Terror Returns To Abuja

Terror Returns To Abuja

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 10:28 am

Damaged buses at the Nyanya park. Photo: Femi Ipaye

Damaged buses at the Nyanya park. Photo: Femi Ipaye

The first terrorist attack in Abuja in two years leaves scores dead and others in sorrow and agony. Why would Boko Haram attack Abuja?

Survival stories thrill us, with details of people making it out alive of dangerous situations that claimed lives of many others. And for the Monday, 14

April tragic bomb blast incident at the major bus station in Nyanya, a suburb just about 12 kilometers to the central part of Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital, there have been many of such survivor stories.

The Survivors
Arguably, the most astonishing story of miraculous survival of a tragic event which, according to government, has claimed 75 lives as at last Thursday, belonged to 10-month-old Goodness Adam.

As relatives searched for their missing ones at Asokoro General Hospital, one of the health facilities the dead and injured victims of the blast were taken to in the aftermath of the blast, one lucky survivor that caught the eye of many was baby Goodness. She clung to one of the nurses as a journalist, fascinated by her story, attempted to carry her. As was gathered, Goodness was picked up in the midst of the mayhem caused by the blast by emergency workers.

Though the blasts literally shredded scores of grown-up men and women and decapitated many others, the only visible injury on Goodness was in one of her eyes, which part was swollen. Indeed, oblivious of the danger she has just passed through, she was sleeping for the better part of Tuesday morning. The initial presumption was that Goodness’ mother was among those whose lives were brutally cut short in the deafening bomb blast which, according to some eyewitnesses, could be heard many kilometeres away.

But it turned out that her mother, identified as Gloria, was also one of the survivors of the explosion, though with injuries far more grievous than that of her daughter. “I don’t know how I got here. I only saw myself rolling and rolling on the ground before someone came and removed my baby from my back,” said Gloria, who was being treated at the Intensive Care Unit of Wuse General Hospital last Wednesday, on being reunited with her baby.

Also among those who cheated death was Oguike Charles, who was also caught up in the stampede that claimed 18 lives during the recruitment into the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, some weeks ago. Oguike, an applicant, said he was on queue to board one of the high-capacity buses, popularly known as “El-Rufai”, for his usual daily trip to Wuse market when he heard a loud explosion. “The explosion happened in such a way that I couldn’t recognise myself; I saw so many dead bodies flying. I escaped the Immigration stampede and now I have escaped death from bomb blast,” Oguike, who was on admission at Asokoro hospital for the injuries he sustained in the blast, said in an interview.

“I got to Nyanyan park where I got the bus ticket at the point of entering the park, just at the gate. After I had bought the ticket, but before I turned, I just heard a heavy explosion. It appeared a bomb was planted in one of the vehicles beside me,” recalled Abang Malview, who said most of those standing beside him died in the blast.

Another ‘miraculous’ survivor was the driver of a Toyota Sienna car which, as was gathered, was already fully loaded with seven passengers and was meandering its way out of the park before the blast went off. All the passengers in the Sienna bus, one of the scores of vehicles which were completely burnt during the blast, died, except the driver. Eyewitnesses said the Sienna bus was directly in front of the VolksWagen Golf car in which the bomb was rigged. Though all the passengers died, the driver, who appeared too shocked to give his name, sustained just a minor injury on his shoulde,r for which he was taken for treatment at Asokoro General Hospital.

Isaac Onu, a ticketing agent with the Abuja Urban Mass Transit Company, operator of the high-capacity buses, is another lucky survivor. He said he owed his survival to the fact that he disobeyed his boss who had asked him to stay at the entrance gate, which is nearer to where the buses are parked in rows, to sell tickets to approaching commuters when he resumed work early that morning. But he chose to stay near the exit gate, where some commuters also use to gain access to the bus station. The ticketing agent said a very loud explosion deafened him temporarily less than 30 minutes after he arrived at his choice location, which is less than five metres to where the buses are boarded. This, according to him, was accompanied by a huge fireball and pieces of people’s flesh flying in the air.

Four of the company’s buses were loading at the time of the blast, while scores of others were parked awaiting their turn. Isaac, who was trying to contact his missing colleagues some of whom he said resumed work as ticketing officers on Monday morning, was unhurt despite the fact that some of the scraps from the rigged vehicle landed very near to where he was standing at the time of the incident.

Salome Jim, a bus ticket vendor, was also among those fortunate to survive the attack, though with a fracture. The force of the blast hurled her into a nearby rock. She was fortunate to escape the death that surrounded her, albeit sustaining a fracture.

Tales By Relatives Of The Dead
Just as the survivors were telling their stories, relatives of the dead victims of the blast were, for most part of last week, busy trying to retrieve the corpses of their loved ones. Scores of relatives of the victims who could not reach their loved ones, especially through phone calls, besieged the various hospitals where dead bodies and survivors were deposited. Most of the relatives of the victims had to search through all the five hospitals the victims were taken to before eventually discovering the corpses of their relatives.

Alpha Moniro, a staff of National Assembly, said he became anxious immediately he heard about the blast at the park because his wife, Sefiya – a mother of four who was five months pregnant – had left home earlier to board a bus at the station. “My wife left home ten minutes before the bomb blast to Area1 Garki to get some items for my younger brother’s wedding coming up this weekend,” said Moniro. “Immediately I heard the noise, I knew I was in trouble because the bus station is not far from our house,” he added. Moniro said though he rushed down to the scene of the blast and later, to the nearby Nyanya hospital and subsequently, Asokoro General Hospital, he was unable to find the corpse of his wife until 24 hours later.

“So l came to the National Hospital, searched the mortuary tray by tray until I got to the last row and the last corpse; there lay the body of my wife with a pregnancy of five months. Her body was intact, no injury of any kind.

I think she died from shock,” said Moniro, who added that they had four kids together.

A 24-year-old lady who simply identified herself as Ebele said her older sister she identified as Justina who came to Abuja just last January was caught in the blast on her way back from the house of an unknown boyfriend in the Nyanyan axis of the city. She was living in the same apartment in the other part of the city with the late Justina.

Ebele was crying profusely last Tuesday at the premises of National Hospital where she had just discovered the corpse of her sister after a fruitless search at tother hospitals even as other relatives were consoling her. “You tried your best and your conscience has set you free because you told her the truth but she refused to listen,” a relative said while consoling Ebele in obvious reference to her earlier claims that she had tried to dissuade her late sister from her habit of leaving home without telling anybody her destination. She said she had reported this habit of 31-year-old Justina to their parents in the village and other relatives in Abuja. And just like in the past, Justina, a shop attendant in a boutique at EMAB Plaza, Wuse ll, Abuja, left home on Friday to an unknown destination and got caught in the bomb blast on her way back: “I think it was on her coming back from the unknown boyfriend to go to work in Abuja metropolis that she was caught up in the bomb blast. We don’t even know this so-called boyfriend. I told my sister how dangerous Abuja life is, because I had been here for some years before her but she refused to listen to me. Look at what happened now,” she said, sobbing.

Also at the National Hospital, a woman simply called Mama James said she came to help her neighbour to search for her only child. Though she felt a bit relieved that the corpse had finally been identified, she was however worried on the likely impact of the death of the young man, who according to her was an only child, on her mother. “This boy is the only child of his mother, his father died a long time. He only finished his Youth Service in February this year and he was on his way to the office where he was to start his first job on Monday. I don’t know what we will tell the mother now because we have been telling her he is among the injured,” the woman, who refused to reveal her real name, said.

“I was selling tickets to passengers when I heard a loud bang and I saw myself flying in the air. I landed on a stone, got up to run when I felt a sharp pain in my legs. My leg broke into two like a broom,” she said. She identified one Isah, a commercial cyclist operator in the park who lost his life in the blast: “Isah too was badly injured, I saw his intestines coming out from his stomach, and the rescue team covered him up and packed the things back into his body. That was the last time I saw him.”

After its forensic officers combed the scene of the blast for clues that could help unravel the brains behind it for two days, the police said last Wednesday that it had evidence that can help in unraveling the identity of the perpetrators of the crime. Suleiman Abba, Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 7, told journalists that the Inspector-General, Mohammed Abubakar, directed that a high-powered team of experienced investigators be set up to unravel those behind the act immediately after the blast.

The information already gathered by the investigation team, Abba said, will provide links to investigators to eventually nab the perpetrators of the criminal action. “We were pained by that incident. Even at that, we have made efforts to re strategise and come out with better approaches towards ensuring that such occurrence did not happen again,” the police chief said.

How It Happened
Eyewitnesses said the driver of the bomb-laden, red Volkswagen Golf car, with number plate XQ229LSD, had driven to the bus station which was the last bus stop for passengers coming from states in North-East Nigeria, under the pretence that he wanted to discharge the four persons in his vehicles around 6.45 a.m. that Monday. But instead, the driver and his passengers parked the car in front of the rows of the high-capacity buses, four of which were loading passengers going to different areas of the city, and left. The car exploded, sending off a huge fireball that could be seen some kilometres away as the driver and his passengers were being called back to come and park the vehicle properly. With the proximity of the rigged car to the high-capacity buses, it was not a surprise that most of the victims are those on queue to enter or those already seated in the buses.

Also affected were drivers of private buses loading passengers to various locations outside Abuja. “At first there was quiet and suddenly I saw smoke and fire, then I passed out,” Shuaibu Abubakar, who was on the long queue of passengers when the blast went off, said in an interview. He added that the deafening blast threw him off the ground, with bodies of ithe njured and the dead scattered around him. Indeed, Shuaibu who was on his way to Suleja was packed among the dead before it was discovered that he was still breathing.

An official of the park, who identified himself as the accountant of the bus terminus, Mr. Adams Ishaq, told Bala Mohammed, the Minister of Federal Capital Territory during a visit last Tuesday, that aside the commuters, seven members of the terminus died in the explosion. “We lost seven of our members; we feel what has happened; we pray to the Almighty that their souls rest in peace,” he said.

But it was not just those who were inside the bus station that were affected by the blast. Many commercial motorcyclists, their passengers as well as motorists waiting to give their colleagues a lift to office, were also caught up in the explosion. Such was the case with Abbass Adama, a stockbroker, who said four of his friends died in the explosion.

He had planned to travel with them to Kaduna that Monday morning. Adama said he was about to pick up his friends who were already waiting for him near the park for a trip to Kaduna when the blast occurred: “Seconds later, I heard a loud explosion; in fact, I can’t explain because I felt something like electric shock inside the car, and as I speak to you now, my friends are all dead,” Adamu lamented.

The FCT Minister said last Wednesday that 75 people died in the blast while 126 others were receiving treatment in various hospitals. He added that 47 motorcycles, 20 high-capacity buses and 14 intercity mini-buses were also lost to the incident.

Just like in previous incidents, condemnations of the attack across the globe have been very quick. Most people also demanded immediate action from government that would lead to the reining of Boko Haram which, according to some estimates, has killed more than 2,000 people this year alone. The kidnap of almost 130 female students at a girls school in Chibok, Borno State, the morning after the Abuja blast, further drew attention to the despicable activity of the terrorist group. In a statement issued in Abuja, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said he was shocked and saddened by the many lives lost in a bomb attack and urged the government to bring the perpetrators of all such “continuing brutal attacks in the northeast of the country… to justice.” Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State who led other governors on the platform of All Progressives Congress to visit the injured victims at the National Hospital in Abuja on Wednesday described the bombing as a dastardly act that must be condemned by all Nigerians.

He urged Nigerians to unite across political divide to stem the tide of the Boko Haram terrorist challenge: “We have noticed that the increase in blood shedding in our nation is becoming worrisome and as leaders we believe that this is not a time to see what is wrong or who is wrong. It is a time that we must all close ranks to ensure the security of lives and property.”

No group had claimed responsibility for the attack on Nyanya bus terminus as at Thursday last week. But most Nigerians, including President Goodluck Jonathan who visited the scene of the blast on Monday, wasted no time in attributing the attack to the Boko Haram insurgent group. “The issue of Boko Haram is temporary. Government is doing everything to make sure that we move our country forward in spite of all the distractions that want to take us backward. We promise that we will get over it,” the President, who was accompanied by the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu, service chiefs and some ministers, said at the scene of the blast before he left for Asokoro Hospital to visit some of the victims. But the President has come under criticism for embarking on a political rally a day after the said event.

Widespread Reactions
Abuja suffered first major Boko Haram attack when a suicide bomber rammed a car into the police headquarters, killing eight people in June 2011 in what the sect described then as a response to the boast by Hafiz Ringim, the then Inspector-General of Police, to wipe out the sect within days. Two months after that, the group also attacked the UN headquarters located in the Central Business Area of the city, killing 23 people.

The last attack by the insurgent group within Abuja was the suicide bombing of the Abuja office of ThisDay newspapers located in Jabi area in April, 2012. Boko Haram had also the same day attacked the Kaduna office of the newspaper.
The group had in a subsequent video claimed it attacked the newspaper offices because of the misrepresentation of its position and bias against it. The group had in December 2010 claimed responsibility for the New Year’s Eve bomb attack on revelers at Mogadishu Barracks which claimed 11 lives.

In response to the attacks, most private, public and security institutions, schools, hotels and security agencies within Abuja had introduced series of security measures, including cordoning off roads that pass in front of their buildings to traffic. Well armed military men and officials of police anti-terrorism squad were also deployed to hotels and public buildings to enhance security. The military has also continued to operate checkpoints on major arteries that lead to the city from all parts of the country. The FCT Administration had also embarked on installation of closed circuit television cameras across the city.

What Went Wrong
But two years after its last attack, all the security measures seemed not enough to keep Boko Haram from striking, though not at the heart of Abuja, but at a place too close for comfort for the city elites. Nyanya is less than 10 minutes drive to Asokoro, where most of the states have their Governor’s Lodges and liaison offices. The sprawling settlement inhabited by the lower and middle class with a large slum component and is the FCT border with Nassarawa State, is also the same distance to Aso Rock presidential villa. So, for Abuja elites, having Boko Haram take over the settlement which is under the Abuja Municipal Council Area may be tantamount to keeping terrorists at the door.

Despite the closeness, the FCT administration and the Federal Government had concentrated security resources aimed at tackling the insurgents at the city centre to the neglect of Nyanya and other satellite areas of the city that can easily harbour insurgents. For example, the Nyanya axis and other satellite towns are not covered by CCTV cameras being installed in the city, while most police barracks in Abuja outskirts are ramshackle.

The situation has not changed despite reports that terrorists under pressure from the military operation in the North-East are taking advantage of the lax security to move their operations to the satellite towns. Also, the military has been involved in the disruptions of identified Boko Haram cells in communities located in states like Kaduna, Niger and Nasarawa which share borders with FCT; evidence that Abuja is not immune to attacks from these areas. It is not clear whether the vehicle that was used in last Monday’s attack was rigged within Nyanyan or at the border communities.

A source however said it would be a security nightmare if it is was discovered that the bombing of the Nyanya terminus was plotted within the area. We may have a situation similar to those in Suleja and Zuba, two FCT border communities in Niger State where Boko Haram members were dropping bombs indiscriminately before the security agencies were able to break up their cells. He urged security agencies to step up their surveillance and intelligence gathering in satellite towns and the border communities to FCT.

In the same vein, some of those interviewed last week said the security agencies should have stepped up their game after the failed jailbreak by members of Boko Haram. It will be recalled that 21 Boko Haram detainees were killed in a shoot-out with men of Department of State Security Service in the Asokoro district of Abuja following attempts by suspected terrorists to free their members from the detention facility of the secret police about a month ago.

“What happened was that the suspects’ handlers went to feed the detainees here but suddenly they attacked him with their handcuffs, disarmed him and started shooting. The military was quickly called in before they could do any harm and that is responsible for the shootings you heard. It was an attempted jailbreak but it has been brought under control,” Marylyn Ogar, spokesperson for the DSS, had said while confirming the attempted jailbreak. There were speculations on the social media that the sect may retaliate the killing of its members in the custody of the security agency after the unfortunate event.

It was argued that with such information, the security agencies should have stepped up its game as related to surveillance of the city after the foiled jailbreak. It was also believed that the Abuja attack may be the actualisation of the command of a man believed to be the new Boko Haram leader, but who is still using the name of the insurgent group’s well known leader, Abubakar Shekau. He is said to have commanded members to carry out attacks beyond the traditional North-East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa in a video which went viral last February. “My brethren, you should hold on to your weapons and continue fighting. Let them understand that our work is not confined to Yobe, Borno and Adamawa,” the man said in the video, also urging his fighters to go after some elder statesmen and extend their insurgency activities to the southern part of the country. It is believed that the attack is a continuation of the mass murder the group has been carrying out in communities in North-East Nigeria in response to the military offensive against it since the beginning of the year.

There are also unconfirmed conspiracy stories that the attack may be one of those being carried out by rogue elements in the Nigerian military. While condemning last Monday’s blast, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said the security agencies should work together and share intelligence to be able to find those among them that are sabotaging their efforts. “There are people within the security agencies that sympathise with this madness. As they discover them, they should be exposed and dismissed from the service. It is very important that such will still happen,” said the CAN president. But the security agencies have been successful in arresting those who carried out such attacks near the federal capital in the past. Some of them have also been prosecuted successfully. Many Nigerians want them to repeat the same feat with the Nyanya bombing.

Meanwhile, as a way out of the problem, some Nigerians, including Senator Bukola Saraki, have suggested the convening of an all-politicians summit to find solution to the challenge posed to the counrty by the insurgent group.

The Presidency, too, has said a meeting of all the Governors of the 36 states with the President on the security challenges will hold this Wednesday.

Critics maintain that success would only be achieved if the government sees Boko Haram for what it is – a pure terrorist group that must be crushed instead of trying to weave a web of conspiracy around it.

However, the implication of the Abuja bombing is that the military may not be telling the President the whole truth about the war against Boko Haram. The sect has shown that contrary to the recent assertions of the President that terrorism has been confined to the fringes of Nigeria, they still have the capability to strike at the heart of the city.

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