Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Nigeria: Terrorism Strikes the South-West

Owo church massacre might herald something worse on horizon
by Elizabeth Kendal

terrorism strikes the South-West

Channels TV 5 June 2022

At around 11:30am on Pentecost Sunday 5 June, Fulani Muslim militants from the North attacked worshippers at St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, in the north of Ondo State, in Nigeria’s mostly Christian ethnic Yoruba South-West. 

They struck as the worship service was ending, detonating Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and shooting worshippers as they fled.

According to reports, some of the terrorists were already inside, disguised as worshippers, while others wore military camouflage and were armed with automatic rifles. The shooting continued for about 20 minutes, and though it ‘could be heard from the nearby Methodist Church ... police officers stationed close to the area failed to respond’ (CSW, 6 June).

The highly organised attack left 22 worshippers dead and 56 wounded requiring hospitalisation, many in a critical condition (revised toll as of 7 June)

Rushing home from a gathering of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja, Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu wept as he visited the massacre site and again as he visited the survivors in hospital.

A “devoted Christian” and Yoruba man, Governor Akeredolu (65) is the son of the late Reverend Jeremiah Olatusi Akeredolu, a convert from Yoruba traditional religion who rose to become the first Anglican Bishop of Akoko in Ondo State.

Ondo State Governor
Rotimi Akeredolu

Critically, Governor Akeredolu has been a leading advocate for restructuring, the need for state police, the anti-open grazing law (limiting the infiltration of Fulani herdsmen), and power rotation (i.e. the unwritten rule that the presidency should rotate between mostly Muslim North and mostly Christian South). Consequently, it might prove significant that the terrorists struck Owo, Governor Akeredolu’s hometown.

Indeed, many view the Owo church massacre as a declaration of war against the Yoruba in general and against Governor Akeredolu in particular.

Nigeria is in election mode

With Nigeria’s next general elections slated for 25 February (federal) and 11 March (state) 2023, Nigeria is in election mode.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held its indirect presidential primary on 28 May 2022 and nominated former Vice President Atiku Abubakar – its 2019 nominee [see RLPB 488 (6 Feb 2019)] – as its presidential candidate for 2023. Atiku is a Northern Muslim from Adamawa State, whose Islam leans towards the liberal/nominal; he is more interested in the reviving the economy and in revitalising the private sector than he is in advancing Islam.

Meanwhile, the ruling APC is yet to announce its candidate. Having been elected to the office of president twice, President Muhammadu Buhari is ineligible for re-election. What’s more, because President Buhari is a Fulani Muslim from the North, many in the party believe the APC should endorse a candidate from the South. Leading the drive for a southern candidate is the Chairman of the South-West Governors’ Forum, Ondo Governor Rotimi Akeredolu.

On 4 June (the day before the Owo church massacre), eleven northern APC governors declared their support for a southern presidential candidate and recommended to President Buhari that they limit the search to their southern counterparts. Governor Akeredolu tweeted of his ‘utmost joy’.

Then, on 6 June (the day after the massacre), at the meeting of the National Working Committee in Abuja, the APC National Chairman Sen. Abdullahi Adamu, announced Senate President, Ahmed Lawan – a Northern Muslim, from Yobe – as the APC’s consensus presidential candidate.   

Governor Akeredolu questioned whether the announcement was a joke, suggesting Lawan had simply “made public his preferred choice” ahead of APC’s presidential primaries to be held in Abuja from Monday 6 to Wednesday 8 June. The main southern contender is a Christian Yoruba man, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, a graduate of the London School of Economics.

The problem is this: in line with global trends, multitudes of Nigerian Muslims have radicalised, leaving more Muslims unwilling to vote for a non-Muslim on account of the Quranic command: “O believers! Do not take disbelievers as allies instead of the believers. Would you like to give Allah solid proof against yourselves?” (Sura 4:144). Consequently, it is increasingly the case that most Northern Muslims will not be willing – or able (due to threat) – to vote for a non-Muslim.

a mysterious silence

It is very interesting and indeed quite unusual that no-one has (as yet) claimed responsibility for the Owo terror attack.

Boko Haram (JAS), Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and militant Fulani herdsmen (terrorist proxies) have all been active in neighbouring Kogi State, a strategic central state and transport hub linking the political capital, Abuja (in the centre), to the commercial capital, Lagos (on the South-West coast). [See RLPB 618, Jihad Expands in Niger and Kogi, 6 Oct 2021.]

More recently, ISWAP has claimed responsibility for several terror attacks in Kogi. On 24 April, ISWAP claimed responsibility for an attack on a police station in Adavi LGA. ISWAP also claimed responsibility for the 11 May bombing of a beer parlour/bar in Kabba town which killed three and wounded 16; and another bar bombing on 29 May, also in Kabba, which left 12 people seriously injured. Sahara Reporters notes (31 May): “Kabba is the headquarters of the Kabba/Bunnu Local Government Area and the people speak a dialect of Yoruba called Owe.” 

ISWAP also claimed responsibility for the bombing on Thursday 2 June of an annual festival in Okene (38 km southeast of Kabba) which killed two and wounded 12.

Like Kabba, Okene is primarily populated by ethnic Yoruba. Both towns are just 100km north-east of Owo. Yet ISWAP, which is believed to have cells all through the south, has not claimed responsibility. 

Nigeria's South-West, showing Owo in Ondo State,
and Kabba and Okene in Kogi State.

Could it be that a coalition of jihadists/terrorists, ethnic Fulani expansionists, and corrupt Muslim officials at the highest levels of the military and the government might be working together – each maintaining deniability – to terrorise the Yoruba ahead of a campaign to retain and advance Northern-Fulani-Islamist control of Nigeria?

If so, then civil war is on the horizon!

a constitutional crisis

Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution was prepared by the military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar (a Hausa Muslim from the North) and decreed into being, just ahead of Nigeria’s return to democracy. Not only did the 1999 constitution abolish local police and centralise Nigeria’s police force, it also expressly bans the establishment of any other police force [see RLPB 596 (5 May 2021)].

The Owo terror attack has reignited calls for a total restructuring of Nigeria’s security apparatus.

In a powerful opinion piece (published 5 June) entitled, Nigeria Needs True Security Federalism, Anthony Chuka Konwea, Ph.D., P.E. explains:
“It is technically impossible to adequately secure a huge nation of 200 million people like Nigeria, from one single central location, modern communications notwithstanding.

“To secure Nigeria, you need field security commanders at the local level, knowledgeable of the peculiarities of the local terrain, and fully empowered to take proactive or preemptive security control measures, as they deem fit,without reference to the center or anywhere else besides the State Government.

“Imagine the chaos at the security command and control center in Abuja. It is daily inundated with situation reports (sit-reps) coming in from 36 State Commissioners of Police, each awaiting further instructions and directives on how best to respond to evolving security threats in their respective jurisdictions.

“Just picture the ensuing chaos and confusion.

“Even with a patriotic, well-meaning Central Command, there is bound to be information overload from so many incoming sitreps, each requiring separate threat analysis, and communication of tactical instructions to the respective field commanders.

“When a Fulani expansionist is the Commander-in-Chief as is the situation currently, and you factor in their obsession with evaluating whether each security threat enhances or detracts from their overall strategic objective of overrunning Nigeria, what you get is the present security chaos.”

See also:
Military Rule and Damage to the Spirit of the Nigerian Constitution
Peter Ekeh, Lagos Lecture, 1 December 2010

Presidential Control of the Nigeria Police: Constitutional Reforms for Organizational Performance Development and Political Neutrality
by Chineze Sophia Ibekwe, LL.B, LL.M, PhD (Labour Law), and Onyeka Nosike Aduma, LL.B, LL.M (Law).
Global Journal of Politics and Law Research
Vol.8, No.2, pp.65-79, March 2020


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

She is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology and has formerly served with the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission and Christian Faith and Freedom (Canberra).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com