As Nigerian authorities gathered at the Eagle Square in the capital city of Abuja, to celebrate the 50th year since the green-white-green replaced the Union Jack, rebels of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) decided to show Nigerians that there was nothing to be celebrated by launching multiple bomb blasts. Now they are blaming the Nigerian government for the blasts.
Earlier in the day, MEND- the main militant group in the oil-rich south-demanding a fairer distribution of the country’s oil revenues, vowed to bomb the event.
In an e-mail message to the Nigerian authorities, MEND warned that it had planted several explosive devices, because there was “nothing worth celebrating after 50 years of failure”.
The group had also taken time to warn those who had planned to attend the 50th anniversary celebrations to keep away from trash cans and vehicles as it had planted “explosive devices”.
Usually, MEND have always targeted pipelines and supply terminals in the south, but they have taken their war to the nation’s capital. “MEND is claiming responsibility for the attack,” read an e-mail sent to CNN.
Notwithstanding their claim of responsibility, they have also blamed the Nigerian government for the loss of human life saying they “warned the authorities ahead of time who decided to ignore the warning and alert the public.”
In a statement, the group claims to have given the authorities “an ample warning of five days” in addition to the one hour warning prior to the bomb attack. “We blame the loss of avoidable lives on the government, who acted irresponsibly by ignoring our forewarning”.
According to businessdayonline, the bomb “was detonated about 40 meters from the state box, where President Jonathan, Vice President Nnamdi Sambo and other visiting heads of government were sitting, at the Eagle Square, the venue of the nation’s 50th anniversary celebration”.
The Nigerian government had signed an amnesty agreement with rebels in the oil-rich region, offering cash, rehabilitation and the promise of job training for former militants who disarmed.
There was reduced vandalism afterward, the rate of kidnappings fell until some disgruntled fighters began to complain that the government had failed to live up to its promises.
So as independence celebrations unfolded in Abuja, a car bomb went off and five minutes after, a second car bomb exploded. Eight people including a police officer were killed and many more injured.
According to police reports, the bombs appeared timed to do most damage to those who responded to the first blast. Some reports claim that there was a smaller third explosion within the parade ground.
“There were more casualties at the second explosion because the first explosion drew crowds to the scene, which is close to the second explosion,” an intelligence officer told AFP news agency. According to the Red Cross, the blasts destroyed at least 38 vehicles.
After the attacks, President Goodluck Jonathan, who was inspecting a guard of honor at the time, described the incident as a “wicked act of desperation by criminals and murderers.” He says they “will pay dearly for this heinous crime.”
Reports on the death toll are confusing. But latest reports estimate that the death toll may have risen to fifteen, up from eight, as reported earlier by the local media. Meanwhile scores of people are said to have been injured in the blasts.
Most of MENDs leaders agreed to a ceasefire and and have already dissociated themselves from these blasts, but many Nigerians believe the group is behind the explosions.
Under the amnesty, oil production increased from about 1.6 million barrels per day to about two million, but the people of the Niger Delta continue to live in poverty.