Nigeria has experienced an upsurge in violence in recent months. Kidnappings and attacks have been reported across the vast country. No figures for the numbers killed or abducted in Sunday’s violence have been confirmed.
But a doctor at a local hospital, quoted by the Reuters news agency, said that “several worshippers were brought in dead”.
After visiting the church and hospital, state lawmaker Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole told the Associated Press news agency that children were among the dead.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has described dthe killings as one “only fiends from the nether region” could have done.
The armed men entered St Francis Catholic church in the town of Owo during a Sunday service. They fired into the congregation and then kidnapped a priest as well as some other church-goers, witnesses said.
In a series of tweets, Ondo state Governor Rotimi Akeredolu called it a “vile and satanic attack” on innocent people . He appealed for calm urging people not to take the law into their own hands.
“The assailants will be hunted down and they will pay for their crimes,” he added in a message sent after being briefed at the scene.
“No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people,” President Buhari said in a statement. He is in the final year of his two-term presidency and has been criticised for failing to get to grips with the country’s security problems.
No-one has said that they were behind this attack, but Nigeria is facing worsening violence by armed groups, but Ondo state has, until now, been relatively untouched.
Exactly a week ago the head of the Methodist Church in Nigeria was abducted along with two other clerics in the south-east of the country.
The Methodist prelate said he paid $240,000 (£190,000) to be freed with his companions.
Two weeks ago, two Catholic priests were kidnapped in Katsina, President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state in the north of the country. They have not been released.
In March, gunmen targeted the vital rail link between Abuja and the northern city of Kaduna killing at least nine people and kidnapping dozens of others, many of whom are still being held.
‘We locked ourselves in church for over 20 minutes’, Priest speaks in Ondo.
Rev Father Andrew Abayomi, one of the priests at St Francis Catholic Church, Owa-luwa Street, Owo, Ondo State, has narrated how the church was attacked.
In an interview with Newsmen , the cleric said suspected terrorists struck as the day’s service was about to end.
“We were about to round off service. I had even asked people to start leaving, that was how we started hearing gunshots from different angles.”
“We hid inside the church but some people had left when the attack happened. We locked ourselves in the church for 20 minutes. When we heard that they had left, we opened the church and rushed victims to the hospital.”
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu reacting to the incident, which happened in his hometown described the attack as “vile and satanic”, saying it was a calculated assault on the peace-loving people of Owo Kingdom who have enjoyed relative peace over the years.
“It is a black Sunday in Owo. Our hearts are heavy. Our peace and tranquility have been attacked by the enemies of the people. This is a personal loss, an attack on our dear state. I have spoken to the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo, Most Reverend Jude Arogundade, who is presently on his way to Owo. Similarly, I have had to cut short my party’s national assignment in Abuja and visit Owo immediately.”
“This is an unexpected development. I am shocked to say the least. Nevertheless, We shall commit every available resource to hunt down these assailants and make them pay. We shall never bow to the machinations of heartless elements in our resolves to rid our state of criminals.
“I commiserate with my people in Owo, particularly families of the those who lost their lives to this ugly and unfortunate attack. I extend my condolences to Olowo of Owo, Oba Gbadegesin Ogunoye as well as the Catholic Church.
“I urge our people to remain calm and vigilant. Do not take laws into your hands. I have spoken to the heads of the security agencies. I have equally been assured that security operatives would be deployed to monitor and restore normalcy to Owo kingdom.” Akeredolu said.