Christmas, one of the most celebrated festivities in the world, was yesterday marred by series of bombings in some states in the North. From Madalla near Suleja, Niger State; Jos, Plateau State, Maiduguri in Borno State and Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, the story was the same, as many people were sent to their early graves while scores were injured.
A bomb blast yesterday morning at the premises of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church at Madalla, near Suleja in Niger State, left at least 25 people dead. A deep hole of about a meter was created on a tarred road where the explosives were believed to have landed.
The twin blasts, which occurred within five minutes of each other, were heard around 8am when worshippers were trooping out from the church, following the end of the morning service. Among people killed were passers-by.
The effect of the explosion caused the collapse of several houses and shops nearby. Devastating aftershocks were witnessed across the peaceful town.
One of our correspondents, who witnessed the incident in the first few minutes before the second explosion, revealed that the friction spread as far as a kilometre, sending with it dust particles from the wreckage.
Casualties included passers-by, commercial motorcyclists, water vendors and private cars were car owners. LEADERSHIP saw corpses of little babies littering the roadside opposite the church’s main building.
Mutilated bodies of the dead victims and the seriously wounded littered portions of the main tarred road linking Madalla with Suleja as well as areas that were close to the church, following the great shock.
The police lost two of their members to the inferno and were seen busy searching for two others, said to be a man and a woman.
A combined team of security agencies, comprising army, police, SSS, civil defence, officers of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and road safety officers, who arrived there shortly after, faced a herculean task to keep crowds away from the scene.
Uncomplimentary remarks came from the mammoth crowd. Sympathisers and journalists who wanted to help in the evacuation process were frustrated.
The crowd made statements such as “We don’t want police again”, “We don’t want democracy”, “We don’t like NTA”, “Journalists are liars, leave here.”
Mr. Aluko Lugard, who led the NEMA team, was manhandled as he attempted to brief the press. However, he said that his men and other security people were able to evacuate “at least 25 bodies to the nearby private hospitals located about a kilometre from the scene.
He said, “Going by the number we evacuated on stretchers to the hospitals in a state of unconsciousness, deep shock and multiple deep wounds for some, we had about 25 casualties.”
The NEMA official further said that his men were drafted to other hospitals in Suleja to monitor the situation of the casualties.”
Wreckage of buildings, burnt cars and motorcycles have remained a sour sight from a radius of 30 metres to the scene.
According to residents of the town whom LEADERSHIP interviewed, the police and other security agencies in battle-gear attire had mounted intensive checkpoints in strategic positions of the town 24 hours before the blasts.
Police were seen also on duty posts, protecting the premises of other religious houses as well as making frequent searches of moving vehicles and cautioning some people to observe traffic rules.
It was gathered that when the bomb went off, no fewer than 200 worshippers were inside the church.
LEADERSHIP learnt that some casualties were in critical condition and some might have given up on their way to hospital, while some were taken to the National Hospital, Abuja, Gwagwalada Teaching Hospital and the General Hospital Suleja, for medical attention.
An eyewitness also told LEADERSHIP: “I can tell you that there was a woman that two of her arms were almost cut off and there are many victims with such sorry sights that I know that it will be difficult for them to survive it up to the hospital.”
The Commissioner of Police, Niger State command, Alhaji Ibrahim Maishanu, confirmed the incident, saying: “I can confirm to you that a bomb blast took place in Madalla this morning and so far 12 persons, including three policemen, have so far died as a result of the blast and several persons injured.” The police was still on top of the situation, he said.
The chairman of Suleja local government area, Alhaji Yunus Adamu, in an interview, said the incident was the worst of all the blasts that had happened in the area. “The bomb was dropped on the road and the blast dug a big crate on the road and affected the church and surrounding houses,” he stated.
The chairman, who was visibly confused, said: “A detachment of soldiers has been sent to the town to calm nerves because the people are against the presence of the police and the situation is becoming restive. However we are on top of the situation.”
Niger State Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu has however, condemned the act while calling for national security summit to address the incessant bomb blastd in the nation.
In statement signed by the governor’s chief press secretary, Danladi Mohammed Ndayebo, said the governor was deeply pained that the perpetrators of the act have chosen a holy day like Christmas to perpetrate the act.
Aliyu said: “The issue of security should not be left to government alone. My thinking is that government alone cannot stop the activities of terrorists which have left hundreds of innocent Nigerians either dead or wounded.”
According to an eye witness, the casualties could have been on the high side if the priest has not asked the worshippers to stay behind for the dedication of a new born baby, saying that the development reduced the number of the victims.
He said: “As we were doing the baby dedication, we heard a loud bang from the outside and smoke enveloped everywhere and all I could see outside were dead bodies littered everywhere women and children wile some cars parked in the premises of the church were engulfed with fire with no fire fighters in sight, no police came in to our aid. It was very unfortunate. Are they saying we should not worship our God again? “
Another worshipper wondered how the bombers were able to pass through the police road block mounted on the adjacent road to the Church. He disclosed that not fewer than 100 people might have been affected including the passers-by which included the water hawkers and commercial motorcyclists with their passengers.
It was only one bus belonging to the Civil Defence Rapid Response Squard that was sighted packing the corps after evacuating those that were injured to the nearby Lucas Hospital & Maternity. A young man with the NEMA identification jacket was seeing but said he was just arriving on the scene and that he had sent distress call to the appropriate quarters. Young men were sighted recording the mangled bodies of the dead that littered everywhere including the burning cars.
A man, who refused to disclose his identity, called for the balkanisation of the country while most of the residents who were from the Eastern part of the country were expressing anger threatening to carry out a reprisals. One Kenneth wondered why no police could arrive on the scene until after about one hour and 30 minutes. A MOPOL who shot into the air about 9.28am was almost mobbed by the angry residents who were asking him where he others were when the hoodlums were detonating the bomb.
A man, selling rosary and other items of worship in one of the shop in the church premises surprisingly survived, but with a very serious injury. Some Catholic priests around quickly moved into the hospital to pray for some 70 people on admission. It got to a state when there was no place to admit any victim again.
Some angry young men were sighted blocking the road apparently to express dissatisfaction about the insecurity of lives and property in the country. They almost burn a car of one of our correspondents despite his telling them he was a journalist. Then at about 9.25a.m, five military vehicles arrived with some army personnel who were armed to their teeth. Their arrival led to condone off of the crime scene while the traffic to and from Suleja was stopped passing through the road.
Meanwhile as a result of the incident, churches in Mandalla quickly stopped their services as worshippers were dismissed.
Another survivor, Saliu, who claimed he was about few kilometres away from the site of the blast, said a detachment of Nigeria police who were in the church and had stopped a car passing through the road for routine check when the bomb blast killing even the occupants of the car.
He said: “We first of all saw the police stopping a car trying to check the car and all of a sudden when the boot of the car was about to be opened by one of the occupants, the bomb exploded killing both the policemen and the occupants of the car it could be one of us standing over there about few metres a away but I thank God”
Another eyewitness, John, said “I just passed through this road and was going to my church away from here when suddenly we heard a blast, naturally I was shocked, I was thinking this is the place I have just passed”.
Though police insisted that only 12 persons died eyewitnesses stated that the over 25 corpses were seen on the spot and the people actually were rendering helping hand before the police and other emergence workers arrived.
Meanwhile, the Department of State Service (DSS) has confirmed that three of its personnel members died when a lone suicide bomber suspected to be a Boko Haram operative detonated a car bomb at its Yobe State Command Headquarters.
In a statement signed by the SSS deputy director public relations, Ms. Marilyn Ogar, the service said “the attack occurred when the convoy of the commanding officer of the 241 RECCE Battalion, Nguru, Yobe State, Colonel Dahiru Abdulsalam, was driving into the headquarters complex for a security meeting”.
According to the statement, the suicide bomber attempted to force his way into the convoy but was stopped by vigilant guards. But the statement added that, upon collusion with the gate, the impact resulted in an explosion which led to the death of three service people, the suicide bomber and destroyed an armoured personnel carrier (APC) stationed at the gate.
On the reason for the attack, Ogar said it was not unconnected with the “ongoing operations by the security agencies to curtail the excesses of terrorists who continue to wreak havoc on the public”.
“The attacks will in no way deter security agencies from securing the lives and property of Nigerians and ridding the society of criminals. Members of the public are hereby implored to report suspicious movements within their localities to the nearest law enforcement agency in the overall effort to rid our nation of these undesirable elements,” she said.
Pope Benedict XVI, has also described the multiple bomb attacks across Nigeria as a sign of “cruelty and absurd, blind hatred” that shows no respect for human life.
Though the Pope made no mention of the bomb attacks in his traditional Christmas message, the Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, later said the Catholic church was praying for all Nigerians confronting “this terrorist violence in these days that should be filled with peace and joy.”
The Vatican also said Pope Benedict’s speech had been prepared long before the attacks in the country. But the Pope appealed and prayed for world peace in his message.
He said, “May the Lord come to the aid of our world torn by so many conflicts which even today stain the Earth with blood.In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours.”
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan has described the bomb blasts at the St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla as an unwarranted affront on the collective safety and freedom of Nigerians, just as he vowed that government will leave no stone unturned in its bid to bring the perpetrators of the gory act of violence and others before it to book.
This is coming just as the Presidency has concluded plans to organise a National Security Summit (NSS) next year to brainstorm on ways to make the country safe.
LEADERSHIP gathered reliably that top security chiefs rose from a crucial meeting yesterday with a firm resolve that the alleged plot by the dreaded islamic sect, Boko Haram, to destroy the country must be tackled this time around with the ferocity of a wounded lion, saying that the menace underscores the budgetary proposal for 2012 fiscal year.
Jonathan, who condemned yesterday’s attack on the Church in Madallah, Niger State; Jos, Plateau State; and Damaturu, Yobe State, said the bombing of innocent citizens on a day millions of people all over the world were celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ was a dastardly act that must attract the rebuke of all peace-loving Nigerians.
He said: “I want to reassure all Nigerians that the federal government will not relent in its determination to bring to justice all the perpetrators of today’s acts of violence and all others before now.”
In a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, the president said, “These acts of violence against innocent citizens are an unwarranted affront on our collective safety and freedom. Nigerians must stand as one to condemn them.”
Jonathan further expressed what he described as his heartfelt condolences to the churches and families who lost their loved ones to the attacks, adding, however, that his government remained resolute in resolving the security challenges that confront the nation.
“I ask God, in His infinite mercies, to grant these innocent souls eternal rest, and give their families the fortitude to bear this painful loss”, the president prayed, even as he regretted that the unfortunate incidents had spoiled the celebratory mood across the land.
Meanwhile, after a meeting that lasted for hours yesterday, the security chiefs unanimously resolved that the federal government should declare the new year a security year, as part of deliberate efforts to tackle the rising wave of insecurity in Nigeria, essentially the Boko Haram terror group and many other ethnic militia formation across the country.
Accordingly, the security hierarchy has adopted a recommendation for a security summit early next year, where top Nigerian security actors are expected to inject fresh ideas into ongoing efforts by government to stem the tide.
The security summit which is being planned by the federal government as part of new measures to address the increasing rate of security threats, is to hold in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and will be funded through the 2012 financial votes for national security.
A close source at the meeting who spoke to LEADERSHIP reliably said, “No amount of budgetary allocation is too much for security related projects because all over the world, security is a top priority of every responsible government and Nigeria cannot be exception, especially in the face of current level of insecurity”.
He added that the security summit would encourage all security experts, “both serving and retired personnels to mount the stage and speak openly and frankly, in a manner similar to the constitutional conference, which would make far reaching recommendations to government on present and future security measures”.
The summit, LEADERSHIP further learnt, came sequel to a earlier meeting of all former National Security Advisers (NSAs), which was convened by the office of the present NSA, Gen. Andrew Azazi, to discuss on appropriate ways of tackling Boko Haram head on.
Meanwhile, violence has greeted the people of Umurari area of Maiduguri metropolis where six people were reportedly killed at the early hours of yesterday when gunmen suspected to be member of the dreaded Boko Haram sect launched onslaught on them.
An eyewitness, who sought anonymity, told one of our correspondents that the attackers came on foot, carrying AK-47 riffles and started shooting sporadically even when their mission to attack the Joint Task Force (JTF) had vehicle failed.
The witness said: “In fact, the gunshots cause pandemonium in the area as we were running helter skelter for our lives and after the attack the assailants took their heels and none of them were arrested.”
When contacted, the state commissioner of police, Borno State Command, Mr Simeon Midenda, said he was yet to be brief on the incident.
In a related development, there was bomb blast yesterday night at London Cikin area of the state capital where some people were allegedly injured as a result of the explosion even though the authorities concern did not confirm it.
Meanwhile, there is tension in Jos during Christmas Church services as explosion rocks Mountain of Fire and Miracles Church Middle-Belt Church Headquarters along UTC Junction near VIO state Office in Jos Tin-city.
An Eyewitness told LEADERSHIP that a police officer on duty at the time of the Bomb explosion around the church was killed while several vehicles were burnt from the fire that emanated from the explosion.
The witness added that the remains of the police officer were removed from the scene of the explosion by his colleagues and taken to the Bingham University Teaching Hospital mortuary.
Security operative was said to have cordoned off the area to prevent further break down of law and order.
This is not the first time that the church headquarter will come under attack.
LEADERSHIP recalled that the same time last year, an undetonated explosive devices was recovered by the police anti-bomb squad that was planted during church service.
When contacted, the spokesman of the Special Task Force (STF) on Jos crisis, Captain Charles Okeuocha, told LEADERSHIP that he was yet to be briefed and could not comment at the time of filling this report.
As a result of checkpoints mounted by security operatives, there were heavy traffic jam in the city as vehicles owner are subjected to serious stop and search in the process.
Meanwhile, Plateau State government has condemned the Christmas Day bomb blast in Jos, disclosing that four people have been arrested in connection with the bomb blast in the Tin-city.
Media adviser to Governor Jang, Mr. Ayuba Pam, told LEADERSHIP that a policeman was killed in the attack while some vehicles were burnt in the process.
But the Boko Haram sect has claim responsibility for the Christmas Day bomb blasts in Madalla area of Niger State and Jos, the Plateau State capital.
A spokesman for the group, Abu Qaqa, told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa Service, monitored in Kaduna and told journalists in a statement that “the group was responsible for the serial attacks on Christians.”
In the statement, the, promises to unleashed more attacks.
Also, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Andrew Azazi (rtd), has claimed that but for the pro-active measures taken by his office, a major catastrophic plan by the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, would have happened.
In a statement in Abuja yesterday, Azazi said: “It is important to inform members of the public that the pro-active measures put in place by the security forces during this festive period have so far checkmated a major catastrophic plan envisaged by Boko Haram.”
He stated that the “latest mindless and cowardly attacks by Boko Haram members specifically directed at churches were pre-meditated,” adding that over the last week, five Improvise Explosive Devices (IEDs) had been recovered in five churches in Adamawa state.
According to the NSA, Nigerians should not view the on-going attacks as a fight between security forces and some dissident elements rather a conflict between some misguided extremists in our midst and the rest of our society.
“We renew our appeal to all Nigerians that this is not a fight between some misguided elements. It is a conflict between some misguided extremists in our midst and the rest of society, because the victims are not confined to any ethnic boundary. We must cooperate to fish them out. And because our cause is just and our collective resolve is stronger, together we shall prevail!”