PRESS RELEASE – Owo Killings

Owo Mass Shootings and the Premium on A Nigerian Life

On June 5, 2022 the Nigerian mediascape was redirected from the frenzy triggered by the prebendalist statement in respect of a self-acclaimed installation of the current administration by the national leader of the ruling party, with the sad news of a mass shooting incident by yet to be identified gunmen at St Francis’ Catholic Church, Owo Ondo State. As at the time of this press release, less than 72hours after the incident, the media attention of the country has reverted to its focus on the election of the national leader as the flagbearer of the ruling party, setting the tone for Nigerians both in the country and the Diaspora to ruminate over their preferred candidacy for the 2023 presidential elections. Some have resorted to counting their losses, especially as candidates hitherto pre-elected by Nigerian Netizens failed to make it beyond the primaries; with several N100 million-naira bids lost within 48 hours. We have keenly observed how residents of OWA-Luwa in Owo town in Ondo State have been left to count their losses while the politicians barricaded several axes of the Eagle Square within the Federal Capital Territory supported by shameless assertions on the need to prioritize their protection because of the ‘security situation of the country’. The Owo shooting took place on the same day when members of the Adara Community in Southern Kaduna (itself a volatile location noted for mass killings) reported the loss of 32 lives in a helicopter-aided attack across five villages.

As has been customary, the number of fatalities has been disputed as of June 8, 2022 with the state government having announced 22 deaths; while the Catholic Diocese of Ondo maintained that not less than 38 persons died as a result of the attack. This is reminiscent of the change in narrative by state agents from an earlier claim that a recent bomb explosion in Kano was from a gas cylinder, owing to the fact that IEDs were sighted at the explosion site. It is little wonder that there has been palpable distrust by the Nigerian citizens regarding the intentionality of the current administration to tackle the challenge of endemic insecurity in the country. For one, the politics of labels to delineate herdsmen, bandits and unknown gunmen from terrorists reflects the attempt to undermine the gravity of criminality. More so, as this has been accompanied by adducing unfavorable sociopolitical climate as a viable reason for the commission of atrocity crimes in the country. Perhaps, the time is ripe to properly accentuate the major characteristics of an act of terror as an intentional expression of violence, which is carried out to instill fear on a specific community of individuals and groups as a deterrent measure against certain practices. Thus, the audience for the commission of such atrocities is intended beyond the locales of their expression, worse still is the case of mass atrocities where multiple casualties increase the intensity of horror and its spread.

In the case of the shootings at St Francis’ Catholic Church, the armed men were reportedly disguised as worshippers and opened fire at the congregation after dispersing them with IEDs on a symbolic day of the Pentecost when the Catholic faithful celebrate the Church’s birthday. Although no one has yet claimed responsibility for this criminality, it is difficult to see beyond a religious motivation for the attack. Precedents of such shootings have hitherto been recorded in the Northern part of the country, which still grapples with over a decade of terrorist attacks. The initial denials by both government and nongovernment actors against the spread of terrorists from the Northeast across to the Northcentral and Northwest have of late transmuted to state governors clamoring for help to rescue their states from the siege of terrorists. The recent claim by ISWAP that it was responsible for the explosion at a cultural celebration in Kogi Sate is an indication of the legitimacy of the governors’ agitations. While some analysts have questioned the country’s intelligence gathering architecture involving several security apparatuses including the military, top hierarchies of these agencies have been unequivocal in the defence of their competence, leaving one to wonder why all the claims of massive investments in this sector is yet to yield the desired results. The incessant nature of kidnappings for ransom, alongside the arbitrary and wanton killings of innocent Nigerians recorded on a daily basis, indicates that interventions within the nation’s security architecture must go beyond official condemnation and ordering of full-scale investigations into criminal acts. The government must apprehend perpetrators and hold them accountable for their crimes through appropriate punishments in enforcing deterrence, and ensuring the restoration and entrenchment of a national order.

As it stands, monetary donations by several political actors to the church, victims and their families could only assuage temporary grief in a tokenist manner. In the long-term, the early warning signals of unprovoked mass violence in peri-urban communities within the southwest, and other parts of the country, need to be taken more seriously. The lack of synergy in the intelligence-gathering operations of various security agencies, where interagency rivalry holds sway instead of collaboration, has been a major factor impeding the headlong tackling of security challenges in the country. The regional initiatives of institutionalizing community-based security outfits to support federal agencies, especially in terms of sourcing for intelligence based on their familiarity with immediate geographical terrains, are yet to yield the desired results. As a way forward, leaders of these different agencies must prioritize a well-defined national interest above individual egos. They must work together in devising and maintaining sustainable collaborative approaches to intelligence sharing,  specifically to guide a synergy of actions in securing the lives and property of Nigerians.

In the final analysis, Nigerians must realize that there is no automatic guarantee of freedom from the siege of terrorists as affirmed in the 18th Century assertion of John Philpot Curran that ‘the condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.’ As such, the citizens need to acquire basic literacy on securitization matters from perception of strange presence and behaviors through recognition of IEDs to safety procedures while in danger. They must be responsive as partners to security agencies in providing information on early warning signs for the commission of atrocity crimes, and ensure that they do not take the laws into their hands. While we commend the efforts of responders and blood-donors in assuaging the grief of the victims and their families, every citizen must work towards precluding incidents of mass atrocities by ensuring that the protection of the fundamental right to life is given the prime of place in the national scheme of things.

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