Over 40 worshippers were feared killed and many others injured when gunmen, Sunday, attacked St Francis Catholic Church, Owa-luwa Street, in Owo LGA of Ondo State.
Daily Trust gathered that the church, which is located behind the Olowo of Owo Palace, in the hometown of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, came under attack as it was rounding off its morning service. It was learnt that the terrorists who stormed the church in their numbers, opened fire on worshippers indiscriminately.
- LIVE: APC Delegates elect Presidential Candidate
- Sokoto govt set to pay tuition of student facing deportation from Russia
“We were about to round off service. I had even asked people to start leaving, that was how we started hearing gunshots from different angles.
“We hid inside the church but some people had left when the attack happened. We locked ourselves in the church for 20 minutes,” said Rev Father Andrew Abayomi, one of the priests who survived the attack.
Daily Trust gathered that the terrorists used dynamite to gain access to the church before shooting at worshippers at close range.
A viral online video showed some worshippers who were killed lying on the floor of the church in a pool of blood. Among the dead were mostly women and children.
A witness, Kehinde Ogunkorode, told newsmen that the incident caused pandemonium in the area as residents ran for safety.
Health workers at the Federal Medical Centre and St. Louis Hospital in Owo confirmed that many victims were brought into their facilities as doctors battled to save the lives of the injured.
Buhari, Tinubu, Akeredolu, CAN mourn
President Muhammadu Buhari described the attack as heinous killings, saying only wicked and devilish people could have conceived and carried out such a dastardly act.
The president, in a condolence message released by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, said eternal sorrow awaited them both on earth and ultimately in the hereafter
”No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people, and darkness will never overcome light. Nigeria will eventually win,” he said.
Buhari charged emergency agencies to swing into action, and bring succour to the wounded.
Also, the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and presidential aspirant, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has condemned the attack.
He called on the police and security agencies to do all that is within their power to get to the bottom of the attack, apprehend the wicked perpetrators and bring them to justice.
“Violent extremism and insecurity want to bring us low. We must continue to do all that we can to beat the vile challenge so that Nigeria becomes its better self. The architects of violence shall only seal their own fate but not the fate of this nation or the peace-loving people who inhabit it,” he said.
On his part, Governor Akeredolu said the “vile and satanic attack” was a calculated assault on the peace-loving people of Owo Kingdom who had 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,” he said.
Akeredolu, who cut short his assignment in Abuja ahead of the APC’s convention, vowed to commit every available resource to hunt down the assailants and make them pay.
“We shall never bow to the machinations of heartless elements in our resolve to rid our state of criminals,” he said. He, however, urged the people not to take laws into their own hands.
Meanwhile, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Ondo State chapter in a statement by its Director, Information and Communications, Daisi Ajayi, said the killings were the height of cruelty that must be condemned by all.
He said the chairman of the association in the state, Rev Fr. Anselm Ologunwa, who expressed shock at the act, called on the government and security agencies to as a matter of urgency go after the perpetrators of the heinous act and bring them to justice.
Fr Ologunwa affirmed that CAN in the state would continue to promote religious harmony and equal opportunities for all in the state without discrimination.
Efforts to get the State Commander of Amotekun corps, Chief Adetunji Adeleye, to comment on the matter proved abortive as he was said to be out of the state on official assignment.
He also did not respond to calls made to his telephone number.
Afenifere condemns attack as war against Yoruba
The pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, yesterday said the attack had confirmed the earlier fear expressed by the group’s leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, that the region had been surrounded by a militia. The group described the attack as terrorism and a declaration of war against the Southwestern part of Nigeria.
Afenifere in a statement by its publicity secretary, Jare Ajayi, called on all the six governors in the South West to declare three days of mourning for the victims.
The group recalled that it was in the same Owo vicinity that Olufunke, daughter of its leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, was killed by bandits in 2019 just as many other acts bordering on terrorism were daily reported in Ondo State and other parts of Yorubaland.
The Organising Secretary of the association, Apagun Kole Omololu, in another statement issued in Ondo, said the incident was a direct attack on Yorubaland and the Ondo State governor.
On his part, the leader of the apex body of the Yoruba self-determination movement, Ilana Omo Oodua Worldwide (IOOW), Professor Banji Akintoye, described the attack as a declaration of war against the Yoruba.
Akintoye, who spoke through the group’s communications secretary, Maxwell Adeleye, said the assailants needed to be “frankly and courageously confronted” to prove to their sponsors that the Yoruba people can never be intimidated or subjugated. He also called on Akeredolu to declare an emergency against the activities of herdsmen in the state with immediate effect.
No priest was kidnapped
Meanwhile, the Catholic Diocese of Ondo has refuted reports that a priest and some workers were kidnapped.
In a statement signed by the director of social communication of the Church, Rev. Fr Augustine Ikwu, the church said all the priests and bishops in the parish were safe.
“For now, security agencies have deployed men to handle the situation. At this point in the history of our dear nation, we need God’s ultimate intervention to restore peace and tranquillity,” he said.
However, a social media user, @OGAboss_gbenga, who claimed that his uncle and wife were killed in the attack, said some kids were abducted by the attackers. Another user, @lai_ajanaku, also lamented that she lost her parents in the attack.
“To my fellow parishioners who suffered a loss or two in this, I hope we can all find the fortitude to bear this loss. We were a community of well-meaning, harmless people. Our parents worked hard for a useless, absolutely detestable government. How can Nigeria take so much from us?”
Catholic bishops demand punishment for attackers
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has expressed sadness over Sunday’s attack on innocent worshippers at St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo in the Diocese of Ondo on Pentecost Sunday.
President of the CBCN and Archbishop-Elect of Owerri Diocese, Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, in a statement, lamented that nowhere seemed to be safe again in the country; not even the sacred precincts of a Church.
He also commiserated with the Diocese of Ondo and implore God to grant eternal rest to the dead, speedy recovery to the wounded, and consolation to families mourning the death of their beloved ones.
Its sign B’Haram has entered S/West – MURIC
The Director of Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Prof. Ishaq Akintola, in a statement, called for the immediate arrest and prosecution of the attackers.
It described the “unprovoked aggression” as “inhuman, heinous, horrific and horrendous.”
“We call for immediate arrest and prosecution of the attackers. We charge the Inspector General of Police as well as the Ondo Police Command to find the killers without delay. They must be pursued to the most remote corners of Nigeria. These murderers must have no hiding place.
“In particular, we implore President Muhammadu Buhari to order the Nigerian Army to get involved in the search for the killers. This latest attack is indubitable evidence of the existence of Boko Haram in the South West after their penetration into Niger and Kogi states,” Akintola said.
Sanwo-Olu, Gbajabiamila react
The Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, described the attack as a crime against humanity.
Sanwo-Olu, in a condolence message issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Gboyega Akosile, sympathised with the people of Ondo State, especially the residents of Owo. The governor commiserated with the Catholic Church of Nigeria and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), as he expressed deep sorrow over the loss of lives in the ugly incident.
The Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Lanre Lasisi, described the attackers as enemies of the state, who must be fished out and dealt with accordingly.
The Speaker lamented that the activities of terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and other criminal elements in the country were becoming a daily occurrence in Nigeria.
He challenged security agencies to double their efforts in bringing the insecurity in the country under control, especially by stepping up intelligence gathering to halt such attacks before they occurred.
Police go after perpetrators
The Commissioner of Police in the state, Oyeyemi Oyediran, has said efforts were being intensified to arrest those who perpetrated the evil. He also said he had deployed officers including those of the Explosive Ordinance Device Unit (anti-bomb squad) to the scene of the attack. This was contained in a statement by the command’s spokeswoman, Funmilayo Odunlami, on Sunday in Akure.
NMA mobilises doctors
The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has called on all doctors in Ondo State and the environs to mobilise for the treatment of those injured. President of the association, Dr Uche R. Ojinmah, in a statement also called on government at all levels and security agencies to quickly intervene to protect the lives and property of Nigerians in every part of the country.
The association commiserated with the government and people of Ondo State over the loss of lives and prayed for the quick recovery of those injured. It enjoined Nigerians in the affected area in Ondo State to go to the hospitals where the injured are being treated and donate blood to save lives.
The association also called for the release of those abducted.
By Abbas Jimoh, Muideen Olaniyi, Balarabe Alkassim, Ojoma Akor (Abuja), Bola Ojuola (Akure), Abiodun Alade, Abdullateef Aliyu Adelanwa Bamgboye & Christiana T. Alabi (Lagos)