by Franklyne Ogbunwezeh
Terrorists suspected by locals to be Fulani militiamen attacked a church in Ondo State, southwestern Nigeria, on 5 June, Pentecost Sunday, killing dozens of worshippers and injuring several others, local media report.
The attack took place at St Francis Catholic Church in Owo Local Government Area of Ondo State during a Pentecost Sunday worship service.
A Nigeria police force statement said preliminary investigations showed that some of the gunmen were disguised as congregants, while others took different positions around the church before firing shots.
“The gunmen, from preliminary investigations, invaded the church with arms and materials suspected to be explosives,” the statement reads.
A video of the aftermath of the attack obtained by CSI shows bodies strewn across the floor of the church. Some reports spoke of at least 50 dead.
So far, no group has taken responsibility for the massacre, although locals suspect Fulani militants. An Islamic group, Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), blamed Boko Haram, saying the attack showed the jihadist group was active in Nigeria’s southwest.
Christian Solidarity International (CSI) has repeatedly drawn attention to the persecution of Christians in Nigeria, which the international community tends to downplay, regarding the violence as arising from a dispute over land and resources between herders and farmers.
Last November, the United States Secretary of State went as far as to remove Nigeria from the US Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list of nations engaged in severe violations of religious freedom. CSI condemned the move due to the continuing high incidence of Christian persecution in Nigeria, and the inability or unwillingness of the Nigerian government to halt the violence.
Sunday's terror attack and incidents including the recent lynching of Christian student Deborah Yakubu by a Muslim mob who accused her of blasphemy, are
indications that the removal of Nigeria from the CPC list was ill advised, premature, and designed to serve US geostrategic and economic interests in Nigeria, while trampling the human rights of
Nigerian Christians and minorities underfoot.
Dr. Franklyne Ogbunwezeh is CSI's Senior Research Fellow for Africa.