliate’! Two wrongs can never, and will never make a right”, he said.
But not many Christians in Kaduna town have such grace and magnanimity towards the Muslim camps.
In Sabo, Television Village, Narayi, Maraban Rido and most Christian strong holds, the youths mobilised for a show-down but discovered that the Muslim minority had fled as soon as they heard about the carnage at St. Rita. But, as news filtered that the Christian youths in Badarawa had taken their pound of flesh and that the harm was not of unforgivable proportion, added to the pleas of local elders and church leaders, what would have been a headache for the Army and police subsided.
On the other hand, Muslim youths in Tudun Wada, Rigassa, Kawo, Rafin Guza and places they have strong presence, also armed up, waiting to attack any non-Muslim that wondered into their zone – this, in readiness for any “retaliatory” assault on their members.
But by noon, with two military helicopters flying low over the town, and wailing sirens of armed soldiers and police in open vans supported by armoured cars, anxiety soon ebbed away, and the town started life anew. By evening, businesses almost returned to normal, with some shops still shut.
Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State heaved a sigh of relief the next day after going round to see what happened and consoling and speaking with the injured.
At a press-conference that day, Governor Yakowa said, “I have gone to the affected Church, and I have visited all the injured patients and I am deeply saddened by what happened. But I thank God, because it could have been worse.
“I met the officiating priest during the Mass Service. His name is Rev. Fada Mike Bunni. He was able to tell me that the bomber was very determined to kill all the over 1000 worshippers in the Church. And you could see how daring he was.
"He did not go through the gate. He drove straight against the fenced wall of the Church. The Priest said that if the fence of the church was not strong enough, he could have driven through the walls of the Church and detonated the bomb there. But the bomb went off just outside the door of the church and brought it down. That was why the casualty was not that much. Four were killed. That was what I was told. About 100 were injured. So, you see, we have to thank God for his infinite grace, because the casualty could have been far worse.
“The Priest told me that no amount of terror will frustrate him from worshiping Christ, and that Terror cannot detect how we worship God.
“I want to use this opportunity to also say that no amount of wickedness of terrorism will deter us from pursuing our agenda of Peace, Development and Security. The few evil ones in this state cannot frustrate the state”, he said.
So far, no group has claimed responsibility, but the style of the bomber clearly shows the signature of the Boko Haram sect.
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