Unknown gunmen on Sunday, 05 Jun, attacked the St Francis Catholic Church in the town of Owo, Ondo State, southwestern Nigeria, as members gathered to celebrate Pentecost. They killed an estimated 50 people and abducted an unknown number of congregants.
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 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.
One week ago, the head of the Methodist Church in Nigeria was abducted along with two other clerics in the south-east of the country. The Methodist prelate said he paid $240,000 (£190,000) to be freed with his companions.
Two weeks ago, two Catholic priests
were kidnapped in Katsina, President Muhammadu Buhari's home state in the north of the country. They have not been released.
President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack, calling it "heinous".
Rev Augustine Ikwu, a secretary of the Catholic Church in Ondo, said in a statement that the attack had “left the community devastated”. “We turn to God to console the families of those whose lives were lost,” he said.
The Vatican said Pope Francis was praying for the victims, who had been “painfully stricken in a moment of celebration”.
Open Doors’ spokesperson for the work in Sub Saharan Africa, Jo Newhouse* commented: “We condemn in the strongest terms possible the attack on Christians as they gathered in peace to worship God. We call on the Nigerian government to adequately discharge its legal obligation of duty to protect its citizens, both under international and domestic legal regimes. We also call upon the authorities to take a strong stance against all violence, including Fulani militant violence, investigate the perpetrators, hold them accountable to the justice system and break the of violence that is expanding to other areas of the country, as is clearly shown by this incident. The longer these acts go unpunished, the longer they will continue.”
*Name changed for security reasons
- Please pray for the families of the victims of the Owo church massacre. Pray that the Lord Jesus will comfort their hearts and help them in these difficult times.
- Pray for the Lord’s healing to all who suffered physical and emotional injuries during the attack.
- Pray for the safe release of the priest and congregants.
- Pray that the Lord Jesus will help the Church in Nigeria to continue to stand firm in the faith despite increasing targeted attacks.
- Pray for diligent action by authorities to identify perpetrators and bring them to book.
You can receive updates from the persecuted church, and how you can pray for and support them, by signing up for weekly emails.