Yesterday, Sunday 5 June, unknown gunmen attacked the St Francis Catholic Church in the town of Owo, Ondo State in southwestern Nigeria as members gathered to celebrate Pentecost. They killed an estimated 50 people and abducted the presiding priest and an unknown number of attendees.
Police spokesperson for Ondo state, Funmilayo Ibukun Odunlami told Reuters the gunmen shot at people outside and inside the church building, killing and injuring worshippers. According to eyewitnesses the attackers also detonated explosives. The attackers then abducted the presiding priest and some other church goers, according to a BBC report.
So far, there is no official death toll, but Adelegbe Timileyin, who represents the Owo area in Nigeria’s lower legislative chamber, told media at least 50 people had been killed, though others put the figure higher. State politician Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole said the dead included many children.
A doctor at a hospital who declined to be named said at least 50 bodies had been brought to two hospitals. Dozens of wounded sought medical attention, overwhelming hospital staff.
Ondo state Governor Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who visited the scene of the attack and some of the injured at the hospital, described Sunday’s incident as “a great massacre” that should not be allowed to happen again.
No one has so far claimed responsibility for the attack. While most sources said a motive is not clear, Adeyemi Olayemi, a lawmaker in Ondo, told the Guardian the attack is believed to be the work of ethnic Fulani terrorists, sometimes referred to as bandits, who have staged relentless attacks predominantly in northern Nigeria but also in other parts of the country.
Olayemi said the attack was likely to have been in retaliation for recent restrictions by the state government on grazing in Ondo, including in forests where the assailants have carried out attacks. The restrictions were adopted after an upsurge in kidnappings in the state.
“We have enjoyed improved security since herdsmen were driven away from our forests by this administration,” Olayemi said. “This is a reprisal attack to send a diabolical message to the governor.”
Open Doors is investigating these claims.
While attacks like these are generally very rare in the south of Nigeria, such targeted attacks have been meted out against Northern Nigerian Christians with near impunity.
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