ABUJA – Nigeria held a state funeral Friday for nearly two dozen of the worshippers killed by gunmen at a church service earlier this month as church officials urged authorities to take swift action to avoid future tragedies.
Mourners paid their respects to 22 of the victims killed at the St. Francis Catholic Church in southwestern Ondo state on June 5. Family members already had held funerals for the other 18 victims.
The sight of their coffins, dotted with flowers and lined 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 evil and they have support,” said Ondo State Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu.
Survivors have said the gunmen sprayed the church-goers with bullets during a 30-minute-long attack. Five children were among the dead, witnesses said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the church killings and authorities have yet to announce any arrests in connection with the massacre.
Last week, the Nigerian security council said it suspected the attackers had links to the Islamic State West Africa Province, an offshoot of the Boko Haram extremist group which has waged a decade-long insurgency in Nigeria’s northeast.
Bishop Jude Arogundade of the Ondo Catholic Diocese accused Nigerian authorities of making “all these empty promises” to find the killers.
"This country, you don’t have shame anymore. You just talk, you don’t match your talk with words,” the bishop said, urging attendees at the funeral to “claim this country back from those destroying it.”
The church attack also has reignited calls for policing and security reforms in Nigeria where armed violence has killed thousands over the past year. The country is facing attacks by Islamic extremists, as well as bandits and gangs that kidnap people for ransom.
Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo of the Oyo Catholic Diocese said the attack is not isolated as similar violence is “happening all over” Africa's most populous nation.
“We call on President (Muhammadu) Buhari and our leaders in the federal and state governments to wake up, sit up, and secure lives and properties all over Nigeria,” he said during the homily.
"How many more must die? Does life really have any value anymore with you? Is the glaring weakness and helplessness of our security agencies ill or deliberate?" Badejo added.