Is Abuja under siege?
In this excruciating moment when a somewhat cold war and brazen hatred and rancour are not only pervading the political atmosphere of the nation but ensnaring the political squads for 2011 general elections, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is witnessing a semi-upheaval which demands quick and urgent strategy to forestall any breakdown of law in the centre of unity.
On the Independence Day and golden jubilee celebration when many Nigerians were rejoicing with their compatriots, two bombs were detonated close to the Eagle Square, apparently in an attempt to disrupt the gathering. Several Nigerians were killed, maimed and injured from the blast. Even if the affected families are (properly) compensated, lives have been lost and the fears are still on.
Whoever are behind this heinous act should be fetched out and punished and luckily the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has owned up the responsibility. There should be no beating about the bush or defence of a group fully well known for such activities in the past and beyond. There should be no linking of innocent citizens, no political witch-hunting and no further worsening of the situation. Let the government carry out a thorough investigation and safeguard Abuja residents.
Reactions from the inhuman and unpatriotic act have continued to emanate from different personalities, organizations and feelers. Facts so far available to the public show that MEND, as it has been doing through e-mails to media houses, had given earlier warning to carry out such attacks. There were revelations that even foreign security outfits foresaw this and alerted the Nigerian counterpart. Immediately after it, MEND boldly accepted to be responsible.
But President Goodluck Jonathan defended the MEND and insisted that the act was carried out by terrorists. His efforts till now at exonerating MEND clearly imply that MEND is not a terrorist group and that members of MEND are not terrorists. This is confusing. However, many national and international figures have continued to seek the real meaning of terrorism and who a terrorist is. This hasty conclusion by President Jonathan reminds Nigerians of former President Obasanjo who on several occasions attributed the assassinations of prominent Nigerians during his regime to armed robbers' attacks. Bola Ige, Marshal Harry, A.K. Dikibbo, among others were murdered and nobody till today has been nailed for that. And it is worthy to note here that the ANPP chieftain, Marshal Harry was killed in his private house in the FCT.
Nigerians must reflect on how cities of the Niger Delta were gradually seized by the same group that is being emphatically defended by the President. MEMD, Bush Boys, NDPVF and tens of the militant groups, some of which were really fighting a worthy cause, did not start overnight. They did not just, for instance, enter Port Harcourt city and nearly took control within just a day during the peak of the Niger Delta crisis. It began like the Abuja bombings. Therefore, our security outfits must brace up to this great national duty to defend the FCT from any internal or external aggressions.
One part of the President's reaction was his assertion that he knows those behind the act. If it is so, then the problem is half solved and Nigerians should then demand that the President addresses the nation and tell them the perpetrators of this evil. It seems to have become an accepted norm that the leaderships are much more reactionary than being proactive. Severally, these acts have reoccurred in the past and the greatest things we are told is that the perpetrators will be found and punished. But none of the actors will ever be found, not to talk of the punishment. To compound thing, some funny elements of the society will be staged to confess in an attempt to divert attention. And so the case will gradually be forgotten.
If this singular defence of the militants by the President is anything to reckon, then it reveals more sympathy for the militants than their activities and the effects. It is still fresh in our memories how the militants came to Abuja in large number to showcase their grievances over unpaid allowances to them and matters relating to the amnesty programme. As they moved freely, like law-abiding citizens, on the streets of Niger Delta cities, so they are moving in Abuja and its environs.
Again, the President gathered the ex-militants leaders at the Aso Rock Villa to cement his defence for MEND. They now have free access to the Villa more than some prominent citizens. The ex-militants who have been granted amnesty, including Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubo who rejected the amnesty on the grounds that he was not a militant and has committed no crime, dissociated themselves from the act. If there is any truth in the speeches of the ex-militants, then there is no base for amnesty in the first place. But the President is a patriotic Niger Delta citizen. And it is expected that the level of patriotism which he bears for the region should not be higher than that he bears for Nigeria as a President of Nigeria.
However, other reactions include that of leader of South-South Leaders and Elders Forum, Chief Edwin Clark, who said the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta which claimed responsibility for the attack had ceased to exist and could not have planted the bombs. His words: “Henry Okah and others could not have been involved because they have all accepted the amnesty programme offered by the Federal Government. Mr. President should not be disturbed, MEND no longer exists. Anyone who says MEND is involved is wasting his time.”
A frontline presidential aspirant of the PDP for the 2011 election, General Ibrahim Babangida through his Director of Media and Publicity, Prince Kassim Afegbua, insisted that the government had jumped into conclusion on the matter. Also, IBB's Deputy Campaign Director, Distinguished Senator Kanti Bello, had this to say, “Security agencies of the country must not allow themselves to be used as tools to settle political scores particularly on simple intra-party contest.”
Northern Political Leaders' Forum (NPLF) leader, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, said in a statement, “We as citizens of this country have totally lost confidence in the President's leadership and hereby call on him to immediately resign. Since Jonathan was desperate enough to want to hang mass murder around the necks of unnamed Northerners, we state without any equivocation that, as Northerners and as citizens of this country, we no longer feel safe and secure under his leadership.”
Ciroma also said, “We would like to state, for the umpteenth time, that President Goodluck Jonathan's desperation to be President again in 2011 can only take Nigeria back to the dark days of President Olusegun Obasanjo's Third Term with all its attendant instability and the wasting of innocent civilians' lives. Now that the President has proven that he is incapable of leading the nation justly and fairly and that he is desperate enough to want to hang mass murder around the neck of unnamed Northerners to achieve his second term, we as citizens of this country have totally lost confidence in his leadership and hereby call on him to immediately resign.”
Cynthia Whyte, spokesperson of Joint Revolutionary Council comprising of (alliance units of) the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, The (Reformed) Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force and the Martyrs Brigade, had declared thus, “Okah's faction of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta was led by General Boyloaf (Victor Ebikabowei) who has since disbanded his unit and has joined forces with the renewed efforts in bringing peace, stability and development to the Niger Delta.”
Whyte continued, “Henry Okah is a monster that was created by frontline Ijaw leader Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari. During his incarceration in 2005-2007, Henry Okah was mandated and paid to service fighting units loyal to Mujahid Dokubo-Asari. He exploited Dokubo-Asari's absence, cunningly hijacked the email address used by MEND to communicate with the world, sold arms to armed robbers and confiscated hundreds of millions of naira meant for supply of arms to combat groups in the Niger Delta. Since his release from prison by former President Yar'Adua and realizing that he had lost most of his leverage, Henry Okah has sought to work with former armed robbery gangs that he had supplied arms to in the past. These armed robbery groups were responsible for bank robberies and the theft of monies from oil companies in Port Harcourt and its environs.”
The Senate discussed the matter on Wednesday, 6th October and agreed that all Nigerians must condemn any act that is capable of undermining the nation's security, peace and unity. The Distinguished Senators moved that thorough investigation must be conducted and the culprits brought to book. Recalling how the entire citizens of the United States of America managed the effects of the September 9, 2001 bomb attacks, the members of the upper chambers of the National Assembly implored all Nigerians to remain together and pursue a common cause of unity and harmony. It, however, frowned at the politicization of the matter by some prominent citizens.
The last part of a joint press statement issued by the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Atiku Abubakar, Gen. Aliyu Gusau and Gov. Abubakar Bukola Saraki's presidential campaign organizations in Abuja on Tuesday, 5th October, 2010 reads “We also note a more dangerous dimension to the unfolding bomb blasts phenomenon. In an Aljeazera TV interview on Tuesday, 5th October, 2010, the acclaimed MEND Leader, Henry Okah, declared that he was contacted by ranking presidential aides to refute the statement that MEND was behind the bomb blasts; that he and MEND should declare that Northern political figures were behind the blasts, as a way of damaging their presidential aspiration and making it easy for president Jonathan to win the 2011 Presidential election; that President Jonathan's hasty exoneration of MEND from the bomb blasts stemmed from the expectation that he would play along; and that when it became obvious that he will not play the script allotted to him, he was subsequently arrested and arraigned on terrorism related charges. Henry Okah's accusations are weighty and sobering and, if true, must require an Independent Judicial Investigation. We thus alert the ECOWAS, AU and the UN to the dangerous political and security situation in Nigeria; a situation that is capable of compromising its national integrity, if not well handled.
Sully Abu, Director of Goodluck/Sambo Campaign Organisation said, “No amount of blackmail will slow the hands of justice. We call on all security agencies to intensify their investigations into the Abuja bomb blast of Independence Day."
It is important to note again that Abuja is the nation's administrative city whose security must not be compromised in any way. On 5th October, just three days after the dastardly incident, there were fears in the FCT and activities at the huge NNPC towers, federal secretariat and several other places within the metropolis were disrupted as civil servants and businessmen scampered for safety after rumours filtered the air of possible attacks within or around the vicinities.
Something must be done and very quickly so that Abuja residents will not have to flee for their lives as the situation is now in Aba. Security must be provided for gatherings in public places. No one knows who will be the next victim. The government should offer adequate financial and moral support to the innocent victims. Although Abuja cannot be subjected to a siege by few elements in the society, there is urgent need to restore confidence in the minds of the residents that their lives and properties are safe and secure in the nation's capital.
And on a very serious note, Nigerians should be careful in the next general elections so that we can have a nation where no or very minimal level of misunderstanding, insecurity and tribalism, religious and ethnic bigotry as well as poverty, corruption and unemployment may pervade.
Muhammad Ajah is a writer, author, advocate of humanity and good governance based in Abuja. E-mail [email protected]