Bomb attacks in Nigeria

It has been surreal to watch the 50th Independence Ceremony of Nigeria bombed this morning. I was at a similar event three years ago in Abuja, and the sights and locations where it took place are all too familiar. At 5:15am EST — or 10:15am in Abuja, Nigeria — I also received the same warning ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images

It has been surreal to watch the 50th Independence Ceremony of Nigeria bombed this morning. I was at a similar event three years ago in Abuja, and the sights and locations where it took place are all too familiar. At 5:15am EST -- or 10:15am in Abuja, Nigeria -- I also received the same warning that Nigerians got, in a bomb threat went out by e-mail to the international press warning that "Several explosive devices have been successfully planted in and around the venue by our operatives working inside the government security services."

About an hour later, the rebel Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta (MEND) made good of their word. As many as 15 people are reported to have died, with more injured, from a series of car bombs that went off in succession in the capital, mostly within about 10 minutes from the main site of the festivities.

The rebels' point, which they made in their warning e-mail, is quite clear: "There is nothing worth celebrating after 50 years of failure." For the last half-decade, the rebels have used similar tactics, as well as kidnapping and ransom, to protest the fact that Nigeria's oil wealth has not trickled down to the region where it is produced. When I left Nigeria as a reporter in 2008, I was pretty convinced that the political rhetoric was increasingly a cover for criminality rather than politics. Now things have taken a swing in a somewhat different direction -- terror as a cover for politics. This isn't the first time that MEND has caused civilian casualties or bombed government buildings. But it is the first time that the rebels have orchestrated in Abuja, the capital. And it's the first one that seems truly aimed at any Nigerians who were patriotic enough to attend the independence events.

It has been surreal to watch the 50th Independence Ceremony of Nigeria bombed this morning. I was at a similar event three years ago in Abuja, and the sights and locations where it took place are all too familiar. At 5:15am EST — or 10:15am in Abuja, Nigeria — I also received the same warning that Nigerians got, in a bomb threat went out by e-mail to the international press warning that "Several explosive devices have been successfully planted in and around the venue by our operatives working inside the government security services."

About an hour later, the rebel Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta (MEND) made good of their word. As many as 15 people are reported to have died, with more injured, from a series of car bombs that went off in succession in the capital, mostly within about 10 minutes from the main site of the festivities.

The rebels’ point, which they made in their warning e-mail, is quite clear: "There is nothing worth celebrating after 50 years of failure." For the last half-decade, the rebels have used similar tactics, as well as kidnapping and ransom, to protest the fact that Nigeria’s oil wealth has not trickled down to the region where it is produced. When I left Nigeria as a reporter in 2008, I was pretty convinced that the political rhetoric was increasingly a cover for criminality rather than politics. Now things have taken a swing in a somewhat different direction — terror as a cover for politics. This isn’t the first time that MEND has caused civilian casualties or bombed government buildings. But it is the first time that the rebels have orchestrated in Abuja, the capital. And it’s the first one that seems truly aimed at any Nigerians who were patriotic enough to attend the independence events.

What is just as striking things about this attack is that the celebrations simply went on. President Goodluck Jonathan later issued a statement condemning what happened, and vowing that "To those behind these vicious acts, the president wants you to know that you will be found, and you will pay dearly for this heinous crime." Yet in the immediate term, Jonathan continued with the ceremonies uninterrupted. Of course, there’s something to be said about ‘not letting the terrorists win,’ so to speak. But it also strikes me that there is a certain acceptance and acknowledgement of insecurity — whether it’s bombs or car-accidents or secular violence in the North — that indicates something very alarming lurking below the expectations for this country of 150 million. Nigerians deserve better. 

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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