The recent terror attack at St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, is reprehensible, gruesome and abominable. It is not just an attack on Christianity; it is also an affront on the freedom of worship generally. The attackers masqueraded as worshippers and opened the attack towards the end of the mass. They were said to have operated for about 30 minutes without any response from the police or any other security agency. At the end of their operation, over 40 people were killed while several others were seriously injured.
It is difficult to fathom the reasons behind the heinous crime. But Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, has been having a running battle with some herdsmen in his state. Sometime last year, he ordered all unregistered herdsmen to vacate the state forests or face the wrath of the state government. Akeredolu’s order was sequel to security reports linking kidnapping and other violent crimes to criminals operating from those forests.
For instance, in July 2019, Mrs. Funke Olakunrin, the daughter of the Afenifere chieftain, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, was murdered on Ore-Benin Expressway by some gunmen who emerged from the forest. Some of the killers have just been sentenced to death by hanging. In September 2015, some gunmen kidnapped the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae, from his farm in Ilado village in Ondo State. He was taken into the bush and a ransom of N5 million paid to secure his release. Many other individuals suffered the same fate. The Ondo State Government also banned free range grazing in the state to avert conflicts between farmers and herders.
Is it possible that the herdsmen who felt angered by the policies of the state government carried out this attack as a form of revenge? Is it is also possible that the dreaded Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) carried out the attack as noted by the Federal Government? The Federal Government alleged recently that it was ISWAP terrorists that took the action. But it is not certain how the government came to this conclusion. For one, no arrests have been made and no one has made any confessional statement. ISWAP has not also claimed responsibility as it usually does when it attacks people in this manner. Could it be that the Federal Government was trying to douse ethnic tension that was already building up against the Fulani after the attack?
Whatever be the case, it goes further to show the increasing rate of terrorism across the country. Hitherto, attacks of this nature had been concentrated in the North where Boko Haram and its affiliates have a strong base. The worst that has happened in the South is kidnapping for ransom which sometimes leads to the death of the victims. For the terrorists to have penetrated the South means that there is grave danger ahead. It means the government and security agents seem not to have done enough to secure the lives of Nigerians. The already traumatised populace may begin to be wary of attending church services henceforth. One of the survivors narrated how she dragged her son, who was always reluctant to go to church, to mass that day. Now, she regretted taking him to church on the fateful day and blamed herself for his death. The attack on churches, though a criminal act, has sectarian implication. It may engender a wedge in the relationship between Christians and Muslims and may further widen the mutual suspicion between the two dominant religions.
Besides, these attacks will further drive away investors from our country. Investment thrives on security and profit. Once investors discover that their investments are not secure, they move out without any sentiment. This will be a tragedy for a country that desperately needs such investments to survive. It is high time our leaders woke up from slumber. We cannot continue to harvest deaths in this manner when we have a government in place. Any government that cannot guarantee security of lives and property has failed in its responsibility. The FG should wage a relentless war against terrorism and banditry.
Security personnel should be further equipped to contain the rising trend of terrorism. What has happened in Owo is a failure of intelligence agencies. These attackers did not emanate from the moon. They crossed the borders with their guns but no one could detect them. Government and security agents must secure religious places of worship.
Churches should begin to scrutinise those who attend their worship. Christians must rise up and secure their churches and worshippers across the country. There is need for security checks before commencement of service. Installation of Close Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras will help in tackling terrorism in churches. We commiserate with St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, and those who lost their loved ones and wish the injured quick recovery. We must join hands with the government to fight terrorism.