Boko Haram, an Islamic fundamentalists group, again runs riots in three different locations in the country killing hundreds of innocent Nigerians despite concerted international efforts to deal with the sect
| By Olu Ojewale | Jun. 2, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
IT WAS not a good week for Nigerian security agencies. While they were busy strategising on how to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Chibok on April 14, the Islamic fundamentalists struck in three different parts of the country killing hundreds of people.
But the most devastating of the attacks occurred in Jos, capital of Plateau State, on Tuesday, May 20. Official figure indicated that 118 people were killed in attacks which shattered the relative peace that had returned to the state which, in recent history, has witnessed an unprecedented level of ethnic and religious crises. But the twin explosion which rocked a busy market close to the city’s railways terminal killing more 100 people and injuring several others, seems to have sent a chilling message to the world that the sect would not go down quietly.
For most of the week, the three major hospitals in the state- Jos University Teaching Hospital, JUTH, Bingham University Teaching Hospital, BUTH, and Plateau State Specialist Hospital- continued to receive anxious people looking for their relations and friends. Some were able to locate them while others searched endlessly. Seven students of the University of Jos were said to have been killed in the blasts. Christiana Paul, a 500-level Medical Laboratory Science student of the university, who disclosed this, said seven of her course mates died in the blast. She said five of the corpses had been found, two at the Plateau Specialist Hospital Mortuary. “The seven of them are my course mates, we are in 500-level. They went to the terminus to shop and the bomb caught up with them. Two bodies are here at the Plateau Specialist Hospital Mortuary,” Paul said in tears.
“Also at the mortuary of the Jos University Teaching Hospital temporary site, which is adjacent to the blast scene, the corpses, about 100, were piled upon each other making it difficult to count.
The situation was similar at the Bingham University Teaching Hospital,” she added.
One of the medical personnel at the JUTH who pleaded not to be quoted, said about 120 corpses were brought to the hospital, while the injured persons were rushed to the permanent site for medication.
According to eyewitnesses, the first bomb was detonated by a suicide bomber who drove into the market in a Fiat car around 2:30pm. The second blast occurred from a Toyota Sienna about 20 metres from the scene of the first. An eyewitness said in an interview that the bomber in the Fiat car stopped it abruptly along the busy Murtala Mohammed Way which is very close to the old site of the Jos University Teaching Hospital.
He was said to have left the car for minutes to cause enough traffic build-up before he returned and detonated the explosives in it. The explosion was heard all over Jos and Bukuru, an outskirt of the capital city.
However, as people gathered to assist victims, some hoodlums started looting and burning cars. In the course of their action, some youths noticed the Toyota Sienna parked at some distance and went for it.
While trying to vandalise it, one of them put a light under the Sienna and immediately it exploded, killing nearly all those in the vicinity. As thick black smoke filled the air, several people lay dead on the floor while survivors scampered for safety.
Fire fighters, men of the Special Task Force, STF, and ambulances immediately rushed to the scene and took control of the situation. Their efforts prevented the resultant fire from the blasts from spreading to other areas.
At the scene of the blast, Chris Olakpe, the state’s Police Commissioner, said: “So far 46 corpses have been deposited in various hospitals in the state, while 45 persons have been hospitalised with varying injuries.” Olakpe said preliminary investigations revealed that a suicide bomber, who abandoned his car at the terminus market axis later came back to detonate it.
“Thirty minutes later, a Sienna bus also laden with IEDs also exploded killing more persons”, he said. The police boss later on Wednesday said 75 persons had died in the blasts. The figure was corroborated by Olivia Dzayem, commissioner of information and communication, Plateau State, at a press conference, on Wednesday evening. She also announced that the Plateau State government would foot the hospital bills of the injured victims. She put the number of death at 75.
But the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, had on Tuesday night said that the death toll had risen to 118, warning that it could rise further. This has put into question the veracity of figures disclosed by the agencies. Mohammed Abdulsalam, coordinator for NEMA in the city, was quoted by Agence France Presse, AFP, as saying: “The exact figure of the dead bodies recovered as of now is 118,” adding that “more bodies may be in the debris” of buildings which collapsed due to the intensity of the blasts. “The only thing I can say is that the casualty figure is very massive. It is a catastrophe,” Abdulsalam said.
A survivor who identified himself as Chong, said: “I was at the market when I heard a very loud sound. Then darkness enveloped the whole place. I didn’t know how I survived.” Another survivor who simply gave his name as James said: “Last month, they abducted over 200 schoolgirls in Borno State; on Thursday, they attacked two schools in Bauchi State; on Sunday, they bombed Kano city. Today (Tuesday), it is the turn of Jos again. God, where are we heading for in Nigeria?” James, a trader in the ever-busy Jos Terminus Market, where twin bomb blasts occurred, said he was lucky to have survived with minor injuries. He vowed to relocate his family from Jos where he had lived for about 20 years.
But the wife of Chiendu Mazi, 40, was not that lucky. When Mazi found his wife’s body at the morgue, he fainted. He was, however, revived by nurses and doctors. After he regained consciousness, Maxi said: “I gave my wife money to go and buy food items. I never knew I was sending her to die.”
In what has now become a norm, President Goodluck Jonathan and Aminu Tambuwal, speaker of the House of Representatives, condemned the blasts. In a statement by Reuben Abati, his special adviser on media and publicity, Jonathan extended his heartfelt sympathies to the affected families and persons. According to the statement, “President Jonathan assures all Nigerians that government remains fully committed to winning the war against terror, and this administration will not be cowed by the atrocities of enemies of human progress and civilisation.”
In his reaction, Tambuwal also condemned the multiple bomb blasts, calling the attacks an act of cowardice that has no place in civilised societies. In a statement issued by Imam Imam, Tambuwal’s special adviser on media and public affairs, the speaker urged the security agencies to redouble their efforts to fish out the perpetrators of the attacks. He equally appealed to members of the public to provide the security agencies with useful information that would help in investigations. He urged Nigerians not to despair, saying the current security challenges bedevilling the nation would soon be a thing of the past.
While the body count of the Jos attacks was still being collated, there were reports of two attacks by Boko Haram gunmen in which 48 people were killed in a village near Chibok, the town where the Islamists kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls on April14. According to witnesses, the first attack was on Monday, May 19, in which about 48 people were killed in Shawa, a village seven kilometres away from Chibok. Another report by Associated Press, AP, claimed that gunmen similarly stormed the nearby village of Alagarno, 30-kilometres to Chibok, stole food, vehicles, razed homes and fired on fleeing civilians early morning of Wednesday, May 21. “It was a sudden attack. They began shooting and set fire to our homes. We had to flee to the bush. They killed 20 of our people,” Haruna Bitrus, one of the residents was quoted as saying.
The bloody week actually started with a bomb blast which hit Kano on Sunday, May 18, along the Hausa/Igbo Road in the Sabon Gari area of Kano, an area mostly inhabited by Christians from the South. A loud explosion was heard along the Hausa/Igbo Road in the Sabon Gari area of Kano, triggering fears that the city was under attack from the extremist Boko Haram sect. The explosion, which occurred at about 9:30 pm, took residents of the city unawares and caused serious stampede of people and vehicles around the area. This resulted in multiple accidents on many roads close to the scene of the blast. At least, four people were said to have been killed in the blast.
In an apparent major victory, the Nigerian security operatives on Monday reported the killing of Abu Qaqa, the Boko Haram’s spokesman and the arrest of two top commanders of the sect in the Mariri neighbourhood of Kano after a shoot-out on Monday. One other sect leader was also dead.
Sources in the Department of State Security, DSS, said Qaqa was killed and the two top commanders were arrested when officers of the Kano State Joint Task Force, JTF, opened fire on the Volkswagen Golf car in which leaders of the sect were travelling. Confirming the development, Ikediche Iweha, spokesman for the JTF, said the party had refused orders to stop for a search, which resulted in exchange of fire.
Despite the incessant assaults by the Boko Haram, Nigeria’s efforts to wipe off the sect have continued to receive international support. True to its word, the United States government, within the week, despatched 80 military personnel to Nigeria to help it to track the abducted girls and fight terrorism. President Barack Obama notified the US Congress of the deployment of the military personnel, who would be based in Chad, Nigeria’s northern neighbour. According to Obama, the military men will help with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria.
In a similar gesture, Israel has sent intelligence experts to Nigeria to help search for the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted last month by the Boko Haram sect, an Israeli official told Reuters, a news agency, on Tuesday, May 20. The team, the official said, which included people experienced in dealing with hostage situations, would join a growing international effort to track down the children. “These are not operational troops, they’re there to advise,” the Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On its part, Britain said it would send advisers to help Nigeria’s military structure its efforts to fight Boko Haram. William Hague, British foreign minister, said on Saturday, ahead of a meeting to hammer out a strategy to tackle the Islamist group: “Nigerian security forces have not been well structured for this kind of thing and that has been shown by the problem getting worse. We can help with that which is why we are offering to embed military advisers within the Nigerian headquarters,” Hague told the media.
The Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, on Monday vowed to invoke necessary sections of its laws including military might to fight Boko Haram, President John Mahama of Ghana, said when he declared open the 2014 First Ordinary Session of ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja. Mahama, who spoke through Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, his vice-president, condemned in strong terms the activities of Boko Haram and promised that the Sub-regional body would do everything possible to fight the insurgents. “We shall invoke relevant sections of our laws to fight this crime. The recent abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok is reprehensible and very disheartening. No decent society will accept this,” he said.
The Nigerian government also sought the assistance of the United Nations Security Council to blacklist Boko Haram as an extremist group. In this regard, Nigeria urged the Security Council al Qaeda Sanctions Committee to recognise Boko Haram sect as a terrorist organisation, which further shows the determination of the Jonathan administration to root out the group. The move came days after President Jonathan had asked for wider international sanctions against the group. At the Paris security summit Saturday, May 18, President Jonathan called for efforts to outlaw the group that has been responsible for thousands of deaths in Nigeria since 2009. “At the international level, we should take concrete steps to designate the Al Qaeda in West Africa, alias, Boko Haram, as a terrorist organisation on the basis of the Proscription Order that my government has already imposed on the organisation. We should also accelerate the implementation of other international sanctions, particularly under the auspices of the United Nations, on Boko Haram, Ansaru and their principal leaders,” he said.
Such sanctions will, amongst other measures, require all countries under the UN charter to freeze financial assets and economic resources of Boko Haram members and its leaders. On Thursday, the UN acceded to Nigeria’s request, passed a resolution declaring Boko Haram a terrorist organisation and placed sanctions against members of the sect. The sanctions require that all member countries to impose travel ban and an arms embargo on the group, its members and sponsors. From the recent resolve of the government, it appears that the Jonathan administration is bent on getting rid of Boko Haram once and for all but whether all these will translate into a solid achievement is yet to be seen.
Reported by Vincent Nzemeke