Touch not my anointed and do my prophet no harm”, so commands the Holy Bible. However, this biblical injunction was relegated by some indigenes of Urora community in Uhunmwonde Local Government Area of Edo State when they recently attacked a Pentecostal church in the community.
Some youth in the community, who some people claimed ‘thungs’ attacked the church while a service was going on; beat up its pastor and worshippers. The victims were left with torn clothes, tattered looks broken bones. Chairs were broken and the worship centre was turned upside down by the assailants, who were also described as traditionalists, on the fateful day.
The community, located a few kilometers from Benin City, the Edo State capital, was roused by the incident. The incident has also turned the nondescript Urora which, before now, was hardly in the news into a visitors’ favourite for the wrong reasons.
The church was said to have been attacked by the traditionalists for violating a movement restriction order slammed on the residents of the community. Pastor Destiny Eguavoen, the General Overseer of the attacked City of God Rest Ministry, was a prime victim. The traditionalists, who stormed the house of God, had descended on Eguavoen, disrupted service and beat up the worshippers who resisted.
At the heart of the matter was the commencement of activities for the celebration of the age-long Ikpoleki cultural festival of the people of Urora. They said the festival had begun in the 15th century during the reign of Oba Ewuare the Great as the Oba of Benin. The festival is celebrated by priests and traditional worshippers ahead of the harvest period, often between September and October every year.
For the duration of the festival, adherents of other faiths are supposed to close shop. But trouble started when some traditional worshippers who were going round to ensure compliance with the restriction of movement on the town, invaded the church when they found that a service was going on there. The church is one of the many located in the community that were opened for Sunday worship.
The service that day was in full swing when the hoodlums lumbered in. Brandishing cudgels and sundry weapons and chanting war songs, they were said to have gone straight to the altar and snatched the microphone from the man of God and ordered the congregation to disperse or risk being thrown out.
The cleric set out to church that wet morning, dressed in his Sunday best. He was in the middle of the service when he heard a commotion in the next street. According to him, he ignored it and carried on. “The noise got louder and closer, still I paid no attention. I was beginning to feel uneasy but he betrayed no emotion. This is a house of God. Nobody dares disrupt service here. As Christians, we are peaceful and we hurt nobody. I am pretty sure that Ikpoleki devotees would not dare disrupt our service. I would find out the exact cause of the discontent once service was over,” he said.
He had hardly uttered the cliché, Praise the Lord for the umpteenth time when the assailants marched in through the open door, demanding that the congregation immediately disperse. “Their words were clear. There was fire in their eyes and it was obvious that pushing would pave the way for shoving if the order was not obeyed. In deference to the biblical commandment which holds that blessed are the peace makers for theirs is the kingdom of God, I chose to turn the other cheek. After all it is not for nothing that they say that those who fight and run away will leave to fight another day. I complied and told the congregation to leave. Even with his peaceful mien, some of the church goers were still beaten up by the invaders, who left hurricane-like destruction behind.”
The traditionalists were alleged to have acted at the behest of some elders of Urora community.
In deep distress, Eguavoen said that he decided to open for service, following a directive by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Edo State branch. “I was told that they have their Ikpoleki festival and that we should not open from 6am to 3pm on Sunday.
“So we (pastors) held a meeting and resolved that Sunday is the day of our worship, there is no way they can stop us because of their own worship.
“They came to our church at about 9 on that Sunday morning. They said we were supposed to close our service by 8 am.”
The general overseer continued: “I was still preaching when they entered the church, destroyed all my property, microphones and other items.
“They injured me on my head and tore my clothes. They came to the altar. They fought with me. They were dragging me on the altar, saying that I should leave the church.”
The Spokesman for Urora community, Mr. Sunday Osagiede, however defended the action of the attackers, claiming that they had an arrangement with churches in the area that they can only open from 6 am to 9 am and that they do not expect anyone to violate it.
“We are protecting the outside now to make sure that the place is calm. We told pastors to worship between 6 am to 8 am. But we added one hour for them to round off their activities by 9 am before the performance of Ikpoleki would start in the open,” he said.
The spokesman of the Edo State police command, Mr. Chidi Nwabuzor, said the case was still being investigated, noting that “nobody has the right to violate the fundamental human rights of another.”
Nwabuzor, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, said: “The activities of the traditionalists should not in any way prevent the church service from going on. The church cannot tell the traditionalists not to go on with their festival as well.”