Scores of worshippers at St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, South West Nigeria, were on June 5 killed by gunmen who invaded the church shooting sporadically.
No fewer than 40 worshippers died in the attack carried out by suspected terrorists while over 60 were injured and are receiving treatment in the hospital.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
One account said the gunmen, who allegedly disguised as worshippers arrived at the church when it was about rounding off its service and bombed and rained bullets on the members of the church.
Those killed included family members, children and pregnant women. Their corpses were immediately deposited at the Catholic Hospital, Federal Medical Centre and some private hospitals in the ancient town.
“We were about to round off service. I had even asked people to start leaving when 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. When we heard that they had left, we opened the church and rushed victims to the hospital,” a priest of the church, Reverend Father Andrew Abayomi, told journalists.
Another account said the gunmen numbering four arrived at the church just before 11am in a Volkswagen Golf car.
Olayemi Adeyemi, the lawmaker representing Owo Constituency II in the Ondo State House of Assembly told journalists that the attackers were herdsmen of Fulani extraction.
He said, “The gunmen invaded the religious premises with explosives which they detonated before opening live rounds on members while church service was ongoing. The attack was a reprisal aimed at sending a message to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu who chased away violent Fulani pastoralists from the area.
“Locals around the church premises saw the attackers who were on the run after unleashing the terrific act on the church. They were herdsmen of Fulani extraction, a tribe accused of spear-heading insecurity across the country.”
The police confirmed the incident but could not give the exact number of casualties.
Funmi Odunlami, who speaks for the Ondo State Police Command, urged the people to be calm, adding that the security agencies in the state were doing everything to ensure there is peace in the area.
The state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, an indigene of the town, vowed that the attackers would be tracked down and punished.
In a statement by his media aide, Richard Olatunde, Akeredolu, who cut short his trip to Abuja because of the incident, 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.
“I have spoken to the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo, Most Reverend Jude Arogundade, who is currently on his way to Owo. Similarly, I have had to cut short my party’s national assignment in Abuja and visit Owo immediately.
“This is an unexpected development. I am shocked to say the least. Nevertheless, we shall commit every available resource to hunt down these assailants and make them pay. We shall never bow to the machinations of heartless elements in our resolve to rid our state of criminals.”
The governor added, “I commiserate with my people in Owo, particularly families of those who lost their lives to this ugly and unfortunate attack.
“I extend my condolences to Olowo of Owo, Oba Gbadegesin Ogunoye as well as the Catholic Church.
“I urge our people to remain calm and vigilant. Do not take laws into your hands. I have spoken to the heads of the security agencies. I have equally been assured that security operatives would be deployed to monitor and restore normalcy to Owo kingdom.”
In his reaction, President Muhammadu Buhari, said eternal sorrow awaited those behind the killing, both here on earth and in the hereafter.
In a statement by his media aide, the president expressed shock and sadness over the incident, adding that no matter what, the country would never give in to evil and wicked people.
“Only fiends from the nether region could have conceived and carried out such a dastardly act, 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 light. Nigeria will eventually win.”
Buhari also condoled with the families of the dead victim, the Catholic Church, and the government of Ondo State, just as he charged emergency agencies to swing into action, and bring succour to the wounded.
CAN demands Review security architecture — CAN
In its reaction, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) condemned the attack and asked President Buhari to “stop the recycling of terrorists in the name of de-radicalising programme.”
CAN President, Samuel Ayokunle, in a statement signed his media aide, Pastor Adebayo Oladeji, added, “We condemn the unprovoked attacks and killing of several innocent worshippers at St Francis Catholic Church, Owa-Iuwa Street, Owo, and called on the security agencies to apprehend the perpetrators of the dastardly criminality.
“This is sad, wrong, condemnable, outrageous, unacceptable and satanic. There is no explanation for this unprovoked attack and assault on a place of worship. This is raw persecution.
“We are once again reiterating our quest for a total overhauling of the security architecture and are asking President Muhammadu Buhari to stop the recycling of those criminals and terrorists in the name of de-radicalising programme. If the programme is not counter-productive, how come the criminalities are always on the increase and nowhere is safe again?
“This menace of insecurity has got out of hand and is embarrassingly sore. Criminals are operating with impunity all over the country and unfortunately, our government appears to be so busy with the 2023 general election that it has no time for the unending killings in the country.”
Head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State, Pope Francis, expressed sadness over the attack on the church in Owo.
Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State, has expressed sadness over the attack on St Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, southwestern Nigeria, which left many dead and others injured.
“I was deeply saddened to learn of the horrific attack at Saint Francis church in Owo in #Nigeria,” the cleric said via his Twitter handle on Monday.
He asked the world to pray for those affected by the attack and to pray for perpetrators.
“#PrayTogether for all those affected by this act of unspeakable violence and for the conversion of those blinded by hatred and violence,” he wrote.
According to the Vaticannews, in a message, signed by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and addressed to Bishop Jude Arogundade of Ondo, the Pope assured those affected by “this act of unspeakable violence” of his spiritual closeness.
He also prayed for the divine blessings of comfort and strength on the Bishop and faithful of the diocese as they “continue to live the Gospel message with fidelity and courage.”