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Nigeria: Dozens dead after gunmen attack church

June 5, 2022

According to local reports, the attackers entered a Catholic church in Ondo state and opened fire on worshippers.

Sunday mass in a Catholic church in Nigeria
FILE: Sunday mass in a Catholic church in NigeriaImage: Philippe Lissac/Godong/picture alliance

Nigeria: At least 50 dead in church attack

Gunmen have killed dozens of worshippers in a Catholic church in southwestern Nigeria, the state governor said on Sunday.

Anakunrin Akeredolu, the governor of the Ondo state, condemned the "vile and satanic" attack on the St. Francis Church, vowing to capture the assailants and achieve justice.

"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," Akeredolu tweeted.

Adelegbe Timileyin, representative of Ondo’s Owo area in the country’s lower legislative chamber, said the church’s presiding priest was abducted during the attack. The lawmaker also put the death toll at over 50 people.

President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack, calling it "heinous."

The Vatican issued a statement saying Pope Francis was praying for the victims who were "painfully stricken in a moment of celebration."

What happened during the attack?

The assailants stormed the church in the midst of the Sunday service, opening fire at the worshippers, local media reported. Some explosives were also used, but initial reports suggest the majority of injuries were due to gunshots. 

The victims reportedly included members of the congregation, as well as children.

The identities of the perpetrators, who fled the scene shortly after the attack, have yet to be confirmed. Local reports have pointed the finger at Fulani Herdsmen, suggesting members of the nomadic group carried out the attack to send a message to the governor.

Akeredolu’s recent policies have been seen as restrictive to the herdsmen’s activities in the state of Ondo.

Why the attack is significant

DW’s correspondent in Lagos Amaka Okoye said the attack signaled that violence was spreading to previously safe areas in Nigeria.

Although Nigeria has witnessed acts of violence in recent years, such incidents have mostly centred in the northwest of Africa’s most populous country. The southwest — and Ondo state in particular — is regarded as a place of relative peace and calm.

Gunmen kill worshippers during church service: DW’s Amaka Okoye reports from Lagos

This was touched upon by governor Akeredolu, whose tweet described the people of Owo as "peace-loving," stressing that they have "enjoyed relative peace over the years."

DW’s Okoye said the attack was an indication of how unsafe the entire country has become.

"It clearly points to the fact that no part of the country is safe. It’s quite worrying," she said.

Okoye added that attacks occurring in broad daylight were a cause for extra concern, in the run-up to the country’s general elections, due in February next year.

rmt/rt (Reuters, AP)