On 5 February, a group identifying itself as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), claimed responsibility for an attack on an oil pipeline owned by the Italian firm, Agip (Eni), in Bayelsa State. Witnesses had reported a fire on the company’s Nembe-Brass pipeline late the previous day.
In a statement sent to the media, the group said: “On Saturday, the 4th of February at 1930hrs, fighters of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (M.E.N.D) attacked and destroyed the Agip (ENI) trunk line at Brass in Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria”.
The statement added that: “This relatively insignificant attack is a reminder of our presence in the creeks of the Niger Delta and a sign of things to come”.
MEND was the main militant group in the Niger Delta and responsible for years of attacks on the oil industry. However, following the Federal Government’s offer of amnesty in 2009, virtually all of its known commanders and thousands of its fighters dropped their arms and joined the government’s re-orientation and rehabilitation programmes, which also guaranteed them monthly stipends from the government. Several thousands have been enrolled in vocational and academic training courses, in Nigeria and abroad.
MEND purportedly sent several threats to the media in 2010 and 2011, but the threatened attacks never materialized. Oil industry sources said most of the recent damage to oil infrastructure in the region had been caused by gangs stealing oil, rather than insurgent militants. Security sources add that these gangs lack the capacity to cause the level of damage and disruption that was seen in early 2011, when attacks slashed the country’s oil production by more than 50 per cent.
The military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta said: “JTF advices Niger Deltans to be mindful of people who are out to swindle them by wrongfully appropriating the identity of the erstwhile leadership of MEND to curry sympathy for their selfish and criminal interests”.
ON ALLEGATIONS THAT BOKO HARAM WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR RECENT ATTACKS ON BANKS IN SOME NORTHERN STATES:
Abu Zaid, Boko Haram spokesman: “Let me confirm to you that our warriors had actually attacked three banks, namely Bank PHB, First Bank of Nigeria and Unity Bank, where they carted away huge sums of money. We took the measure because the mode of operations of the banks was not based on Islamic tenets…If the banks continued to operate contrary to Islamic code, monies snatched from them remain legitimate. We are out to eliminate all aspects of ills in socio-economic affairs of the people which go contrary to the Sharia legal system”.
ON CHARGES THAT BOKO HARAM SENT A THREAT LETTER TO UNIVERSITY OF MAIDUGURI, FORCING CLOSURE OF THE SCHOOL:
Abu Zaid, Boko Haram spokesman: “For someone to accuse us of threatening, attacking a university, is like those behind the claims have underrated our capability; because our determination is to attack the Aso Rock Presidential Villa. Of what benefit will it be when we attack a small institution?”
ON CHARGES THAT SOLDIERS ARE VIOLATING HUMAN RIGHTS IN MAIDUGURI:
Borno Elders Forum, led by Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno: “The soldiers have been burning down cars, killing innocent passers-by, looting private property, harassing innocent passerby and even raping young girls…The presence of thousands of weapons brandishing soldiers on the streets of Maiduguri has turned the situation into a nightmare, the worst Maiduguri has ever seen”.
“Hundreds of youths have been shot and killed by soldiers for no known reason other than they are young people. Many communities have been sacked and people in their thousands are fleeing Maiduguri and the level of human suffering in Maiduguri has reached its peak and Borno is faced with horrific and horrendous humanitarian crisis”.
Major General Jack Nwaogbo, Commander of Joint Task Force in Borno State: “The JTF wishes to draw the attention of the public to some allegations against the personnel of the JTF…One of such allegations was that hundreds of youths have been shot and killed by soldiers for no known reason other than they are young people…No member (of the JTF) is involved in violation… The cordon-and-search carried out is properly supervised by members of all security agencies”.
Gen Andrew Azazi, National Security Adviser: Soldiers deployed in any part of Nigeria must behave responsibly at all times. Unfortunately, when you are the target of a bomb attack, there is the possibility that you react in a manner not approved by the people. There is need for cooperation from all sides: the military, the people and everybody”.
Kashim Shettima, Governor of Borno State: “The most important thing is for us to put in place mechanisms for ensuring that the excesses of the JTF, who are operating under a very tense environment, are curtailed. We are going to provide hotlines and oblige the JTF with a code of conduct – rules of engagement – so that they do not break the rights of the people”.
ON DEMANDS FOR WITHDRAWAL OF TROOPS FROM MAIDUGURI, BORNO STATE
Borno Elders Forum, led by Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno: “Borno elders have demanded the immediate withdrawal of all soldiers on the streets of Maiduguri because the soldiers have been burning down houses, killing innocent people and looting private property”.
Kashim Shettima, Governor of Borno State: “With no intent to denigrate or question the motives of eminent personalities agitating for withdrawal of the JTF from the state, I regret to note that none has offered a tangible yet sustainable alternative to fill the security vacuum to be created in the event of the withdrawal of the JTF…It’s quite easy to agitate, to call for the removal of the JTF, but what is Plan B?”
ON PROPOSALS TOWARDS RESOLVING THE CRISIS:
Navy Captain Caleb Olubolade (retd), new Minister for Police Affairs: “We (the government) will explore dialogue with any aggrieved persons, so that peace will reign in Nigeria. Where that does not work, but I hope that it will work, we will look at what else we can do to guarantee peace, because peace must be guaranteed in Nigeria”.
Federal lawmakers from Borno State: “Dialogue should commence with unconditional amnesty so that when people are coming to the table, they are not coming with swords and guns pointing on their necks and heads. We believe that engaging the elements in an honest process is better than guns, so that peace and unity can return to Maiduguri and, consequently, to the northern Nigeria and Nigeria at large’’.
Kashim Shettima, Governor of Borno State: “Once again, I wish to beseech my brothers in the Jama’atul ahlul sunnah lidda’awati wal jihad (the name preferred by Boko Haram) to lay down their arms and come and dialogue with us, for indeed this is the only way we can move our beleaguered state forward…Our doors are open for constructive dialogue and a speedy resolution to this state of insecurity”.
Abu Zaid, Boko Haram spokesman: “All soldiers deployed to Borno as part of the Joint Task Force must be withdrawn before any dialogue could be opened with government”.
Barrister Sadau Garba, lawyer of late Boko Haram sect leader, Muhammad Yusuf, in letter to President Jonathan, urging dialogue with Boko Haram: “Do not involve the traditional rulers and the major Islamic groups in reaching the group or resolving the problem, because the members of the group do not have any respect for them but rather consider them as part of the problem”.
Dr. Olasupo Ayokunle, Secretary-General, Nigerian Baptist Convention: “They (Boko Haram) don’t deserve any form of dialogue or glove treatment. They have committed crime against humanity. They should be brought to book. Dialogue should be the last resort and it should even come after the group might have served out the punishment for their heinous crimes”.
ON BOMB ATTACKS AGAINST CHURCHES:
Muslim Rights Concern, a Muslim rights organisation based in Lagos: “A bomb exploded at the All Christian Fellowship Church on Church Road, Suleja in Niger State on Sunday, 10th July, 2011…We, of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), totally and unreservedly condemn this and all violent attacks….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.
We charge the security agencies to unveil the identities of these blood-thirsty extremists. Steps must also be taken to secure churches from future attacks…Christians and Muslims are from one Father of Faith (Abraham). Religion is designed to link people in love. There is no religion that teaches violence”.
ON DECISION BY STATE SECURITY SERVICE NOT TO PROSECUTE OVER 100 ARRESTED BOKO HARAM MEMBERS:
Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND): “This is a blatant disregard to all Christians in Nigeria killed with impunity and also an insult to all Niger Deltans as the government is displaying double standards as regards the Niger Delta indigenes falsely and unlawfully arrested over the October 1st bomb blast carried out by our field operatives.
For this attitude…the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (M.E.N.D) is preparing very hard for the resumption of hostilities with the training of new fighters joining our various camps and promises that the results will be felt both nationally and internationally, very soon”.
On 6 June, the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) announced that it would resume attacks on oil facilities in the region, specifically targeting facilities of the Italian oil firm, ENI.
In an online statement by its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, the group which had suspended attacks on oil facilities on 2 April, said: “The Eni group has actively participated in the theft of oil in the Niger Delta for decades, assisting the Nigerian military in its scorched earth and genocidal actions against the justice-seeking citizens of the Niger Delta…ENI and its subsidiaries are simply thieves and cheap opportunists.”.
The statement further accused Eni of backing the air raids being conducted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) against the regime of Muammar Ghadafi in Libya.
It said: “MEND observes with outrage the involvement of the ENI group of Italy in the attacks on the innocent citizens of Libya by western nations intent on plundering the mineral resources of that nation”.
“Why have these Western nations ignored the bombing of villages and civilians in the Niger Delta by the military?”
“If they are so concerned about the removal of dictators in Africa, why do they enjoy good relationships with dictators in Angola and Equatorial Guinea?”
“In solidarity with the oppressed people of Libya, we vow to henceforth pursue the complete destruction of all investments owned by ENI Group in Nigeria and urge all around Africa to do so”.
The military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta has not made any response. Its spokesman, Lt. Col. Timothy Antigha said: “JTF is studying the purported statement from MEND, to determine its authenticity and will make its position known later.”
Also ENI has made no comment yet.
The company’s presence in Nigeria dates back to 1962. At present, it operates through its subsidiaries the Nigerian Agip Oil Company Ltd (NAOC), Agip Energy & Natural Resources (AENR) Ltd. and the Nigerian Agip Exploration Ltd (NAE). Eni also holds a 5% stake in the joint venture Nigeria-Agip-Shell-Elf (NASE), the main oil producing joint venture in the country.
Attacks by armed groups targeting the oil industry cut more than 30 percent of Nigeria’s crude production from 2006 to 2009. Since the third quarter of 2009, those attacks have subsided, after more than 25,000 militants, who had been campaigning for more local control of the delta’s energy resources accepted a government amnesty and disarmed. But some diehard elements had still not given up their arms.
In mid-March this year, a group blew up an oil well head belonging to ENI’s Agip unit in Clough Creek in Bayelsa State. An e-mailed statement claiming to be from MEND took responsibility for the attack and said it marks “the start of our promised campaign against the Nigerian oil industry”.
The statement said: “This attack and similar attacks on pipelines and flows stations which will take place within the next few days is a reminder to the Nigerian government and the general public not to take our threats for granted”. Col Antigha, dismissed that threat, saying the attack was “an isolated case”. MEND itself later issued another statement on 2 April, saying it had decided it suspend armed violence.
On 11 May, troops of the Joint Task Force (JTF) clashed with armed youths believed to be members of the Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF), led by the renegade militant leader, John Togo, in Ayakoromor, Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State.
The clash was the first breach of the relative calm that has prevailed in the region since the military raided Togo’s camp in December 2010.
JTF’s Media Coordinator Lt Col Timothy Antigha, who confirmed to newsmen, said: “At about 1353 hrs today (Wednesday 11 May) in Ayakoromor Community, there was a skirmish between troops of the JTF who were on routine patrol and renegade militants, suspected to be associates of the wanted John Togo. Further details will be provided later”.
The clash was not connected to any of the usual economic, infrastructural and environmental demands of Niger Delta militant groups. Instead, as Antigha hinted, it may have had to do with the recent threat by a militant group, the “Coalition of Niger Delta Freedom Fighters” in Delta State. The group had threatened that it would attack oil facilities in the region, if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not reverse its declaration of the incumbent governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, as winner of the 26 April election.
Said Antigha: “You will recall that just two days ago, the JTF, in a press release, warned that some politicians, who lost in the election, were colluding with some discredited elements to threaten security in the state and region”.
A source close to John Togo, however, dissociated his group from the threat. He said the clash occurred when the Task Force attacked their camp. He claimed that: “We gave a very good account of ourselves and they were repelled without any scratch on our assets or personnel”. He said the group was still maintaining its “unilateral ceasefire”.
Some local sources said several people were killed but neither the JTF nor the militants reported any casualties.
It will be recalled that following the Federal Government’s offer of amnesty to armed agitators in the Niger Delta in 2009, virtually all commanders of the main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), accepted the offer and disarmed. The amnesty programme is making progress and many former MEND commanders are now helping to build peace in the region.
However, a few like Togo remain at large and are now viewed by many, as criminal gangs rather than armed men fighting for any meaningful cause.
“The death of Osama bin Laden was different things to different people” the South African journalist Stephen Grootes wrote: “a legitimate action, an extra-judicial killing, a murder, revenge, a justifiable homicide, an execution”. Grootes was writing about how South Africans had reacted to the killing of the militant Al Qaeda leader by US forces on 1 May. But he might as well have been writing about the diverse reactions of Nigerians to the same incident.
In order to understand that diversity, it is necessary to review Bin Laden’s – and Al Qaeda’s – relationship with Nigeria over the last 10 years. Before 11 September 2001, when terrorists struck the World Trade Center in New York, Osama Bin Laden was virtually unknown to most Nigerians. It was the 9/11 tragedy, for which the US government held him responsible, that suddenly thrust him as an iconic figure, into the consciousness of many Nigerians.
To some Nigerians, especially Christians, moderate Muslims and pro-Western southerners, he was the foremost embodiment of terrorist evil. To others, especially among the radical Muslim groups and communities of the far north, he was a hero of the Islamic revolt against the West, a rallying point of anger against America the Great Satan, its arrogant imperialist policies and particularly its blind support for Israel in the war with the Palestinians and other Arabs.
On 12 October 2001, after the US launched its war against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, protesters marched through Kano, the largest commercial centre in northern Nigeria, burning US flags and effigies of then President George Bush, while endorsing Bin Laden and the former Taliban regime in Kabul.
By the end of day, over 200 people, mostly non-Muslims killed by the protesters but also protesters gunned down by security forces, lay dead.
Ripe for Revolution: Targeting and Penetrating the Country
Al Qaeda may already have had its sight on Nigeria – a country of over 150 million people composed roughly equally of Christians and Muslims – but the Kano demonstration apparently invited its closer attention. Three months after that demonstration, in one of his famous taped broadcasts on Al-Jazeera television in February 2003, Bin Laden called on Muslims in six countries – Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, Morocco, Jordan and Nigeria – to “liberate themselves from unjust regimes”. He specifically branded the Nigerian government, then headed by President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian, as pro-US and “apostate”, urging Nigerian Muslims to overthrow it.
In the years that followed, the Nigerian police and the State Security Services (SSS) began to look for any indications of Al Qaeda penetration of the country. In 2006, they uncovered what seemed to be the first links. A security campaign, codenamed “Operation Sawdust”, led to the arrest of several persons including Yusuf Mohammed, Mohammed Ashafa and Bello Maiduga who, according to some sources, admitted having received terrorist training in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan and Iraq (Tell, 17 August 2009, p. 69). Among items discovered and seized during the operation were maps and diagrams of government establishments, including some key buildings in the federal capital, Abuja.
On 21 December 2006, Ashafa was arraigned and charged with, among other things, running an Al Qaeda network in the country. He was also accused of receiving monies in foreign currencies from Al Qaeda operatives in Lahore, Pakistan. The prosecution said the monies were meant for recruiting and training terrorists, to attack Americans living in Nigeria.
In November 2007, the SSS arrested another five Islamist militants with suspected links to Al Qaeda, and charged them with plotting attacks on government targets. Three of them were also charged with having undergone training in Algeria, with the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) which is now Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), between 2005 and August 2007. (The GSPC renamed itself Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in January 2007). The charge sheet said the five men, all in their early 30s, “did conspire to commit terrorist acts” in Nigeria.
The cases have dragged on over the years, and have not been prosecuted vigorously, partly due to opposition by Islamic pressure groups. Thus, there have been no convictions till date.
Meanwhile, there were continuous claims that Al Qaeda was developing a foothold in the country, but no one offered conclusive evidence. In May 2008, the then Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro, warned that the group was planning to bomb some targets in the country. Addressing a conference for senior police officers in Obudu, Cross River State, Okiro said: “The Al-Qaeda network has threatened to send time bombs to Nigeria”. (Olusola Fabiyi, “Al Qaeda plans to bomb Nigeria”, The Punch, 10 May 2008). However, some Muslim leaders dismissed that alert as merely an attempt to give Muslims a bad name.
In 2009, Boko Haram, a group that had initially emerged in the extreme northeast of the country in 1998, opposing Western education, secularism and materialism as corrupting influences on Islamic society, re-emerged with a more radical goal of overthrowing the national government and establishing an Islamic state in Nigeria. Declaring its support for Al Qaeda, it staged an uprising in July 2009, but was firmly put down by security forces. Its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed. The group went silent thereafter, but was predictably going to re-emerge.
On 25 December (Christmas Day) 2009, a Nigerian, Umar AbdulMutallab, was arrested over a botched attempt to blow up a Delta Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. US officials said AbdulMutallab had been trained and equipped by Al Qaeda.
While some Nigerians dismissed that claim as part of America’s anti-Al Qaeda propaganda, Bin Laden himself soon put any doubts to rest. On 24 January 2010, he released an audio tape, broadcast on Al-Jazeera television, in which he claimed responsibility for Mutallab’s action, and hailed him as a “hero”. Some, especially Muslim leaders, rejected the idea that the Abdulmutalab incident proved any Al Qaeda presence in Nigeria. They pointed out, rightly, that Abdulmutalab had been radicalized while studying in Britain not in Nigeria, and that he had thereafter been formally recruited in Yemen, again not in Nigeria.
Amidst the allegations and counter-allegations of collaboration between Al Qaeda and local groups like Boko Haram, several waves of violence and counter-violence between Christians and Muslims swept through the region around Jos, Plateau State, in January 2010, leaving over 300 dead. In the wake of that conflict, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) called for a Muslim uprising in the country and, for the first time, publicly offered to assist Muslim fighters.
AQIM’s Bold Offer: Men, Arms and Munitions
AQIM’s Algerian-born leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, announced that his group was prepared to provide training, manpower, munitions, and various other resources to young Nigerian Muslims in their jihad against “enemies”. To Nigerian Muslims, he said: “We are ready to train your people in weapons, and give you whatever support we can in men, arms and munitions to enable you to defend our people in Nigeria…You are not alone in this test. The hearts of Mujahideen are in pain over your troubles and desire to help you as much as possible” (Oluwole Josiah, Hammed Shobiye, Nnaemeka Meribe and Simon Utebor, “Violence: al-Qaeda offers to train, equip Nigerians”, Punch, 2 February 2010).
No Muslim group in Nigeria publicly accepted or even acknowledged that offer, but several sources believe there must have been quiet follow-ups. However, it raised the possibility that Al Qaeda was now boldly seeking an inroad into northern Nigeria. To many, both in the country and abroad, Drukdal’s offer further raised the alert that al-Qaeda was probably moving Nigeria up in its ranking of priority countries.
In July 2010, at the one year anniversary of his group’s 2009 uprising, a Boko Haram leader, Imam Abubakar Shekau, issued a statement on a jihadist Internet forum, offering condolences to Al Qaeda in Iraq over the deaths of its leaders (Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi) killed by Iraqi and US forces three months earlier. Again, that message was widely seen as a public signal from a Nigerian group, reaching out to – or linking up with – Al Qaeda’s international network.
The new proliferation of explosive devices
Since the second half of 2010, there has been a resurgence of Boko Haram, now believed to be better affiliated with the international network. The group has since staged serial attacks against security personnel, moderate Islamic clerics, some politicians and Christian preachers, especially in Borno State. A major new element of this resurgent campaign has been the proliferation and use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), more generally referred to as bombs.
Thus, over the last six months, an unprecedented and yet growing number of bombing incidents has been recorded, especially in the northeast of the country. In early April 2011, Shehu Sani, President of Civil Rights Congress (CRC), a coalition of about 37 rights groups based in Kaduna, reported that in the countdown to the April general elections, there had been 16 bomb explosions in the country (as at that point), as against two explosions over a comparative period leading up to similar elections in 2007 (“Nigeria Elections: Election violence still a major security challenge”, Leadership, 4 April 2011). Since then, many more explosions have been reported, particularly in Borno State.
Some of the incidents were certainly not connected to religious tensions or conflict: the bombing of Abuja during the country’s 50th anniversary celebrations on 1 October 2010, was the handiwork of the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND); others were evidently part of the electoral violence that led up to the April polls. Yet, a preponderance of the explosions occurred in states like Borno, Bauchi, Yobe and Kaduna where pro-Al Qaeda elements, particularly Boko Haram, has a significant network on ground. It was now obvious that someone had introduced an underground bomb-making network in the northern parts of the country, in furtherance of a terror campaign.
After the New Year’s eve explosion near an army barracks in Abuja, some Nigerian media sources reported, in January 2011, that the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) which was helping the Nigerian government probe that explosion, had identified Al Qaeda as “the financier, planner, and executor of the bomb blasts” while local affiliated cells provided on-the-ground support. The reports did not however say whether it was AQIM or Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda general command that was involved. And neither the Nigerian government nor the FBI offered any comments.
More recently, following several bombing incidents particularly in Borno and Kaduna States, some of the suspects arrested by the police have reportedly admitted to receiving bomb-making training and materials from Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. For instance, after the 7 April accidental explosion on the outskirts of Kaduna, one of the survivors said his friend killed by the blast, told him that they had received bombs and other explosive devices from Bin Laden in Afghanistan (Hassan Ibrahim, “We Got The Bomb From Osama Bin Laden -Kaduna Bomb Suspect”, Saturday Tribune, 9 April, 2011).
Many Nigerians – including Christians, Muslims, Northerners and Southerners alike – fear that the recent proliferation and use of IEDs may have introduced a new and far more dangerous terrorist dimension to sectarian and other conflicts in the country. Some draw parallels to ransom kidnapping, which was once primarily a tactic of militant agitation in the Niger Delta, but has since surged into an organised criminal enterprise in other parts of the country.
Against this background, it is understandable that in the southern parts of the country, where Christian and pro-Western sentiments are strong, the news of Bin Laden’s death has been welcomed by many. There is a sense of relief, almost celebration, that a major figure who had sought the forcible Islamisation of the country, has been removed from the scene. Coming only a week after hundreds had been killed in post-election violence in the north, many southerners are satisfied that a man seen as a violent advocate of Islamist supremacy and religious intolerance, has been eliminated.
The Northern reactions
In the north, however, the reactions range from disbelief that Bin Laden is dead to dismay at the fact that the Americans eventually succeeded in killing him. Some here had never accepted that Bin Laden was responsible for the destruction of the World Trade Centre, but rather believe it was an American conspiracy to justify a “war against Islam”; today, they still doubt that Bin Laden has been killed, arguing that this may all just be another US government ploy to enable it cut its losses and pull out of Afghanistan.
Those who believe Bin Laden actually masterminded 9/11 as a justified response to American and Israeli actions towards the Arab and Muslim worlds, and who had since revered him as a hero, are saddened at his death. Many see double standards in the fact that the US government which opposes extra-judicial killings, “executed” Bin Laden without a trial, denying him his right to fair hearing. Many of those who, over the years, had celebrated Bin Laden’s “humiliation” of America on 11 September 2001 and viewed the “war against terror” as actually a “war against Islam”, are also now celebrating his death as the glorious exit of a great martyr. The risk of reprisals from Boko Haram and others to whom Bin Laden had been an inspiration and a model, appears quite significant.
Yet the region is not just one uniform mass of disbelief and dismay. For, even before he died, Bin Laden was no longer the towering image he once was, immediately after 9/11. The insecurity increasingly created by Boko Haram’s bombing and assassination campaigns, including against fellow Muslims, may have created wariness towards any ideologues of violence. Some Christian minorities in the region certainly welcome Bin Laden’s death but, living in the midst of Muslim majorities, they must eschewed any celebrations, so as not to look like they are dancing on his grave. Some fear that any expressions of pleasure could provoke a sympathetic backlash, even from those Muslims to whom Bin Laden was not particularly a hero.
The Federal Government’s Reaction
The Federal government’s official response has been a delicate balancing act. At one level, it has tried to balance its international obligations of supporting the global campaign against terrorism and its national interests of calming passions among its citizens. On 2 May, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Mr. Damien Agu, said Bin Laden’s death was “a monumental achievement in the war against international terrorism”, a statement which underscored Nigeria’s solidarity with the US. But it is significant that unlike several African leaders who have praised the US publicly, President Goodluck Jonathan has maintained a studied silence.
At a second level, the government’s response has also been informed by domestic considerations. From the standpoint of national security, many officials are probably pleased, hoping that Bin Laden’s death will diminish Al Qaeda’s support for radical Islamist groups in the country. But that sanguine view is muted, as the government strives to be seen as a conciliator between the divergent sentiments in different parts of the country. And that conciliatory is particularly imperative as Nigerians are still emerging from an election that had raised considerable regional – and religious – tensions across the country.
On the one hand, any statement suggesting that Bin Laden has been shamed, could offend certain Muslim sensitivities and push some moderates towards the radical fringe. At the same time, any failure to show alertness and strength, could encourage extremist Muslim groups in the north to attack foreigners and their interests as well as southerners and Christians. In sum, therefore, the government’s attitude has been to speak little, maintain a vigilant watch, and stand prepared to arrest any threat of violence.
On 7 April, two devices suspected to be bombs exploded in Mahuta suburb, near the National Eye Centre in Kaduna, Kaduna State. Local residents said the first explosion occurred in an uncompleted building in the afternoon, followed by the second around 9pm, with two men wounded.
According to the spokesman of the Kaduna State Police Command, DSP Aminu Lawal, “The village head of Mahuta went to the police DPO of Kurmin Mashi to report that two persons were injured as a result of explosion suspected to be a bomb”. He added that the two injured persons had been taken to the St Gerard Hospital, Kaduna. Police detectives promptly launched an investigation.
On 8 April, police disclosed that the two victims were suspected bomb-makers, and that the blasts apparently occurred when their devices detonated prematurely. The police said one of the men had died. The second, identified as Mohammed Ahmed, 25, who had been taken for questioning, told reporters the suspected bomber was his friend, but denied any involvement with him in plotting to make or use bombs.
The explosions went off only few hours after the Kaduna State Commissioner of Police, Mr John Haruna, had proactively alerted journalists that some people were plotting security breaches that could create disorder in the state. Police suspect the dead man and his accomplices were making bombs with which to disrupt parliamentary elections rescheduled for 9 April or any of the other elections spread over the next two weeks.
“We think they were planning something to disrupt the elections,” a senior police source told a newsman unofficially. “We are still investigating”. The police have reportedly arrested at least 12 people in connection with the blasts, but have not named any group as responsible for them.
Since last year, various groups in Nigeria have resorted to the use of crude bombs or improvised explosive devices. The militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) claimed responsibility for two incidents in Warri, Delta State, and Abuja, the federal capital, in March and October 2010. Bombs have also been used in the ethno-sectarian conflict in Plateau State, notably the 24 December blast in Jos, which killed scores of people. The extremist Islamist group, Boko Haram, later claimed responsibility. On 31 December 2010, a blast at the recreational area of a major military barracks in Abuja, claimed several lives.
In the run-up to the elections, there have been isolated bomb attacks and thwarted attacks on campaign rallies. On 3 March, a bomb attack on a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rally in Suleja, Niger State, left about 10 people killed and scores injured. The Kaduna-based Civil Rights Congress, a non-governmental organisation, recently reported that there have been 16 bomb explosions in the country during the current pre-election period, compared to two explosions in the run-up to the 2007 elections.
On 2 April, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), said it had called off its planned bombings and attacks of oil installations temporarily, in order to allow for safe general elections in the country.
In an online statement by its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, the militant group said it took the decision after careful consideration and extensive consultation. The group had earlier threatened to bomb strategic locations in Lagos, Abuja and the Niger Delta, over the alleged failure of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to roll out policies for developing the oil-rich region, rapidly.
However, even as it called off its threat, MEND alleged that President Jonathan’s policies in the Niger Delta had failed. It said: “After billions of Naira spent, all the government of Goodluck Jonathan has to show for its amnesty and re-integration programme is colossal failure, as the true intention of the programme was hijacked for personal and political greed.
“The architect of the amnesty programme in the Niger Delta, the late President Umaru Yar’adua, intended this process to be a precursor to formal dialogue, in achieving a just and lasting solution to the unrest in the Niger Delta.
“The government of Jonathan and the oil companies believe the spirit of agitation in the Niger Delta has been blown away with the bribing of a few thugs labeled stakeholders. They assume giving alms to the youths of the Niger Delta will secure installations, but the government fails to understand that if the root issues of these agitations are not addressed, we would only be going round in circles, resulting in more groups springing up and no peace in the Niger Delta”.
It said it was observing its ceasefire in the hope that the new government being elected would consider true dialogue, founded on a sincere desire to bring justice to the peoples of the Niger Delta and true peace to all Nigerians.
It warned that: “If we see no sign by the new government for dialogue at addressing our key issues, we will take that as a green light from the government to commence our struggle, which will be very detrimental to all oil companies operating in the Niger Delta”.
On 24 March, the rumour of an imminent bomb explosion led to hurried evacuation of the headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Justice in Abuja, the Federal capital.
According to sources in the Ministry, the scare was caused by an unidentified informant who spread an alert that high-powered explosives had been laid around the area, and that a first bomb would go off at the Bayelsa State Guest House, just adjacent to the Ministry of Justice complex. The informant had warned that workers at the ministry should vacate the premises immediately, as the explosives could result in high casualties.
As the rumour spread through the premises at about 11am, staff of the Ministry and others in nearby buildings ran out to the streets. A police team immediately cordoned off the area until the anti-bomb squad arrived shortly after noon. They ran detectors through the entire building for about four hours, but found no explosives. At the end of the search, the FCT Police Public Relations Officer, Mr Jimoh Moshood, urged members of the public not to panic, as such rumours could be spread by unscrupulous persons who just want to create unnecessary tension in the city.
Bomb explosions in Abuja on 1 October and 31 December 2010 claimed several lives. However, a similar scare on 5 October 2010, which led to a hurried evacuation of the Federal Secretariat and the National Assembly complex, turned out to be a hoax.
It is not clear how the latest scare originated. However, a militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which claimed responsibility for the 1 October 2010 blast, had warned on 12 March, that it would resume attacks on oil industry facilities in the Niger Delta and also target key infrastructure and political campaign rallies in Abuja and Lagos.
The cause was not immediately clear and the extent of damage is not yet determined. However, on 16 March, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), in an email, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the operation “was carried out by our fighters”. It said the attack “is to mark the start of our promised campaign against the Nigerian oil industry”.
MEND had, in two earlier emails, warned that it would carry out attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta as well as campaign rallies in Abuja and Lagos. In claiming responsibility for the latest explosion, it stated that similar attacks on pipelines and flows stations will take place “within the next few days”, threatening that “the fight for the liberation of the Niger Delta has only begun” and that “the worst is yet to come”.
The military Joint Task Force (JTF) for security in the Niger Delta has not confirmed MEND’s claim. It said local community youths were suspected to have been behind the explosion. JTF spokesman Lt Col Timothy Antigha said: “The attack occurred on an oil well-head in the southern Ijaw area of Bayelsa State. It is an isolated issue … and investigations are ongoing to know the motives behind the attack”.
Some other sources suggest the explosion might have been the handiwork of a renegade militant leader in Bayelsa State who is said to have written the Agip authorities to demand some money, threatening the company to get set for an attack if it failed to pay.
On 16 March, the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL) based in Port Harcourt appealed to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) to “sheath its sword of violence” and join civil society groups that strongly believe in a just peace for the Niger Delta, in exploring alternative strategies towards that goal.
In a statement signed by the Institute`s Executive Director, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, the IHRHL said it recognizes the fact that government is yet to acquit itself of its responsibilities to the peoples of the region, in terms of sustainable critical infrastructural development, governance issues, human security, human rights, as even recommended by its own Technical Committee on the Niger Delta, which submitted its report to the President over two years ago. It further observed that government has not fully acquitted itself of its responsibility under the Decommissioning, Demobilization and Rehabilitation (DDR) processes as stipulated by its own Amnesty Programme.
The IHRHL said it also recognizes that federal outfits aimed at transforming the region and manned by Niger Deltans, along with state and local governments in the region, have yet to acquit themselves in terms of effectively and efficiently applying available resources in a meaningful, qualitative and sustainable manner, to encourage reduction of the sense of helplessness and frustration among youths, which fuels violence in the region.
However, IHRHL said it is convinced that in spite of these anomalies, legitimate peaceful inter-action and dialogue, involving all genuine agents of change in the region including MEND, and aimed at creating alternative just peace strategies, “shall serve the cause of the region and its peoples best”. The group said that in the present scheme of things, continued violence can only be retrogressive, increase the sufferings of the peoples of the region and Nigerians as a whole, rather than secure any durable progress. Recalling that the peoples of the region have died and sacrificed enough to bring their grievances to the fore, the Institute argued that the “time is ripe to consolidate the gains of our collective activism over the years through bottom-up advocacy and peacebuilding strategies”.
IHRHL urged the government, in the interest of public safety, to take the MEND threat seriously and engage realistic policy strategies to avert possible catastrophe.