Friday, October 01, 2010

Today's Tragedy in Abuja

Last night we had a group of friends round for dinner to celebrate my 41st birthday.  Without trying to sound smug, I am fortunate to count some keen minds as mates, who never fail to impress in their analysis of their beloved country, Nigeria.  But, just now, it seems that no one really knows what is going to happen – both with the elections, and more generally, with Project Nigeria.  After the party, at midnight, we headed down to the area near Millennium Tower, a half-completed building site near the National Mosque.  From behind razor wire, we looked on at the celebrations an invited few dignitaries were privileged to watch. I was filled with a sense of sadness that yet again, ordinary Nigerians were being excluded from the main event.

At 10 this morning, still a little blurry from the night before, the alert came in on my Twitter client (from NEXT) that Jomo Gbomo, the mythical spokesman from MEND, had said that there would be bombs in and around Eagle Square at 10.30.  I retweeted the NEXT message.  A few others did the same. In the following few minutes, the general sense was that it was more hot air and blather from a weakened organisation.  I reminded myself at the same time that Henry Okah’s house in Jo’burg had been raided the day before by South African police on a tip off from Nigeria.  I speculated that the two events might be connected.  Then, I left it and went to make coffee.

At 10.15, a friend called, and told me both the UK and US Embassies were issuing warnings to stay indoors among their staff and expats.  The message was that the threats were both real, specific and credible.  I decided to put off a jaunt into town to take pictures of Nigerians celebrating Independence.  The Twitterverse started to hot up.  I tweeted that there was a heightened security alert among the diplomatic corps.  Still there was scepticism that anything would happen.

Then, around 10.30-10.40 I heard what I thought was a thunder-clap.  It had started to rain by then.  However, the sound wasn’t quite like thunder – it was more of a powdery boom from far away.  I suspect now that what I heard was the sound of the bomb – only a couple of miles from my house close by the Arcade Hotel on Shehu Shagari.  By this time, I had logged on to watching the official celebration online via live streaming from Eagle Square.

I followed the tweets coming in commenting on the schoolchildren dancing, followed by a powerful show of military hardware.  We could all finally understand why Abuja has thrummed with the sound of helicopters and planes flying by in the past week. 

And then, a tweet came through from my friend Egghead, who was somewhere outside Eagle Square.  There had been an explosion.  Tweets started to flood in, with Egghead cited as a “Reuters witness”.  Apparently a tear gas canister had been accidentally discharged in a corner of the square.  I tweeted that I hoped that this was the cause of the explosion story.  And then Egghead confirmed that there had been two car bombs.  He must have walked down from Eagle Square on Shehu Shagari in the direction of the Hilton.  In one particularly stark tweet a few minutes later, he mentioned that he was looking at dead bodies.

As more information on Mend’s act of terrorism filtered through on Twitter and started to appear on the news wires, the celebration continued on in Eagle Square. It was hard to imagine that the security forces were not aware of what was going on barely 500 metres away.  President Goodluck gave a speech and awarded medals.  The day had taken on a surreal and tragic hue.  News then came in of a bus burning on Airport road.  Was this a multi-location terrorist attack?  A tweet came in that two ‘arab men’ had been seen on powerbikes just before the car bomb went off.  As usual with all things on twitter, it takes longer than traditional media to get confirmation.  As I write at 15.40, this witness report has yet to be confirmed and may not be true.  Awful images taken at the scene started to appear online, and the BBC published a video clip taken shortly after the explosion.  A confused man could be seen trying to crawl away from the site of the explosion.  It was hard to believe this was all happening in boring-old Abuja.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow to consider this: MEND were far better prepared to ‘celebrate’ Nigeria’s 50th Independence Anniversary than anyone else.  There must have been months of planning involved to create a car bomb as powerful as this.  What is worrying is that it shows how easily Abuja can be infiltrated by terrorists – the area around Eagle Square must have been packed with security operatives and yet a huge car bomb exploded close by.  As I write, the terrorists are most likely still within the FCT, celebrating the success of their awful mission: the murder of innocent Nigerians.

While many if not most Nigerians have deep sympathy for the conditions in which Niger-Deltans are forced to live, its very hard to see how this IRA-style act of terrorism on the nation’s capital is going to do Mend any favours in the short or the medium term.  The military response may well be heavy – we have now seen the helicopters and the fighter planes.  It adds a troubling new dimension to the stalling issue of the 2011 elections.  And it leaves many Nigerians wondering whether they should celebrate at all.  A tragic day for Nigeria.


joicee 3:58 pm  

A tragic day it is indeed...This has put a serious damper on things and moreso the fact that lives were lost just goes to show much Project Nigeria has failed.
May their souls rest in peace.

Myne Whitman 4:12 pm  

How sad, that MEND decided to steal the day. But I guess the country and its government and security operatives could have been more vigilant.

Kinna 5:01 pm  

Jeremy, it's so sad, incomprehensible and unbelievable to be reading this today. I'm not quite familiar with MEND and their activities. But I do know and feel strongly that more has to be done for areas like the Niger Delta. For so long, we've all sympathized. That's what we do in Africa. The Niger Delta has come to symbolize what stealing from Africans looks and feels like. And yet, looking on from a distance at reporting from the Delta, it seems that nothing much has changed. Like much of Africa's poor areas. And BTW, MEND, by its actions, is not looking for sympathy anymore, are they?

This bombing is very symbolic and perhaps a tide has turned. It's scary. Because after all, it's sort of understood that whatever our problems are, we are to come together to celebrate and respect our independence days. Now a group has openly, and in the most horrible way, dissented. It's so sad, so sad. But we should be clear about one thing; there is yet again a fight on for Nigeria, for Africa.

I don't think that Project Nigeria has failed, for failure means an end. The project is floundering. It needs to be rescued. We continue to leave the fate of Africa and Africans in the hands of those who do not mean it well. I'll stop my rambling now.

Joxy 6:03 pm  

A real tragedy. Why target innocent civilians on a day of 'celebration'? Their beef is with the people in power is it not? Yet more tarnishing of an already soiled reputation. May God rest the souls of the departed.

Scribe 6:12 pm  

What a rain on the parade and sadly too a metaphor for the tragedy Nigeria has morphed into - its now normal to cry in the middle of a smile

The nitty-gritty tales of a housewife 8:15 pm  

*sigh!*...what a pity! May the souls of the departed rest in peace...AMEN.
This is the case of when 2 elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers!


tfagbule 8:50 pm  

A sad day indeed -- vulnerable Abuja (Nigeria?), better prepared militants etc. Mend is looking ETA-like to me, forewarnings et al. But, militarisation of the Delta is no ones cup of tea (reading the tea leaves of US-Naija bi-national commission).

Dapxin 10:10 pm  

I am not going to even bother to read the whole thing yet, but I get totally worked up at this show of dem dem, sad!sad! sad!

What's really sad! is that some parts, some group of senseless bloodsucking lots in/around abuja would pack around abuja, blowing away $$$ in the name of a pointless celebration.

Its insane!

While the loss of lives - innocent lives are eternally regretted, I am one Nigerian who has not been an inch troubled at the fact that the whole charade of Abuja partying around in the midst of so much pain has been effectively truncated by the MEND activity.

It all fits the endgame.

Soon, they would be inspired to take it even to the heartlands where it may be more devastating.

It all fits the endgame...

Nigeria@50 sha? Nonsense

CodLiverOil 3:00 am  

1) It is tragic that innocent lives were needlessly lost.

2) It should come as no surprise that the security operatives failed. Wearing uniforms, and surrounding yourselves with protocols and carrying weapons doesn't equate to professionalism or capability. In a land where whole villages can be wiped off the map overnight, kidnapping is on the rise. Rag tag elements can free prisoners from jail, and get away, with very little resistance, this was only to be expected. You saw the foreign embassies behaving responsibly by telling their staff to remain indoors.

3) With the advanced warning, why wasn't the whole thing called off? I had observed some time ago, Nigeria is a land where human lives count for very little. The actions of the government and MEND have clearly demonstrated that.

If Britain, with a security apparatus infinitely more professional and better equipped than that of Nigeria's, can call off events to protect the public, why can't Nigeria?I'm not asking for them to find the bombs and diffuse them, that is probably asking too much.

3) MEND have a legitimate cause, ie resource control, but killing innocent people doesn't help them.

4) The government has to strike some sort of meaningful dialogue. After all people have been waiting 50 years and there, in that time, next to no other sources of income have been developed. So those people that do produce the wealth, are now demanding to keep more of their money.

5) A heavy handed-response by the military will not solve anything. Haven't MEND faced them before in the creeks and run circles round the nose of authority in the Delta? Increasing bitterness and misery amongst the innocent, achieves very little. They will probably not even reach their targets.

Let us hope that all concerned parties will turn a new page, so that the next 50 years are more productive than the "lost" 50 years.

Tony,  6:05 am  

The idea that "no one really knows what is going to happen – both with the elections, and more generally, with Project Nigeria" unnecessarily exaggerates the current state of affairs.

I don't Jeremy, who is but an observer. I blame his Nigerian "intellectual" friends who can be certified as lacking national consciousness.

And while on the point, commending MEND for excellent planning is certainly in poor taste.

Oluniyi D. Ajao 7:08 am  

Well, the shameless jamboree was unnecessary in the first place. What a tragic way to end the day.

Anonymous,  1:44 pm  

this just made me cry... why weren't the public alerted of this????

Nigeria is cursed.

I just learnt the one of my best freiend's lost her husband of just over a year in that attack... her baby is about three months old. He wasn't even thirty years old yet. God.

About This Blog

  © Blogger templates Psi by 2008

Back to TOP