On Sunday, June 6, gunmen assaulted Saint Francis Catholic Church on Owa-luwa Street in Owo Local Government Area, Ondo State.
The attack on the church in Owo, came just a week after Bishop Samuel Kanu-Uche, the Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, was kidnapped in Abia State by gunmen later identified as Fulani youths by the priest.
The gunmen who attacked the Catholic church arrived at the church, which is less than 200 metres from the region’s monarch, Olowo of Owo’s palace, at 12 p.m. on Sunday, when the Sunday mass was wrapping up.
Worshippers, mostly children and women, were slain in the incident, according to The Punch Newspaper, by gunmen who were claimed to have launched an incendiary device before wildly shooting.
Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, the governor of Ondo state visited the incident after a political meeting in the nation’s capital, Abuja.
“I am deeply saddened by the unprovoked attack and killing of innocent people of Owo, worshiping at the St. Francis Catholic Church,” he said in a thread on twitter, stating plainly that “the vile & satanic attack is a calculated assault on the peace-loving people of Owo Kingdom who have enjoyed relative peace over the years.”
Nigeria has been fighting Islamist insurgencies in the northeast for over a decade, as well as armed gangs in the northwest who carry out ransom attacks and kidnappings. However, such an attack south of the country has not been earlier recorded, the sight of the scene leaves disturbing footages.
Some of the deceased worshippers were seen in a pool of blood in the gory 37-second footage uploaded online. Workers at the Federal Medical Centre and Saint Louis Hospital, both in Owo, said a total of 35 persons were brought in dead, according to The Punch Newspaper. However, Reuters placed the figure at 50 feared dead.
Arakunrin Akeredolu further denounced the attack as a “great massacre” that should never be repeated. The assailants’ identities and motivations were unknown at the time.
President Muhammadu Buhari called the incident “heinous,” while Pope Francis said he was praying for the victims who were painfully struck in a moment of festivity.
“It is so sad that while the Holy Mass was going on, unknown gunmen attacked St Francis Catholic Church…leaving many feared dead and many others injured and the Church violated,” said Catholic Church spokesman in Nigeria, Reverend Augustine Ikwu.
According to the Daily Post, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has also expressed its displeasure at the massacre of worshipers. The group expressed its condolences to the victims’ relatives, the Catholic Church, and the people of Ondo State.
The development was termed as “outrageous” by CAN in a statement released by Pastor Adebayo Oladeji, media assistant to CAN President Rev Dr Samson Ayokunle.
“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. These people are possessed, and demonic and are not working for the good of the country. May God descend heavily on them and fight them mindless agents of Satan from their roots in Jesus’ name,” CAN said.