Owo church massacre: Matters arising — Opinion – Guardian Nigeria

[FILES] A police crime scene tape is seen in front of St. Francis Catholic Church where gunmen attacked worshippers during a Sunday mass service in Owo, Ondo, Nigeria, June 6, 2022. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja<br />
As victims of St Francis Catholic Church, Owo massacre got mass burial few days back, the worrisome state of increasing and widespread insecurity leaves no one in doubt that the country is under siege.
Also, the fact that no arrest has been made since that barbaric and gruesome event, two weeks ago, is equally worrisome as it tends to lend credence to theories of official complicity in the perpetration of insecurity in the country Or is the country’s security architecture so porous and unreliable that killers in Owo would simply evaporate after committing such inhuman act?
Who would not think that way given the ominous silence, the absence of evidence attesting to any single arrest and arraignment of terrorists, and the seeming deliberate inaction on the part of the Federal Government to address the influx of violent jihadists? As little or nothing is being done by the Federal Government to frontally address all this, watchers of Nigeria’s state of insecurity and government’s response to it have justifiably described this administration as the most insensitive in the history of the country.
Like other pockets of internal security crises, the Owo massacre is a metaphor of the parlous state of resource management in these times of terrorism. According to reports, the police around Owo precinct have no vehicle to reach the people and are not even equipped to fight the kind of criminals that invaded the church. This situation leads to the many questions often asked: Is it that resources for the police are supplied but rechanneled? Or that they were not provided at all?
In such a peaceful town where strange happenings show themselves, it is hard to believe that the police and other security agencies neither sensed strange movements nor got intelligence. However, it was Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, who quickly reacted by stating that the dastardly act was carried out by the notorious terrorist group Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP). Pray, what informs such a declaration? Is the minister’s utterance not unduly hasty? Was he trying to tell Nigerians something they do not know? Was he playing to a script to redirect the focus of Nigerians?
Without any credible response to these posers, the minister’s reaction will seem at best to be speculative. It is nevertheless surprising that no intelligence has been able to identify the Owo attackers. Who are these people? Are they unknown gunmen? Or confirmed terrorists? Where is their base? Who are their sponsors? Where are their routes? From where did they take off to launch the attack? Given that such attacks are obviously premeditated and well executed, and even intelligence information leaked to terrorists, why hasn’t the government made any advance in fighting it? Where are the intelligence and Intelligence agencies? Is it true that there are no intelligence reports that could provide leads to these questions? Are Nigerians to believe that no authority in the security system has a clue to these questions? Why the conclusion that the killers were ISWAP and not the notorious ‘unknown gunmen’?
If by now anyone still denies the deliberate exposure of the country to the free reins of terror and external occupation, such a person should examine the assault on our national security architecture in the last ten years. Indeed the problem of insecurity in the country has been deep-rooted. Whilst mismanaged localised security system has been an institutional menace since time immemorial, terrorism is relatively recent despite its intensity. Given the high risk of the police profession, poor remuneration and not enough policemen to manage internal security, lack of motivation for law enforcement officers and frequent incidents of sabotage, leaked information, infiltration, all leading to low morale; maintaining law and order has become very difficult.
Since the 2011 Christmas Eve bombing of a Catholic Church in Madalla, Abuja, terrorist actions have taken a more audacious religious dimension. And this administration seemed to have aided this cause by issuing directives that have in the past sustained the fear of an imminent jihad towards a Fulanisation and Islamisation of the country. On their part, the military, despite occasional small success stories in intelligence gathering and ammunition recovery, tend to be over-stressed because they are involved in too many operations.
Obviously, these are serious constraints amidst overwhelming insecurity. Yet, measures can be taken to provide a modicum of sanity and confidence-building. Firstly, the government must be exculpated of complicity. The president ought to allay the fears of Nigerians about a supposed Fulanisation and Islamisation agenda for the country. He should make clear and decisive statements about the catastrophic consequence of this agenda to a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Nigeria. So far, in the last few years, his statements, in the wake of sustained violence and horrendous massacres, have been feeble, vague and misleading. While he had been quick to respond to perceived enemies of state with intimidating military might, he has not been able to match terrorists, killer herdsmen and bandits with equal action. Explicit condemnation in clear, unequivocal terms must be used in reference to the activities of these war mongers.
Furthermore, to demonstrate commitment, there is need to step up soldiers’ training and counter-terrorism personnel in the security forces. If need be, expert foreign assistance should be sought and accepted. Although the military has called for trust between it and the Nigerian public in terms of intelligence gathering and sharing, Nigerians are skeptical because of the many breaches of trust by security operatives who sell out information to terrorists.
Notwithstanding, no one needs any convincing that the country is overdue for the establishment of state police and localised security management systems. All the trouble spots in the country began as escalated and mismanaged local crises. The time is ripe for the decentralisation of the Nigerian Police as well as the formal establishment of well-organised community security watches for pro-active security management of the land. It is for this reason that such security groups such as Amotekun and Ebube Agu should be upgraded and rejigged to become state or regional police outfits.
Besides, at the local level, communities must be security conscious. Churches and mosques must put measures in place to make things difficult for terrorists. Churches in particular because they are the main targets should take precautionary measures. They must develop awareness in checking incoming congregation by frisking them and closely monitoring parking lots. But what chances do unarmed worshippers have in a fight against terrorists armed with sophisticated assault weapons? To avoid a repeat of the Owo massacre, the government must do more than routine weekly patrol.
Given the defective internal security architecture, it has become clear that no amount of support for the police as presently constituted will make much difference. The often quoted words of the late Gen, Sani Abacha are instructive here: “If any insurgency lasts more than 24 hours, then the government has a hand in it.” Without clear, decisive and visible result-oriented demonstration of actions against terrorism, banditry and kidnapping, the Federal Government cannot, in all sincerity, secure lives and properties of the constituent parts of the country. Nigerians deserve a break; else the terrorist will be emboldened to attack again.

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