By unseemly installments, the dream of a new nation grounded on the egalitarian precepts of its founding nationalists is being destroyed by shadowy crisis entrepreneurs alleging injustice and chanting quirky mantras as they barbarously pluck at the delicate keyboards of the Nigerian state - killing, maiming and destroying at will - while a divided political leadership dithers. LOUIS ACHI writes that last week’s St Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla bomb massacre may represent a tipping point that could lead to the abbreviation of the national journey in the absence of urgent, informed interventions
“This is an ugly incident. There is no reason for these kind of dastardly acts. It’s one of the burdens as a nation we have to carry. We believe it will not last forever.”
- President Goodluck Jonathan
“In this moment, I want to repeat once again with force: Violence is a path that leads only to pain, destruction and death. Respect, reconciliation and love are the only path to peace.”
- Pope Benedict condemning the December 25 bomb blast at St Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madala, near Suleja.
The high-pitched screams of the wounded, dying and loud silence of the dead; the splash of blood, stench of burning flesh, acrid smoke from destroyed cars in the morning of Christmas day worship in Madalla, Niger State, may have represented an alluring symphony to the forces that wrote the tragic script. The scenario threw up core questions: could this massacre lead to the onset of the end of worship in the temple of one Nigeria; does this statement of hate represent the end of an ideal, the closing stages of the dream of one Nigeria? The attacks strike at historic internal religious and regional divides that have often threatened the country - dangerous divisions that included a brief but bloody civil war over the secession of Biafra in Eastern Nigeria.
Rev. Father Christopher Jataudarde told Associated Press that Sunday’s blast happened as church officials gave parishioners white powder as part of a tradition celebrating the birth of Christ. Some already had left the church at the time of the bombing, causing the massive casualties. At least 52 people were wounded in the attack, said Slaku Luguard, a coordinator with Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency. Victims filled the cement floors of a nearby government hospital, some crying in pools of their own blood.
In the aftermath of the Christmas day bombing presidential candidate of the opposition Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) General Muhammadu Buhari said that Nigeria lacks competent leaders to tackle its security problems. “How on earth would the Vatican and the British authorities speak before the Nigerian government on attacks within Nigeria that have led to the deaths of our citizens? This is clearly a failure of leadership at a time the government needs to assure the people of the capacity to guarantee the safety of lives and property,” he queried.
Disowned by key political voices and religious leaders of Northern Nigeria and unanimously condemned by majority of Nigerians, the Jama’atu Ahlissunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, better known as Boko Haram, masterminds of the massacre defiantly acknowledged that it authored the December 25 bombing and insisted that what it did was correct and for good measure vowed to carry out more attacks.
Boko Haram spokesman Abul Qaqa proclaimed, “I am informing all Nigerians and the rest of the world that there is no doubt that we committed that act and God’s willing we will carry out further attacks.” The massacre are meant to avenge the “mass killing of Muslims carried out by Christians with the connivance of government” in northern towns like Kaduna, Zonkwa, Langtang, Yelwan Shendam, Jos, Tafawa-Balewa, and Numan, as well as in Shagamu and Ikoyi, Lagos in the south.
Reacting to the massacre, the supreme head of Nigeria’s Muslims, Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III said: “I want to assure all Nigerians that there is no conflict between Christians and Muslims, between Islam and Christianity. It is a conflict between evil people and good people and the good people are more than the evil doers. The good people must come together to defeat the evil ones and that is the message.”
Notes Okey Ndibe, Diasporan Nigerian academic and public affairs analyst of note, “As the rest of the world exchanged Christmas cheer, Nigerians reeled from devastation and death wrought by rabid terrorists. At a time like this - and the story of Nigeria is increasingly a collection of times like this – one confronts the ultimate question of whether Nigeria makes sense. And whether there’s ever a cost-effective way to make the incoherent entity called Nigeria work after all. Those who planted the bombs are doubtless opposed to the idea of one Nigeria. They also disdain the basic idea that all lives are sacred.”
LEADERSHIP WEEKEND learnt that in the chaos after the Christmas massacre, one mortally wounded man cradled his wounded stomach and begged a priest for religious atonement. “Father, pray for me. I will not survive,” he said. 43 people have been confirmed dead at St. Theresa Catholic Church and over 80 were wounded. This particular attack marks the second year in a row that the extremists seeking to install Islamic Shariah law across the country have staged Christmas attacks. Last year, a series of bombings on Christmas Eve killed 32 people in Nigeria.
Rev. Father Christopher Jataudarde explained that Sunday’s blast happened as church officials gave parishioners white powder as part of a tradition celebrating the birth of Christ. Some already had left the church at the time of the bombing, causing the massive casualties. In an early reaction, Pope Benedict XVI denounced the bombing at his post-Christmas blessing Monday, urging people to pray for the victims and Nigeria’s Christian community.
“In this moment, I want to repeat once again with force: Violence is a path that leads only to pain, destruction and death. Respect, reconciliation and love are the only path to peace,” he said. The African Union also condemned the attacks and pledged to support Nigeria in its fight against terrorism. “Boko Haram’s continued acts of terror and cruelty and absolute disregard for human life cannot be justified by any religion or faith,” said a statement attributed to AU commission chairman Jean Ping.
Boko Haram has carried out increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks in its campaign to implement strict Shariah law across Nigeria (see box). The group, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege” in the local Hausa language, is responsible for at least 1000 killings this year alone.
While initially targeting enemies via hit-and-run assassinations from the back of motorcycles after the 2009 riot, violence by Boko Haram now has a new sophistication and apparent planning that includes high-profile attacks with greater casualties. That has fueled speculation about the group’s ties as it has splintered into at least three different factions, diplomats and security sources say. Security analyst are now linking the radical sect’s operations to the feared Al Quaeda group and further speculate that the more extreme wing of the sect maintains contact with terror groups in North Africa and Somalia.
Targeting Boko Haram has remained difficult, as sect members are scattered throughout northern Nigeria and the nearby countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Analysts speculate political considerations also likely play a part in the country’s thus-far muted response: President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, may be hesitant to use force in the nation’s predominantly Muslim north.
Speaking late Sunday at a prayer service, Jonathan described the bombing as an “ugly incident,” stating that “There is no reason for these kind of dastardly acts,” he said in a ceremony aired by the Nigerian Television Authority. “It’s one of the burdens as a nation we have to carry. We believe it will not last forever.”
LEADERSHIP WEEKEND gathered reliably that top security Chiefs rose from a crucial meeting early in the week with a firm resolve that the ploy by the dreaded islamic sect to destroy the country must be tackled this time around with the ferocity of a wounded lion, holding that the menace underlines the emphasis on security in the budgetary proposal for 2012 fiscal year. Meanwhile, after a meeting that lasted for hours early in the week, the security chiefs unanimously resolved that the federal government should declare 2012 a security year, as part of deliberate efforts to tackle the rising wave of insecurity in Nigeria.
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 proposed 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 WEEKEND 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 WEEKEND 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.
Clearly, there are several weaknesses in the institutions that manage the nation’s security that are being exploited by the militant group. The clear consensus is that proactive intelligence gathering is lacking. Many observers believe that the pattern, timings and methods of these bombers clearly suggest sinister motives.
But so far, the quality of response by the state so far is sharply at odds with the stern declaration of President Goodluck Jonathan on his promised resolve to deal with security threats in the country. Jonathan’s words are worth recalling here: “As president, it is my solemn duty to defend the constitution of this country.
That includes the obligation to protect the lives and properties of every Nigerian wherever they choose to live.” The increasing consensus is that it’s clearly time the president gave meaning to that legitimate, constitutional declaration, before it becomes too late. It is believed that a focused presidential reaction, or lack of one, could make or mar Jonathan’s compelling political odyssey.
Meanwhile, as some sections of the nation’s fractured political intelligentsia wait anxiously for the cloud of political and security uncertainty to clear, for the ordinary folks, it is morning yet on creation day.