Monday, 11th December 2023

Scores killed, others abducted as gunmen attack Ondo church

By Oluwaseun Akingboye (Akure), Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Odita Sunday, Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze (Abuja), Seye Olumide, Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan), Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos), Ayodele Afolabi (Ado Ekiti) and Timothy Agbor (Osogbo)
06 June 2022   |   3:57 am
It was supposed to be Pentecost Sunday when Catholics were expected to commemorate the solemnity of the occasion, but pains, agony, gloom and fear, yesterday, descended on the densely populated

• Akeredolu shuns APC convention, vows to hunt killers
• Buhari, Atiku, Saraki, governors mourn, say Nigeria’ll not surrender to wicked people
• CAN, PDP, and Adegboruwa condemn the attack
• Tinubu: Perpetrators should be apprehended
• Afenifere, Akintoye, Aare Onakakanfo warn against siege to Yoruba land

It was supposed to be Pentecost Sunday when Catholics were expected to commemorate the solemnity of the occasion, but pains, agony, gloom and fear, yesterday, descended on the densely populated Owo in Ondo State, as yet to be identified gunmen opened fire on the congregation at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, which was celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus after his ascension. The attack left at least 50 dead.

The incident occurred in the morning at the church, located on Owaluwa Street, Owo, where suspected bandits launched an attack in a grand commando style, as the mass was almost ended. The invaders shot at the worshippers and ignited dynamites that caved in parts of the building.

Ondo State Governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (left) weeps about the terrorist attack at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State where scores of worshippers were killed, maimed. Photo/FACEBOOK/rotimiaketi

It was a gory sight as dead bodies, both old and young, mostly women and children littered the church. Some bodies were dismembered with internal organs splashed on the temple ground.

After the dust settled, the throng of sympathisers expressed dismay at the poor response of police to their distress call, though a security source revealed that the two divisions, area command and mobile police in Owo do not have operational vehicles despite having a standby squad.

They disclosed that the invaders did not come with vehicles to carry out the operation but reportedly hijacked vehicles from motorists plying the Owo-Akure Road to escape.

Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who was at the APC National Presidential Convention in Abuja, returned home to take charge of some security measures.

Ondo State Governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (left) being briefed on the terrorist attack at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State where scores of worshippers were killed, maimed… yesterday.

Soldiers and other security agencies were seen on the scene trying to restore order in the vicinity as their vehicles were used to convey bodies from the church to nearby mortuaries.

One of the eyewitnesses, Mr. Kehinde Ogunkorode, disclosed that there were lots of casualties on the premises, which is not far from the palace of the Olowo of Owo, Oba Ajibade Gbadegesin Ogunoye. He added that some church members were abducted to an unknown place by the bandits.

Another eyewitness recounted that the killers, who were suspected to be Fulani, invaded the church from different angles, shooting sporadically at the people and using dynamite to destroy properties.

“It was so grievous that many old people were shattered to pieces by the explosion and bullets that ripped their bodies. I was moved to tears when I saw a little boy that I used to hold his hands to school every morning lying down dead, among many others. What have we done wrong? Is it a crime to go to church to serve our God?”

Sympathisers evacuating remains of a victim at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State… yesterday.

A Catholic, who attends another parish but was in the church for a meeting, said he was sitting somewhere waiting for the mass to end when the assaulters stormed in.

According to him, they entered the premises from different angles immediately the presiding priest was dismissing the congregation with his blessings and started shooting sporadically.

“As the Father said the mass is ended, go in peace, I saw them as they came in and shot the man selling ice cream outside and they dashed into the church killing people and blasting dynamites inside the church.”

The priest, who presided over the mass, Rev. Fr. Andrew Abayomi, refuted his abduction rumour. He said after he pronounced the end of the mass, they started hearing gunshots and dynamite blasts repeatedly.

“We asked the people to seek refuge inside the church and we locked the doors. Some people still tried to escape; the attack was on for about 20 minutes.”

The Secretary of Owo Local Government Area, Mr. Taye Adako, decried the wanton killing and destruction by the bandits, assuring the people that government would intensify efforts to arrest the culprits. He appealed to the people to keep calm, adding that the governor had deployed all security operatives to be on the ground to forestall the breakdown of law and order.

Adako, who said that none could ascertain the actual casualties, disclosed, “I don’t know because when I got here, dead bodies littered everywhere, I couldn’t even count. We had to hurriedly deposit some at the mortuary.”

The Director, Social Communications of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo, Rev. Fr. Augustine Ikwu, dispelled social media rumour that the presiding priest alongside some church members was abducted by the gunmen.

Ikwu noted that the identity of the perpetrators remained unknown as the situation has left the community devastated.

Governor Akeredolu, who condemned the attack and suspended his participation at the APC convention today to condole with his kinsmen, vowed to hunt down the assailants and make them pay for the heinous crime.

Akeredolu, in a statement issued to journalists in Akure by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Richard Olatunde, said: “The vile and satanic attack is a calculated assault on the peace-loving people of Owo kingdom who have enjoyed relative peace over the years.

“It is a black Sunday in Owo. Our hearts are heavy. Our peace and tranquillity have been attacked by the enemies of the people. This is a personal loss, an attack on our dear state.

Meanwhile, there has been an appeal to Nigerians for blood donation to save the lives of survivors, who are currently receiving treatment at Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owo; St. Louis Catholic Hospital, Owo and UNIMED Teaching Hospital, Akure.

In a statement by the President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr Uche Ojinmah, the association called for quick intervention by governments and security agencies to protect the life and property of Nigerians in every part of the country.

“We commiserate with the government and people of Ondo over the loss of lives and pray for the quick recovery of those injured. We appeal to Nigerians in the affected area to kindly go to the hospitals where the injured are being treated to donate blood to save lives.

“We call on all doctors in Ondo and environs to mobilise themselves to participate in the treatment of the injured. NMA also calls for the release in good health of those abducted,” he said.

A doctor at a hospital in the town told reporters that at least 50 bodies had been moved to the main government hospital in Owo and to St Louis Catholic hospital.

Sunday Ajibola, a volunteer at one of the town’s hospitals, said he saw “nothing less than 50 dead bodies” and several others with injuries from bullets and explosives being treated by medics.

Adeyemi Olayemi, a lawmaker in Ondo, said the attack was believed to have been carried out by bandits.

Olayemi said the attack was likely to have been in retaliation for recent restrictions by the state government on grazing in Ondo, including in forests where the assailants have carried out attacks.

“We have enjoyed improved security since herdsmen were driven away from our forests by this administration,” Olayemi said. “This is a reprisal attack to send a diabolical message to the governor.”

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the heinous killing of worshippers in Ondo. The President, in a condolence message released by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, said only wicked and devilish people could have conceived and carried out such a dastardly act.

According to him, eternal sorrow awaits them both on earth here, and ultimately in the hereafter.
“No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people, and darkness will never overcome the light. Nigeria will eventually win,” he said while charging emergency agencies to swing into action and bring succour to the wounded.

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) also expressed sadness over the deadly attack of worshippers in Owo. In a statement signed by the chairman of the NGF and Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, he said the governors extended their sympathies to the government and people of Ondo and the country in general following the attack on worshippers.

The NGF said it considered “this a gory, ugly and gruesome act by extremely wicked and warped minds meted out to innocent victims on a holy day. As governors, on our oath, we solemnly pledge to work with Mr President, all citizens and residents of our dear country to assure you of a fully secure environment.”
THE Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has condemned the unprovoked attacks and killing of over 50 innocent Owo worshippers and called on security agencies to apprehend the perpetrators of the dastardly criminality.

In a statement in Abuja, the president of CAN, Dr Samson Ayokunle, who described the attack as condemnable, outrageous, unacceptable and satanic, observed that there is no explanation for this unprovoked attack and assault on a place of worship.

He lamented that the menace of insecurity has gotten out of hand and is embarrassing as criminals are operating with impunity all over the country, while the government appears to be so busy with the 2023 general election that it has no time for the unending killings in the country.

He said: “This is raw persecution. These people are possessed, and demonic and are not working for the good of the country. May God descend heavily on them and fight the mindless agents of Satan from their roots in Jesus’ name. We are once again reiterating our demand for a total overhauling of the security architecture and are asking President Buhari to stop the recycling of those criminals and terrorists in the name of the de-radicalising programme.

“If the programme is not counterproductive, how come the criminalities are always on the increase and nowhere is safe again. What legacy are the government and those who are the managers of our security architecture leaving behind for the unborn generation? We are praying for the government and the security agencies to get it right before it will be too late.”

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) has also condemned the gruesome terrorist attack. The party said it is alarmed by reports of how the terrorists invaded the church, opened fire on worshippers, freely used explosives within the premises, murdered compatriots in cold blood and left unchallenged.

In a statement by its national publicity secretary, Debo Ologunagba, the PDP noted that the attack appears to be a part of the series of “apparently organised assaults by terrorists who are emboldened by the alleged complicity of the President Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) administration, which has refused to confront the terrorists despite being aware of their plans as exposed by the Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, at the wake of recent terrorist attacks on Kaduna.”

The party called out the APC “to come clean on the pact it has with terrorists, for which it continues to look away as these outlaws mercilessly ravage our nation, massacre Nigerians and take many citizens captive.”

APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, equally described the attack as reprehensible in every sense of the word. He said it has “shocked the conscience of the nation and shattered the peace of this ancient town. It has saddened our hearts beyond what words can say.

“However, those who did this have made a terrible mistake. They think they can break our collective spirit and will to live in peace and with compassion to all regardless of faith. What they have done will not pull us apart. We must unite so that together we extinguish this evil from our nation. We owe it to ourselves and to those who lost their lives in this heinous attack.”

ALSO, former Vice President and PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, said he is devastated by reports of loss of lives following the attack on St. Francis Catholic Church.

Atiku, in a statement by his Media Adviser, Paul Ibe, condemned in the strongest terms the attack and any such attack on a worship centre as unacceptable.

“Any attack on innocent citizens, indeed of a gathering of worshippers in any place in Nigeria stands condemned; it is a red line,” Atiku said.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, described the tragedy in Owo as ungodly. He said: “It is ungodly to take any life, whatever the motive may be. Whether in the mosque or church, innocent worshippers should not be killed in the course of the practice of their faith.

“Although no one has claimed responsibility for this dastardly act, the security agencies bear a duty to unravel the perpetrators and bring them to justice. My appeal is to all those who have grievances to adopt the rule of law to ventilate them. The bloodshed in the land is too much and no reason can be advanced for this desperate act of wickedness.

THE pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, yesterday, described the attack as a terrorist act against the Southwestern part of Nigeria, bordering on a declaration of war. The body then called on all the six governors in the region to declare three days of mourning for the victims of Owo carnage.

In a release signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Jare Ajayi, Afenifere recalled that it was in this same vicinity, Owo, that Olufunke, daughter of its leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, was killed by Fulani bandits in 2019.

“With what happened in Owo, the Yoruba are being provoked into war because they know that the land had been infiltrated and surrounded by armed militias” Ajayi quoted Pa Adebanjo as saying.

“Oodualand was never conquered. It will not be conquered now. He then warned those who may be nursing such a thought to perish it immediately and toe the line of peace and harmonious co-habitation.”

Also, the leader of the apex body for the Yoruba self-determination movement, Ilana Omo Oodua Worldwide (IOOW), Prof. Banji Akintoye, described yesterday morning’s deadly attack as a declaration of war against the Yoruba people.

Responding through the Communications Secretary of IOOW, Mr. Maxwell Adeleye, Akintoye called on Governor Akeredolu to declare an emergency against the activities of Fulani herdsmen in the state with immediate effect.

He said to permanently solve the Fulani herdsmen’s menace, the Yoruba people need to negotiate their exit from the Union of Nigeria without further delay.

The Aare Onakakanfo of Yoruba land, Iba Gani Adams, has condemned Sunday’s attack. In a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Kehinde Aderemi, the Yoruba generalissimo said the incident was ungodly and it is capable of threatening the foundation and existence of Nigeria.

He described the perpetrators of the attack as evil, saying, they have sinned against God and should be ready to face the wrath of the Most High God.