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Church abducted 23 children,54 others and nab pastor.

Church abducted 23 children,54 others and nab pastor,aides

Police Rescue Abducted 23 children, 54 others camped in Ondo church, nab pastor, aides

The Ondo State Police Command said a total of 77 people were found locked in the basement of a church; Whole Bible Deliverance Church located at Valentino Area of Ondo town, Ondo State.

The police said that the victims comprised of abducted 23 children and 54 others including teenagers and adults, males and females.

It was alleged that the victims were kidnapped and kept in the underground apartment of the church for over six months before they were rescued. The church’s pastor and some other members are currently in the custody of the command while the police had begun investigation into the matter

In a viral video, the victims were seen in a patrol vehicle of the police who took them to the police station.

In a one-minute, 40 seconds video, a voice was heard saying, “There are kidnapped children found in the underground cell of a church in Valentino Area of Ondo. The pastor and some members of the church have been arrested and were also in the police patrol van.’’

A source said the parents of the victims who were apprehensive about their children abandoning them for the church reported the matter to the police. Some of them alleged that their children were hypnotised.

One of the parents of the rescued victims, Mr Michael Olorunyomi, said that he left the church because of alleged wrong Bible teaching but his child remained there.

He said, “I attended the church before and I left because of the wrong teaching the pastors give the members. The pastors teach the church members on the need to divorce their wives while husbands are to divorce their wives if they want to go to heaven. They turned the children against their parents by teaching them what is not in the Bible.

“When I left the church, my daughter refused to follow me. I made the mistake of leaving her behind. Before I knew what was going on, my daughter who was in 300 level in the university at the time dropped out and camped in the church waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ. It is because the pastor said that there was nothing again in the world and rapture would come in September this year. They arranged a marriage between my daughter and one of the pastors’ family members. They said nobody should go to work, no school and they must do nothing other than to wait for Christ’s coming in the church.’’

Also, a group under the auspices of Ekimogun Youths Connect said that those found in the church’s underground apartment were kept in the custody of the church for over six months.

The group in a statement issued by its president, Mr Famakinwa Lucaskakaki

said that his group swung into action together with the police and the Amotekun operatives to rescue the victims.

The statement read, “About 14:00hrs of July 1, 2022, I was reliably informed that a particular church in Valentino Ondo City called ‘Ondo Church,’ locked people up in his church for over six months telling them that Jesus Christ will come and meet them by September this year.

“The National President of Great Constitutional Rights and Justice Forum in person of Comrade Omotayo Omolayo was also briefed and we mobilised to the venue and we met about 50 people locked up in the church.

“The church has rooms where the pastor locked his members. The process of rescuing these ones with the help of police officers, Amotekun, Atariajanaku and a vigilance group, caused pandemonium that the people under lock started beating us. The pastor, the church workers and the people under lock have been arrested and whisked to Akure.”

During the parade of the victims and the pastor at the command’s headquarters in Akure, the state capital on Saturday, the state police spokesperson, Mrs Funmilayo Odunlami, said that the command had commenced preliminary investigation into the matter.

She said, “Preliminary investigation is ongoing and further information will be communicated to the public. We urge the good people of Ondo State to be calm as the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department have taken over the case.”

The PPRO said the suspects would be charged to court after the completion of the investigation.

Some of the victims who spoke with our correspondent said they were not kidnapped by anybody, adding that it was their own personal conviction to be attending the church without the consent of their parents.

They added that they disowned their parents because they were not walking in the way of God.

One of them, Olasunkami Olafisoye, who claimed to be a graduate from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile- Ife, Osun State, said he joined the church because her parents were not doing the will of God.

She said, “My parents do not attend the church. When we left our former church, they usually stayed at home and before then, I was not comfortable with the Bible teaching of their church. I later decided to join this church because my parents were leading me away from God and I want to make heaven. I love the way the church followed Jesus and the way they hold onto Christ. I disowned my parents because they are leading me away from Jesus and I find the way to heaven from this church. I cannot say because my parents are leading me away from God I should obey them.”

The church’s assistant pastor, who identified himself as Peter Josiah, said he was the one in charge of the church and they only taught biblical teachings.

Josiah said, “I teach them what the Bible says about the second coming of Jesus Christ. The prophecy that is being fulfilled this time is showing that the rapture is close. I never even mentioned years to the church. I never taught them to run away from their parents. I only taught them the gospel. I told them to obey their parents in the Lord.”

In the same vein, the church’s pastor, David Anifowose, denied the allegation of hypnotising or abducting the victims, saying they only preached what he described as the undiluted words of God to the members. He added that they didn’t teach them to disobey or abandon their parents.

He stated, “We didn’t tell them to abandon their homes, they came of their own volition and they were accepted. It’s a lie that we said that Jesus is coming in September because nobody knows the time of His coming.”

CSOs, lawyers speak

Some human rights lawyers have called on the Ondo State Governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, (SAN), to ensure the prosecution of the suspects.

In his reaction, a professor of law at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Joy Ezeilo, who was a United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons described the matter as unbelievable and unacceptable.

She also asked that the church should be shut down and a thorough investigation opened.

“This is one too many. The level of exploitation going on in the country is unbelievable and these religious people using their powers to exploit people are unacceptable. This calls for urgent action. We urge the governor, Rotimi Akerodolu (SAN) to swing into action and bring the perpetrators to book.

“They should immediately close the church and order an urgent investigation into this modern slavery, cruelty, degrading treatment and punishment meted against the children. This is nothing short of slavery, human trafficking and child exploitation.

“The government should close such a facility and look at their registration, which must be cancelled even if it is in the Corporate Affairs Commission of the state. The state has an obligation to protect all citizens within their territory. So, the human rights of those children are important,” she noted.
She added that the rescued children should be assessed by therapists to make sure they were properly debriefed.

“We have to use a child-centred perspective and survival-centred approach to make sure the children are completely healed,” she stated.

Another human rights lawyer, Mr Festus Ogun, said that the matter was a gross violation of the Child Rights Act and Anti-Torture Act, stating that it should not be treated with kids’ gloves.

Ogun said, “The governor must order a thorough investigation into this matter and pursue the matter to a logical conclusion. From the state of things, this is a cruel crime against humanity and a violation of the human rights of the victims– to education, liberty, dignity of the human person – guaranteed under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“More so, it is a gross violation of the Child Rights Act and the Anti-Torture Act enacted in 2017, which states that there must be no form of torture meted against anybody.

“When you keep a child, who ordinarily, should be in school to such a solitary confinement underground, then it is a fatal violation of Section 34 of the Constitution that provides for the right of the dignity of human persons.”

On her part, another lawyer, Mrs Selena Onuoha, said, “What kind of a church would do that to innocent children? First, the church must first be shut down and the so-called pastor must be apprehended. This will help in lifting the veil because it is not just one person that is operating.’’

She further said that everyone involved should be arrested, adding,“ If they are arrested, they should be swiftly taken to court.’’

Also reacting, a child rights advocate and lawyer, Toyin Ojo, asked that the abducted 23 children should be given urgent medical care.

Ojo said, “The government should be proactive in its intelligence-gathering system. Who were those around that could have given the government a tip and did not do that? Why didn’t they do that? If we develop apathy to crimes like this, then, there is a problem, because the society will turn into a brutish one.’’

Besides, some civil society organisations also called for the prosecutions of the suspects.

The Executive Director, Women Advocates, Research and Documentation Centre, Dr Abiola Akinyode-Afolabi, stated that the pastor was wrong for whatever reason to have locked the abducted 23 children in the church without their parents’ consent.

She said, “It is a good thing the Ondo State governor is a lawyer so he knows the magnitude of the crime that has been committed and the law. The abducted 23 children has a right not to be detained or tortured. What the pastor has done goes against the Child Rights Act and he should be prosecuted for illegal arrest and detainment on grounds of religion. The claims he is making now are unfounded. Did he seek the consent of the parents before carrying the children?’’

She also asked that the parents should share a part in the blame for neglect.
Also reacting, the Executive Director, Advocate For Peoples Rights and Justice, Mr Victor Giwa, on his part, said, “As far as I am concerned, what the church did was a hostage. The pastor should be charged for hostage-taking. There is no place in the Bible where preachers were asked to keep children in a basement underground for whatever reason. This shows how some churches have exploited the ignorance and frustration and despondency in the land.’’

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