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Animists in Southwestern Nigeria Attack Anglican Church

Two priests nearly beaten to death after “making gods angry” by church services.

by Obed Minchakpu

AKURE, Nigeria, May 5 (Compass Direct) – Traditional animists attacked churches in Ode-Aye town, in the southwestern state of Ondo in February and March, beating two Anglican priests into comas and destroying church property worth an estimated 6 million naira (US$48,831).

The Rev. Joshua Ogunele, Anglican bishop of the Diocese on the Coast of the Church of Nigeria , Anglican Communion, told Compass that followers of native religions attacked the St. Christopher Anglican Church along with other nearby churches in Ode-Aye, also known as Okitipupa Local Government Area.

The church’s priests, the Rev. Chris Adetula and the Rev. Oladejo Luji, nearly lost their lives, but they are no longer in comas, he said.

“The attack on the church occurred when followers of the traditional religion in the area forced all Christians in the town to participate in its annual Okute religious festival,” Rev. Ogunele told Compass. “The Okute festival is a pagan religious festival that is usually observed by animists in southwestern Nigeria .”

Celebrated in Ode-Aye and surrounding communities in February and March every year, the Okute festival often lasts for 21 days. During that time, Rev. Ogunele said, Christians are forbidden to worship or to play drums in their churches.

Williams Akindale, leader of the worshipers of the African traditional religion (Oba) in the town, told Compass that aggrieved members of the group carried out the attack on the churches. He said that members of the traditional religion believe that Christians, by worshiping in their churches during the Okute festival, “were making the gods to be angry.”

“Since time immemorial, tradition demands that during the celebrations of festival, there should not be any beating of drums, but the churches have defied this tradition during this period,” Akindale said.

Rev. Ogunele said Christians in the community see the ban on worship in churches during the festival as an as an infringement on their religious rights.

“The attacks on churches in Ode-Aye during the Okute festival have been an annual occurrence since 1983, with properties worth millions of naira lost to the clashes,” he said. “Over the years, the adherents [of African traditional religion] struggled to impose this law [ban on worship] on every member of the communities. This move has resulted in clashes, and property was often lost.”

The Ondo State High Court in 1988 ruled the imposition of the ban on non-adherents of the traditional religion as “frivolous and vexatious,” he said.

Rev. Ogunlele called on the Nigerian government to act decisively to check this “unhealthy trend, whereby people take it upon themselves to impose their religious values on Christians in the country.”

Innocent Ilozuoke, police commissioner of Ondo state, said police had arrested 10 members of the animist group, and that those who are guilty would soon be charged in court.