The lack of consensus among various arms of government on the identities of the gunmen who carried out the deadly attack at St Francis Church, Owo, Ondo State on June 5, 2022, leaves much to be desired. While the Federal Government blames the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) for the attack, which left over 50 persons dead and many more still undergoing treatment for gunshot wounds, the state government and the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) think otherwise.
Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, noted that the Federal Government was too hasty in arriving at the conclusion that ISWAP was responsible. So did the Chairman of the NGF, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State.
Although the Ondo governor and the NGF chairman did not disclose the identities of the gunmen whom they think are liable, they consider the killing to be of utmost savagery, which calls for a thorough investigation before the issuance of a formal statement into the attack described as the first of its kind in the southwestern part of the country since the operations of Boko Haram, bandits and ISWAP became legally classified as terrorism in November 26, 2021.
Indeed, the prevailing theory on the attack is that the gunmen attacked the church at Owo, which is Governor Akeredolu’s constituency, to send him a strong message in protest against his decision to ban herdsmen from Ondo forests.
This is unproven, but it is the kind of reductionism you get when arms of government fail to work together against a common enemy bent on destroying the country.
It would be recalled that the ban had provoked a public spat between the Federal Government and the Ondo State Government at the time. While the central government said the governor had no constitutional powers to restrict movement of any Nigerian citizen in his state, the governor insisted that the Land Use Act empowered him to protect the forests from being destroyed by bandits disguised as pastoralists. Beside the headlines, the ensuing conflict between both arms of government trended on social media for a long time as to cause much disaffection among different sections of the Nigerian population.
That quarrel between the state and the Federal Government, we suspect, is still ongoing and appears to have coloured reactions to the recent killings in Owo.
We call for a truce. The lives of innocent Nigerians are on the line and the common enemy is feeding fat on this disagreement and will continue to thrive as long as there is a disunited front against it.
In fact, a few days after the mass burial for the Owo victims, the gunmen seemed to have waxed stronger as they raided churches and kidnapped clerics in Oyo and Kaduna States and placed heavy ransom on their victims.
Nothing will embolden terrorists more than disagreements between government agencies whose major duty is to protect the life and property of the citizenry.
Moreover, security operatives may find it hard to work effectively in an atmosphere of disharmony between government at the state and center.
Confidence building and trust within affected communities for the purposes of intelligence gathering may be difficult, if not impossible to pursue.
Inter-ethnic mistrust will also continue to prosper under such a hostile climate as we have seen over the years in some states where official disagreements over the enactment of anti-open grazing law polarised state and the central governments.
Worse still, this trend creates an insecure climate for business as no investor will want to put his money in an uncertain and hostile atmosphere, particularly when governments present a disunited front on such important factors as security of life and property.
While we sympathise with the Ondo State Government and bereaved families of the victims of the Owo killings, we call on the state and Federal Government to harmonise their positions and use this opportunity to begin to provide the needed cooperation on the issue of insecurity that has ravaged the land and left the citizenry at the mercy of terrorists.
Since the protection of life and property is a key constitutional role of governments, Nigerians are tired of excuses often made on the inability or statutory incapacity of one arm of government to discharge this constitutional role.
In Anambra State, for example, Governor Chukwuma Soludo has worked quietly with all arms of security personnel to expose the so called unknown gunmen as criminals posing as members of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and using the stay-at home order of the group to cause mayhem within and beyond the state. We endorse his move and urge his counterparts and the central government to emulate his shining example.