Church Attack in Southwest Nigeria and Judges Strike in Tunisia
Nigeria: Complex Attack Underscores Rising Religious Violence
A group of gunmen detonated explosives and stormed St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo town, Ondo State, on June 5 – the latest attack demonstrating surging religious violence across Nigeria. While the government is yet to release official casualty numbers, media reports indicate that at least 50 people were killed and dozens of others were injured in the attack. According to the preliminary investigation, some of the gunmen disguised themselves as congregants and opened fire inside the church, while others surrounded the building, obstructing escape routes for the victims. Police have recovered fragments of detonated explosives, pellets of expended AK-47 ammunition, and three undetonated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from the scene. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, although the Catholic Laity Council of Nigeria attributed the incident to “bandits,” a locally used phrase to describe various gangs and ethnic militias – originally formed out of land disputes between Hausa and Fulani communities – operating across Nigeria’s northwest. However, attacks perpetrated by such armed groups usually involve mass kidnappings – one of the main profit rackets for bandits. There is no indication that any of the victims have been abducted, which suggests a lower possibility of bandits’ involvement in the attack. Boko Haram – an Islamic militant group operating in Nigeria’s northeast – has carried out attacks targeting churches in the past, although the likelihood of their participation is relatively low as Ondo State is located approximately 500 miles (804 km) from Boko Haram’s stronghold. Nonetheless, other local criminal groups could have adopted Boko Haram’s tactics to target Catholic communities in the area. While religious violence has been rare in southwestern Nigeria, the church attack fits a larger pattern of rising communal violence levels across the country, as illustrated by a handful of recent kidnappings of several members of the Christian clergy and attacks targeting villages in Plateau State (April) and a train near Abuja (March) that killed more than 100 people in total. The attack also indicates potential spillover of long-standing communal conflicts to areas characterized by lower levels of communal violence, signaling a deterioration of an overall security environment in the country in the absence of government initiatives aimed at resolving local disputes.
Tunisia: Judges Strike After Mass Sackings
Tunisian judges launched a week-long strike on June 6 to protest President Kais Saied’s dismissal of 57 members of the judiciary over alleged corruption and nepotism, highlighting the deteriorating political climate in the country. As part of the strike, dozens of lawyers, judges and activists gathered for a demonstration in front of the Palace of Justice in Tunis on June 8. The protest proceeded peacefully and concluded without incident, with strike participants claiming that they would continue the work stoppage until the dismissed judges are reinstated. In response, President Saied ordered to reduce judge’s salaries in accordance with the continuation of the strike. Saied’s decision to sack the judges is not the first attempt by the president to destabilize the judicial system. In February, Saied dissolved the Supreme Judicial Court –
the main regulator of judicial freedom since the 2011 revolution – triggering another sit-in organized by the Association of Tunisian Judges. Since the President seized executive power and dismissed the country’s parliament in July 2021, his measures aimed at restricting judicial independence have raised concerns about democratic backsliding in the country. While Saied’s power grab – referred to as a “coup attempt” by opponents – was met with widespread public support at the time due to his vows to combat corruption and economic grievances, his recent actions have triggered discontent among political parties and labor unions. In response to rising animosity across Tunisia and pressure from its allies, Saied has scheduled a referendum on a new constitution for July 25, before holding parliamentary elections in December. The news of the planned referendum has sparked civil unrest, with one of the most recent protests materializing in Tunis on June 5. Security forces clashed with the protesters and used pepper spray to disperse the crowd, although no casualties or significant disruptions were reported. Considering widespread public discontent with Saied’s policies, further demonstrations and labor strikes are likely in the short-term, particularly ahead of the constitutional referendum.