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.
On 12 July, a Muslim rights group, Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), condemned the 10 July bombing of All Christian Fellowship Church, Suleja, Niger State, and urged security agencies to arrest the attackers.
In a statement by its Director, Dr Ishaq Akintola, MURIC said it “totally and unreservedly” condemned the attack on the church and “all violent attacks”.
MURIC observed that: “There is nowhere in the scripture of Islam where Muslims are enjoined to violently attack Christians. The Qur’an forbids the use of force except when Muslims are attacked (2:190). There is no evidence that the Christians inside the Suleja church had attacked Muslims”.
Denouncing “the recklessness and audacity of those behind the bombing of churches”, the group said they “cannot be genuine Muslims”, but “anarchists who are out to throw Nigeria into an orgy of religious killings”.
It therefore charged the security agencies to “unveil the identities of these blood-thirsty extremists” and also take steps to “secure churches from future attacks”.
Stressing that “Christians and Muslims are from one Father of Faith (Abraham)” and that “religion is designed to link people in love”, MURIC called on all Nigerians to be “law-abiding, peace-loving and forgiving”.
This is the second condemnation of the on-going violence to come from a significant Muslim organisation in the last two weeks. It will be recalled that on 2 July, the widely-known organization, Nasirullahi Fathi Society of Nigeria (NASFAT), had also described the series of bombings as “reprehensible and against Islamic injunctions”, calling on government to act decisively against those responsible for the violence.
MURIC was formed in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1993, in response to the denial of certain rights to Muslims in some parts of Nigeria and elsewhere around the world. The group describes itself as “an Allah-given rights organization”, which projects, promotes and protects the rights of Muslims. Its foremost objective is: “To defend the legitimate and fundamental rights of Muslims in Nigeria and beyond”. The group says it is committed to employing “peaceful means to resolve conflicts affecting Muslims and redress wrongs committed against them, either by authorities or groups of people”. It is based in Iba, Lagos State.
[THE COMPLETE VERSION OF THE MURIC STATEMENT IS ALSO AVAILABLE ON THIS WEBSITE].
On 10 July, a bomb explosion near a church killed three persons and left seven injured in Suleja, Niger State, about 40 km from the federal capital, Abuja.
According to some local sources, the explosive was apparently thrown towards the church premises from a nearby refuse dump, by unknown persons. They further said the blast affected two churches – the All Christian Fellowship Mission and the Faith Mission Church – and five other houses on the street.
Narrating the incident, the resident pastor of the All Christian Fellowship Church, Pastor Barrister Phillip Ekwueme, said the incident occurred at about 3pm. He said several churches had ended their main services for the day, but some members stayed back for meetings.
He said: “We were having the meeting of the leadership of the church and immediately we finished, we came out while some other people were still around, putting things in order. Barely ten minutes after we left here, the whole thing happened”.
The senior pastor, Rev. Joseph Olowosagba, confirmed that two people died instantly. One of them was 51-year-old Mrs Theresa Ogbor, a mother of four, as confirmed by her husband. The pastor also said one other person, who lost his two legs, had been rushed to the Specialist Hospital in Gwagwalada – about 30km away – while other church workers suffered eardrum damage due to the blast.
By end of day, however, Red Cross officials reported that three people died while seven were injured.
The Suleja Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Mr Effiong Bassey, said: “No arrest has been made yet and there is no information as to who was behind the attack, but investigation has commenced”.
This is the third bomb incident in Suleja since this year. On 3 March, an explosion went off at a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) rally in the city, just after Niger State governor Babangida Aliyu had addressed supporters; at least 12 people were killed and about 20 injured. In the second incident on 8 April, another bomb exploded at the local office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) killing at least 13 people and wounding dozens of others, mostly young graduates who had been recruited as ad-hoc staff for the general elections.
Reacting to the latest incident, the Niger State Government appealed to residents to remain calm as the security agencies will fish out the perpetrators. That assurance now sounds very familiar. After the 3 March blast, the government gave a similar assurance, but a key suspect (Mr Zakariyahu Garba) who was arrested on 5 March, soon escaped from custody! Also, after the 8 April blast, President Goodluck Jonathan, in a statement signed by his then spokesman Ima Niboro, assured the families of victims that “the Federal Government will do everything possible to bring their murderers to justice”. There has been no update on that assurance since then.
[THIS IS AN UPDATED VERSION OF OUR FIRST REPORT ON THE INCIDENT].
Gunmen kill two in Gamboru-Ngala, Police arrest two with explosives inside church in Maiduguri, Borno State
In the first attack, at least one person was killed when two gunmen riding a motorcycle fired shots at mourners attending the funeral of Baba Kamfut, a former vice chairman of Gamboru Ngala local government council, who was himself shot dead in front of his house in Ngala, a few days earlier. Witnesses said the attackers killed one man (Hassan Gambala) and wounded another (Lawan Masta) critically on the neck. There is yet no word on whether the second victim survived.
In the second incident within the same town, an Islamic teacher, Musa Mai Hannu Daya, was shot dead by unidentified hit men.
Also on the same day, police arrested two men who had smuggled explosives into a church in Maiduguri, the state capital.
According to police sources, the men had come to the church under the false pretence that they were Muslims seeking to convert from Islam to Christianity. However, their plot was detected, and they were nabbed before they could detonate their deadly devices.