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No hiding, sacred place anymore in Nigeria

…As thieves break into churches, cart away valuables

…Many cases not reported to Police

Nigeria, a country once known for its rich cultural heritage and reverence for sacred places, has witnessed a decline in the sanctity of these revered places.

The country’s social, economic, and political landscape has changed significantly over the years, leading to an erosion of the respect and protection accorded to sacred places.

Historically, places of worship were revered and protected by communities, who believed in their spiritual and cultural significance.

Perhaps, the worsening poverty in the country may be pushing many people into behaviours that could be termed unbelievable.

For instance, the wave of burglary in churches in cities across the country has become frightening. Gone are the days when people dreaded the ‘house of God’ and stayed away from going into them for untoward activities.

Nowadays, worship centres are the first point of call for burglars who consider such places as soft targets for their nefarious acts.

For some time now, some Churches in the Lagos have been experiencing robberies in which a lot of valuables are lost.

Some of the victims explained that the most vulnerable Churches are those that have no resident pastors and nobody sleeping in the compound.

They also said that many of the robberies are not reported to the Police as victims prefer to move on.

From the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State, to Asaba, Delta State, to Abeokuta, Ogun State, and to the cities of Lagos, activities of barefaced thieves who have chosen sacred places to ply their nefarious trade, have become worrisome.

In October last year, some suspected burglars raided four churches in Onikolobo, the Abeokuta South Local Government Area and Abule-Ojere in the Obafemi-Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State.

The burglars reportedly broke into the churches and stole items such as amplifiers, microphones, laptops, keyboards and channel mixers, among others.

The affected churches, which are located close to one another are the Glory Place Christian Centre, Onikolobo, The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, Onikolobo both in Abeokuta South and Kingsworld International Church and Solution Embassy in Obafemi-Owode LG.

The Lead Pastor of Glory Place Christian Centre, Kunle Soyoye, said: “I was asleep when a call came in around 2am but I did not take the call because it was an odd hour and I did not even know the caller. The person called like two more times and when I did not pick up, the person called my wife who came to tell me that someone wanted to speak with me.

“I picked up the call and the person said he got our contact through the church’s banner and that our church has been raided. I went to the church and realised that they had stolen keyboards, laptop and other musical instruments.”

Soyoye said that he got to know that other churches were affected when he went to Adigbe Police Station to report the incident and he met representatives of the other churches who came to report similar incidents.

A pastor with a Pentecostal Church in Surulere, Lagos, whose church has been broken into for over three times, told BusinessDay on condition of anonymity, that despite the security measures put in place, thieves have visited the Church a number of times.

“We have suffered so much in the hands of the thieves. In the last two years, we have lost equipment that run into several millions of naira. The last one they came; it was as if they were on rampage. They turned everything upside down- from the pastor’s office, to ushers’ office, counting room and electronics room were ransacked. They even went into the ceiling and broke it; they carted away every item of our electronic instruments and the Church’s keyboard. I have never seen anything like that,” he said.

It is the same story in places like Lawanson, Aguda, Ijesha, Okota, Yaba, among many other places.

Poverty, unemployment, and inequality create an environment where theft becomes a means of survival or a way to bridge the gap between desire and affordability.

Theft of church property in Nigeria has become a major challenge, with thieves targeting worship centres and worshippers using these religious spaces.

Accordingly, it is believed that thieves are attracted to places of worship because of the potential value of religious equipment and artifacts, and the complacency of some worshippers.

Furthermore, property theft in places of worship can take many forms, including the theft of church rods, musical equipment, and the sale of stolen items from the churches in some cases to unsuspecting churches elsewhere.

While it is vital for administrators of places of worship to set up committees to oversee security and safety issues in and within the churches. It also called for preventive measures by the churches to take steps to prevent theft, by being vigilant about potential security threats.

Similarly, theft of church property can have serious consequences, including the loss of valuable items and the undermining of trust in the leadership and the religious institutions. Also, the community can play a role in helping to prevent theft of church property by reporting suspicious activity and supporting places of worship in their efforts to improve security.

“The subject of insecurity is a phenomenon that cuts across every sphere of our dear country life. The Church is part of Nigeria and can handsomely partake of every event that takes place in the country both good and bad. In the event of the increase in burglaries of church facilities; the incident is not new but the dimension it has taken is worrisome,” Olusola Daniel Olatomi, senior pastor, Christ First Truth Assembly, Ota, Ogun State, told BusinessDay.

According to him, theft of church property and related cases cannot be separated from the events in the larger society. He said further that there is currently a large pool of unemployed, underemployed and high level of unskilled able men and women roaming aimlessly about, who end-up as subtle recruits for acts of this kind.

He also opined that there is a huge population of young males and females who do drugs, which he considered as a recipe for crimes and criminality that the country is experiencing.

In proffering solutions to deal with the menace, Olatomi agreed that it would be tough to come up with solutions at curbing attack on churches, because the parameters that led to this point are still there in the society.

“I will suggest to various local church assemblies to put measures in place to secure their premises and their properties. However, for small congregation local assemblies, I will suggest that they move essential equipment to a secured place after every meeting,” Olatomi said.

According to some worshipers who spoke to BusinessDay, the theft of church property is a complex issue that demands a multifaceted approach. Accordingly, they believed that by addressing the root causes, which will have to include supporting victims, and implementing effective prevention and prosecution strategies, worshipers can work towards a safer, more just society.

A local pastor in one of the Pentecostal churches in Maza-Maza, a local community in Amuwo-Odofin local government of Lagos, who pleaded to be anonymous told BusinessDay that the encroachment on places of worship has led to the desecration of many churches, leaving communities and worshipers feeling dispossessed and disconnected from their spiritual heritage.

According to him, the incessant attack on churches that led to the theft of church property in many cases can be attributed to the move away from orthodox to more modern religious orientation where churches and places of worship are designed and built without provision for monastery or collegiate church that in some ways open the churches up as suitable target for burglars.

Accordingly, he said that the church must collaborate with the communities and law enforcement agencies on strategies to combat theft in worship centres. He further said that church leadership should build relationships and trust to safeguard properties of both the church and worshipers.

According to him, there is also a need for churches and places of worship to leverage technology for surveillance and forensic tools to track and prosecute thieves.

“Raising awareness about the issue of theft of church property can help to prevent it and promote a sense of community and shared responsibility for preventing crime. Also, churches can take legal action against those found guilty of theft of church property, and can serve as a deterrent to others.

“Furthermore, by recognising the importance of these worship centres in the overall social and spiritual sustenance of the country and working together to protect and preserve them, we can safeguard and promote a more inclusive and sustainable future for Nigeria. Therefore, the government, communities, and religious leaders must work together to protect and preserve places of worship, acknowledging their significance and value,” he said.