Public anger mounts in Nigeria as the Ondo state police is yet to trace church attackers that are said to be at least five in number.
As grieving families and friends prepare for the funeral of those killed in an attack on Catholic church that killed at least 50 people in Ondo state on Sunday, Nigerians slammed officials for the deteriorating security situation in the country.
Gunmen stormed the St Francis Catholic Church, in the relatively peaceful Owo town during a congregation, firing shots and detonating explosives before escaping the scene.
Although Nigerian security forces have not yet identified who carried out the attack, police on Tuesday announced they had recovered unexploded bombs as well as casings from bullets used in AK-47 assault rifles.
Blaming the government’s security agencies, Confidence MacHarry, a security analyst said intelligence must be deployed to prevent a recurrence of such incidents.
“Local intelligence collections have not been geared towards preventing such incidents. The security situation might be worse than we think,” MacHarry, a lead security analyst at Lagos based geopolitical risk advisory, SBM Intelligence, told TRT World.
The Chief Superintendent of Police, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, said the attack was a first of its kind in the southwestern part of the country compared to a number of similar attacks in the north due to banditry and insurgency.
He explained that the assault was a planned one as the perpetrators had mixed with the congregants and infiltrated the church.
The @UN_Nigeria strongly condemns the brutal attack on worshippers at St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State. Our deepest condolences to families and friends mourning the victims of this horrific crime. We appeal for calm and for bringing perpetrators to justice.— Matthias Schmale (@matzschmale) June 6, 2022
Worshippers were celebrating the feast of Pentecost, an important Catholic post-Easter holiday.
Eyewitnesses of the attack said some gunmen entered the church when the priest celebrating the Mass was giving the blessing to end the service, while others stayed outside to shoot anyone who attempted to flee.
“We have commenced investigation, and we are optimistic that they will all be apprehended in no time,” Adejobi told TRT World.
“We also want the state government to constantly have security meetings with the security agencies in Ondo and assist them with the wherewithal to discharge their duties as expected.”
The Inspector-General of Police, Federal Republic of Nigeria, IGP Usman Alkali Baba, ordered security units and experts from the Force headquarters to take up the investigation and “make sure the perpetrators are apprehended as soon as possible”.
“We urge Nigerians to assist the police with any useful information they may have in relation to this incident, to aid the arrest of the culprits and our investigation,” he said.
However, MacHarry pointed out that Nigeria does not have a track record of apprehending terror masterminds.
“There is a wealth of intel that comes from locals in troubled areas which more often than not, the security services fail to act on,” he said.
The southwestern region is home to the Yoruba ethnic group, where Christians and Muslims coexist peacefully.
Some Owo residents say that the attack may be linked to an ethnic conflict between the Fulani herdsmen and local farmers over land use.
“It is not yet clear why the attack took place or who did it. No one has claimed responsibility. But farmers and herdsmen have clashed in Ondo state and some believe it might be ethnic related,” a local journalist and resident of Lagos, Solomon ELUSOJI, told TRT World.
We lost Chukwuemeka in the attack in St. Francis Owo on Sunday. Rest in peace my boy. Return to your creator. This place isn't meant for you.#owomassacre #OwoIsBleeding Enough is Enough Channels TV R.I.P #Prayforondo #CatholicChurch pic.twitter.com/l1asvidAYP— The Mantle Media (@PeterObi2_0_2_3) June 7, 2022
He said the security agencies need to be more proactive than reactive. According to sources, The DSS, an intelligence agency, had earlier warned of attacks on worship places.
But ELUSOJI said, no measures were taken to “avert the looming disaster”.
“Cases like the Owo massacre gives such fears credence. It’s frightening,” he said.
“And it appears the government is either incapable of securing the country or is somehow complicit.”
‘Even in the house of God’
The country has been struggling to prevent insurgencies in the northeast by Boko Haram and its offshoot, Daesh in West Africa Province, but no insurgent groups are known to be active in the Ondo state.
The group, who have killed more than 35,000 people by a UN count, are fighting to establish their version of the Sharia law and to stop Western education.
“At home, people do not sleep with two eyes closed because of the fear of being attacked by gunmen,” Priest Ugochukwu Ugwoke of the Schoenstatt Fathers Community in Ibadan city of southwest Oyo state, told TRT World.
Do we have a full list of names of those killed in the #OwoMassacre - let us say their names and honour their memories. Cannot get the image of that little girl in her beautiful Sunday white dress out of my mind. They must not be relegated to mere statistics. #NigeriaIsBleeding— Dr. Ayoade Alakija (@yodifiji) June 7, 2022
Ugwoke said that the leaders of the country are not doing enough in arresting the perpetrators of the attack and preventing further attacks.
The Ondo Police has not made any arrests yet or confirmed the identities of the attackers, said to be at least five in number.
“Today is the third day since the attack on the innocent worshippers of St Francis Catholic Church took place, yet, no arrest has been made. It is surprising that an attack of such magnitude happened in the heart of the city of Owo, and the terrorists just strolled out of the town without any traces,” Ugwoke said.
“Nowhere is safe be it at home, in the market, in the streets, in the farms and even in the house of God.”