Bombings sow fear, reveal Boko Haram’s increasing reach across Nigeria
Abuja: While world attention remains riveted on the drama of 276 missing schoolgirls abducted in mid-April, twin car blasts on Tuesday killed at least 118 people in the Nigerian city of Jos.
The bombings, the latest in a series of attacks, spread alarm across the country and raised new concerns about tensions between Christians and Muslims in this nation of 175 million.
Witnesses described seeing bodies torn apart and consumed by flames in the double blast at a busy bus station in Jos, the capital of Plateau state, a central region that splits Nigeria’s mostly Christian and more fertile south from the mostly Muslim and more arid north, where Boko Haram militants have spread terror for five years.
The detonation of two vehicle bombs within half an hour seemed calculated to exact maximum casualties a tactic not seen before in Nigeria.Boko Haram did not claim Tuesday’s attack, but it resembled other recent bombings in outdoor markets and bus stations, including two blasts that killed more than 120 people in Abuja, one that killed 25 in the northern city of Kano, and one in a village in Borno state, the region where the girls were kidnapped. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan issued a statement late on Tuesday assuring “all Nigerians that the government remains fully committed to winning the war against terror, and [that] this administration will not be cowed by the atrocities of enemies of human progress and civilisation”The Nigerian Senate on Tuesday extended a six-month state of emergency in Borno and two other northern states, and government spokesmen expressed confidence that Nigeria’s security forces could handle the militants. The government has reluctantly accepted Western technical and security support in searching for the abducted girls and their captors, including aerial surveillance by drones.
“Our troops are out there, and our armed forces have sufficient capacity to do the job,” a government spokesman, Mike Omeri, said on Monday. The international assistance, he added, only “complements” national efforts.
But the deadly bombings, some appearing to target Christian communities, have highlighted the government’s continued failure to curb Boko Haram’s reach, which now extends far beyond the group’s stronghold in the rural north-east. Many officials in the north are calling for negotiations with Boko Haram, which has made a series of shifting demands in return for releasing the girls.Meanwhile, official efforts to rally public support have been dampened by missteps such as Mr Jonathan’s abrupt cancellation of a visit to the girls’ village last weekend.
“We were all expecting him, and we were very disappointed. We are much more sceptical now,” said a district leader in the area where the girls were kidnapped, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “We just want our daughters to come back alive and healthy, whatever it takes.”
At the outdoor Nyanya Market on the outskirts of Abuja, there were few customers on Tuesday in a maze of tents and stalls where two car bombings occurred April 14 and May 2.
“We are told that Boko Haram did this, but what did anyone here ever do to offend them?” demanded a shoe seller named Darlington, 32, whose shack was damaged in the first blast. “Everyone is scared, both Christians and Muslims alike. These attacks are giving Nigeria a bad name now, but it is an international problem. The only way to suppress the power of these terrorists is to eradicate them from all of Africa.”