THE attack on Sunday on St Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, erased any lingering doubt that terrorism has spread from the North to engulf the whole of Nigeria. In the dastardly assault during the church service, gunmen armed with explosives and automatic weapons opened fire on worshippers. When the dust cleared, more than 35 persons lay dead initially, scores of others were injured and the relative security of the South-West was shattered. The government at federal and state levels must muster the political will and an effective strategy to contain terrorism before the country descends into total anarchy.
For some analysts, it is already too late. To begin with, the terrorists are massive in number and have spread out all over the country under different guises. And, unlike the bumbling Federal Government and the visionless state governors, the terror groups have a purpose, a strategy and commitment to their murderous enterprise.
The attack and many others occurring daily across the country reflect the terrible damage the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has done to the collapsing union. His incompetence and poor leadership have conflated with those of state governors and federal and state legislators who have refused to press for an immediate amendment to the 1999 Constitution to facilitate state policing or put effective local security agencies in place pending that.
Nowhere is safe again. The attackers dealt a deadly blow at the heart of what Christianity holds most sacred: the church. Parishioners were about to close around midday when guns started booming from all directions. Employing the element of surprise, the attackers overwhelmed an unprepared congregation. Women and children were among the dead, with the figure rising as some victims rushed to health facilities succumbed to their injuries. A statement by the Catholic Laity Council of Nigeria said more than 50 persons had died.
The scene was horrific, blood was spattered everywhere. Survivors and rescuers were disoriented by the savagery of the attack. Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, who rushed home from Abuja where his party was meeting to prepare for the 2023 elections, was almost speechless. Fighting back tears, he rightly described the outrage as “vile and satanic.” The killers must be apprehended and brought to justice.
The spread of terrorism across the country has long been foretold. But as usual, the various governments, as well as the security agencies neither heeded the alerts nor took pre-emptive measures. Recent warnings came from a Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, and other notable figures alerting the authorities that terrorists were moving all over the country. The O’odua Peoples Congress, other groups, and individuals, through statements, online videos, and reports to the security agencies, have been warning for years that Islamic terrorists, Fulani herdsmen/terrorists, rated among the world’s most deadly terror groups, have infested forests and shanties in the South-West in their thousands.
The country appears to be in an irreversible plunge into state failure. The Federal Government has politicised insecurity. In the process, Buhari has lost control. Under him, Fulani herdsmen, joined by Fulani bandits from all over West and Central Africa, have become an army of occupation, numbering tens of thousands, occupying forests, border communities and even towns. They have unleashed terror on Nigerians. Encouraged by a seemingly sympathetic Presidency, a security system with an unbalanced leadership skewed overwhelmingly in their ethnic and sectarian direction, they operate everywhere with blood-curdling impunity.
They have laid waste to the North-West and the North-Central, kidnapping, burning, raping and looting. They are active in the South too. Though investigations are still on, Olayemi Adeyemi, a state legislator, emphatically said the attack was a reprisal for the eviction of Fulani herdsmen illegally occupying the forest reserves and for Akeredolu’s dogged funding of Amotekun. Some suspect Boko Haram/ISWAP as the culprits.
Ondo, like many other states, has suffered from the Fulani marauding. Herdsmen once kidnapped Olu Falae, a former Minister of Finance, in his Akure farm. He was brutalised and ransom paid before his release. He was not the only one, but after the gruesome highway interception and murder of Funke Olakunrin, a daughter of the Afenifere leader, Reuben Fasoranti, by herdsmen in July 2019, Akeredolu had been at the forefront of ridding the region of the murderous horde.
Much more needs to be done. Amotekun has not gained adequate traction throughout the South-West despite rising insecurity. After fighting off opposition from the centre to establish Amotekun, the governors have not done enough to equip, train and strengthen it as an effective security force.
This must change quickly to save the South-West from uncontrollable insecurity. In Ogun and Lagos states, the Amotekun imprint is scanty. Yet, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is vulnerable to the marauders, as its entire length is dotted with churches. Many other highways in the South-West are unsafe. Frequent attacks are reported in Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti and Osun.
South-West governors should stop playing politics with the lives of their people. Pandering to the ethnic sensibilities and the culture of entitlement of the northern elite who remain solidly pro-Fulani, they are refusing to take the necessary decisive action against the murderous invaders. They owe the citizens a duty to rid the region of criminals who invade farms and highways with their cattle, kidnap people, occupy forests. The people should loudly tell the governors and their political godfathers that their political ambitions are not worth the lives of any resident.
South-West states must rigidly and totally enforce the anti-open grazing laws. The South-West must not descend to the killing fields of the North. To succeed in this, Amotekun must be better funded, equipped, and armed. You cannot defend against an enemy armed with military-grade weapons using local single-bolt rifles. They should emphasise intelligence gathering, using an extensive network of informants, spotters, drones and technology. Amotekun and local vigilance units should develop rapid reaction capability to prevent or respond quickly to attacks.
The governors must ban or curtail the operations of commercial motorcyclists (okada riders). Many Northern states have banned them; the region should not become the receptacle of displaced terrorists. Okada riders banned from the six local government areas in Lagos have moved to Ogun; Governor Dapo Abiodun should take measures to evict them and protect the citizens.
Nigeria is collapsing under the weight of terrorism because its leaders will not hearken to warnings, act decisively on intelligence or take the security of lives and property, the first duty of any government, with seriousness. South-West governors must secure their people and territory. Federal and state legislators, fully backed by the governors, should invoke the ‘doctrine of necessity’ without further delay and amend the constitution to allow state policing.