Nigerians were once again thrown into mourning last Sunday when gunmen opened fire on worshippers and detonated explosives at St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, killing over 35 persons with dozens more critically injured.
The murderers planned and executed their attack on a day the Church worldwide was celebration the Solemnity of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles on Pentecost Day, fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Day. Those killed included the aged, family members, children, and pregnant women.
According to an eyewitness account, the gunmen, who disguised as worshippers, detonated explosives and, for effect, shot sporadically at members of the church.
Expectedly, angry reactions have continued to trail the Owo church incident. President Muhammadu Buhari, who expressed shock and sadness over the heinous killing of the worshippers, said eternal sorrow awaited those behind the killing, both here on earth and in the hereafter. In a statement from his office, he said only fiends raised in hell could have conceived and carried out such dastardly act.
A similar reaction came from the state Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, who was reported to have vowed never to bow to the machinations of heartless elements in the resolve to rid the state of criminals. The Bishop of Ondo Diocese, Rev Dr Jude Arogundade, described the killings as total madness and added that Nigeria was at war. In its reaction, the Catholic Church condemned the armed attack, saying Nigeria needed divine intervention to overcome its troubles.
From the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was “deeply saddened” by the “horrible attack” in Owo. On his behalf, Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin wrote in a telegram to the bishop of Ondo and assured all those who were affected by this unspeakable act of violence of his spiritual closeness.
In the considered opinion of this newspaper, it’s time to go beyond the rhetoric and platitudinous condemnation by both the state and federal governments. We think that it’s time for action.
It is with regret that we point out that almost a week after, none of the perpetrators of the dastardly act has been apprehended. All we have seen, so far, are empty words with no reciprocal action. That, in our view, is unacceptable even more so as non-state actors continue to hold the country by the jugular as if in an orgy of bloodletting and destruction with no sign of abating soon.
On that fateful day that the criminals were having a field day in Owo, the political leaders in the country were having lunch at the Presidential Villa as if in celebration of the mindless waste of Nigerians for no reason at all. It is that kind of absent-mindedness that has continued to encourage those demons from the pit of hell to persevere in their bestiality with abject impunity.
Just last month, residents of Bakura Local Government of Zamfara State said no fewer than 56 people were killed when bandits attacked three villages in the area.
Also in May, at least 65 people mostly farmers were reportedly killed when terrorists struck at different times in Katsina and Borno states within two days. 50 people were killed and an unspecified number injured when the Boko Haram fighters attacked Kala Balge Local Government Area of Borno State. In Katsina, the terrorists killed at least 15 farmers when they stormed Gakurdi village in Jibia Local Government Area. In our opinion, the Owo church killing, if not well managed, is capable of igniting reprisal killings that may trigger an ethnic or religious war which is probably the aim of the attackers.
It is gratifying to note that Governor Akeredolu and the Olowo of Owo, Oba Ajibade Ogunoye have appealed to youths in Owo not to retaliate against the killing of worshippers. The governor appealed that “On this matter, don’t retaliate. We know what to do and you will hear it. The perpetrators will never escape. We are after them. And I can assure you we will get them. I am not boasting.”
We commend the efforts of the governor and Olowo of Owo in trying to douse the tension. Under no circumstances should this lead to a bigger ethnic or religious conflict. However, we call on the government to, within the shortest time possible, apprehend the perpetrators of the Owo attack and take them out and those arrested should be made to face the wrath of the law.
That, in our view, is the only practical way the government can restore confidence in the minds of the people of their ability to protect them and also assure them that non-state actors are not having the upper hand. The security agencies, on their part, must approach the effort to rid the society of criminal elements with greater urgency and impetus. It is doable.