On June 5, 2022, as worshippers gathered at St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, for the normal Sunday mass, a band of armed men surrounded the church and opened fire.
Afterwards, dozens lay dead and many more injured, amongst them women and children. As the fatalities mounted in the hours and days after the incident, the predictable outpour of outrage followed thick and fast.
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Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu who is an indigene of the town expressed anger at the dastardly act. Governor Akeredolu remarked that, “The vile and satanic attack is a calculated attack on the peace-loving people of Owo Kingdom who have enjoyed relative peace over the years’’.
In his condolence statement on the massacre signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, President Muhammadu Buhari said, “Eternal sorrow awaits the perpetrators of the dastardly act.’’
Condemnation of the attack was also accompanied by lamentations from a cross section of Nigerians on who must have carried it out and why. The fact that the church where the incident happened is located close to the palace of the paramount ruler of the town added to the din of speculation as to whether the attack was targeted not only at the church but the palace as well.
Also, the attack happening on the eve of the much awaited presidential primaries of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) led to wide spread speculations that it was staged to either prevent the event from taking place or to distract the party from properly organising and holding the convention successfully.
But amidst all the recriminations, one fact that ran through the minds of Nigerians while reflecting on the scale of the massacre was that once again our security establishment has been caught napping in their duty and responsibility to prevent such incidents from happening.
By all accounts Owo is a sizable town located in the hinterland and is neither on the seaward nor land border of the country. The attackers must have either transported themselves through the known roads into the town from somewhere possibly close to the town or they must have an operating base somewhere in the town to organise an attack of this magnitude. They must have certainly spent days identifying and casing the area before eventually launching the attack.
For the attackers to have done all this without detection by our security agencies before they carried out their act, beggars belief. And for them to have carried out the act in broad daylight unchallenged and allowed to disappear into thin air without as much as resistance from any of the security outfits underscores the widely held belief that our security outfits are not up to scratch as far as performing their statutory role in securing the lives and properties of Nigerians.
For Nigerians groaning under the weight of insecurity all over the country, the below par performance of our security agencies in detecting and preventing such incidences as in Owo continues to give rise for concern. Attacks such as the one in Owo and in Anambra State recently, where a woman and her four children were killed have become almost normal and commonplace such that Nigerians are beginning to wonder whether indeed we do have fit for purpose security agencies that will always rise to the occasion at all.
The situation is compounded by the fact that amongst the security agencies, a myriad of issues like inter-service rivalry, poor funding, training and equipment have been identified as militating against their optimum performance.
There is also the issue of discordant tunes amongst government officials on who and where to identify in terms of the security challenges facing the country. This much was evident when on June 9, coming after a meeting of the National Security Council on the Owo massacre, Interior Minister Rauf Aregbesola stated that ISWAP had carried out the attack. This was promptly downplayed by Governor Akeredolu, who said the federal government’s position was hasty and thus should not be relied upon by implication.
Also, the immediate media profiling of Fulani, without proof, as being behind the attack shortly after it occurred was unfortunate, as such is capable of causing problems in the country. The only way to tackle the insecurity challenge is for all parts of the country to see those behind the attacks as nothing but criminals who are not necessarily from any particular part of the country but out to destroy the common peace.
Having become weary of such attacks which have now become a daily occurrence in the country, Nigerians are in no mood to tolerate excuses or blame games from government officials and agencies on the seemingly intractable insecurity in the country. On the Owo massacre, Nigerians would like to see both the federal and Ondo State governments upping the ante in going after the perpetrators of the incident and bringing them to justice. Government should also work to provide succour to the victims of the incident by undertaking the cost of the treatment of those wounded. The authorities should use this incident to finally and concretely show their zero tolerance to the activities of armed men in our midst who have practically laid siege to the country in their bid to disrupt our lives and livelihood. Enough is enough.