For surviving members of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Ondo State, Nigeria, what started out as any other normal Sunday has now become one of the darkest days of their lifetimes. Gunmen stormed the church in the Owo Local Government Area, killing over 50 members of the congregation and injuring several others, while the service was ongoing.
The alleged bandits invaded the church in a Volkswagen Gulf 4 around 11:15 AM Nigerian time. They fired and threw dynamites into the church while some of them stationed themselves at the entrance to prevent people from escaping.
One eyewitness said the church was full to the brim, with no less than 500 in attendance. Eyewitnesses, and doctors attending to the dozens of casualties at the scene reported that there were no less than 50 fatalities.
Children were said to be among the dead. Videos circulating on social media capturing the gory scene showed dead church members lying in pools of blood and bodies piled around the church.
The injured were reportedly moved to the Federal Medical Centre, Owo. However, a nurse disclosed that there were not enough medical professionals to attend to the casualties. Hence, some were moved to private hospitals. The corpses were also reportedly deposited at private hospitals.
On Twitter, several calls were made for blood donations at Federal Medical Centre and St. Louis Hospital, Oke Ogun.
The governor of Ondo State, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu dubbed the attack ‘satanic’ and vowed to find the assailants and bring them to justice.
The Pan Yoruba Socio-Political Group, Afenifere, has called the attack a direct attack on the Yoruba race. The group’s national organising secretary, Abagun Kole Omololu alleged that the attack was directed at Governor Akeredolu whose hometown is Owo.
‘It is directed at Gov Rotimi Akeredolu for his unflinching support for security in Yoruba land by championing the Amotekun security outfits, his stringent upholding of the open grazing law and for his ” big mouth” about Southern co-operation for equity and justice in Nigeria,’ said Omololu.
Omololu also urged citizens not to take the law into their hands by attacking innocent northerners. ‘Only the terrorists, who are mostly foreign Fulani, should be fished out and finished off by the security forces.’
Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari also condemned the attacks and promised justice to families of the deceased. “No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people and darkness will never overcome light,” he said.
President Buhari’s government has been fiercely criticised for the severe rise in insecurity across the country. From terrorist attacks in the north to banditry in the south that has yet to be curtailed. The Ondo massacre is the first attack of this scale to happen in the south under his tenure. However, several horrors have occurred in the North over the years.
Adeyemi Olayemi, a lawmaker in Ondo, claimed that attack was carried out by Fulani terrorists. These terrorists, who are often called bandits or herdsmen, have staged attacks in different parts of the country. Just like Omololu, Olayemi believes the massacre was a reprisal attack intended to send a message to the governor.
The terrorist groups emerged from a historic conflict based on land disputes in recent years. They have since carried out mass killings and kidnappings, leveraging on the poor security in rural areas across the country.