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 2 February, the militant Islamist sect, Boko Haram, said its “senior member” arrested by security operatives the previous day was Abu Dardaa, not Abu Qaqa, as had been reported by some security and media sources. The group also claimed the man was arrested after he had started exploratory talks with “key fuctinaries of the Federal Government”.
In a telephone interview with some journalists in Maiduguri, a Boko Haram spokesman said: “The person that was arrested is Abu Dardaa and not Abu Qaqa. I am Abu Qaqa. I’m the spokesman of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnati Lidda’awati Wal Jihad (Boko Haram). Abu Dardaa is the head of the Lagina (Department) of Public Enlightenment and not the spokesman”. He added that: “Of course, Abu Dardaa is a senior member of our group”.
The spokesman alleged that the group was deceived by the government’s offer of dialogue and that the man arrested was trailed and picked up by security operatives shortly after he had an interaction with some “key functionaries of the Federal Government on the issue of dialogue”.
He said: “We initially thought that the much-talked-about dialogue was true and we actually resolved that after the initial meeting with Dardaa, we would send five representatives to stand for us. Part of what we told him to discuss with the government representatives was the unconditional release of our members as pre-condition for any further discussion”.
The spokesman further said that: “Indeed, he (the arrested man) had started talking to them but, unknown to him, they directed some security agents to trail him behind and arrested him. This is exactly what happened…Everybody knows our capability and tactics of operation. It is evidently clear that none of our members could be caught on a platter of gold and without confrontation”.
The spokesman further said: “The arrest of Abu Dardaa is an outright deception and betrayal by the Nigerian government and security agents…His arrest has proven to us that they were waiting for us to avail ourselves so that they can arrest us”.
He said: “I want to reiterate that we want all our members to be released for peace to return and for dialogue to hold”. He added that the arrest of its members will not deter his group from its campaign and the pursuit of its goals.
The group, loosely modelled on Afghanistan’s Taleban, says it is fighting to establish Islamic government, based on strict and comprehensive application of Sharia law, in at least 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states. In July 2009, it launched an uprising in the northeastern Borno State and, in five days of fighting with security forces, more than 800 people were killed. The group’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was among those killed.
Regrouping in late 2010, the group has conducted an increasinly deadly campaign targeting mostly police, military and other government personnel and institutions, but also Christians and churches.
In June 2011, it sent a first ever suicide bomber to the national headquarters of the police in the federal capital, Abuja; in August it bombed the Abuja office complex housing the 26 United Nations agencies working in Nigeria, killing 25 people. On Christmas Day, it bombed a church in Madalla near Abuja, killing over 40 worshippers. Most recently, on 20 January, its multiple bomb and gun attacks killed at least 186 people in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria.
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.
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.
On 11 January, Abubakar Shekau, leader of the militant Islamist group widely known as Boko Haram, issued a first ever online video message, justifying recent attacks on Christians in some northern states of Nigeria as revenge for earlier killings of Muslims.
In Shekau’s 15-minute video message posted on YouTube, the Boko Haram leader wore a white turban and a bullet-proof vest, sat in front of two AK-47 rifles and spoke in Hausa, the main language in northern Nigeria.
He said the targeting of Christians and churches were reprisals for attacks against Muslims in recent years, in places like Jos in Plateau State, Tafawa Balewa in Bauchi State, as well as Kaduna and Zangon Kataf in Kaduna State. He said: “We are also at war with Christians because the whole world knows what they did to us”.
Referring particularly to the bloody conflicts in Plateau State in the past two years, in which over 1,000 people had been killed in a cycle of attacks and reprisals between the Muslim Hausa-Fulani settlers and the predominantly Christian indigenous groups, Shekau said: “They killed our fellows and even ate their flesh in Jos”.
The Boko Haram leader said he was also responding to statements made recently by President Goodluck Jonathan and the leader of the umbrella Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.
Jonathan had declared a state of emergency in some northern states on 31 December 2011, and recently said he suspected some politicians, government officials and security personnel had sympathies for Boko Haram. Addressing the President, Shekau said Nigeria’s security forces would not be able to defeat his group.
He said: “All these things you’ve been seeing happening, it’s Allah who has been doing it, because you refuse to believe in him and you misuse his religion and because of that, the thing is more than you, Jonathan”.
The CAN President, Pastor Oritsejafor, had said on 7 January, that his members would protect themselves against the attacks, which, he said, suggested “systematic ethnic and religious cleansing.” On Tuesday, he told the BBC World Service that there should be dialogue with Muslim leaders to halt the violence.
Responding, Shekau called on the CAN president to “repent” for calling on worshippers to defend themselves against Boko Haram’s attacks. He said his group could only hold talks with the government in accordance with the teachings of Islam.
Promising more attacks, he said the group’s primary target remained the security forces, which, he said, were responsible for the killing of its former leader, Mohammed Yusuf, after he had been arrested in Maiduguri in 2009. He added: “Anyone who attacks us, we will attack him back even if he is a Muslim. We shall kill anyone who works against Islam, even if he is a Muslim”.
Shekau assumed leadership of the sect after the security crackdown of July 2009 in which about 700 people – Boko Haram fighters and innocent citizens – were killed. Police initially claimed he was killed during that crackdown, but he emerged in audio messages from late 2010, just before Boko Haram commenced its campaign of violence.
Some journalists and analysts had reported the sect fractured, with a splinter group responsible for most of the gun and bomb attacks carried out in its name. This latest video, however, confirms that Shekau still leads the sect.
In 2011, attacks atributed to, or claimed by, Boko Haram killed over 500 people, especially in the north eastern states of the country and the federal capital, Abuja. In recent weeks, the group had targeted several churches, the climax of which was the Christmas Day bombing of a church in Madalla near Abuja, in which over 40 people were killed. Over the last week, the group’s gunmen had also attacked Christians inside churches in Gombe and Yola, killing over 20.
On 30 December, three explosions were reported in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, but military authorities said no one was killed.
Initial reports had said that one of the explosions occurred near a mosque after the Friday afternoon prayers and set off a massive stampede, and that about four people may have been killed.
BBC had quoted the Director of Army Public Relations, Maj Gen Raphael Isa, as confirming there had been a “major incident” which had caused casualties.
However, the spokesman of the military Joint Task Force in the state, Lt Col Hassan Mohammed, while confirming the blasts to newsmen, said none of them occurred near a mosque. He said the explosions occurred near market areas in different parts of the city but that no one was killed.
The explosions occurred only five days after the Christmas Day bomb attacks on churches in Madalla, a town in Niger State close to the federal capital, Abuja, and also in Jos, capital of Plateau State. Those attacks killed at least 42 people, mostly Christian worshippers at the St Theresa’s Catholic church in Madalla. The government blamed the attacks on the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram; a spokesman for the group also reportedly claimed responsibility.
About 24 hours before the latest blast, the group had emailed a statement to some media houses saying: “If God is willing, we will carry out further attacks”.
On 25 December, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen Andrew Azazi (rtd), said a major Christmas Day catastrophe planned by the militant Islamist sect widely known as Boko Haram, was thwarted by the proactive measures which security agencies had taken recently, to checkmate the group’s activities.
In a statement on Boko Haram’s multiple bomb attacks in Madalla (Niger State), Jos (Plateau State) and Damaturu (Yobe State) on Christmas Day, the NSA said the attack on the St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, was an act of desperation by the sect, after security agencies had frustrated its other more bloody plans.
He said: “It is important to inform the public that the proactive measures put in place by the security forces during this festive period have so far checkmated a major catastrophic plan envisaged by Boko Haram”. Elaborating on the measures, he said: “Boko Haram’s major armoury in Yobe was destroyed only last week. Yet another armoury in Kaduna and two in Kano were destroyed also last week, in addition to heavy casualties the sect sustained”.
The NSA urged citizens to “go about their activities, remain vigilant and urgently report anything suspicious to security agents”.
He further said: “We renew our appeal to all Nigerians that this is not a fight between security forces and some dissident elements. It is 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. We must cooperate to fish them out. And because our cause is just and our collective resolve is stronger, together we shall prevail!”
On 25 December, the National Security Adviser, Gen Andrew Azazi (rtd) reported that two suspects had been arrested in connection with the bombing of the St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla in Niger State, in which about 30 people were killed.
In a statement, Azazi said: “Two of the criminals had been apprehended, caught in the action”.
The Parish Priest at the bombed Madalla church, Rev. Fr Isaac Achii, had earlier told newsmen that his men informed him that shortly after the blasts, two strangers ran into the church backyard. Apprehended by worshippers, the men could not offer a reasonable account of how and why they got there. They were therefore suspected to be among those that threw the bomb, the priest said, and handed over to the police.
Local police sources also reported that two men were arrested after they were seen in a part of Madalla town known as Monkey Village, fleeing from the area of the blast. The sources said information obtained from the men suggested they may have had a hand in the bombing.
It was yet to be ascertained whether the arrests reported by Rev Fr Achii and the police referred to the same, or two different sets, of suspects.
On 25 December – Christmas day – an ambulance conveying some victims of the bomb blast which occurred near the St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla earlier in the day, to a hospital in Abuja, was involved in a road accident.
A statement by the Head of Media and Publicity at the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr Yusha’u Shuaib, said three officers of the agency were transferring 27 persons wounded in the Madalla blast, from the National Hospital to the State House Clinic, both in Abuja, when the ambulance crashed.
The ambulance somersaulted after the crash, but information on the circumstances of the accident remains sketchy.
On 25 December, President Goodluck Jonathan condemned the multiple bomb attacks earlier in the day, in which over 35 people were estimated to have been killed. The attackers struck in three cities – Madalla (Niger State), Jos (Plateau State) and Damaturu (Yobe State), specifically targeting churches in most of the attacks.
In a statement, Jonathan called the bombings “a dastardly act that must attract the rebuke of all peace-loving Nigerians”.
He said: “These acts of violence against innocent citizens are an unwarranted affront on our collective safety and freedom. Nigerians must stand as one to condemn them”. Jonathan said his government “will not relent in its determination to bring to justice all the perpetrators of today’s acts of violence and all others before now”.
The Minister for Police Affairs, Captain Caleb Olubolade, a former Navy officer, had earlier visited the scene of the Madalla blast and was quoted to have said that: “This is like an internal war against the country”.
The latest attacks follow a military offensive mounted against the sect around Damaturu in Yobe State three days earlier. The Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Azubuike Ihejirika, had briefed newsmen that soldiers killed 59 members of the sect and destroyed one of their major arms depots in Damaturu on 22 and 23 December. Ihejirika said the clashes also left three soldiers dead and seven others wounded.
On 25 December – Christmas morning – an explosion near a church killed at least 20 people, in Madalla, near Suleja, in Niger State. Madalla, largely a market town in Niger State, is about 30 km from the Federal capital city, Abuja.
The blast went off near the St. Theresa’s Catholic Church. The Public Relations Officer of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr Yushau Shuaib, said the incident was a “suspected bomb blast” and that 10 persons had been confirmed dead. Local sources and other rescue workers initially reported 15 corpses being evacuated in three vehicles (ambulances), but feared the toll would be significantly higher. The French news agency, AFP, quotes a local priest, Father Christopher Barde, saying rescue officials told him they had counted 27 killed.
While the rescue effort was underway, angry youths from the town set up bonfires and threatened to attack the local police station. One of the youths claimed the police had failed to provide adequate security. With the area degenerating into chaos, the vastly outnumbered policemen had to shot into the air to disperse the angry youths. They also barricaded the highway which runs through the town.
AFP later reported that Abul Qaqa, a spokesman for the militant Islamist sect widely known as Boko Haram, had called on phone, claiming responsibility for the blast. AFP quotes the spokesman as saying: “We are responsible for all the attacks in the past few days, including today’s bombing of the church in Madalla. We will continue to launch such attacks throughout the north in the next few days”.
Over the last few days, the army and other security forces had been battling members of the sect in Damaturu, Yobe State. The chief of army staff, Lt Gen Azubuike Ihejirika, told newsmen that soldiers killed 59 members of the sect and destroyed one of their major arms depots in Damaturu between Thursday and Friday.
This is the fourth bomb incident in the area since this year, following three previous incidents in nearby Suleja – about 10 km away – and the second specifically targeting a church.
On 3 March, an explosion went off at a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) rally, just after Niger State governor Babangida Aliyu had addressed supporters; at least 12 people were killed and about 20 injured. On 8 April, another bomb exploded at the local office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Suleja, 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. On 10 July, a third bomb explosion near two churches – the All Christian Fellowship Mission and the Faith Mission Church – killing three persons and wounding seven others.