Monday, October 11, 2010

In the days after the October 1st bomb blasts in Abuja, there has been a measure of confusion. The blasts, which resulted in the deaths of at least 10 people, have been blamed on all manner of people. Then, MEND admitted to foreign media outlets that it carried out the horrible bombings, a claim that was dismissed by President Jonathan who insisted that MEND was not the perpetrator but rather a "foreign-based" group was to blame. This debate between the President and MEND continues to play out in the media in an undignified manner that makes all players look like losers. But, even more significant is that for all the information that has been released, the tale of the Golden Jubilee bombings is far from clear.

Although President Jonathan repeatedly argued that MEND is not to blame for the attack, MEND continues to stand by its declaration. Additionally, Henry Okah, a former member/associate/current MEND sympathizer made an explosive accusation on Al Jazeera network. Okah, who was arrested by South African authorities, asserted that an associate of Goodluck Jonathan's asked him to dismiss MEND's part in the bombing. Specifically, Jonathan's associate allegedly stated that Jonathan planned to blame northerners that were angling to prevent him from winning the upcoming elections. Okah went on to tell NEXT that he has a copy of his communication with said Jonathan's aide.
Smoke and debris fill the sky seconds after a car bomb explodes alongside firemen responding to an initial car bomb that had exploded five minutes earlier, in Abuja, Nigeria, Friday, Oct. 1, 2010. Two car bombs blew up on Friday as Nigeria celebrated, killing at least seven people in an unprecedented attack on the capital by suspected militants from the country's oil region. The attacks claimed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta came as the president and other dignitaries sat only a 10-minute walk away. 'There is nothing worth celebrating after 50 years of failure,' read a statement issued by the group shortly before the attack.

Jonathan's response to this explosive accusation was to assert that they were "frivolous" and "diversionary". To bolster his argument that MEND was not involved in the bombing, he met with certain MEND 'leaders'. These individuals, who had signed the 2009 militants-amnesty, claimed that MEND had no part in the bombing. Still, a group of political leaders from northern Nigeria reacted to Okah's accusation by demanding Jonathan's resignation and asking the legislative body to commence impeachment proceedings. The 4 northern presidential aspirants seeking the PDP's ticket - Babangida, Gusau, Saraki, Atiku - jointly stated that the government was involved in the bombing. There is little indication that Jonathan has plans to step down and no word on whether impeachment is on the horizon.

The pictures of two Nigerian men were displayed on television as persons of interest. These individuals, Chima Orlu and Ben Jessy, were later arrested along with at least 7 others. The campaign manager of presidential aspirant Ibrahim Babangida, Raymond Dokpesi, was also arrested. Allegedly, a text message on the phone of an arrested individual linked the bomb blasts to Dokpesi and thus, Babangida. Security was increased around sections of the city and President Jonathan prevented the Senate president from flying abroad, citing security concerns. In a bit of damage control, Nigeria's intelligence operatives informed the BBC that they actually prevented an attempt on September 29th, stating that security services were actively working to protect Aso Rock, the National Assembly's offices the Supreme Court and SSS headquarters. And even as more information is revealed, a clearer picture of what actually happened and who was behind the bombings remains elusive.

And another group has jumped into the fracas. The Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC), announced that Babangida approached them to carry out a bombing in Abuja planned for October 1st. JRC asserted that Babangida wanted President Jonathan and Vice President Sambo assassinated. The group insisted that it rejected Babangida's offer and in a public statement, claimed that the Abuja bombings were carried out by Henry Okah in collaboration with Babangida. Babangida has rejected these accusations.

While it is possible that these bombings were part of an assassination attempt, this latest twist to the unfolding story conveniently supports the assertions made to the BBC by intelligence officers. This information also conveniently buttresses Jonathan's argument that MEND is not behind the bombing by implying that foreign-based Okah is responsible for the blasts. It is hard to not interpret these new accusations as proof that Jonathan seeks to politicize the blasts by blaming his northern opponents.

Regardless of what the reality is, these accusations and counter accusations only cement the reality that as usual Nigeria's politicians are busy playing dangerous games during election season. The politicization of the bomb blasts is an extension of the to-the-death nature of Nigerian politics where the victims are always common citizens. What is worse still is that none of the current actors in this sad and unnecessary power play have enough credibility to be believed. All the players are soiled beyond recognition. And even the President's assertions must be questioned, not because one is a cynic, but because these players have repeatedly shown that they are not interested in the people's welfare, and as such, cannot truly be trusted. The average person can believe that Babangida had a hand in the bombings, one need only read online comments or engage in offline conversations to see that. Similarly, the average person can believe that President Jonathan either had a hand in the bombings or is manipulating information to blame opponents. And as for Okah, MEND, ex-militant leaders and the JRC, these individuals and groups are known as thugs and criminals by many, thus, discrediting them as well. That lack of credibility on all sides makes the Golden Jubilee bombings a bigger mess than it seems on the surface.

And in light of the despicable bombings and resulting confusion, MEND (or some version of it) announced that it will resume hostilities making it abundantly clear that additional violence could be on the horizon. This will only weaken the federal government's assertions that the Niger Delta amnesty was a success and keep more investors away. That has always been the goal of MEND and it appears to be working. Nevertheless, Nigeria's government and citizens must use the bombings as an opportunity to begin a frank discourse on changing the current state of affairs. Only that will allow those who died and continue to die as a result of corruption and gross negligence, to have not lost their lives in vain. While the impending probe into Golden Jubilee spending is a step in the right direction, an investigation into any security lapses and better yet, evidence of development across the country would go farther in bringing peace to the country.

From The Archives:
- What The Abuja Bomb Blasts Reveal
- Bomb Blasts in Abuja, Nigeria
- A Not So Lustrous Golden Jubilee

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