June 17 was once again a day of lamentation, sadness, and helplessness, as thousands of Roman Catholics gathered in the town of Owo, Southwestern Nigeria for a funeral mass to celebrate the lives of people that had been killed five days earlier.
In his homily, the Bishop of Oyo Diocese, Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo brought tears to many when he pointed to 22 coffins and talked about a part of Nigeria that was dying because of the massacres going on across the country.
“In these coffins, a part of Nigeria lies dead, because lying down here with these deceased ones are the joys, the hopes and the aspirations, of their families, of their loved ones, of the Church of God, of their various communities, and indeed of Nigeria,” the cleric said.
Family members had already held funerals for the other 18 victims. At least forty people were killed when gunmen attacked the St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo town on June 5, 2022.
Several were wounded and the latest reports say the death toll has risen to 72. Following the massacre in the Church, the police recovered three unexploded improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and pellets of expended AK-47 ammunition from the scene of the attack.
Since then, the population in this part of Nigeria has been grappling with the realization that these kinds of massacres that routinely take place in the north, had finally moved south putting everyone in the country at risk.
Nigerians have reacted with shock and anger to this mass murder. The people were “brutally murdered, mindlessly murdered while on worship,’ the cleric said and noted that the Sun for which Ondo state is known, “did not penetrate the sordid darkness within the hearts of the murderers.”
For many Nigerians, it increasingly feels like the government under President Muhammadu Buhari has no respect for human life.
“This unfortunate attack has kept the ancient town of Owo in shock, devastated and paralyzed. Owo has been in near-total lockdown with markets and schools closed. Everybody is afraid, wondering what is next. At no time in the history of Owo town has there been so much uncertainty and insecurity, coupled with unemployment, poverty, and dismay in the land as there is now,” lamented Chief Akinboro Aruwajoye, the National Coordinator of Owo in One Association, the apex body of all associations and societies within the Owo kingdom.
Before he was voted as President of Nigeria in 2015, Buhari campaigned on a platform that promised to end insecurity. At the time, Nigeria’s issue was Boko Haram terrorists. Boko Haram has since been joined by pastoralists accused of kidnapping and killing their Christian neighbours for ransom, as well as other criminals that have made Nigeria very insecure.
With the government failing to protect Nigerians, some are now looking to try and defend themselves even if the details are still sketchy.
In his homily, Bishop Emmanuel seemed ready to look to God for vengeance, but at the same time called on the population to protect themselves.
“May that desecration of the sanctuary, the desecration of the Body of Christ and the crimes against humanity expressed in their laments and cries never go unpunished.”
Describing the killers as cowards, the Bishop said their dastardly acts won’t crush the resolve of the Christians.
“We are not diminished by this at all. The death of our brothers renews our commitment to stand up and defend ourselves,” he said.
“We are battered, but we are not crushed…Tragedy or sorrow, big or small has the capacity to batter and to crush us only if we succumb to them. I appeal to you to refuse to be crushed by the tragedy which we have before us because of your faith in Christ.”
The Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, went into tears, admitting that his administration had failed the people, and calling for a revision of the country’s security forces.
“We have failed to defend these people. Not because we have not tried, but because these forces on the other side are evil and they have support,” the Governor said,
“They will not triumph over us forever,” he said emphatically.
“When I see the sea of heads that are here; it speaks volumes. What has happened to us in Owo, in Ondo state is indescribable.
“A lot of words are used to qualify it: dastardly, horrendous. But I still believe there are words to use to describe it, but I am still short of those words,” he said.
The Bishop of Ondo Catholic Diocese, Dr. Jude Arogundade, quickly came to the Governor’s defence, noting that the administrator hadn’t failed.
“You are a strong soldier. Your determination to protect those who voted you into power is unquestionable. This was done by cowards. You have tried your best,” he said.
The cleric decided to cast the blame for the continuing violence in Nigeria on the federal government, and its leaders, calling them out for feigning ignorance about what ls going on, or for scorning “the dead, the dying and the suffering.”
The cleric even insinuated that such inaction was enabling what he described as “genocide” to be going on in Nigeria.
“If this is not genocide, I don’t know what genocide is,” the cleric said,
“I know they have promised us they will find the killers; all these are flimsy promises.
“They just talk but do not match talks with work. So, my brothers and sisters, you didn’t fail, your country failed you, and we know the leaders that failed us, and we will continue to hold them accountable. This will not go away,” he said
He went down memory lane to count some of the most gruesome attacks that have taken place in Nigeria over the last thirty years and cited a Nigerian intelligence agency’s Morgan as reporting that at least 900 people have been killed by terrorists in the first quarter of 2022 alone.
“We have a bloody list that has been growing over the past thirty years,” the Cleric said.
“…ritual killings, abductions, lynching, kidnappings, and robberies increase the bloody tally of innocent deaths in Nigeria day by day,” he concluded.
He urged the country’s leaders to listen to the cries of the people so as not to give the impression that “the lower order of lawlessness and crime” has already dominated the higher order of rule of law and governance.
He called on the killers to repent, because “the Church of Christ calls you to change; change your hearts, cast away your arms, and embrace peace.”
Taiwo Samson Adelu authored this story from Lagos, Nigeria, with contributions from Killian Ngala in Yaounde, Cameroon and editing by Dicta Asiimwe in Kampala, Uganda.