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Interview – Nigeria: It is a difficult time for us, and we would call on the entire world to hold us in their prayers

In the wake of the Pentecost massacre, a Nigerian priest calls “on anybody who can, to assist us with investigations on the ground” to help uncover the truth.

The first information about the culprits responsible for the killing of dozens of people who were attending Mass on Pentecost Sunday in Owo, in the Diocese of Ondo in Nigeria are of the ISWAP (Islamic State in West Africa Province). In an exclusive interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Fr. Augustine Ikwu, director of Social Communications for the diocese, speaks about the state of the wounded and how the local Church is doing everything it can to avoid further violence.

Fr. Augustine Ikwu

Exactly how many people were killed or wounded in the attack which took place last Sunday?

We are still trying to account for those who are in the hospital. We have many names already, but some were taken to private hospitals, so we are trying to contact the families of every person who was in the church that day, so that we can account for everybody. Also, we are calling on anybody who took charge of the bodies of their family members to contact us. We are therefore unable to provide definitive numbers.

What is the condition of the wounded? Could the death toll still rise?

I was in the hospital yesterday, and I saw the ones who were there. They are relatively stable, except for a few who are critically injured. The doctors are doing a great job, and I hope they will survive, with God’s grace, our prayers, and the efforts of the medical personnel.

What do we know about the attackers?

We don’t have anything concrete yet. There has been so much speculation, but we don’t want to grasp at speculation that could turn out to be incorrect. Some of the speculation sounds quite logical and fits in with the general situation of our country at the moment, such as the insecurity, political unrest, and the conflicts between Fulani herdsmen and farmers. While we cannot say that this speculation is untrue, we cannot confirm it either. They are possibilities, but until we are able to get hold of the facts, we cannot say. Hopefully someone will be caught and confess as to the real motives behind the attack.

Is there a history of conflict in the state, of violence by Islamic militants, or by Fulani herdsmen?

This has generally been a peaceful state. Occasionally there are hiccups, but they are not serious situations. It is really a peaceful state, and it is hard to believe that local Muslims would do something like this. There has always been a clear division between northern and southern Muslims. The Muslims who live in our region are relatively peaceful, and they have been coming out publicly to condemn this atrocity, so we cannot simply attach this to them.

St. Francis Church where many people were killed in the Pentecost Sunday massacre, June 5th.

What are the main needs of the diocese at the moment?

It is a difficult time for us, and we would call on the entire world to hold us in their prayers, to pray for the deceased, the injured and their families in the diocese. We started a novena today (June 8), and we are calling on everybody to join us in this.

We also call on anybody who can, to assist us with investigations on the ground. But we would also call on the world to be conscious of the state of insecurity, not only in our state now, but in the entire country, because insecurity has literally taken over the country at this point. And if I could say anything to the current government, I would say that it is not dishonourable to step down when you are faced with a situation that you cannot handle. If the country has become ungovernable, it should be honourable to step down and leave room for somebody to step in, who might be able to handle it better. We must not allow greed to lead us.

Are you worried that the Christian community might try and seek revenge on alleged culprits for what has happened?

The bishop has continued to appeal to the public to be peaceful, law abiding and not take justice into their own hands. Nobody should go out to commit evil in return for evil. That is not the Christian way of life at all. Even in these situations, we answer evil with peace. This is easy to say, but difficult to practice, but in the long run we discover that this is better for society.

This has generally been a peaceful state. Occasionally there are hiccups, but they are not serious situations. It is really a peaceful state, and it is hard to believe that local Muslims would do something like this. There has always been a clear division between northern and southern Muslims. The Muslims who live in our region are relatively peaceful, and they have been coming out publicly to condemn this atrocity, so we cannot simply attach this to them.

We also call on anybody who can, to assist us with investigations on the ground. But we would also call on the world to be conscious of the state of insecurity, not only in our state now, but in the entire country, because insecurity has literally taken over the country at this point. And if I could say anything to the current government, I would say that it is not dishonourable to step down when you are faced with a situation that you cannot handle. If the country has become ungovernable, it should be honourable to step down and leave room for somebody to step in, who might be able to handle it better. We must not allow greed to lead us.

We have hope in God. We are like the three companions in the Old Testament who were thrown into the furnace. They said, “If our God cannot save us, then let us perish in the furnace,” and God did save them. So maybe this is also a challenge to God. People are calling upon him at this point because they really cannot control the situation. We hope that He will help, we believe He will, but we are afraid. People might want to take matters into their own hands because a lot of people just don’t care anymore, so we have made appeals to the public to avoid this, and not cause any more harm.

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