Security Issues in Nigeria Rise: Grim Church Attack in Owo Kills An Estimated Fifty People

Sunday, June 5, was a dark day for worshippers of the St. Francis Catholic Church in the Southern Nigerian city of Owo, where a brutal church shooting cost the lives of an estimated 50 people. The attack has not yet been officially claimed, though the Nigerian government supposedly suspects Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) to be responsible. However, some security experts think otherwise, Al Jazeera reports, as these kinds of attacks, for the most part, happen in the North, and ISWAP is usually quick to claim its acts.

During the morning service, gunmen on motors invaded the church, caused several explosions, and started shooting around them. Dozens of people were killed, and the church swiftly transformed into a grim bloodbath. Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojingho, stated that “what happened in Owo reveals the impurity enjoyed by gunmen on the rampage across Nigeria. This tragic event should offer a wake-up call for the authorities, who must now do everything they can to ensure the perpetrators of this appalling crime face justice. […] This brutal attack shows a complete disregard for the right to. Life. Under international human rights law, Nigeria has a duty to protect the right to life of its people – in all circumstances.”

Owo, and the south, are considered among Nigeria’s safest states, for it is relatively the most peaceful. There are rising tensions between farmers and herders, but the state has never seen violence of this caliber before. Other regions in the country are more troubled. The International Crisis Group mentions Boko Haram in the northeast, militancy in the Niger Delta, and separatist Biafra agitation in the southeast. The ISWAP has gained more dominance over recent years. So-called ‘bandit’ groups in the northwest, motor gangs, rob, raid, kidnap and commit other violent crimes for money and ransom. However, none of these groups have gotten close to Owo and its surroundings. It is not certain if the Owo church attackers had a religious motif, and for this reason, experts doubt the allegations against ISWAP.

Notwithstanding, Nigeria deals with national security issues. The state cannot ensure enough protection for its people, which is why attacks can escalate to such an extent. Nigerian journalist and expert on the banditry crisis, Kunle Adebajo, claims in an Africa Center for Strategic Studies interview that “the current security response is undoubtedly no match for the scale of the menace.” Many areas lack sufficient policy, military architecture, and police, and the government has downplayed the urgency of the issues too much. Not only does the security shortage fail to prevent attacks like the Owo Church massacre, but it also causes insufficient handling of the situation when attacks do occur. Apparently, the Owo church shooting “lasted about 15 minutes, during which time there was no immediate response from security forces”, Amnesty International states.

Nigerian authorities should better regulate its security forces to restore people’s trust in police and other security forces to ensure safety and prevent people from taking the law into their own hands. There should be a thorough investigation of the terrible church attack, but, Amnesty emphasizes, the perpetrators should be “prosecuted and judged in fair trains, without recourse to the death penalty.”