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FACTCHECK: Chief of Defense Staff’s misleading claims on Owo church attack ‘suspect’

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The Chief of Defence Staff Lucky Irabor, announced during a media parley that joint operation between the Nigerian Army, Department of State Security (DSS), Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and other intelligence agencies, had led to the arrest of some suspected masterminds of the Owo Catholic Church attack.

The periodic parley, according to the army, was conceptualised to build sustainable trust and confidence of the media as the military conduct its operations and engagements, considering the cardinal role of the media in advancing the cause of national security.

Addressing news editors and media executives during the meeting in Abuja on Tuesday, Irabor said five persons linked to the attack had been arrested between August 4 – 7, adding that he took a last minute decision not to present them to the press, as investigations were still ongoing.

“It is my pleasure to let you know that starting with the church attack, we have arrested those behind the dastardly act. It was my intention to present them to public, but of course, because of certain investigations we’re still carrying out, I had to at the last count, change my mind.

“On the 7th of August, Idris Ojo, who is 32-years-old, was apprehended at Aiyetorosi in Ondo State. He is one of the high-profile Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorist that escaped from Kuje Prison,” Irabor said.

The Defense Chief went on to name the other four suspects as Idris Omeiza (otherwise known as Ibn Malik), Momoh Abubakar, Aliyu Itopa and Auwal Onimisi, who were arrested on August 4, at Eika in Okehi Local Government Area of Kogi State.

Omeiza is alleged to be one of the masterminds of the Catholic Church attack, as well as the attack on the police station in Adavi in Kogi State, which led to the killing of a policeman and carting away of weapons.

Corroborating the announcement by the military, Governor of Ondo State Rotimi Akeredolu, said five of the attackers have been arrested, including the owner of the house in Owo where the attackers stayed before the church attack.

“I am happy to announce that we have confirmed the arrest of the attackers of St Francis Catholic Church, Owo. The Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor has also announced it. We have known for a while but we needed not to come out with it because more works are still ongoing,” Akeredolu said in a tweet via his verified twitter handle @RotimiAkeredolu.

How true are these claims? (TNG) recalls that the at least 40 people were killed and many injured when gunmen opened fire on worshippers at St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, the headquarters of Owo Local Government Area of Ondo State on June 5, 2022.

This is exactly one month before the Kuje prison attack on July 5, 2022, were an initial 879 inmates escaped from the facility, before 443 were recaptured, according to government officials.

It is therefore not clear how one of the named Owo church attack suspects, Idris Ojo, who had been committed to the Kuje prison custody since 2016, got involved in the attack.

According to records from the Nigerian Correctional Service, Ojo with Case No. CR/120/15 and prison ID no. 481/16 who was sent to the Kuje prison for offences bothering on terrorism and kidnapping, was among inmates who had escaped from the facility on July 5.

A prisons staff confirmed to this newspaper that the last numbers of an in mate’s identity number indicates the year he/she was brought into the facility.

Also, inmates wearing green outfits in their mugshots are awaiting trial, while those in blue are criminals who have been convicted.

Further investigations by TNG revealed that the suspect was born on January 1, 1987, making him 35-years-old currently, whereas, the Defense Chief gave his age as 32 years.

Verdict: The claim by Nigeria’s Chief of Defense Staff that a Kuje prison escapee took part in the attack on worshippers at St Francis Catholic Church in Owo on June 5, is therefore, misleading as it contradicts the sequence of events.

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