Whatever was the motive behind the bomb blast, the church has put behind the memories of what Father Imelo calls the “Black Christmas Day of Dec 25, 2011.”
Seven years after the deadly Christmas Day bomb blast at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, Suleja Local Government Area of Niger State, the church has not relented in its resolve to carry on the primary work of serving God despite the fact that scars of that day of infamy have remained indelible in the mind of worshippers who survived the dastardly act.
While the dead are remembered through special prayers every February in what the Catholic Diocese of Minna has tagged, St. Theresa Catholic Church Annual Pilgrimage, the church has continued to extend the hand of fellowship to the living to make their lives meaningful.
The blast which occurred about 8:00a.m on December 25, 2011 took residents and Christians unawares. Hundreds of worshippers who came for the morning mass were greeted with bomb explosion when a suicide bomber who was prevented by security guards from gaining entrance into the church detonated the bomb outside the church, but not without heavy casualties.
When the smoke from the blast cleared, the result was horrendous. Forensic joint audit of the effect of blast carried out by the church and a committee set up by the state government headed by the former Commissioner for Local Government, Community Development and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mallam Yusuf Tagwai, 45 people were confirmed killed while 86 others sustained various degree of injuries.
Although the church may have put the unfortunate incident behind and normal church activities have fully been restored, the church has continued to face the challenge of managing the orphans, widows and even widowers who were incapacitated as a result of injuries they sustained.
The majority of the orphans who do not have relations to cater for them are being taken care of by the church and have been enrolled into the church school. The widows and widowers have not been left out as the church has continued to assist and enable them cope with the challenges of life.
These are the liabilities which the bomb blast put on the church, but which it has been shouldering with its meagre resources and donations received from God-fearing individuals.
As Sunday Sun learnt from the parish priest, Father Emmanuel Raphael Imelo, every last Friday of the month a special prayer session is held for the dead and the survivors, and thereafter it extends charity to the survivors.
Hear him: “The victims gather every last Friday of the month where the church offers special prayers for them and at the end we extend some little assistance to them. As human beings, and as long as there is life we always pick up the pieces of our lives and continue to struggle. That is our situation here at St. Theresa Madalla. After the bomb blast, we cried, we lamented, we reported to God with prayers with the hope that affliction will not rise again for the second time.
“As a church, we have continued to put our hope and trust in God, even though the scars of the bomb blast are still very visible in the minds of both the victims and the relations of the dead. There has been a lot of rehabilitation of the victims and confidence building to be able to get the people back to their normal self and make life worth living.
“We have been managing like every human being, though it has been quite challenging because the donations are not coming as expected. The scars are all over our body to keep reminding us of what we passed through as a church seven years ago, but we still look up to God.”
The cleric refused to be dragged into reacting to the recent news of the release from prison of the master-mind of the bomb attack, Kabiru Sokoto, insisting that only the church higher authorities can comment on that.
“It is not me that will make a statement on that as the question could better be answered by the church higher authorities. All we have continued to do as a church is to cry and express our pain to God, so if the authority feels this person should be released so be it; we leave everything in the hands of God. We believe God is the best judge, so what will you want to say more than this?”
As at the time Sunday Sun visited the church on Thursday, the entire environment was wearing Christmas mood with a beehive of activities going on unlike the graveyard situation that characterized the church for a long time after the blast seven years ago.
Recalling the early years following the bomb blast, there was significant decrease in the number of worshippers in the church, but gradually the people have returned and regained their confidence.
“When it was fresh in the minds of those who witnessed it, there was serious decrease in the number of worshippers. Some people even left the area and relocated to where they felt safer, but as time passed and with the visitation and the rehabilitation works people started coming back to worship in the church.”
Whatever was the evil motive behind the bomb blast, the church has put behind the ugly memories of what Father Imelo referred to as “Black Christmas Day of December 25, 2011.” The confidence of the worshippers was further rekindled following some internal security arrangements put in place by the church authorities to forestall such ugly incident from happening again. Despite the internal security arrangements, he has a message for the government: “Let the government not fail in its responsibilities to protect lives and property. That is the primary duty of every government.”
As a mark of honour to remember the dead, the Bishop of Minna Catholic Diocese has set aside every February as pilgrimage to St. Theresa Church, Madalla, where special prayers are offered for the dead and their families.
Although Reverend Father Imelo resumed at the Madalla Parish in 2013, two years after the incident, no single promise made by the Niger State government has been redeemed, especially the promise by the government to take over the church building which was under construction as at time of the blast.
Back then, the then governor, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, had promised during a sympathy and on the spot assessment visit to the church, that the government would repair the damaged portion of the church and complete the entire building.
Commenting on this, Father Imelo said: “At least I resumed here in 2013 and the bomb blast was in 2011. I took over two years after the incident and since then till now that I am talking to you, I have not received anything from anybody towards the church building.
“When I came in I continued from where my predecessor stopped. By the time I came in he had roofed the building. I did the remaining work up to what you are seeing today. The furniture, the painting and other works were all done by me, I didn’t receive anything from anybody. I don’t know what happened before my arrival, let me be fair to the situation but since 2013, to date I did not receive anything as government contribution to the church building,”
He described the general security situation in the country today as very worrisome saying that human lives no longer mean anything in Nigeria.
“As Christians we know that human life is a gift from God and we must cherish and protect it, but today in Nigeria lives are being wasted with reckless abandon, which is very unfortunate. Our leaders have a lot more to do in that area, the situation is about getting out of hands. If a General in the Nigerian Army could be so gruesomely killed then what is left of the common people on the street?”