*‘Govt’s claim diversionary’
Nigeria’s National Security Council (NSC) has fingered members of the dreaded fighters of Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) of being behind the deadly attack on the St Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, which led to the death of dozens of people.
Minister of Interior, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, disclosed this on Thursday while briefing State House reporters after a meeting of the NSC presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
At least 40 worshippers were killed while scores of others were injured during last Sunday’s attack on the church.
HERALD gathered that this was the first time an attack of this magnitude in the South West was directly linked to terrorists in the last 13 years of Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. Before now, activities of terrorist groups like Boko Haram and its splinters – ISWAP, Ansaru, Darus Salam, among others, were limited to North East, parts of North Central and North West.
Even though security operatives had in the last few years raised the alarm over the infiltration of terrorists into parts of the South West, this was the first time the terrorists succeeded in launching a large scale attack and yesterday’s revelation by the NSC confirming the development had prompted security experts to call for a new approach to end violent extremism.
Aregbesola said the government had been able to identify the perpetrators of the Owo attack, saying they were members of the ISWAP terrorist group. The minister, who briefed alongside the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Alkali Baba Usman, said security agencies had been directed to go after the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
Aregbesola, who said the imprint of ISWAP had been found on the scene of the attack, added that the group was out to pitch Nigerians against one another and make it appear as a ethno-religious war.
He said there was no ethnic agenda in the attack, urging Nigerians to unite and defeat the terrorists.
The minister, who said the NSC, which was concerned about violence, however, commended the military and other security agencies for their efforts to eliminate bandits and terrorists in various parts of the country.
He said: “The National Security Council has just risen from its meeting today, which reviewed, very critically, all aspects of the security situation in the country and came up with conclusions, commending the efforts of the military and other security agencies in mitigating the insurgency, particularly in the North East, where the fundamentalists there have been weakened, degraded and equally in the North West, where the bandits are equally weakened, and the North Central, where we are engaged with pockets of bandits.
“The council is quite concerned about the violent attack in Owo, Ondo State, and has been able to locate the perpetrators of that horrendous attack. From all indications, we are zeroing in on ISWAP, the Islamic State West Africa. It is not an ethnoreligious thing, the animals in ISWAP wanting attention, recognition, are suspected to have launched that attack. We have directed all the agencies concerned to go after them and bring them to justice.”
‘Govt’s claim diversionary’
A human right campaigner, Mr. Edmond Yunus, said the claim by the Federal Government that ISWAP was responsible for the Owo, Catholic Church attack was “diversionary, callous, wicked”, saying, “it is a deliberate move to divert attention away from the avowed mission of terrorist Fulani herders who are hell-bent to rundown the country. Mr Aregbesola claimed FG has located those responsible, yet they cannot touch them, get them arrested and prosecuted. This has further lend credence to our earlier stance that this government is shielding terrorists.
“It’s on record that FG through the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) in 2020 and also in 2021 announced the identification of some influential Nigerians who are terrorism sponsors, but till date, government has failed to bring them to justice. Meanwhile, the government of United Arab Emirates has jailed some of these untouchable terrorism sponsors since 2019.”
He maintained further that it was high time for the government to wake up from its slumber and work towards nipping in the bud the volatile security situation in the country, noting that the apparent inaction of the Federal Government and its security architectures is tantamount to state conspiracy to allow terrorist groups run down the country.