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Real Owo Culprits Still Sought

Pieces of clothes, shoes and other items litter the floor at St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Nigeria, days after a bloody shooting, June 10, 2022.

Security analysts say Abuja's suspicion that insurgent group Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) is responsible for the Sunday, June 5 Owo church attack may not turn out to be correct. They point to a number of factors contributing to their skepticism.

Nigeria’s Interior Minister Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola announced on June 9 that the Islamic terror group ISWAP is suspected of mounting the June 5 Catholic church massacre that killed at least 40 people.

David Otto Endeley, at the Center for African Security and Strategic Studies in Geneva said ''it's very easy to blame ISWAP because it then prevents further investigations into the assailants. Once there's a terrorist attack that is claimed by the Islamic State or Boko Haram, the investigation stops because this then goes beyond law enforcement.''

Since the attack, no group has claimed responsibility for the massacre and investigations have been launched to try to nab the perpetrators.

''If (ISWAP or Boko Haram) were behind (the massacre), there would have been an acknowledgment of responsibility'', he said.

Speaking to the VOA from Abuja, Endeley said the attack is indicative of a ''crumbling security system'', adding that the state needs to return to the ''drawing board to try and address these failures as soon as possible''.

''With Nigeria's history of fighting insurgencies, one would have thought that the government would be much more prepared in terms of its response to such incidence'', he noted.

Endeley continued, saying "It's very doubtful at this point, pending investigation, to conclude that ISWAP is categorically behind the attack."

The analyst said ''there's a peculiarity in this particular incident - the acceptability of Fulani herdsmen residing in Ondo State [in southwest Nigeria]. Talking to the people on the ground, there's a feeling that these perpetrators are linked to herdsmen that are yet to be identified.''

Endeley added that ''increasingly, so-called criminal groups (in Nigeria) are mirroring the tactics used by terrorists like ISWAP and Boko Haram to appear as though they're part of terrorist groups. This is because of the gap created - the lack of intelligence gathering by security officers.''

''These (criminal groups) use kidnappings, or assault attacks so the government can believe that terrorist groups are behind the attacks'', he said.

Ernest Nnabuihe at Caleb University in Lagos told VOA that the reactionary approach by state officials could have led to a hike in such attacks in the southwest region.

''The terror network also knows there is no effective response either from the government or the overstretched security formations, hence the audacity and frequency of these attacks.''

University of Pretoria analyst Martin Ihembe disagrees with the government's suspicion of ISWAP being behind the Sunday massacre. He told VOA that the footprints of the ''dastardly acts'' can be traced to Fulani herders, who are known to commit such crimes in the southwest.

''There have been fervent calls for the government to categorize them (Fulani herders) as terrorist organizations given the way they operate'', he said. For him, the government is being ''economical with the truth on perpetrators of the crime.''

''(State) Governors are advocating for state policing because the federal police are failing to live up to their mandate," Ihembe said, adding "The government and states have failed because of the politicization of the fight against counterterrorism in Nigeria. It has become an economy that people benefit from - from the military to police.''

Nnabuihe said ''thankfully, there are unconfirmed reports that suspects have been arrested. If true, this will be the first time the security agencies will attain such feat, in terms of arrest and in a short while.''

VOA could not independently verify any arrest connected to the massacre.