UN to Nigeria: Bring Perpetrators of Owo Catholic Church Attack to Justice

•UK parliament debates massacre, decries rising insecurity in Nigeria 

•Ondo confirms 22 dead, 18 injured, 88 casualties 

•WHO, Ekiti Obas grieve, condole Akeredolu, victims’ families

Michael Olugbode, Kuni Tyessi in Abuja, Fidelis David in Akure and Victor Ogunje in Ado Ekiti

Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, has condemned Sunday’s terrorist attack on St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Owo, in Ondo State, where 22 persons were reported killed. Guterres, who reacted to the massacre yesterday in a statement by his spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, called on the Nigerian government to bring the culprits to justice.

The secretary-general’s comments came as the United Kingdom’s House of Commons debated the gruesome killing. And a team from the World Health Organisation (WHO), led by the Country Representative and Head of Mission, Nigeria, Dr. Walter Mulombo, visited Ondo State Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu yesterday in Akure to commiserate with him over the incident.

The Ekiti State Council of Traditional Rulers lamented the carnage, in a statement yesterday by its chairman, Oba Gabriel Ayodele Adejuwon. The Obas charged the security agencies to be more decisive in dealing with security issues.

A statement from the UN secretary-general quoted him as condemning attacks on places of worship as abhorrent, while urging the Nigerian authorities to spare no effort in bringing the perpetrators of the Owo attack to justice.

Guterres extended his condolences to the families of the victims, wished speedy recovery to the injured, and expressed his sympathies and solidarity with the government and people of Nigeria.

UK Parliament Debates Massacre, Decries Rising Insecurity in Nigeria

The UK Parliament considered the bloody attack in Owo a matter of urgent international importance. Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), Vicky Ford, said she was horrified by the attack.

Ford stated, “I publicly express the UK Government’s condemnation of this heinous act and stress the importance of those responsible being brought to justice in accordance with the law. The High Commission in Nigeria has also expressed our condolences to the governor of Ondo State and offered our support. I know that the House will join me in sending our condolences to the families and communities of those killed.”

The under-secretary decried rising insecurity in Nigeria and the devastating effect on affected communities.

She said, “I have raised this issue with the Nigerian authorities on several occasions, including in conversations with Nigeria’s vice president and foreign minister during my visit in February. During that visit, I also met regional governors, religious leaders and non-governmental organisations to discuss inter-communal violence and freedom of religion or belief.

“It is clear that religious identity can be a factor in incidents of violence in Nigeria and that Christian communities have been victims, but the root causes are often complex and frequently also relate to competition over resources, historical grievances and criminality, so the UK Government is committed to working with Nigeria to respond to insecurity.

“At our security and defence dialogue with Nigeria in February, we committed to work together to respond to the conflict. We are supporting local and national peace-building efforts in Nigeria, including through the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and National Peace Committee.

“We provide mentoring and capacity building to support Nigerian police force units, to improve their anti-kidnap capacity, and we support efforts to address the drivers and enablers of serious and organised crime in Nigeria. At our security and defence dialogue, we reiterated our shared understanding and commitment to protecting human rights for all.”

Ondo Confirms 22 Dead, 18 Injured, 88 casualties

Ondo State Governor, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, disclosed that 80 persons were affected by the attack. Akeredolu said 22 people lost their lives, while 56 survivors were on admission at the Federal Medical Centre, Owo; St Louis Hospital, Owo; and Owo General Hospital, as well as some private hospitals.

The governor gave the details yesterday during a statewide broadcast on the terrorist attack.

Akeredolu said the attack was an attempt to test the will of the people of the state and, indeed, the South-west. He added that the dastardly act had the possible consequence of invitation to national anarchy, saying, “Yorubaland and Owo, in particular, have never been conquered before; and it will never happen.”

The governor promised to commit every available resource to hunt down the assailants and make them pay dearly, stressing that the state would never bow to the machinations of heartless elements in its resolve to stamp out criminals.

Akeredolu stated, “The site, that is, St Francis Catholic Church, Owaluwa, Owo, presents a gory war-like scene. The Federal Medical Centre, Owo, the St. Louis Hospital, Owo, the General Hospital, Owo as well as some private hospitals in Owo were filled with the injured, most of who were in critical conditions.

“The most unfortunate part is the lives of innocent children cut down in their prime and some severely injured by the mindless attackers.

“At Owo, the anger was palpable. The tension was at an abrasive level, just as the urge for reprisals was high. Without doubt, too, the ripple impact of this heinous act as well as the understandably angry reaction across the state could not have been different.

“I urge our people to be calm but remain vigilant. Do not take the law into your own hands. Leave the rest for government to shoulder. I have spoken to the heads of the security agencies. I can assure you that security operatives have been deployed to monitor and restore normalcy to Owo kingdom.”

The Commissioner for Health in Ondo State, Dr. Banji Ajaka, had revealed yesterday that a total of 22 worshippers were confirmed dead. Ajaka, who spoke in an interview with journalists in Akure, also confirmed the official casualty figure in the attack on the church, which occurred during Mass.

The official confirmation came less than 24 hours after the Nigeria Police issued a statement, saying it recovered unexploded Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and pellets of expended AK-47 ammunition from the scene of the attack.

At the time of filing this report, the motive of the assailants remained unspecified, even though the police said they had launched an investigation into the attack.

WHO Commiserates with Akeredolu

A team from the World Health Organisation (WHO), led by the Country Representative and Head of Mission, Nigeria, Dr. Walter Mulombo, visited the Ondo State governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, yesterday at his office in Akure.

According to the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Richard Olatunde, the team was in the state to commiserate with the government and the people over the sad incident.

Olatunde quoted the governor as saying that contrary to rumours doing the rounds, no one was kidnapped during the incident, stressing, “The terrorists came to maim and kill.”

As part of measures being put in place to forestall future occurrence, Akeredolu urged public and religious centres to install Closed-circuit Television (CCTV) cameras at strategic places to enhance security. He called on the people to be more vigilant and report strange faces in their vicinities to the authorities.

The governor appreciated the WHO team for identifying with the state and the support given so far. He said he was surprised that such an act could be carried out even in God’s sanctuary.

Akeredolu stressed, “Where else is safe if that sanctuary is not safe. In war situation, even soldiers could run into te church for safety. These are mad people, I’m not too sure they are human beings. They have lost their own humanity and there is no way you can regard them as human beings. I think they are animals in human skin.

“Initially, it was rumoured that the parish priest was, probably, kidnapped, but when we got there, the parish priest showed up and said nobody was kidnapped. Nobody. They did not go for the Sunday collection and nothing was taken. Clearly, they were there to maim and kill.”

The governor solicited more support from WHO in areas, such as social support.

Earlier, the leader of the team, Dr. Walter Mulombo, commiserated with the governor on the sad occurrence. Mulombo also applauded Akeredolu for the leadership he had demonstrated, particularly his prompt response to the situation, despite being outside the state when the attack happened.

He described the attack on worshippers as unspeakable, saying WHO would offer relevant support.

Mulombo said, “I have been engaged in many response emergencies and I can count on my fingers the number of time I saw a hovernor like that in the field going round, making sure things are right. I’m very encouraged and impressed.

“The World Health Organisation is committed to support your state to respond to all hazard and emergencies, including following up of such unfortunate incident. I have come with my colleagues and also those working in the emergency departments, some specialists who can help in dealing with the situation, and our colleagues who will give social support.

“We also came with some emergency trauma kits and some other support materials. This is just a contribution and solidarity. We will remain available for any additional support as Ondo State might require to deal with this difficult situation.

“We are also trying to engage our other UN agencies to come together and see how we can support Ondo to recover from this unfortunate incident.”

Ekiti Obas Grieve, Condole with Akeredolu, Victims’ Families

Saddened by the Owo killing, the Ekiti State Council of Traditional Rulers, yesterday, charged the security chiefs to be more decisive in dealing with security issues. The traditional rulers said the killing was not only senseless, but also confirmed how bestial some Nigerians had become in nefarious activities and shedding of human blood.

Expressing their condolences to the governor of Ondo State, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, and the entire Obas and citizens of Ondo State, the council, in a statement yesterday by its chairman, Oba Gabriel Ayodele Adejuwon, regretted the unwarranted shedding of the blood of innocent worshippers.

Charging the country’s security agencies to be more proactive in efforts to curtail carnages around the country, Oba Adejuwon, who is also the Onisan of Isan Ekiti, stated that no country could witness investment when security of lives and property had been grossly compromised.

He charged Nigerians to be security conscious and work in partnership with stakeholders to rid the country of vampires and marauding criminals.

The traditional rulers said in the statement, “We are saddened by this murderous act. The church of God is a sanctuary and safe haven for worshipers, but it saddens minds and rendered people spell-bounded how such abode has suddenly become unsafe due to the activities of these criminals.

“We commiserate with the families of the victims, the Olowo of Owo, Ondo State government, and the entire Nigerians on the demise of these worshippers and citizens of our nation.

“We are charging the security outfits to be alive to their responsibilities and curtail the activities of these evil doers.

“The council is also tasking the security outfits to build the right networks, intelligence gathering, and work hard to arrest the perpetrators of this mindboggling and saddening event.”

Women Groups Call for Restructuring of Security Architecture, Others

A total of 500 women groups, under the aegis of Womanifesto, denounced the attack on St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo. The women called on President Muhammadu Buhari to restructure the security architecture of the country and amend the 1999 Constitution, which they described as problematic.

The group also called on the government to, “Publish the identities of all the victims of the Owo tragedy, including those that died as well as the injured, and to demonstrate accountability and carry out a speedy investigation that is conclusive with arrests, successful judicial prosecution and sentencing of the killers.”

Commiserating with the people of Ondo State, co-convener of the group, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, in a statement made available to THISDAY, said the failure of the government to properly investigate or take tangible actions to ensure justice or deter future occurrences had continued to exacerbate the security crisis.

The group said the cold-blooded massacre at the Catholic church was yet another evidence of the blatant disregard for human life and the incessant murder of defenceless citizens by criminal gangs who had been marauding unchecked across the country.

Womanifesto lamented that as a result of the lack of adequate prosecution of terrorists, thousands of innocent people are now widowed and children orphaned.

It quoted the Nigeria Security Tracker to have reported that over 3, 515 people had died as a result of violent attacks between January and June, 2022, with 1, 214 deaths in March, ranking higher than the 996 deaths recorded in January.

The statement said, “Womanifesto demands in the medium term, a comprehensive restructure of Nigeria’s security architecture through a national conversation on a new constitution to replace the problematic 1999 Constitution.

“The Owo massacre in which citizens in their place of worship were killed, again raises the question of governance failure, considering that our 1999 Constitution asserts security and welfare of citizens as a primary responsibility of the government.

“Womanifesto finds the current fixation of Nigeria’s public officials and other politicians with the 2023 elections in a country, which has many evident signs of being on the brink of collapse, an unconscionable, unkind, and cynical diversion of energy that should be focused on securing anxiety-numbed citizens.

“We are shocked that our political leaders are continuing to ignore and downplay the rising trend of daily killings of Nigerians in states across the country at a dangerous time like this and, instead, (they are) giving priority to their personal quest for power. This is utterly condemnable.”

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