Nigeria: Funeral of church attack victims sparks anger and tears

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ABUJA, Nigeria – Nigeria on Friday held a state funeral for nearly two dozen worshipers killed by gunmen during a church service earlier this month, with church officials urging authorities to take action quickly to avoid future tragedies.

Mourners paid their respects to 22 of the victims killed at St. Francis Catholic Church in southwestern Ondo state on June 5. Family members had already arranged funerals for the other 18 victims.

The sight of their coffins, strewn with flowers and lined up in front of a large crowd, drew anger and tears from church members, locals, officials and many Nigerians who followed the service on social media.

“We have failed to defend these people – not because we are not trying, but because the forces on the other side are bad and they have support,” the governor said. Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu.

Survivors said the gunmen sprayed church worshipers with bullets during a 30-minute attack. Five children were among the dead, according to witnesses.

No one has claimed responsibility for the killings at the church, and authorities have yet to announce any arrests related to the massacre.

Nigeria’s Security Council last week said it suspected the attackers had links to Islamic State West Africa Province, an offshoot of the extremist group Boko Haram which has been waging an insurgency a decade in northeastern Nigeria.

Bishop Jude Arogundade of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo has accused Nigerian authorities of making “all these empty promises” to find the killers.

“This country, you are no longer ashamed. You just talk, you don’t match your speech with words,” the Bishop said, urging funeral attendees to “reclaim this country from those who are destroying it.”

The church attack has also revived calls for police and security reforms in Nigeria, where gun violence has killed thousands over the past year. The country faces attacks from Islamic extremists, as well as bandits and gangs who kidnap people for ransom.

Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo of the Catholic Diocese of Oyo said the attack is not isolated as similar violence is “happening everywhere” in Africa’s most populous nation.

“We call on President (Muhammadu) Buhari and our leaders in federal and state governments to wake up, sit down and secure lives and properties across Nigeria,” he said during the the homily.

“How many more have to die? Is life really worth more with you? Is the glaring weakness and impotence of our security agencies sick or deliberate? Badejo added.

Jerry B. Hatch