Dozens killed as gunmen open fire at Catholic church in Nigeria

Governor of Ondo state condemns attack as `Satanic’: `It is a black Sunday in Owo’

Dozens of worshippers were killed when gunmen launched an attack on a Catholic church in Ondo state in southwest Nigeria on Sunday.

Catholics had gathered at the St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in the town of Owo to mark Pentecost Sunday.

A doctor at the local hospital said more than 50 bodies were collected in the aftermath. Other witnesses gave journalists similar numbers, with local politicians saying many children were among the dead. Videos taken in the aftermath of the attack show bloodstains on the walls of the church and on the floor.

Bishop Jude Arogundade told journalists it was “unbelievable that somebody would come and the intention was to kill everybody in that church”. He said people who tried to escape were shot by a gunman outside.

Explosives were used to blow up the altar, he said. “This kind of desecration can only be done by the evil one.”

Local Nigerians publicised a blood donation drive online in the hours after the attack, with some offering to pay transport or provide lifts for others who could donate.

Arakunrin Akeredolu, the governor of Ondo State, called the attack “Satanic” and commiserated with the families.

“It is a black Sunday in Owo. Our hearts are heavy. Our peace and tranquillity have been attacked by the enemies of the people. This is a personal loss, an attack on our dear state.”

Mr Akeredolu said “every available resource” would be committed towards “hunt[ing] down these assailants and mak[ing] them pay”.

“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.”

He said all flags in the state would be flown at half-mast for seven days. “Those who unleashed this unprovoked terror attack on our people have tested our collective resolves. We will not be deterred in responding appropriately to this dastardly act.”

Owo is some 340km from Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, and 370km from Abuja, its official capital. It is hundreds more kilometres from Nigeria’s northeast, which has faced ongoing conflict for more than a decade, as Islamic insurgents fight to carve out a caliphate; and from the northwest, where gangs of bandits and criminal groups have been terrorising civilians, causing an escalating crisis over the past few years.

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari also condemned the attack. “No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people, and darkness will never overcome light. Nigeria will eventually win,” he added. Mr Buhari was later criticised online for going ahead with a State House dinner with officials from his All Progressives Congress (APC) party instead of cancelling it. Elections are scheduled for February next year. Nigeria’s State House did not reply to a request for comment.

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa