The prophet at the Sotitobire Miracle Centre, in Akure, Alfa Babatunde, and some members of the church are currently answering questions at the office of the State Security Services (SSS) in connection with the disappearance of a one-year-old, Gold Kolawole, at the church’s crèche section on November 10.
On Wednesday, his church and his residence were attacked and razed by a mob acting on a rumour that the body of the missing child has been found in the church after it was exhumed from the church’s altar.
The rumour has been debunked by the police as fake news. Wednesday’s fracas has left a policeman and one of the protesters dead, besides the damage of properties.
There is currently an air of uncertainty surrounding the issue, especially given the violence that has been introduced into the case.
The involvement of the SSS came on heels of complaints by the family of the missing boy that the police, which initially commenced investigation on the matter, were not doing enough to find the missing child.
While the prophet had claimed innocence, the SSS has held on to him for over a week, while other key members of the church have also been arrested for questioning.
In spite of the moves by the security agencies, the parents of Gold, Modupe and Temitope Kolawole, are still grieving over the loss, hoping that the renewed search by the SSS would yield some fruits.
Mrs Kolawole told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview that she is not finding it easy to cope without her son, who was taken away from her while she was at a church to worship God.
“We have searched everywhere and we are still searching, we are yet to find my boy,” she said, in a very sombre tone. “I am convinced that I will find my child, I know I will find him. Whoever has taken the child should return my child, and that is all I am asking.”
Mrs Kolawole had attended the church service that Sunday morning to worship God with her son, and took him to the crèche section of the church on the advice of the church administration. By the time the church service was over and people were returning home with their children, Gold was nowhere to be found.
She raised the alarm and reported the matter to the church authorities, but nothing positive came out of it.
Although the police had begun an investigation into the matter, the SSS has since taken the founder of the church, Alfa Babatunde, into custody over the matter.
It was in June this year that she first set her foot on the church premises, being invited by a family friend, who thought their spiritual life would be better if they attended the church.
According to her, when she first attended the church, she noticed that the church prayed fervently “like the old time churches” and she thought that as a young couple, she and her husband would benefit from the feeling of power noticed around the church.
She also said that she was attracted to the church when she heard wonderful testimonies of miracles told by members of the church every time at the church services.
But her case was not to be so. She came with joy, but returned with sorrow, a deep one she is still battling to vanquish.
In her effort to recover her child, she had brought the case before the paramount ruler of the Akure kingdom, the Deji of Akure, where an oath was taken to curse whoever took the child. The leadership of the church declared their innocence.
But that has not yielded any result. In fact, Mrs Kolawole was told by those who are well acquainted with such practice that she should look elsewhere as that oath taking was a mere formality.
Even dealings with the police had shown that she was tackling a very powerful personality who might not be ruffled by what had happened as the police dallied over the situation without concrete steps towards unravelling the mystery behind the missing child.
She complained about the posturing of the police during her encounter, saying they showed they were not willing to do much.
“We are talking about a ‘whole’ child. There is no way I can cope. But I am still believing and hoping that the child will be found,” she said when asked how she was coping with the absence of her only child Gold.
Narrating how it all started, Mrs Kolawole said she had often been told to take her son to the crèche section, but refused because her son was small and had yet to walk.
She said she later changed her mind and went to drop her child there for the first time, when she thought that it could hasten Gold’s ability to walk when he begins to see other children walking.
On that Sunday morning as she arrived at the church, she said she went to drop the child at the section and registered him as required by the rules of the church.
She had returned mid-service to inspect her son, and she noticed that there was an adjustment in the sitting position and some food other than what she prepared for him was being offered to the child. She protested and insisted that his food pack contained enough food.
She had left on that note, but when she returned the child was not found, neither could any of the 14 caregivers at the section account for the missing child.
Mrs Kolawole would not accept any explanations.
In fact there was no explanations from anywhere. She was told, perhaps someone came to take him away. She ran everywhere, harassing other children in their cars as they were being driven away by their parents.
“I was harassing everybody, checking whether my child was there and I did not see him, but no way until night,” she lamented.
At the end of the day, it was clear someone had taken her child away. One day had passed, then one week and now it is a whole month and a week, still no traces of the child.
She told PREMIUM TIMES that from the very beginning of the issue, she suspected foul play from the church authorities and would hold them responsible for the disappearance of the child.
The first pointer to her claims, according to Mrs Kolawole, was that when she went to check on the child in the middle of the church service. The child was being fed with food other than the one she brought in his food pack and his seat was turned away from the direction she left him when she first brought the child into the arena.
She said she had protested against the action knowing full well that the act was contrary to the practice in that section. However, after her protest, she left the child and returned to the main hall.
After her son was declared missing, the founder of the church, Alfa Babatunde, who had promised to ensure the child was found, did not want the matter immediately reported to the police, urging the parents to return home and be calm while efforts would be made by the church to find the child.
“I suspect someone that I thought was just an ordinary member, but I realised he was so close to the pastor. He was snapping my baby’s pictures and was asking about my husband, wanting to know who my husband is. He was just a church member. When the situation happened, the same guy was the first person that saw me where I went to drop my child. When I realised that the child was kidnapped, this guy was the first to show concern.
“During the church service, the guy was sitting behind me in the church hall. The period the incident happened, the pastor declared a 30 minutes prayer. He said whoever did not close his eyes during the prayer will die before December. I also realised that the guy at the time was no longer behind my back. The pastor also was strolling behind me for like 30 minutes. Immediately after the prayer I got to realise that my child was missing.
“While I was looking for my child, this guy was the one showing the caring attitude, asking what has my husband done, and trying to know every step that had been taken. He was there from then till the night. Another suspicious thing I noticed was that that same Sunday night while the pastor was in his office, it was only this man that was walking towards that office intermittently fiddling with his phone.
“While we were invited to the Anti-kidnapping office, this same guy came to the place with the pastor’s car. While we went to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, the same guy was also there. We got to realise that he is so close to the pastor.
“Right now, once we started suspecting him we can’t even find the guy anymore. As the matter proceeded, the church and the pastor presented another person entirely as the (suspect). The guy I am talking about is well known to me. I knew him for long, even my aunty and my sister –in-law knew him very well, especially the way he showed caring attitude.
“Another thing that raised my suspicion was that there are 14 ushers in the children’s section, comprising 12 female and two males. While we were at the anti-kidnapping office only a man (was) among them. At the Deji of Akure’s palace, only two men came. When we went to the Deputy Commissioner of Police’s office, only two other workers were brought, not the entire 14 workers. The last time the Kabiyesi (king) sent for us, they came with three men with the senior workers.
“He kept changing them. At the Commissioner of Police’s office, he came with six men. At every of the meetings he made sure that only two of the workers were consistent and they are the ones we are suspecting are directly involved. One of them was the HOD (head of department) that asked me to drop my child at the section and asked me to register the child and the other one who actually registered the child, even though I had initially argued that my child was still too small to go there. The pastor himself also failed to show up in most of the invitations during the period.”
Meanwhile, the prophet has denied all the allegations against him, saying he had nothing to do with the missing child.
He also said the parents of the child had not shown ‘enough commitment’ and that he had offered to help in anyway.
He also complained of the family of the parents of the child attacking the church premises and destroying properties over the issue.
The Ondo State Police Public Relations Officer, Femi Joseph, said investigations were at an advanced stage and the police were in the process of charging some persons to court over the matter. He denied that the police were lackadaisical in the handling of the matter and that the involvement of the SSS would not take anything away from what the police are doing.
“The SSS has the right to investigate any matter. They are an independent agency and they can investigate,” said Mr Joseph. “But that does not affect our own investigations and it does not indict the police in anyway.”
Efforts to get the SSS to comment on the development had yet to yield results.
No official statement has been made from the Akure office of the agency. Peter Afunanya, the agency’s spokesman, asked this reporter to send a text message on Tuesday, but at the time of filing this report, his response was yet to be sent.