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*This is a war against Nigeria - Mark
*Mass burial for  unidentified victims
ABUJA - OUTRAGE yesterday greeted the  multiple Christmas Day bomb blasts in four states of the country, especially at St. Theresa Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State, which claimed about 26 lives, maimed numerous others and destroyed over 10 vehicles and buildings.

The Catholic Church however dismissed the casualty figure given by NEMA saying the death toll did not represent what really happened. The church's spokesman, Monsignor Gabriel Osu, in a reaction yesterday said the number of the dead given as 26 by NEMA is wrong because hundreds of people would normally be trooping out of the church at the time of the bomb blast.

As survivors recounted their experience and families of victims battled with little or no luck to identify corpses of relations, most of whom were burnt beyond recognition, Senate President David Mark described the umpteenth attack launched by the Boko Haram Islamic sect as war against Nigerians.

The attack, a repeat of  similar explosions carried out by the group on December 24 and 31, 2010 also drew condemnations from many eminent Nigerians, groups and political parties.

Among those, who decried the mayhem were Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), Professor Pat Utomi, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Mr. Femi Falana, Chief Maxi Okwu, Dr Federick Faseun, Sen. Bukola Saraki and Alhaji Shettima Yerima.

The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), African Renaissance Party (ARP), Campaign for Democracy (CD), Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC) and The Muslim Congress (TMC) also condemned the blast and proffered suggestions on how to check the Boko Haram menace.

Meanwhile, Vanguard learnt yesterday that most of the dead may be given a mass burial because they were charred beyond recognition just as the Parish Priest of St. Theresa Catholic church, Rev. Father Isaac Achi, gave a vivid account of what transpired in a chat with reporters.

Helping the injured at Madalla, Suleja on Christmas Day.

At National Hospital, Abuja survivors share experience

At the National Hospital Abuja where at least 24 were brought in dead, a hospital source said most of the dead victims were brought in mutilated beyond recognition. And given the likelihood of difficulty in recognizing the victims, a mass burial may be considered as the closest thing to a decent burial for the victims.

Said the source: 'Close to 24 bodies were brought in dead on Christmas day. In fact the body count was possible because of the body parts, most of the victims were burnt beyond recognition, while some had their bodies separated by the impact of the bomb blast. As I speak, relations who sought to identify the corpses are not finding it easy due to the burns and separation of body parts. To avert unnecessary confusion, it might be helpful to give the victims mass burial and that is likely to be the case in the long run.'

At the emergency unit of the hospital, victims were seen receiving treatments, while  hospital officials declined to speak further on the conditions of victims, citing lack of authority  to do so.

Vanguard investigations further revealed that scores of victims whose health conditions are critical have doubled, as emergency and rescue team continued to evacuate injured victims to the hospital.

One of the victims, Peter Nsude recounted his experience: 'After church, I came out, somebody now greeted, as we were shaking ourselves, saying 'Happy Christmas,' the bomb exploded. I was with my two sons, but it is only me that was injured, nothing happened to my children.'

Officials keep mum at General Hospital, Asokoro
At the General Hospital Asokoro, officials refused to give details on the state of  victims brought to the hospital. However sources said unspecified number of both the dead and injured were also brought in.

Giving account of what happened,  Parish Priest of St. Theresa's Catholic Church, Rev. Father Isaac Achi, said:  'I am the Parish Priest of St Theresa's Catholic, Church where this ugly incident took place. I left here as early as 6 a.m to go for mass, the Eucharistic Celebration in one of our outstations. And at the close of the mass, I was informed that an ugly incident happened and probably they are suspecting it to be in my church. I rushed down. Meanwhile, as I was going, I left my Assistant, in the person of Father Christopher Barde Jatau, to officiate in the Eucharistic celebration.

'I came in only to discover that the whole place has become a carnival of people coming to see the ugly issue that happened. And as you can see, this ugly situation happened probably when the mass was about to close; it was not when people were coming in. The people probably left earlier. Personally, I am suspecting them to be those who are still travelling because we used to have early mass on a day like this so that people can come and have the mass before they can continue with their journey.   But they came only for them to meet the end of their lives just at the entrance of the church.

'When I returned to meet my Assistant, he was nowhere to be found. Later, I was made to understand that he took some people to hospitals and I waited for him. On his arrival, he told me how the thing happened and how he felt. Definitely, as a human being, it is not easy. I felt this issue is becoming so alarming, with churches now the targets. And coming to meet people who have come to pray and ask for God's blessing for their dear country, I stand to say 'no' to such a thing and even a repeat of it. You can see so many families gone; the whole households gone. Look at the two vehicles parked in front there (pointing). The first one had five people, the one following it had a family of three and this one at the back (now directly in front of the church) as a result of the explosions, had a family of four.

'I know that the Catholic members were the ones affected. These were Christians who came to pray, especially on this day that we celebrate nativity and the birth of Jesus Christ.'

Catholic families hold mass for victims
Pained by the dastardly act, Catholic families yesterday held mass for those who lost their lives in the Madala  blast, with a call on the government to act fast to bring perpetrators of the act to justice.

The mass was presided over by the Catholic Bishop of Abuja, Arhcbishop John Onayeikan, Bishop of Minna Diocese, Rev Dr Martins Njoku, Rev Father Raphael Achieve, the Parish Priest and a host of other Rev Fathers.

Arhcbishop John Onayeikan called on the Federal Government to immediately take drastic steps to nip the spate of bombings in the country.

It's a war against Nigerians - Mark
Reacting to the three separate bombings incidents that took place in Madalla, Jos and Damaturu on December 25, Senate President Mark, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, described them as a sacrilege and war against the citizens of Nigeria.

Noting that  the despicable acts connote activities of insane members of the society that must be stopped forthwith, he said:  'These spate of bombing and killing of innocent and harmless country men and women cannot be a way of life. This is not part of our culture or way of life. Leaders at all levels and across the divide must rise to this unwarranted affront against the people.

Every leader worth his or her name must join the vanguard to preach the gospel of peace, love and reconciliation. God did not make mistake to keep us together as a people with common mission and destiny. Whatever the anger or misgivings, neither our laws nor the Holy books allows unlawful taking of another man's life. This is absurd and totally intolerable.'

Senator Mark sympathized with the families of the victims of the bomb blasts, saying that government would ensure that they did not die in vain. He also urged security operatives to redouble their efforts, to contain the situation, stressing that the National Assembly would collaborate with the executive arm of government  to ensure security of lives and property across the country.

Also, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, feared that the unabated bombings in Nigeria might throw the country into conflicts if not checked.

Specifically, Abaribe said it was time for leaders especially in the North to rise up against the Boko Haram sect. 'We believe the time has come for the elders and opinion leaders where the sect is prevalent to break their seeming code of silence and speak out in condemnation sincerely, at least to save this country from religious conflict and internal division.

It is inconceivable that sane minds will just wake up with only one devilish thing in mind; to cause sorrow to families, inflict deep psychological trauma on the society, all with the satanic aim of drawing Nigeria to unfortunate period of hatred and crisis.  The senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a symbol of Nigeria's unity shall resist this attempt to drag us to internal conflict and disunity. This specter of bombing is becoming an annual ritual. It is one too many and which has cast the country as a terrorists hot spot in international community.'

ACF condemn blasts says it can lead to religious crisis

Umbrella organisation of all Northern socio-cultural associations, Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF yesterday condemned the blasts, warning that they were capable of causing religious crisis which would not serve anybody any good in the country.

ACF National Publicity Secretary, Mr Anthony Sani, who made the organisation's position in a statement in Kaduna, also said that the Western education over which the Boko Haram was apparently fighting innocent people was not necessarily the cause of the collapse of national ideals, moral values and indiscipline in the polity, as there were both Muslim and Christian countries with western education that were morally sound.

ACF's statement read in part:  ''The spate of bomb blasts on Christmas day,which were directed at places of worships across some parts of the North is a serious source of concern to ACF; to Northern leaders and to the good people of the North; indeed,to patriotic Nigerians.

It is a source of concern not because past bombings were less serious but because those on the Christmas day are capable of diverting attention to religious crises that would serve no one, including the perpetrators,any good now and for a long time to come. Consequently, ACF calls on the perpetrators of violence to stop forthwith and avail themselves of due process of addressing perceived grievances that are in place.'

Crisis festered because of Govt's wrong approach -  ACN

On its part, the ACN  accused the Federal Government of wasting valuable time and resources on the meaningless fuel subsidy debate while neglecting the Boko Haram crisis that had continued to consume the lives of innocent citizens.

In a statement issued in Lagos by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, a day after dozens were killed in a seemingly coordinated attacks across three states, the party said if the government had spent half of the resources it had devoted to the fuel subsidy issue on the Boko Haram crisis, and had organized as many consultations with stakeholders on Boko Haram as it had done on fuel subsidy, the crisis would have been resolved by now and hundreds of precious lives saved.

''There is no point in mincing words: This government has got its priorities wrong and has acted in a manner that suggests total disregard for human lives. Or how else does one explain a situation where citizens, including security agents, are being hacked down daily by the Boko Haram insurgents and all the government is doing is to waste time and resources on the phantom fuel subsidy issue?'' ACN queried.

The party said, for the umpteenth time, that the only way out of the Boko Haram crisis was engagement. ''The engagement must be preceded by a meeting of national stakeholders on security, which will harness the experience and wisdom of key people, including former heads of state, traditional and religious leaders, as well as past and present security and intelligence chiefs in seeking a lasting solution to the problem,' it said and urged  President Goodluck Jonathan to show leadership and emulate his predecessor, who showed rare courage by engaging the Niger Delta militants through the very successful amnesty programme, after all attempts to crush the militants failed.'

''For now the federal government has got the diagnosis of the Boko Haram wrong, which means it is basing its solutions on a wrong premise.  Though some will have us believe otherwise, the Boko Haram crisis is a reaction to some perceived acts of injustice and corruption, which makes it a social and political crisis rather than an ethnic or religious one. Some even see it wrongly as a North-South-South agenda.

''It is also important to learn a lesson or two from the resolution of the militancy in the Niger Delta. While the Niger Delta militants complained of massive neglect of their communities, impoverishment of their people and destruction of their flora and fauna, the Boko Haram insurgents have raised the issues of injustice, poverty and corruption, and the extra-judicial killing of their leader and members. All that a courageous leadership needs to do is to see which of the demands of the insurgents are reasonable and can be addressed to usher in peace, while ignoring the demands that are clearly unreasonable…'Those who say no reasonable government will talk to terrorists are not being realistic.

They have forgotten that the Boko Haram people are Nigerians first and foremost. Secondly, nowhere in the world has force succeeded in crushing an insurgency. Thirdly, even if force succeeds in the interim, achieving lasting peace will require dialogue. It is therefore important that we seek an alternative to the use of force in resolving the Boko Haram crisis,'' the party said.

Buhari, Tinubu, Utomi, others react
On his part, Buhari said the blasts were callous. Speaking through his spokesman, Mr Yinka Odumakin, the former Head of State, said: 'Bombing other human beings to death at any time is callous.It becomes much more reprehensible on a Christmas day and all lovers of peace must condemn this gruesome acts and demand that the perpetrators be fished out and brought to book.'

While expressing worry about the seeming mute indifference of the Nigerian authorities to these unfortunate incidents, he wondered 'how on earth would the Vatican and the British authorities speak before the Nigerian government on attacks within Nigeria that have led to the deaths of our citizens?'

'This is clearly a failure of leadership at a time the government needs to assure the people of the capacity to guarantee the safety of lives and property' he added.

For Tinubu, the national leader of ACN, there was need for a complete overhaul of Nigeria's security system in view of the unabated spate of bombings in public places in Nigeria.

'Nigeria is faced with a challenge to its sovereignty and national stability.

This is a time that calls for courageous leadership,' he said,  'hard decisions must be taken to overhaul our security system in concrete terms and above all arrest the monumental failure of intelligence which is clearly apparent. The unending bombings and prevalent bomb-scares that now dominate the lives of Nigerians suggests that there is something fundamentally wrong which needs fixing. Nigeria is ripe for a national conference. A conversation that will have all stakeholders at the table where we can discuss and if need be renegotiate the basis of our union. As it now stands, the state of our union is weak. The state of our union is under severe attack and we need collective action to deal with the slide into anarchy.'

Condemning the blasts, former Presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Mega Party in the April general elections, called for a national emergency saying that the attacks had stretched the nation's patience.

'The Christmas Day bomb blast is a great tragedy coming on a day that represents peace on earth as Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. This latest development calls for a national emergency and the need for a summit for Nigerians to decide where the nation is going,' Utomi said.

Chief Maxi Okwu, the Coordinator of the Patriotic Alliance of Nigeria (PAN), an association of opposition political parties, said that 'government security agencies across the nation seemed  to be losing the war on terrorism.

'Government must change its tactics by doing more of counter terrorism, intelligence gathering and infiltration.,' Okwu said.

He said that there was immediate need for Nigerians to sit down and talk before the carnage ripping across the country became impossible to handle. 'Nigeria must go back to the original agreement on federalism which has been lost. The Federal Government must coordinate and fine-tune the basic agreement,' he said.

Dr Federick Faseun, the founder of Oodua People's Congress, described the attacks as sad and unfortunate, noting  that enough attention had not been paid to terrorism in Nigeria.

'No doubt Nigeria is in a sad situation and the Federal Government must tackle the situation as a national emergency,' he said.

The President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, said  there was hope in Nigeria if government could listen to reason and facilitate the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC).

Also former Governor of Kwara, Sen. Bukola Saraki told newsmen at the Presidential Wing of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, that Nigerians must find solution to the Boko Haram problem.

'First, we have to condole with the families that lost their members in the unfortunate incident. It's sad on a day like this. It is high time that Nigerians begin to look at the menace of Boko Haram as a Nigerian problem and not President Goodluck Jonathan's problem.'

NEMA condemn acts
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), which in collaboration with other stakeholders has continued to provide necessary supports and assistance to the victims, also condemned of the explosions.

NEMA Director General, Muhammad Sani-Sidi, described the explosion as a condemnable act and urged 'Nigerians to imbibe the spirit of brotherhood and live peacefully among themselves.'

It's symptom of systemic collapse - CPC
Reacting to the incidents, the Congress of Progressive Change (CPC), said the gory sight of wasted Nigerians made the incidents real National tragedies and condemned the spate of bombings as cowardly, morally reprehensible and callous.