In the morning of June 5, 2022, just as worshippers who had again encountered their God were leaving St. Francis Catholic Church Owo in Ondo State, terror struck to send them to their early graves and spin the relatively terror-free Southwest of Nigeria cascading into the maelstrom of terror that has been roiling other regions of Nigeria for months.
Just as in the unpalatable experience of many other Nigerians at different times, the terror which travelled to Owo on that fateful Sunday morning to send over fifty worships on a journey to the great beyond came in the form of gunmen who shot and shot until many fell in the latest round of attacks sweeping the Giant of Africa with alarming regularity.
As the news broke, horror built around the country. Nigeria`s Southwest, until then relatively free of terrorist attacks, has been shaken to its core, not just by the audacity of the attackers or the number of the dead but by what the attack means and could yet mean.
No group is yet to claim responsibility, but Nigerians are convinced that it is the usual lineup of terrorists, many of them Fulani, who have continued to lay waste to innocent lives and livelihoods in Nigeria for more than a decade.
With the terror that descended on Owo on the unforgettable morning of that unforgettable day, the pattern only grew bolder and clearer – of the damage terrorism is doing to Nigeria,and most ominously, of the damage terrorism could yet do to Nigeria.
If the attack which was funneled down the Southwest region through a tunnel supposedly running all the way from other countries where the law has since taken flight was at the hometown of Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, the Ondo State Governor, on the day Nigeria`s ruling party was converging on Abuja for the beginning of its national convention, it was to send a message, one scrawled in blood that terror came unhindered and would return. The messages from the scribes who dip their quilt in innocent blood did not start today.
In 2009, aggrieved by the extrajudicial murder of their then leader, Boko Haram fast-tracked its plan to begin a full-scale assault on Nigeria. Since then, women and children who have made the most entries in the chronicle of calamities opened for Nigeria have borne the most painful witness to what terror can do.
Lives have been ended in the most painful manner possible; livelihoods have been obliterated; buildings have been reduced to dust and many have been abducted and robed with the rags of slavery. Somehow, a besieged country has kept going and will keep going even with the school of diurnal owls that descended on Owo on the morning of June 5, bearing on their wings auguries as acrid as the artic wind.
As is expected, out of Abuja, from the lips of some of those whose polished shoes continue to dance on the graves of Nigerians have come perfunctory messages of condolence and empty fighting words promising the terrorists justice. But as the everyday Nigerian in Akwanga would ask: Na today?
Nigeria is under attack. The chilling frequency of the attacks neccesarily pose the question to just which coven Nigeria`s political witches have pledged the soul of the Giant of Africa? How long until the roof finally caves in?
Nigerians stay at home and death knocks on their doors. Nigerians go to their farms to harvest their maize and millet and instead, it is their headless corpses that are forced to harvest death. When Nigerians travel, they quickly become passengers in a procession of captivity. When children go to school to pledge to Nigeria their country, they are soon marched away to be used as pawns in the ransom-seeking boardgame of those for whom banditry is the most lucrative business ever. Yet, a country holds still, somehow obeying the increasingly strained calls of ‘one Nigeria’.
It is no longer a question of whether or not anyone is doing what they should as opposed to what must now be done to save Nigeria that is if the physicians are not a moment too late.
It also appears there is no longer any one in Nigeria who is innocent of the crimes committed against a country that once promised so much. Even infants, just freed from umbilical cords seem marked for death for at the tip of takobas wielded by terrorists, even unblemished tongues must now confess to some treachery.
In the wake of the tragedy, there were reports that the attackers came from outside Nigeria. If it is true, then the situation is even more serious than first thought. If savagely crude criminals, who have reduced once promising African states to husks of discontent and disintegration, can so freely move traverse the length and breadth of the Giant of Africa expanding their empires of death, then there is truly a reason to fear.
It also appears that there is no longer any need to call on security agencies within Nigeria when danger looms. Are not many Nigerians convinced that within the ranks of Nigeria`s security agencies are those who march in lockstep with some of the killers ripping the country apart? In their moment of need, many Nigerians have found themselves alone and unarmed in the face of ruthless criminals.
If the alarm raised many years ago that Nigeria was catastrophically unprepared to confront serious security challenges by non-state actors was dismissed as a paen to paranoia, the full- scale assault of terrorism on the country has clearly shown that the joke was always on those who were too slow to smell the coffee.
If criminals could so effortlessly move into a town in Nigeria`s Southwest, far removed from the warzones of the Northeast, Northwest and Southeast, and reduce more than fifty people to a mess of bones and blood so early on a Sunday morning, there is no telling where next and who next.
The most frightening thing is that the only thing the authorities here ever do in response to these attacks is to do nothing beyond words bled of any meaning by endless repetition.
Nigerians are not trained to defend themselves. But there is always room for learning a trick or two. There will be no concerns about proper motivation because self- defence may now prove the difference between brutal deaths and surviving to the next day.
Gradually but tragically, it appears that the sounds heard from Owo, from Birnin-Gwari, from Maradun, from Isulo and other places are rhythms in the death rattle of the Giant of Africa.
Its would-be undertakers and morticians are spread across every capital city in Nigeria. At the invitation of their collaborators here. Somehow, they hear each other and have no interest whatsoever in the health of the country. What they want is to sow chaos.
They are Nigeria`s undertakers, morticians and in their heinous hypocrisy its chief mourners too. They form the odious congress of owls that hawk death and other auguries that foretell the demise of a once prosperous country.