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Bomb explosion in Suleja near Abuja, 5 wounded

On 19 February, an improvised bomb exploded near a church in Suleja, a town in Niger State, but on the edge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. The blast occurred on Morocco Road, at the heart of the commercial area of the town, wounding five people and damaging five cars.

According to Uyi Idugboe, pastor of the Christ Embassy Church, the blast struck just a few minutes after the church service had started at 10 am. He said a member of the church, who had gone out to check that his vehicle was locked, spotted a suspicious-looking package lying between two cars. He promptly alerted everyone to stay indoors.

Said Idugboe: “When we were alerted, about 25 minutes before the detonation, we called everybody inside the church. That is why we don’t have casualties”.

The Commissioner of Police in Niger State, Alhaji Ibrahim Maishanu, reported that no one was killed by the blast. Yushua Shuaib, spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) also confirmed that: “No person died in the Suleja explosion. One person was seriously injured and is now in hospital. Four victims had minor injuries while five vehicles were damaged”.

Responding to the incident, large numbers of soldiers, police and other security operatives soon cordoned off the area, to enable bomb experts commence investigations.

Churches in Suleja and nearby Madalla have been targeted repeatedly by the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, which says it is fighting to establish Islamic rule in the northern states of the country. Its most recent attack in the area was the Christmas Day bombing of a Catholic church in Madalla, which killed about 43 people and wounded 57.

However, security operatives have arrested the suspected mastermind of that attack. More recently, the State Security Service (SSS) reportedly raided the home of one Bashiru Madalla, identified as coordinator of Boko Haram’s operations in the FCT and Niger State; but the suspect is said to be on the run.

Ibrahim Lamorde confirmed as EFCC chairman

On 15 February, the Senate in Abuja, confirmed the appointment of Mr Ibrahim Lamorde as chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

President Goodluck Jonathan had, on 23 November 2011, appointed Lamorde to head the anti-graft agency. The appointment followed Jonathan’s sack of Mrs Farida Waziri as the commission’s chairperson, for undisclosed reasons.

Lamorde had been heading the agency in an acting capacity since then.

Dont negotiate with Boko Haram, Army Chief Gen Ihejirika warns

Lt Gen A. O. IHEJIRIKA, Chief of Army Staff

On 24 January, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Azubike Ihejirika, warned against entering into any negotiation with the militant Islamist sect widely known as Boko Haram, stressing that dialogue had never been an effective response to terrorism.

The Army chief gave the warning in the federal capital, Abuja, in his brief remarks at the opening ceremony of a seminar on National Security, organized by the Alumni Association of the National Defence College (AANDEC) in collaboration with the National Defence College (NDC), Abuja.

Objecting to any dialogue with the sect which has killed hundreds of Nigerians, the Army chief said: “No matter and whatever the measures you put in place, we would not get the best result and fast enough, unless the society as a whole rejects terrorism without any justification”.

Gen Ihejirika stressed that: “Those who try to justify acts of terrorism inadvertently support terrorists. And some do so only to discover later that terrorism is not a matter to be negotiated and won”.

He added that: “The Army is not resting on its oars, as it is transforming on the training of its personnel”. In this regard, he disclosed that the last batch of a special quick response squad had just passed out from training and had been deployed to curtail the movements of the terrorists.

Multiple bomb explosions rock Kano: Zonal Police headquarters, several police stations, Immigration office hit

Map of Nigeria showing Kano State

On 20 January, multiple explosions and gunfire rocked Kano, capital of Kano State and the commercial nerve centre of northern Nigeria, destroying several government buildings and turning the city into chaos.

Among the buildings hit were the Zone 1 police headquarters at Kofar Dan Agundi, along BUK road, Sharada; several other police stations and the Immigration office at Farm Centre. There were fears of substantial casualties, but no figures immediately available.

Local sources report huge smoke rising from the zonal police headquarters, after the building had been severely damaged by the blast. The building includes the office of the Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG) in charge of the zone, which comprises the police commands in Kano, Katsina and Jigawa States.

One account said the bomber of the police headquarters came close to the building on a motor cycle, got down and then made a dash inside, clutching a bag. The account said police tried to stop him but he forced his way through, and then the blast went off.

Soon after that first blast, several other explosions went off in different parts of the city. Some residents report that another explosion hit the police station on Zaria Road while a third hit the Immigration office.  Others suggest that up to eight police stations may have been hit. Some residents said the attackers had freed detainees from about six police stations.

One report said another bomber also tried to attack the office of the State Security Service (SSS) but was shot down before he could detonate his bomb. A second attacker is said to have been arrested, but this is yet to be confirmed by security authorities.

There are yet no official or comprehensive reports of casualties, but some sources say they could be “substantial”.  Officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in Kano, said they were having a hard time trying to reach the scenes of the major explosions, as police and army teams had cordoned off most of them and also set up many roadblocks across the city.  

The Al Jazeera correspondent quotes one witness as having seen at least seven dead bodies, including five immigration officers and two civilians.

Police have declared a 24-hour curfew in Kano metropolis, but there were sounds of gunfire, apparently from gun battles between the attackers and security operatives, beyond sunset.

The Islamist militant group, widely known as Boko Haram, has reportedly claimed responsibility for the bomb attacks.

The group says it is fighting to establish Islamic rule in the northernmost third of Nigeria’s 36 states. It had claimed responsibility, or had been blamed by security authorities, for several bomb and gun attacks, especially in the north-eastern Borno State, since late 2010.

On 16 June 2011, it claimed responsibility for the suicide bomb attack inside the premises of the Nigeria Police headquarters in the federal capital, Abuja. On 26 August, it also claimed responsibility for the bombing of the United Nations office complex in Abuja, in which 25 people were killed.

Most recently, it said it was responsible for the Christmas Day bomb attack on a church in Madalla near Abuja, in which over 40 worshippers were killed. In the first week of January, it gave all Christians and southerners a two-day ultimatum to leave the northern parts of the country, but government and security authorities urges citizens to ignore that ultimatum.

Christmas Day Bomb: Key suspect arrested, escapes police custody

Mr HAFIZ RINGIM, Inspector General of Police

On 17 January, Police authorities reported that a key suspect in the deadly Christmas Day bomb attack on a Catholic church, who was arrested in Abuja three days earlier, had escaped police custody.

In a statement issued in Abuja, by Mr Olusola Amore, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, who is the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), the police said the suspect escaped in Abaji, a boundary town between the Federal Capital Territory and Kogi State, where he had been taken for investigation.

ARREST AND ESCAPE

The suspect, earlier identified as Kabiru Sokoto, was arrested by the police on Saturday 14 December, in the company of a serving military officer, at the Borno State Governor’s Lodge in Abuja. The police statement said he was then handed over to a Commissioner of Police (CP) for further investigations. The statement did not name the CP, but several sources identified him as Mr Zakari Biu.

On Sunday 15 January, the CP reportedly sent a team of policemen in a Toyota Hilux truck, to take Sokoto to his residence in Abaji, for a search. The suspect was said to have been handcuffed.

Some accounts said as the team got into Abaji, some young men believed to be members of his group, spotted him and confronted the police team. Some analysts suspect the group may have had advance notice that the suspect was being brought to the town.

In no time, according to these accounts, they overwhelmed the police escorts and freed Sokoto. Attempts by the policemen to re-arrest him reportedly led to a fight, in which a 28-year old student of Federal Polytechnic, Nasarawa, was shot and killed.

The statement by the Police Headquarters said: “The Police view this development as a serious negligence on the part of the Commissioner of Police” and that he had “since been queried and suspended from duty”. It added that the CP might be prosecuted, if a criminal case was established against him and his team.

OUTRAGE

The bombing of the St Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla near Abuja on Christmas Day killed at least 43 people and wounded over 70 others. The escape of the high profile suspect, who is believed to have masterminded that attack, is seen as a national embarrassment and has stirred public outrage.

Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, a former Commissioner of Police, told The Punch newspaper that the escape was “unbelievable” and “a shame”. He said it was also a confirmation of President Goodluck Jonathan’s suspicion, which he had expressed on 8 January, that Boko Haram sympathizers were in his administration and in the security agencies.  “I think there is complicity”, Tsav said, “The President should do something about the police”.

Femi Falana, a prominent human rights lawyer, alleged that police authorities might have decided to release the suspect because he had implicated some highly-placed Nigerians in his statement. He called on President Jonathan to immediately sack the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Hafiz Ringim.

The President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, said he was “shocked beyond words”. However, he also told The Punch that he was not entirely surprised, as “we have said it before, and we will continue to say it, that there are people in our security agencies that have other loyalties than they have to Nigeria”. He demanded that the police produce the suspect within three days and investigate those that were directly involved in the escape.

Biu, who was promoted Commissioner of Police only last month, had been named in connection with the torture of political detainees during the military regime of General Sani Abacha in the mid-1990s; but he was neither charged nor convicted in any court.

Nigerian labour leaders end strike, but say new fuel price was government’s unilateral decision

NLC President, ABDULWAHEED OMAR and TUC President, PETER ESELE

On 16 January, leaders of Nigeria’s two major umbrella workers’ unions, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), ended the nationwide strike they started on 9 January. The strike had been called in protest against the government’s January 1 removal of the subsidy on gasoline which had hiked the price of motor fuel – and several other goods and services – by more than 100 per cent.

The unions had declared the previous day (15 January), that they were suspending street protests but continuing the strike until the government reverts to the pre-January 1 pump price.

Their decision to effectively end the strike, less than 24 hours later, followed an early morning broadcast by President Goodluck Jonathan in which he lowered the pump price from the 141 naira announced on 1 January to 97 naira. This reduction amounted to a 31 percent cut in the price since January 1, but still left a 49 percent increase over the price before the subsidy was removed.

In his broadcast, the president had blamed labour leaders for the failure of talks towards a mutually-acceptable price. He had charged that “other interests beyond the implementation of the deregulation policy have hijacked the protest” and were seeking to “promote discord, anarchy and insecurity, to the detriment of public peace”.

He had also read the riot act to the labour leaders, warning that “Government will not condone brazen acts of criminality and subversion”, and vowing he would take necessary steps to ensure public order.

Six hours later, at a mid-day press conference in the federal capital, Abuja, addressed by NLC president, Abdulwaheed Omar, and TUC President, Peter Esele, the labour leaders said the new price announced by Jonathan was a unilateral decision by the government, not an agreement by both parties.

They said their decision to “suspend” the strike was informed by “wide consultations” with branches of their unions across the country, some civil society groups and other stakeholders. They also said the decision was “in order to save lives and in the interest of national survival”

The labour leaders declared that although they had not achieved their demand of a reversion to the pre-January 1 price, the strike and protests had recorded some achievements. These, they said, included forcing the previously inflexible government to announce a price reduction to N97.

They said the strike and protests had also forced the government to “adopt the policy to drastically reduce the cost of governance” and to “decisively move against the massive and crippling corruption in the oil sector”. They added that a related success was that of getting the government’s commitment to “bring to justice all those who have contributed, in one way or another, to the economic adversity of the country”.

They said they would “take advantage of the Government’s invitation to further engage on these issues”.

The labour leaders demanded the release of all those detained in the course of the strikes, rallies and street protests. They also reiterated their demand that those who perpetuated violence against unarmed protesters should be brought to justice. They were however silent on any definite steps they planned to take in pressing these demands.

Gen Ewansiha takes over as JTF commander in Borno State, urges cooperation from residents

On 13 January, Maj Gen John Ewansiha assumed office as the new Commander of the military Joint Task Force (JTF) in Maiduguri, Borno State, pledging to sustain the tempo of the anti-terrorism campaign and urging residents to cooperate with the military mission.

Speaking at the JTF’s headquarters in Pompomari, Maiduguri, while taking over from the former commander, Maj Gen Jack Nwaogbo (now redeployed to the Defence Headquarters in Abuja), Gen Ewansiha said he would sustain the work JTF had been doing under his predecessor.

He observed that as a result of JTF’s security measures and operations in Borno State, most members of the militant Islamist sect widely known as Boko Haram, as well as violent criminals that had been terrorizing the state, had relocated to other states. He pledged that, under his command, the task force would spare no effort towards stopping serial killings and bombings in the state.

“People terrorizing the state should have a rethink, turn up their weapons and come out for dialogue with the appropriate authorities”, he declared.

The new commander also urged residents of Maiduguri and other violence-scared towns not to flee the state. He said the task force was applying comprehensive security measures to protect lives and property, particularly in the five local government areas under the state of emergency declared by President Goodluck Jonathan on 31 December 2011. He appealed to residents to shun rumour peddlers and cooperate with JTF by offering information that could facilitate the arrest of terrorists and criminals.

On the reported excesses of JTF personnel while carrying out their duties, he said the nation’s military does not condone indiscipline and that he would deal decisively with any of his men found violating the ‘Rules of Engagement’ or committing extra-judicial killings. He said: “The soldiers are not mad men and we have our code of conduct, and anyone who falls short is made to face the music”.

However, he also added that troops will defend themselves whenever they are attacked or endangered by terrorists and criminals.

Fuel subsidy strike and protests: At least 3 killed, over 30 wounded, in Lagos and Kano

Protesters in Lagos

On 9 January, Nigeria’s labour unions and civil society groups started a paralyzing strike and street protests in several cities across the country.  The protests initially appeared largely peaceful, but there have been reports of at least three protesters shot dead and over 30 others wounded in clashes with police in Lagos and Kano.

The striking workers and activists are demanding that the federal government reverse its 1 January decision which ended the subsidy on motor fuel and hiked pump prices by over 100 per cent overnight. That hike spurred further increases in prices of food, transportation and other goods and services nationwide. In a country where about 70 per cent of the 167 million population live on less than two US dollars a day, these sharp and sudden price increases have stung people really hard, fuelling angry protests.

The strikes and protests are being driven by two major unions – Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC). The unions are supported by a loose network of activists called “Occupy Nigeria”, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York.

ABUJA

In the federal capital, Abuja, there were reports that youths camping in the city’s ceremonial parade ground, Eagle Square, were cleared out overnight, by police using tear gas. By morning, thousands gathered under tight security, some in cars and waving NLC flags. Banks and other commercial houses were shut. The Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport was also closed, preventing flights from landing or leaving.

LAGOS

In Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital, thousands of people gathered outside Labour House in Yaba, waving NLC flags. Others waved placards challenging President Goodluck Jonathan’s record and bearing an effigy of the president with vampire teeth and devil horns. From there, they started marching and chanting “Solidarity forever”, closely followed by armed anti-riot police.

In most parts of the metropolis, roads and streets that are typically clogged on Monday mornings were empty, except for protesters on their way to rallies and police patrols maintaining public order. Shops, banks and offices were all shut. Riot police were on stand-by at the demonstration sites, though vastly outnumbered by the protesters. In some areas, protesters blocked roads with burning tyres and local hoodlums harassed motorists, stoning the cars of those still driving in spite of the strike.

Protesters and police clashed briefly in the Ogba suburb of the city, with one person killed and at least three others suffering gunshot wounds. Residents said the man was shot dead when the police fired to disperse a crowd. A statement by the NLC also said the protester was shot dead by police, but there is yet no police report on the incident.

KANO

In Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria, protesters set two vans ablaze and also reportedly set ablaze the office of the Secretary of the State Government (the third highest officer in the executive arm of the state government), damaging it seriously. They also tried to torch the home of the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, but police stopped them. Protest organisers said the security personnel killed at least one person, when they fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse a crowd. A Red Cross official reported 30 injured people, including 18 with gunshot wounds. A hospital source later reported that two of those injured had died.

OTHER CITIES

The strikes and protests recorded mixed results in several other cities.  In Kaduna, the streets were quiet, with all shops closed amidst a heavy police presence. In Jos, the military task force, Operation Safe Haven, outlawed all forms of street protests, in view of the volatile security situation in and around the city and some parts of Plateau State, since 2010.

Across the Niger Delta, the protesters were also restrained by heavy security presence. In Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State, police prevented them from marching on the streets. In Port Harcourt, Rivers State, hundreds gathered but were largely confined to the Isaac Boro Square. In Calabar, Cross River State, most workers did not comply with the strike order and went about their normal work or business.

FAILED EFFORTS TO STOP THE STRIKE

The government had made spirited efforts to prevent the strike but failed. It had made strenuous efforts to justify its elimination of the subsidy, arguing that with the subsidy, fuel was much cheaper in Nigeria than neighbouring countries, encouraging the smuggling of the product abroad.

It had also promised that the 8 billion US dollars in estimated savings a year from scrapping the fuel subsidies, would be channelled towards improving health, education and the highly erratic electricity supply. But after so many failed promises in the past, nobody believes these new promises.

On 6 January, the National Industrial Court gave a late evening (5.30 pm) ruling, declaring the then proposed strike illegal. The labour leaders said they were not served any copies of the ruling. Many other protesters said they were not bound by the ruling as it was specific to the labour unions.

On 7 January, President Jonathan made a televised broadcast defending the removal of the subsidy. He insisted that the deregulation of the petroleum sector was the best way to curb corruption and ensure the survival and growth of the economy. He also announced a 25 per cent cut in the basic salaries of political officers in the executive arm of government, reduction of foreign travels in 2012 and plans to trim the over-bloated federal bureaucracy. Many analysts said the address offered too little too late.

On 8 January, President Jonathan inaugurated a mass transit scheme with 1,600 buses, as one of his government’s palliatives to cushion the effects of the hike in fuel and transportation costs.

The federal House of Representatives, in a rowdy and sometimes comical session in Abuja, also tried to stop the strike. Its members passed a motion calling on Jonathan to reconsider his action, but also calling on the unions to stop the strike and allow more time for consultations. Union leaders thanked the lawmakers for their intervention, but said the strike would go ahead as already planned. There was also no sign the government would back down.

Speaking shortly before the strike was due to officially commence, Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told the BBC’s Network Africa that she expected a low turnout. She said: “Everybody is going to work – that’s the information I got from the governors…Even in Abuja… most people are going to work. In Lagos, a lot of associations and schools say they’re going to carry on business as usual”.

Judging by the large turn-out in Lagos, the minister was grossly mistaken. Said one commentator: “That shows you just how totally disconnected these people are from the real heartbeat of the Nigerian people”.

The protesters say the action will continue indefinitely. Many citizens say the government needs to find a quick and satisfactory response, in order to prevent further damage to the country’s economy – and her image.

Boko Haram challenge is more complex than Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970, says President Jonathan

Dr GOODLUCK JONATHAN President of Nigeria

On 8 January, President Goodluck Jonathan said the security challenge currently posed by the militant Islamist group widely known as Boko Haram was more complex than the Nigerian civil war of 1967 to 1970, adding that the sect had sympathisers in all arms of the government and the security agencies.

Speaking at an interdenominational service at the National Christian Centre, Abuja, in one of the programmes marking the 2012 Armed Forces Remembrance Day, the President said: “The situation we have in our hands is even worse than the civil war that we fought”.

He said although the casualties resulting from the Boko Haram attacks were nothing compared to those of the civil war, the sect posed a more complex challenge: “During the civil war, we knew and we could even predict where the enemy was coming from…But the challenge we have today is more complicated”.

Underlining the complexity of the challenge, President Jonathan said the situation was further complicated by the fact that Boko Haram members and sympathisers may be found in any segment and institution of society.

He said: “I remember when I had a meeting with elders from the North-east and some parts of the North-west where the Boko Haram phenomenon is more prevalent. Somebody said that the situation is so bad that even if one’s son is a member, one will not even know. Some continue to dip their hands and eat with you and you won’t even know the person who will point a gun at you or plant a bomb behind your house”.

He added that: “Some of them are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government, while some of them are even in the judiciary. Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies. That is how complex the situation is”.

The President observed that while the security agencies were doing their best to contain the situation, the country was considerably “under-policed”. He said: “We have a police force that is about 300,000 in number.  Countries that have the kind of challenge that we have today, who have about 20 per cent of our population, have five times more than that number. That number would have been okay some years back, but definitely not the number that can cope with the security challenges we have now”.

Jonathan however assured Nigerians that the nation will overcome its current security challenges. He said: “I assure Nigerians that we shall get over it. We are meeting everyday and we are planning.We are going to increase the strength and the capacity of the security services to confront the modern challenges we face.”

Gunmen attack church, kill 6, wound 10, in Gombe, Gombe State

Map of Nigeria showing Gombe State

On 5 January, unknown gunmen attacked a church, killing at least six worshippers and wounding 10 others, in Gombe, Gombe State.

Some sources say the victims were attending a night service at a local branch of the Deeper Life Bible church, a Pentecostal church with thousands of branches all over the country and abroad. The Pastor of the church, Johnson Jauro, said his wife was among those killed.

Jauro said: “The attackers started shooting sporadically. They shot through the window of the church, and many people were killed, including my wife. Many of my members who attended the church service were also injured”.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but some local people believe the gunmen must have been members of the militant Islamist group widely known as Boko Haram. The sect had claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day bombing of a Catholic church in Madalla near Abuja, which killed more than 40 people.

This latest attack comes only five days after 31 December 2011, when President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in 15 local government areas across five states, closing parts of Nigeria’s borders with Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Republic of Niger. Gombe was not listed among the high risk states and none of its local government areas was covered by the declared emergency.

Reacting to the declaration of emergency and especially the deployment of troops to the affected local government areas, a Boko Haram spokesman gave Christians and southerners a three-day deadline to leave the majority Muslim northern states of the country or face death. However, the police had asked citizens to ignore that ultimatum and carry on with their normal businesses.

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