Boko Haram’s All-Out War

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Buses damaged by the blast

Boko Haram’s thirst for blood continues to confound the nation and the international community as the sect again strikes in Abuja on Monday, April 14, killing about 100 people, leaving hundreds of others injured

|  By Olu Ojewale and Vincent Nzemeke  |  Apr. 28, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

IT STARTED like a normal Monday. As light gradually replaced the darkness of the dawn, bus stops were getting filled with early risers in pursuit of their daily bread. For every taxi or bus that came along, desperate passengers eager to commute to work pushed and shoved themselves in order to get a seat.

At the popular Nyanya Motor Park, the queue of commuters was getting longer. Civil servants, business owners, artisans and hundreds of ordinary people residing in the area were obtaining tickets and boarding the Abuja urban mass transit buses. None of them had any inkling  that it might be their last day on earth.

At about 6:55am when four of the buses were getting ready to leave the park, the unexpected happened. A loud bang from a Volkswagen car parked close to the buses set off a huge commotion that sent everyone scampering for safety. A bomb had exploded from it. The red urban mass transit buses and other vehicles around it were up in flames with passengers trapped inside. A thick black smoke enveloped the vicinity as tears, cries and blood flowed freely.

Jonathan and Mark at the scene
Jonathan and Mark at the scene

When the dust settled, more than 70 people laid lifeless inside and around the buses. Several others were bleeding profusely as a result of injuries sustained while they were trying to run for their lives.

About 30 vehicles including 10 of Abuja City buses, four of which were fully loaded with passengers, were burnt. Some of the commercial buses and cars parked around the vicinity were also burnt beyond recognition. The ones that were not torched by the inferno had their windshields smashed as a result of the impact of the blast.

It took about 15 long minutes after the explosion before emergency workers arrived. At that time, several more people had passed away as the locals battled hard to contain the inferno from spreading to other vehicles that had not been torched.

Many of the victims who survived with serious injuries were moved out of the park in wheel barrows by ‘Good Samaritans,’ while some people carried bleeding victims on their backs before depositing them in vehicles that took them to Nyanya and Asokoro general hospitals for treatment.

The bomb laden Golf car was in tatters. It threw objects around it in different directions and created a wide crater. Bags, phones, shoes and other personal effects littered the ground which was gradually turning red with pools of blood. Human parts littered the ground with many of the victims crying for urgent assistance.

Moments after the blast
Moments after the blast

Officers of the national emergency management agency, NEMA, police officers, officials of the Nigerian security and civil defence corps, NSCDC, and others who had arrived at the scene to help had to cover their noses in order to save themselves from inhaling the stench of burning skins and other foul odours that hung thickly in the air. It was horrible. In a twinkle of any eye, ambulances and pick-up vans were filled to the brim with dead bodies, many of which were burnt beyond recognition. Some angry youths were seen yelling at the drivers and other emergency officials who appeared slow in moving the dead bodies and survivors out of the scene.

By that point, it dawned on everyone that the dreaded Boko Haram sect, an Islamic fundamentalists group, was responsible for the attack. After almost two years of relative peace in the nation’s capital city, Abuja was once again under siege with the Nyanya explosion.

Giving account of the incident, Monday Ishaku, a fleet manager with the Abuja urban mass transit company, owners of the luxury buses that were destroyed in the explosion, told Realnews that he was lucky to have escaped. According to him, he had checked all the buses to ensure that the seats were all occupied before the explosion. “I cleared all the buses to move. But there was a golf car parked blocking the road and we were looking for the owner  to come and move it. We approached the man sitting inside and he said he was a passenger waiting for the driver who had gone to look for change.

About five minutes later, a guy returned to the vehicle and we had a loud explosion. The two of them were apparently suicide bombers and they died in the explosion,” he said. Ishaku added that some charms were recovered from the body of one of the suicide bombers while the other one could not be identified from the pile of dead bodies at the scene.

Frank Mba and other security officials
Frank Mba and other security officials

Esther Kwale, another eye witness, said she had left home early to board a vehicle to Minna at the Nyanya Park when the incident occurred. She said she had barely crossed the road separating the urban mass terminal from the Nyanya Motor Park when, “all of a sudden, I heard a loud deafening sound from the bus park and fire was everywhere. I have never seen such a thing in my life before. I was scared stiff. I was near death. You can’t stand the sight of human body parts flying everywhere,” Kwale said.

Ishaku and Kwale may have been eye witnesses but it was Kennedy Emmanuel, a popular beggar at the park who really had a close shave with death. For a man who lost one of his legs in a motor accident and now makes use of crutches to beg for alms, his survival was nothing short of a miracle. Emmanuel was on one of the buses when the blast occurred. It was the impact of the explosion that threw him out of the vehicle through the window but luckily for him, he survived without a scratch. His right crutch which was lost in the blast was recovered by one of the NEMA officials who were combing the scene for some missing items.

“I have never seen such a gory sight but I thank God Almighty for saving me. I would have died like others because I was actually in the bus begging for alms as I always do. After the loud bang, I opened my eyes and what I was seeing everywhere was blood, burnt dead bodies and pieces of human flesh, it was very bad,” Emmanuel said.

About an hour after the blast, many senior security officials arrived at the scene. Mohammed Abubakar, inspector general of police, was the first to arrive there. He was accompanied by Frank Mba, the police spokesman. Although Abubakar refused to address the press, he looked mournful and very sober as he inspected the scene of the explosion. The crater dug by the blast was cordoned by police officers who searched around for any evidence that could help them in  investigations into the explosion.

Dead person immediately after the blast
Dead person immediately after the blast

Mba later addressed journalists, saying though the police could not ascertain the number of casualties at the moment, it was important for citizens to be security conscious and report any suspicious movement to the nearest police station.  Later in a police bulletin, Mba said 71 persons were killed while 124 had various degrees of injury.  He added that the police chief had placed its officers on red alert and also ordered them to intensify surveillance on all vulnerable targets within Abuja. “The Police, supported by other law enforcement agencies, have commenced a full-scale investigation into the incident with the deployment of the Anti-Bomb Squad and other detectives to the scene with a view to solving the crime,” the statement also said.

Later in the day, President Goodluck Jonathan visited the scene of the blast in the company of David Mark, president of the Senate, Alex Badeh, chief of defence staff and other top military officials. Speaking thereafter, Jonathan urged Nigerians to be vigilant and to report unusual movements around them to security agents, saying there was  need to create more awareness at this time as the country continued in its fight against terrorism.

While commiserating with those who lost their loved ones in the blast, the president also charged the media to take up the challenge of creating public awareness  on security matters, saying, countries that are experiencing terrorism have developed a high level of awareness among its populace, which had helped to contain the incidences and fatality of its occurrence. “We want to use this unique opportunity to plead with the media and our great men and women to come up with enlightenment programme for our people,” Jonathan said, adding: “Those countries that face terror, they have developed great awareness. If there are unusual movements  of vehicles and bags, they call on security agents and based on this, a lot of incidences are contained. So, we believe that if people will become observant and all of us become security conscious with the movements  of people, we will be able to reduce some of these incidences.”

Abubakar
Abubakar

Jonathan also visited the Asokoro general hospital where many of those injured in the blast were receiving treatment. At the hospitals, many of the survivors had lost so much blood that their officials were requesting for blood donation from other Nigerians in order to keep them alive.

In a show of solidarity, Andrew Pocock, British High Commissioner to Nigeria, who led other officials of the commission, were some of the first set of people to arrive at the national blood transfusion centre in Abuja to donate blood for the treatment of the victims. Some well meaning Nigerians also donated blood at the Nyanya general hospital and other places where the victims were being treated. The development also forced Sambo Dasuki, the national security adviser into an emergency meeting with the country’s top security officials on Monday night.

As those affected by the bomb blast continue to count their losses, the country’s main political parties appear to be capitalising on it to throw brickbats at each other. The ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has accused the leading main opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, of inciting the provocation that caused the attack because of its desperation for power. In a statement signed by Olisa Metuh, its national publicity secretary, the PDP condemned the attack describing it as barbaric, monstrous and extremely wicked.

The party added that the blast was traceable to utterances and comments of some desperate persons who seek to undermine and discredit the present administration and make the nation ungovernable for President Jonathan by instituting a reign of terror against the people. “We stand by our earlier statements that these attacks on our people are politically motivated by unpatriotic persons, especially those in the All Progressives Congress, APC, who have been making utterances and comments, promoting violence and blood-letting as a means of achieving political control.

Damaged cars at the scene of the blast
Damaged cars at the scene of the blast

“Nigerians are also aware of utterances by certain APC governors which have been aimed at undermining our security forces and emboldening insurgents against the people. Those who have been promoting violence through their utterances can now see the monster they have created. They can now see the end product of their comments; a country flowing daily with the blood of the innocent,” the party said further.

But the APC was unusually mild in its response. The party described the blast as atrocious and urged the PDP-led federal government to urgently convene a national stakeholders’ security summit to help find a lasting solution to the spate of mindless killings in the country. Lai Mohammed, interim national publicity secretary, said the APC was saddened by the savagery of the attack and condoling with the families of those killed and praying for a quick recovery for the injured. “It is time for a new thinking and a new idea to stop this insurgency before it consumes all of us. The attack, right on the outskirts of Abuja, which has been spared this kind of spectacular strike since 2011, means those behind it are getting bolder and bolder, and it’s time to stop them,” Mohammed said in a statement.

Many Nigerians who have been speaking about the incident would also want the government to engage a more proactive approach in curbing the threat posed by the Boko Haram insurgence which has claimed thousands of lives in the country. Diezani Alison-Madueke, minister of petroleum resources, who sent a delegation to the National Hospital and Asokoro District Hospital to donate several consumable medical equipment, condemned the nefarious activities of the terrorists.  The minister who was represented buy Dan Efobo, group executive director, corporate services, described the terrorists attacks on hapless Nigerians as barbaric and called on well meaning Nigerians to join hands with the federal government to stop the menace. She also prayed God to grant the bereaved the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss and the souls of the departed to rest in peace. The managements of the two hospitals expressed their gratitude to the minister and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, for the kind gestures.

Atiku Abubakar, former vice president, in his reaction, expressed anger and sadness at the bombings.  In a statement by his media office in Abuja, he said the needless bloodletting should not continue unabated. Abubakar said the latest bombings by insurgents should be a wake-up call to all Nigerians on the imperative of ending the blame game and working together to end this scourge. “As a country, we are not doing enough of focusing on and implementing solutions. We are all guilty of expending endless energy on hand-wringing and trading of blame, none of which is able to save lives or change the status quo,” he said. The former vice-president said the federal government should not hesitate in asking for foreign assistance to deal with the scourge. “There is an urgent need for the government of Nigeria to review its methods and strategies for dealing with terrorism,” Abubakar said.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and national leader of the APC, while expressing his condolences and grief to the families who lost their loved ones to the deadly blasts, said the shedding of blood had continued because the Jonathan administration could not devise a grand strategy against the menace, either locally or internationally. While commiserating with the bereaved families, Tinubu urged the PDP-led administration to stop treating security of lives and property of Nigerians with levity. “It is another gloomy chapter not only for families, but it reinforces the fear and vulnerability of Nigerians… I call upon the law enforcement agencies and the President to spare no effort in bringing the perpetrators to book. The Jonathan Presidency must do all in its powers and within the ambit of the law to halt the Boko Haram nightmare,” he said.

Tinubu
Tinubu

Speaking in the same vein, Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate and professor of literature, blamed the development on the ineptitude of the nation’s leadership. He said the country was in need of competent leaders to confront, among others, the security challenges facing the country. He charged that the security challenges facing the country could not be solved by prayers, but by leaders with the capacity to deal with the situation without partisanship. Soyinka suggested that learning from the history of nations that had faced similar situations could help Nigeria survive her present security challenges.

Soyinka, who was a keynote speaker at a colloquium with the theme: ‘Fundamental Imperatives of Cohabitation, Faith and Secularism,’ organised by Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding, CBCIU, Osogbo, called for  frank talk among stakeholders in the affairs of the country to end the spate of bombings. The Nobel laureate, who said he received with shock the news of Nyanya Motor Park bombing, called on authorities concerned to arrest the situation. And debunking a media report which quoted him as saying the Boko Haram insurgence could be solved with prayer, he said: “I have never said prayer can help resolve the security challenges facing Nigeria. I believe the situation must be tackled without partisanship and all these uninformed comments cannot help the situation. We should wake up to the reality. Nigeria is at war and only competence can solve the problem, not prayers.”

Edet Akpan, a civil servant in Abuja, said the challenge of insecurity was gradually spreading to every part of the country. “We are at war but we are living in denial. What happened in Abuja today can happen in any part of the country. Until the first bomb goes off in a place like Lagos, many people will not understand that no one is really safe in this country. Our government must rise to the occasion. These senseless and mindless killings must stop,” he said.

With teary eyes, delegates to the national conference on Monday, April 14, condemned in strong terms, the bomb explosions at Nyanya Motor Park in Abuja, by members of the Boko Haram sect in which about 100 people were feared dead and several others injured. The delegates, who observed a one- minute silence for the victims, also condemned past and similar mayhems in other parts of the county. They called on the federal government and stakeholders to, as a matter of urgency, implement all actionable recommendations made to it by various committees such as the Gaji Galtimari, Kabiru T. Turaki and Borno/Yobe Elders among others, which recommended prosecution of some politicians found to be financing and empowering members of the Boko Haram. To heal the wounds inflicted on Nigerians and families affected in the massive killings and wanton destruction of property almost on a daily basis, the delegates advised the federal government to immediately commence a process of reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the affected areas.

Rescue workers recover victims at the site of a blast at the Nyanya Motor Park
Rescue workers recover victims at the site of a blast at the Nyanya Motor Park

The delegates had hardly finished discussing the Abuja attack when information filtered in that less than 24 hours after the bombing, some members of the Boko Haram sect had struck again by abducting more than 100 female students from a Government Girls Secondary School, GGSS, in Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State. The attackers who were about 100 in number rode to the school in army uniform riding on motorcycles and Hilux vans. They gained entrance to the school after killing a security personnel suspected to be a soldier and ordered the school girls to enter the vehicles so that they could be taken to a safe place and avoid being killed by Boko Haram insurgents. The incident occurred at the council headquarters where the students were preparing to write the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations, SSCE now going on across the country. sources said that the gunmen numbering about 100 using motorcycles and Toyota Hilux vans stormed the council’s headquarters at about 9pm, and operated till 3:00am on Tuesday, April 15. The gunmen were said to have been armed with AK47 rifles, Improvised Explosive Devices, IED’s, and petrol bombs. “Apart from the abduction of the female students, the gunmen also carted away foodstuff, before setting many residential buildings and shops ablaze,” one of the sources said. Gideon Jubrin, a deputy superintendent and police public relations officer, PPRO, confirmed the attack, but said he was yet to get details on the number of casualties. The abduction incident has also been receiving condemnations across the globe with members of international community demanding urgent actions against the terror group.

Most of the students were still unaccounted for at press time. But parents and hunters in the state have joined the military to search and rescue of the girls. Indeed, the abduction of the school girls has further underlined the level of insecurity in the North-West. Last weekend, Idrissa Timta, emir of Gwoza, cried out and painted a gory picture of what his people had been going through as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency in Borno State. According to him, the 650,000 people in the emirate were frustrated and ready to move out to other parts of the state or to a neigbouring country because of the activities of Boko Haram. In a statement in Maiduguri, the state capital, Timta said economic activities had been cut off, in addition to daily invasions and killings by the sect. “There is no more social life. Farms are being invaded. The people have witnessed increased attacks with mass killings by the insurgents in the last four months,” the emir said.

Soyinka
Soyinka

While asking for a better policing of the Gwoza-Maiduguri highway to enable the people resume their normal economic lives stalled by the activities of the sect on the major highways, Timta said the food crops cultivated by the villagers in the last farming season had ended up in the hands of the Boko Haram insurgents who seized the harvests from farmers thereby making life unbearable for the villagers. “There is an urgent need for the security agents to intensify and change their tactics of operation to stop the mass killings in this area,” Timta said. According to him, the insurgents had also killed many people by blocking major highways, and appealed to security agents to intensify patrol on these roads to prevent the attacks.  “In fact and sincerely speaking, my people, including the traders and other businessmen and women, have been prevented from travelling to Maiduguri to buy industrial and household goods for sale to customers in my chiefdom with an estimated population of 655, 000 in 11 wards and other border communities with Cameroon. Besides, there is no blessed day the Boko Haram gunmen have not killed between seven to 15 commuters on these three roads that they’ve taken over.

“My people have been prevented from going to work on their farmlands since last year and even the limited cultivated farmlands with harvests, including my 350-hectre farmlands and Orchards at Jaje village, were seized by the insurgents last October. How can the people of Gwoza meet their family requirements for basic needs of food, water and security? This is why my people cannot go to farm or market to survive and continue to face these challenges of insecurity to lives and property in this chiefdom, bordering Cameroon along the hill dwellers of Duhwedeh and Mafa communities. I am pleading; and will continue to plead with the military, police and other security agencies to take urgent actions on the three major trunk roads which have been blocked and taken over in Gwoza council area,” he said.

The four-year-old Boko Haram insurgence has pitted neighbours against neighbours in which more than 4,000 people have been killed and thousands of others displaced while hundreds of homes, schools and government buildings were destroyed, especially in the North East. The insurgence has overstretched the nation’s security services, with no end in sight.

What has become a terror group today was set up by Mohammed Yusuf, a charismatic Islamic preacher, who first ran it as  a non-violent movement. In 2002, Yusuf was allegedly co-opted by Ali Modu Sheriff, the then gubernatorial candidate in Borno State, for the support of his large youth movement, in exchange for full implementation of Sharia with promises of senior state government positions for his followers in the event of an electoral victory. Sheriff has denied any such arrangement or association with the sect. In any case, as the group rose in status, the state religious commissioner was accused of providing resources to Yusuf. But the government did not fully implement the Sharia system of government, which infuriated Yusuf, who became increasingly critical of it and the prevalence of official corruption. As his popularity soared, Yusuf and the group expanded into other states such as Bauchi, Yobe, Adamawa and Kano.

Shekau
Shekau

But the State Security Service, SSS, later arrested and interrogated Yusuf on a number of occasions, but he was never prosecuted because of alleged intervention of some influential officials. He also was said to have receive funds from external Salafi contacts, including the late Osama bin Laden, the then al-Qaeda leader, which he allegedly used to fund a micro-credit scheme for his followers and give welfare, food and shelter to refugees and unemployed youths.

The insurrection of Boko Haram members escalated in 2009, leading to a number of clashes with the police and military troops. In one of such clashes, the Nigerian soldiers reportedly crushed the rebellion, killing hundreds of its followers and destroying the group’s principal mosque. Yusuf was arrested and handed over to the police. But shortly thereafter, the sect leader was killed in extra-judicial action. This forced the sect to go underground and a year later, launched attacks on  police officers, police stations and military barracks, in revenge for the killings of Yusuf and his comrades. Thereafter, the sect had a new leader in Abubakar Shekau, whom, it is believed, probably has little daily control over Boko Haram cells.

The spokesman of the sect thus, demanded prosecution of those responsible for the killings, release of their detained colleagues, restoration of the mosque and compensation for the sect members killed by troops. Since 2010, the group’s campaign has grown from strength to strength, targeting not only security forces, government officials and politicians, but also Christians, critical Muslim clerics, traditional leaders, students and schools, among others. In 2011, it carried out a suicide car bombing of a United Nations building in Abuja killing at least 26 people. It was one of its most prominent attacks.

In May 2013, President Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe and deployed additional troops and established vigilante groups to help in combating the menace. He also established a committee to negotiate a settlement with its leadership. But all these have brought little reprieve. This, perhaps, prompted Sambo Dasuki, national security adviser, to announce on March 18, this year, a soft approach, which includes provision of micro-scheme loans and welfare package for members who are ready to lay down their arms. But it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented.

Monday Ishaku
Monday Ishaku

Although, most of the sect’s recent attacks have been concentrated in the remote North-East of the country, the attack on the outskirts of Abuja, analysts said, would cast further doubts on the military’s ability to curtail the insurgents. On Tuesday, the National Assembly in Abuja was evacuated by security agencies over a bomb scare. Security agents asked lawmakers and other officials to leave the sprawling complex in central Abuja after reports that an explosive material had been planted in the building. The claims were not immediately confirmed. The National Assembly is located within the Three Arms Zone, Nigeria’s most fortified district, which is about five kilometres from Nyanya, the scene of Monday’s bombing.

The Boko Haram sect has already killed more than 1,500 people this year alone and there seems to be no end in sight. But in the meantime, the United States, Britain, France and many other European countries have promised to help Nigeria in fighting the menace which is breeding down on the neck of the country’s security. Desire Kadre Ouedraogo, president of the ECOWAS Commission, in a condolence message to President Jonathan said the attacks underscored the need for vigilance by everybody in the  region to tackle terrorism. “The Commission wishes to assure teh government and good people of Nigeria that the entire community stands with them in solidarity in this difficult moment… Any terrorist attack against any of our member states is an attack against the entire community and we wish to reassure our community citizens that the commission along with all our member states and partners will do everything necessary to rid our region of acts of terrorism,” Ouedraogo said.

Despite the attacks, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance and coordinating minister of economy, who is a co-chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa, assured participants at this year event of adequate security. “Our security planning for the World Economic Forum on Africa is already well underway and will be largest security operation ever mounted in this country for an international summit,” Okonjo-Iweala said in a statement. According to the minister, more than 6,000 security personnel consisting police and military would be deployed in the conference area.

Nevertheless, in apparent concern, the president held emergency security meetings with top security chiefs and some state governors on Thursday, April 17 to strategise on how to deal with the situation. But to what extent this is going to eradicate the state of insecurity and, as well, bring about lasting peace is a matter of conjecture. In the meantime, the daily killings and harassment of innocent Nigerians in the North East of the country is as real as a day-light.

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