Police in Rivers State have arrested three suspects for allegedly detonating devices suspected to be dynamite at the Christian Universal Church Incorporated located at No. 25 Azikiwe Street, Mile 3 area of Diobu, Port Harcourt.
The church, which is also known as ‘God’s Power House’, is allegedly owned by Governor Nyesom Wike’s father, who is a cleric.
This is as the state police command said the attackers might be members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra.
Eyewitnesses told our correspondents, who visited the scene, that five men wearing face masks strolled into the church as if they were worshippers before carrying out the attack.
One of the eyewitnesses said the arsonists came in from Ojoto, an adjourning street, walked round and detonated the explosive devices around 10pm on Saturday.
He explained, “We were all outside because people don’t sleep early in Azikiwe. Even by 2am, you will still see people moving about here peacefully and enjoying themselves, because there are some hangouts here.
“I saw the boys; they were three when they went inside the church, but we didn’t suspect anything. The next thing we heard was a loud sound and people started running.”
Another eyewitness said the attackers were first spotted by some hangers-on in the area, adding that one of the hoodlums, who was holding a gun, was held from behind and the weapon fell.
In the process, an alarm was raised and the local security group known as the Diobu Vigilantes moved in and immediately arrested him and rounded up two others, who shot indiscriminately to pave the way for their escape, not knowing that the vigilantes had spread their dragnet.
“In the ensuing melee, some of the vigilante members sustained injuries and were taken to hospital for treatment, while the attackers, including those arrested, also suffered injuries.
It was gathered that the explosion affected the foundation of the church building and shattered windows, doors and some equipment, even as some residents said it shook their buildings.
“I was inside when I heard the deafening sound. It shook our building and we were all afraid. We didn’t come out till later when we heard that some persons had been arrested,” a woman said.
When our correspondents visited the scene around 7.25am on Sunday, the both ends of the street from Ikoku and UBA had been condoned off, while armed policemen and machete-wielding members of the Diobu Vigilantes were seen preventing people from coming into the street.
While the church gate remained open, seven patrol vans, including the Operation Sting vehicle, were stationed on the street and motorists were asked to make a U-turn.
Speaking on the incident, Assistant Chief Security Officer of the Azikiwe Street, Collins Johnbull, who said he was in the area when the incident occurred, noted that some of his men were hit by bullets, while chasing after the suspects and were receiving treatment in hospital.
He stated, “I was on my duty post and we observed some movement between 8pm and 9pm. We saw some strange faces, about five of them. They entered into the governor father’s church.
“We thought they were church members having their normal evening programme or something, but not up to five minutes when these guys entered, we heard the sound of an explosion from that direction and we approached.
“Immediately the hoodlums started jumping out with masks on their faces and bearing guns; they started running and shooting at my men. We said, ‘No, we can’t be here and such an act will take place without apprehending these boys.’”
Johnbull also said some of his men sustained injuries and were receiving treatment in hospital
He added, “By God’s grace, we were able to apprehend three of them, while two escaped; we did everything in our powers, even taking risks to apprehend the hoodlums. Some of my men are receiving treatment at the Life Care Hospital.
“During the #EndSARS protests, some hoodlums tried to attack this church and the Azikiwe vigilantes came out and did a nice job.”
The spokesman for the state police command, Nnamdi Omoni, confirmed the attack, saying the perpetrators were suspected IPOB members, adding that the Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mukan, had launched an investigation to ascertain the motive behind the attack as well as apprehend other fleeing suspects.
Omoni stated, “Some hoodlums suspected to be IPOB members attacked the church. We are investigating. The church suffered substantial destruction.
“Our bomb unit was there. The personnel swept the place in the early hour of today (Sunday) and they are still there. The Area Commander is leading the operation. Policemen will be there until further notice.
“But I can tell you that normalcy has been restored. So far, we have arrested three persons. The Commissioner of Police has launched an investigation into the incident. Our bomb unit is here.
“They have been able to sweep the place and clean-up is going on as we speak. The engineer will come to ascertain the integrity of the building for habitation.”
The Special Assistant to the Governor on Media, Kelvin Ebiri, and some senior police officers were also at the scene of the incident.