Issues on the Abuja Bomb Explosions

2010-10-05
THISDAY Newspaper

The virginity of Abuja has been violated! But it is difficult to find reasons for the horrendous bomb attack in the serene Federal Capital on the day Nigeria rose in an early morning shower and later a blaring sun to savour global applause over 50 years of nationhood.

Although some of the collective aspirations joyfully expressed on October 1, 1960 lie in ruins, 50 years of nationhood of an expensive and diverse nation is no mean achievement. Despite the fact that some of those were years of the tempest that shook all the unifying factors or set the country back, last week's celebration offered an operation theatre for a caesarian rebirth of hope.

My heart goes out to victims of the attack. They certainly do not deserve this.

Initial suggestions that the attack was the handiwork of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) made the motive of the national embarrassment all the more difficult to comprehend.

Slow as it may have been at some point, the Amnesty programme, so far the best opportunity to resolve the Niger Delta crisis (thanks to late President Yar 'Adua), has gathered appreciable momentum under President Goodluck Jonathan who is also from the Niger Delta.

The training of former militants under an Amnesty programme that has already gulped millions of Naira is underway. And although poor delivery of successive governments has invoked in Nigerians a negative stimulus generalization to write off all governments and to take promises as mere political deceit, this young government is showing some promise. It cannot be said to have deceived the Niger Delta.

Those are reasons that enrich the tendency to also suspect that some terrorists may have copied the signature of MEND. For someone who has been studying the key actors in the recent Niger Delta crisis for a book on the oil industry, this poses a personal challenge. In Intelligence work, two and two may not added up to four. Otherwise, as they say in the village, an owl crying on the roof at night and a child in the house dying the following morning is a straight foward story.

Also, as in the Warri bombing early this year, a warning of the attack was served and execution was accurate to the minute. "With due respect to all invited guests, dignitaries and attendees of the 50th independence anniversary of Nigeria being held today, Friday, October 1, 2010 at the Eagle Square Abuja, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is asking everyone to begin immediate evacuation of the entire area within the next 30 minutes. This warning expires after 10.30Hrs," MEND spokesperson Jomo Gbomo said in the mail.

Characteristically, MEND would disown any attack wrongfully attributed to it, but in this case, it hasn't. In fact, in a statement on Saturday, it admitted it carried out the attack.

It said, "MEND deeply regrets the avoidable loss of lives during our bomb attack in Abuja on Friday October 1, 2010. Our hearts go to the families of those killed who we know were sympathetic to our cause

"The security forces were also warned one full hour to the first bomb blast ahead of the general alert sent to the media and told to steer the public from all parked cars which was not done".

Ah! There was no way innocent civilians would have been saved from a bomb detonated in public, but that is a mute point now. Every human death is regrettable and painful. This case is not any different.

Curiously though, the attack, like the Warri incident, came not long after declarations by some government officials that MEND was dead. Run on a collegiate basis, MEND was a collection of many armed militant units that evolved over the years with many commanders. The commanders were bonded by the common motive of stopping the exploitation of the Niger Delta and its people. However the units were connected by an efficient communication system to a central coordinating unit, which is in charge of the transmission of all information to the international public.

Although the commanders have embraced the Amnesty Programme, it is possible that some units, no matter how unpopular they are perceived, are still active. If this is true, it may be necessary for the motives of such people to be thoroughly investigated. This must include psychological analysis of their profiles to determine the extent of their concern for the Niger Delta situation.

Protests could range from Ghandi-style passive resistance, through intellectual activism to violent protests. I wish, however, to clarify my argument by repeating that violence and killing of innocent people is regrettable. So also is anything that causes large-scale national embarrassment on a world stage.

However, the story seems to be changing. Indications from government point to groups other than MEND. I was shocked to read reports last Thursday that the Australian Government had issued a travel advisory to Aussies headed to Nigeria and those in the country.

There have also been reports of pre-attack tip-offs, including one from the FBI, of possible Al Qaeda connection. Over the weekend the SSS confirmed that it had received foreign tip-offs and had stepped up security.

"If we had ignored them the situation could have perhaps been worse than what happened," the Service's spokesperson said.

This dimension seems to be taking root with President Jonathan's assertion that the bomb blast was not an act of MEND but a terrorist attack. In a pained and emotional countenance that left no room for his trademark smile, he told journalists on Saturday:

"Let me also use this opportunity to reassure Nigerians that what happened yesterday had nothing, and I have to repeat, had nothing, to do with the Niger Delta. People just use the name of MEND to camouflage criminality and terrorism .For anybody to work with a terrorist organisation, and try to use the Niger Delta as a camouflage is totally unacceptable ."

And on Sunday, President Jonathan explained that a small terrorist group based outside Nigeria, not militants from the Niger Delta, carried out the bomb attacks.

Also on Sunday, the Police said it had made some arrests.

But there are indications of so much play on semantics. On Sunday, Presidential Special Adviser on the Niger Delta, Timi Alaibe, was reported to have said "Everyone in the structure knows Jomo Gbomo is Henry Okah. There is no MEND sitting anywhere in any camp. It's all Henry Okah, through and through"

And yesterday, prosecutors in South African reportedly charged Henry Okah at a court in Johannesburg with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act and the detonation of explosive devices in Abuja.

In the active days of MEND, a multi-unit organisation, Okah's role was not in doubt. His current role may be confirmed from the various investigations. But it is important that investigations are speedily conducted to clear the air and to prevent over-generalisation of reactions.

The concern is that the post-attack actions do not go the traditional way of handling such issues in the Third World. In many such situations, the attacks are readily blamed on "enemies," whose target is the leader.

There are cases in Africa, where leaders in such situations were told, "We need to determine the person or persons responsible for this attack and any other weapons they may have at their disposal. Until then, we can't ensure your safety as you travel throughout the country "

Or that, "It has been determined that the incendiary devices used in the attack were built, planted and detonated by enemies of government bent on killing the head of state."

Such conclusions are known to have immediate effect on leaders. Some of them turned overnight from humble, selfless and God-fearing people into paranoid and repressive leaders, insensitive of the human and socio-economic rights of the ruled.

Worse, such paranoid leaders turn recluse in thick security bubbles. Late General Sani Abacha was known to have been affected by such manipulation.

So it was refreshing to see President Goodluck Jonathan out last Saturday at a public function and also in some hospitals to see victims of the bomb blasts. It is important that he remains courageous, focused and his old humbleThe virginity of Abuja has been violated! But it is difficult to find reasons for the horrendous bomb attack in the serene Federal Capital on the day Nigeria rose in an early morning shower and later a blaring sun to savour global applause over 50 years of nationhood.

Although some of the collective aspirations joyfully expressed on October 1, 1960 lie in ruins, 50 years of nationhood of an expensive and diverse nation is no mean achievement. Despite the fact that some of those were years of the tempest that shook all the unifying factors or set the country back, last week's celebration offered an operation theatre for a caesarian rebirth of hope.

My heart goes out to victims of the attack. They certainly do not deserve this.

Initial suggestions that the attack was the handiwork of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) made the motive of the national embarrassment all the more difficult to comprehend.

Slow as it may have been at some point, the Amnesty programme, so far the best opportunity to resolve the Niger Delta crisis (thanks to late President Yar 'Adua), has gathered appreciable momentum under President Goodluck Jonathan who is also from the Niger Delta.

The training of former militants under an Amnesty programme that has already gulped millions of Naira is underway. And although poor delivery of successive governments has invoked in Nigerians a negative stimulus generalization to write off all governments and to take promises as mere political deceit, this young government is showing some promise. It cannot be said to have deceived the Niger Delta.

Those are reasons that enrich the tendency to also suspect that some terrorists may have copied the signature of MEND. For someone who has been studying the key actors in the recent Niger Delta crisis for a book on the oil industry, this poses a personal challenge. In Intelligence work, two and two may not added up to four. Otherwise, as they say in the village, an owl crying on the roof at night and a child in the house dying the following morning is a straight foward story.

Also, as in the Warri bombing early this year, a warning of the attack was served and execution was accurate to the minute. "With due respect to all invited guests, dignitaries and attendees of the 50th independence anniversary of Nigeria being held today, Friday, October 1, 2010 at the Eagle Square Abuja, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is asking everyone to begin immediate evacuation of the entire area within the next 30 minutes. This warning expires after 10.30Hrs," MEND spokesperson Jomo Gbomo said in the mail.

Characteristically, MEND would disown any attack wrongfully attributed to it, but in this case, it hasn't. In fact, in a statement on Saturday, it admitted it carried out the attack.

It said, "MEND deeply regrets the avoidable loss of lives during our bomb attack in Abuja on Friday October 1, 2010. Our hearts go to the families of those killed who we know were sympathetic to our cause

"The security forces were also warned one full hour to the first bomb blast ahead of the general alert sent to the media and told to steer the public from all parked cars which was not done".

Ah! There was no way innocent civilians would have been saved from a bomb detonated in public, but that is a mute point now. Every human death is regrettable and painful. This case is not any different.

Curiously though, the attack, like the Warri incident, came not long after declarations by some government officials that MEND was dead. Run on a collegiate basis, MEND was a collection of many armed militant units that evolved over the years with many commanders. The commanders were bonded by the common motive of stopping the exploitation of the Niger Delta and its people. However the units were connected by an efficient communication system to a central coordinating unit, which is in charge of the transmission of all information to the international public.

Although the commanders have embraced the Amnesty Programme, it is possible that some units, no matter how unpopular they are perceived, are still active. If this is true, it may be necessary for the motives of such people to be thoroughly investigated. This must include psychological analysis of their profiles to determine the extent of their concern for the Niger Delta situation.

Protests could range from Ghandi-style passive resistance, through intellectual activism to violent protests. I wish, however, to clarify my argument by repeating that violence and killing of innocent people is regrettable. So also is anything that causes large-scale national embarrassment on a world stage.

However, the story seems to be changing. Indications from government point to groups other than MEND. I was shocked to read reports last Thursday that the Australian Government had issued a travel advisory to Aussies headed to Nigeria and those in the country.

There have also been reports of pre-attack tip-offs, including one from the FBI, of possible Al Qaeda connection. Over the weekend the SSS confirmed that it had received foreign tip-offs and had stepped up security.

"If we had ignored them the situation could have perhaps been worse than what happened," the Service's spokesperson said.

This dimension seems to be taking root with President Jonathan's assertion that the bomb blast was not an act of MEND but a terrorist attack. In a pained and emotional countenance that left no room for his trademark smile, he told journalists on Saturday:

"Let me also use this opportunity to reassure Nigerians that what happened yesterday had nothing, and I have to repeat, had nothing, to do with the Niger Delta. People just use the name of MEND to camouflage criminality and terrorism .For anybody to work with a terrorist organisation, and try to use the Niger Delta as a camouflage is totally unacceptable ."

And on Sunday, President Jonathan explained that a small terrorist group based outside Nigeria, not militants from the Niger Delta, carried out the bomb attacks.

Also on Sunday, the Police said it had made some arrests.

But there are indications of so much play on semantics. On Sunday, Presidential Special Adviser on the Niger Delta, Timi Alaibe, was reported to have said "Everyone in the structure knows Jomo Gbomo is Henry Okah. There is no MEND sitting anywhere in any camp. It's all Henry Okah, through and through"

And yesterday, prosecutors in South African reportedly charged Henry Okah at a court in Johannesburg with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act and the detonation of explosive devices in Abuja.

In the active days of MEND, a multi-unit organisation, Okah's role was not in doubt. His current role may be confirmed from the various investigations. But it is important that investigations are speedily conducted to clear the air and to prevent over-generalisation of reactions.

The concern is that the post-attack actions do not go the traditional way of handling such issues in the Third World. In many such situations, the attacks are readily blamed on "enemies," whose target is the leader.

There are cases in Africa, where leaders in such situations were told, "We need to determine the person or persons responsible for this attack and any other weapons they may have at their disposal. Until then, we can't ensure your safety as you travel throughout the country "

Or that, "It has been determined that the incendiary devices used in the attack were built, planted and detonated by enemies of government bent on killing the head of state."

Such conclusions are known to have immediate effect on leaders. Some of them turned overnight from humble, selfless and God-fearing people into paranoid and repressive leaders, insensitive of the human and socio-economic rights of the ruled.

Worse, such paranoid leaders turn recluse in thick security bubbles. Late General Sani Abacha was known to have been affected by such manipulation.

So it was refreshing to see President Goodluck Jonathan out last Saturday at a public function and also in some hospitals to see victims of the bomb blasts. It is important that he remains courageous, focused and his old humble self.

The President's emotional state, and indeed that of any top government official, is understandable. They must have found it depressing that rather than the glorious speeches and historic photographs, it was the bomb attack that made headline news, the next day.

But condemnable as the bombing is, it is important to discourage various groups from latching on this to attack government's "perceived enemies". We should wait for the outcome of a thorough investigation.

And it is equally important for government to exorcise any paronia that may creep into Aso Rock. From there, Nigerians are to be loved and served; they are not to be feared.

 

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