Boko Haram attacked churches on Christmas day in three northern states, turning the Yuletide into a season of bloodletting
No one was surprised that Boko Haram, the militant Islamic sect, which has been terrorising the nation since 2009, claimed responsibility for the Madala Christmas day massacre. The group had warned that it had targeted some churches for attacks during the Christmas, and that the Yuletide season would be bloody.
But the security agencies had assured the nation that they were on top of the situation. Now the people are wondering why the group was still able to strike such deadly blows in spite of security assurance by the government.
The mass murderer had waited for Christopher Jatau, at St Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madala near Suleja in Niger State, to finish the last batch of the early morning Christmas mass before descending on the congregation. As the faithful filed out of the church premises to continue the day in their various homes, a car sped into the crowd that had gathered at the church entrance and detonated an explosive, which eyewitnesses said sounded like an earthquake.
The explosion hit vehicles, human beings and houses 100 metres away. The bomb felled scores of people at the church entrance while not fewer than eight cars caught fire and got burnt with their occupants. Shops and residences along the road close to the scene of the explosion had their doors and windows shattered.
Officials of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, said about 25 persons were confirmed dead immediately after the blast while scores of others wounded were taken to various hospitals in Suleja and the National Hospital, Abuja. Two policemen were said to be among the victims. But eyewitnesses told the magazine that the number of the dead may be close to 100.
Innocent Abu, one of the victims now recuperating at the Suleja General Hospital, told the magazine that he was among the crowd of worshippers going home after mass. “I wanted to cross the road and I heard a loud sound like an earthquake and later found myself in the hospital,” he said. Abu, who may lose his left leg, also had deep cuts in most parts of his body.
Emmanuel Ehikwe, who was supervising construction work on a two-storey building near the church when the explosion occurred, told the magazine that he counted no fewer than 50 corpses before they were taken away in NEMA vehicles. He said he was on the second floor of the building and saw human parts flung into the building. He said more people died than the number officially mentioned.
The congregation at the Mountain of Fire and Miracle Church, off Murtala Muhammed Way in Jos, Plateau State, were however lucky. An explosive hurled into the church premises landed on the fence close to the car park and merely damaged three cars belonging to members. A policeman who engaged the bomber in a gun battle was also killed. The timely arrival of the Special Military Task, STF, forced the attackers to retreat. The military later recovered some explosives they left behind while running away.
In Damaturu, capital of Yobe State, where Boko Haram recently attacked churches all located at New Jerusalem part of the city, two bomb explosions also occurred. A third bomb went off in a church at Gadaka village, not too far from the capital. Unconfirmed report said at least six people died in the blast. A suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into the premises of the headquarters of the State Security Services, SSS, as a military convoy was driving in, killing three security operatives and the bomber.
Abu Qada, spokesman of Boko Haram who spoke to journalists on phone, said his group was responsible for the Christmas day tragedies. Qada said they did it to prove to security agencies that the onslaught against them would not deter them from carrying out whatever they planned. He said there would never be peace in the country until their demands were met. Their demands, he said, include release of their members who have been incarcerated, full implementation of the Sharia legal system and suspension of democracy and the constitution.
Last week, the mood at Madala after the bombing was understandably tensed. People were asking “Why? Why? Why?” There were talks about retaliation, but the timely presence of military patrol teams on ground and in the air in the area prevented a deterioration of the security situation.
The people were still angry when Abba Moro, minister of interior, visited the scene of the blasts last Monday. A visibly angry crowd confronted him. A man asked whether government could no longer protect them, and if it was time for them to start protecting themselves? Some also wanted to know what the government planned to do, and how government would assist victims. But there were also others who accused government of making “empty promises without action.”
Moro, who remained calm while the people bared their minds, told the church that it was not the proper time for “blame game,” and said government was doing its best to contain the situation. He promised that once the government gets the report of what happened at the church, it would act swiftly on it, and urged the church to pray for the country.
Owoye Azazi, National Security Adviser, NSA who cut short his holiday, said Boko Haram attacked St Theresa’s Catholic Church out of frustration. Azazi said the measures taken by security agencies against the chosen targets of Boko Haram had made it impossible for them to attack those areas. Azazi said two members of the sect were apprehended at the scene of the blast before they could escape.
The NSA disclosed that proactive measures taken by the security forces have led to the discovery and destruction of four armouries used by Boko Haram in the North. He said one of the armouries was located in Yobe, another in Kaduna and two others in Kano. He urged understanding and cooperation from members of the public, stressing that it was not a fight between security forces and Boko Haram but “a conflict between some misguided extremists in our midst and the rest of our society, because the victims are not confined to any ethnic boundary.”
The Christmas bombings have attracted condemnation from enraged Nigerians and many world leaders. Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto, said the dastardly act was un-Islamic, and urged the perpetrators to embrace dialogue instead of violence. The Sultan, who is the president of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, attributed the current insecurity in the country to bad leadership and governance, stressing that good leaders produce good followership while bad leaders produce bad followership. Expectedly, President Goodluck Jonathan described the Christmas day bombings as “an unwarranted assault on our collective safety and freedom,” adding that government would not relent until perpetrators are brought to book.
Aliyu Babangida, governor of Niger State, said there was an urgent need for the government to convene an emergency security summit as a way of tackling the security challenge facing the country. The governor, who disclosed that the state government would foot the medical bills of victims, said it was important to sit with major stakeholders in order to find out the grievances of the perpetrators and address them.
But Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, stressed the need for the federal government to “shake up” security forces in the country to assure the people of their safety. Government had become fond of making statements on the spur of the moment. In a statement signed by Danladi Ndayebo, the chief press secretary to the Niger State governor, the government said it was important to sit with major stakeholders in order to find out the grievances of the perpetrators and address them, adding that “Nigerians are tired of official statements that are full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”