Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why Boko Haram bombed the Nigeria Police Headquarters in Abuja

Nigeria: Boko Haram Terrorism Threats: Police Headquarters Bombing and our security

I must confess that I am neither surprised by the brazen attack on the headquarters of the Nigeria Police, the almighty Louis Edet House in Abuja, by members of the Boko Haram Islamic sect, nor by the reaction of President Goodluck Jonathan. Why?

I was in Maiduguri and Bauchi August for over a week in 2009 after the Boko Haram attacks that set Borno and Bauchi States ablaze, literally. The level of destruction was unprecedented. I visited the prison and police stations that were sacked. I went to the police college where senior police officers on course were slaughtered while sleeping. I saw churches that were bombed. I went to the sect’s headquarters located at the Maiduguri Railway Terminus Areas (MRTA) that had been destroyed and taken over by security men. I was told of the atrocities committed in that very compound and shown what was alleged to be the killing chamber of the sect’s leader, Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf, who was summarily executed by the police after his arrest.

I visited the compound of Yusuf’s father-in-law, the 72-year-old Alhaji Baa Fugu Mohammed, who was alleged to be one of the financiers of the sect. The man was also executed, his compound destroyed. I interviewed two young women – 22-year-old Patricia Ibe, who was an accountancy student then and 14-year-old Chidinma Obigwe. Two of them watched as three of their religious brethren had their throats slit.

They were taken away as spoils of war, only rescued when men of the Borno State special security outfit, Operation Flush, invaded the sect’s headquarters where they and over 1,500 other people, mostly women, were held hostage.

I spoke to Rev. Dr. Daniel Egboka, Assistant General Superintendent of the National Evangelical Mission and Chairman, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (Borno State chapter), who was also the Pastor of the National Evangelical Mission Wukari Headquarters, Maiduguri. Not only was his church burnt down, his Assistant Pastor, Sylvester Nseobong, his brother who visited from Akwa Ibom, Patrick James, and the church’s security man, Elijah Gambo, were the three men Patricia and Chidinma watched their gory execution.

Pastor Egboka showed me the bones of his fallen colleagues; still at the very spot they were burnt. As at the time of the interview, his wife had fled Maiduguri, vowing never to set her foot again in the state or any part of the North. I interviewed the then state Governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, whose former Commissioner for Religious Affairs, Buji Fai, resigned his appointment to join the sect. Buji was also summarily executed. There were insinuations then that the Governor ordered the execution of Mohammed and Buji to stop them from spilling the bean. Sheriff denied the allegation vehemently, claiming that he was also a target. The Commander of the Operation Flush 11, Colonel Ben Ahanotu, who I met in the Governor’s office, spoke off record, detailing the enormity of the crisis and the atrocity committed by the sect members.

The Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Umar Garbal El-Kanemi, who only assumed office on May 31, 2009, barely two months before the mayhem, spoke. He said the irreverent Yusuf embarrassed not only the state but the entire Muslim community.

The University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH) was filled to capacity with victims – men, women, children and the aged. I spoke with soldiers and policemen with all manner of wounds. The mortuary was overflowing. As a result, corpses were being dumped at the car park of the Umaru Shehu Ultra Modern Hospital, Bulumkutu.

Police denied me access to the arrested Boko Haram members, who were in detention, but I spoke to members who were not detained and they vowed revenge. I spoke to many other victims of the madness and came out with the impression that the sect’s capacity for violence was almost infinite. Scarier was my perception that they had the capacity to sustain the insurrection. I saw a people whose thirst for blood was insatiable.

In Bauchi, it was the same level of atrocity committed by the sect members. Many young people are now in their early grave as well as religious and political leaders. I interviewed sect members arrested by the police and vowed to wage war on the nation. Both traditional and religious leaders have been displaced. Bishop A.T Moses was mentioned as the enemy to their mission as well as Pastor Sunday I. Peters.

Since 2009, I have watched as they carried out attacks with astounding precision, knocking off high value targets almost effortlessly.

So, when the group issued a statement last Wednesday, boasting that their warriors had “arrived Nigeria from Somalia where they got serious training on warfare,” and vowing that they would “wage jihad on the enemies of God and his Messenger,” I sensed an escalation in the paroxysm of violence that had gripped the
country. The vow was a reaction to the Inspector General of Police Hafiz Ringim’s boast that the days of Boko Haram were numbered after receiving 10 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) from the Borno State government the previous day.

It is instructive that Ringim’s office was bombed a day after the group made its vow. It is also helpful, but by no means comforting, to note that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, the first time ever in Nigeria, after Boko Haram’s claim that their fighters had returned from Somalia.

I was also not surprised by Jonathan’s response when he visited Louis Edet House on Saturday. “Let me use this opportunity to assure Nigerians that it happens all over the world, no country is safe,” the President said. How the knowledge that terrorism is a global phenomenon can assuage the anxiety of distraught Nigerians, only the President can explain.

But I was not surprised because that was the same answer he gave after the gruesome murder of the Governorship candidate of the Borno State All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Modu Fannami Gubio, who until his death was the Commissioner for Finance. Six other people killed in that brazen attack on January 28 included the Governor’s brother, Alhaji Goni Modu Ngala, who was former chairman of Ngala local government.

Since terrorism had become global merchandise, Nigerians have nothing to complain about, the President seemed to have suggested. But that is too simplistic a solution coming from him. No Nigerian is going to be comforted by the fact that bombs are also exploding in other parts of the world including the United States and Europe.

The fact of the matter is that Nigeria has become a haven for terrorists and this should give the President serious concern. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to appreciate the enormity of the crisis because if he does, he would have appreciated the significance of the bombing of the police headquarters. It is an audacious attack executed strategically to send a clear message that if the security of the seemingly impregnable police headquarters could be easily breached, then nowhere, not even Aso Rock is safe.

Leadership is not an easy task. It is only in Nigeria that people grow younger and look more robust when they are elected or appointed into public office. In other climes the reverse is the case because leadership exerts its toll on those who occupy public office. Anyone who is in doubt should look at President Barack Obama; how much he has aged in three years.
Presidency is not a feel good job. Jonathan must roll up his sleeve and work. We have full-blown terrorism on our hands. And the successful attack on the Louis Edet House, where the Inspector General of Police, Ringim, escaped death by the whiskers, is a morale booster. It is disturbing that the President and Commander-in-Chief of the country thinks that terrorism can be wished away which is what his statement that, “Nigeria is also having some ugly incidents lately but surely we will get over it and people should not panic at all,” seems to suggest.
However, it was learnt that preliminary police investigations into the 16/6 bombing showed that the Police High Command and the top leadership of the nation’s security agencies came to that initial conclusion from reading the footages of the incident from the Close Circuit Television at the Louis Edet House. The impact of the bomb, which destroyed about 77 cars in the IG’s parking lot and reduced the Honda to an engine stump, killed the suspected bombers right inside their car.
Journalists who went to the police headquarters shortly after the blast last week observed so much confusion among the police about the particular car that actually carried the device. A good number of the policemen pointed to a mangled car whose two tyres were on a culvert in the car park as the car driven by the bomber. It took a lot of protest from the journalists to get a close photograph of the car when the rescue team comprising men of the Red Cross and National Emergency Management Agency got the human parts from the car into some black cellophane bags.

It took a four-man team of journalists from the PUNCH close to one hour to extract that piece of information from a police officer who lost his car to the blast and two of his junior colleagues to disclose the real car that carried the bomb. However, the police have said that the ongoing investigations would soon unveil the sponsors of Boko Haram.

Boko Haram is a determined foe. It must be fought decisively and even if not totally vanquished, at least defanged or we should all consider ourselves dead.

Source: Emeka Owoniyi (JNCR)

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