Yesterday, a number of sources (such as Reuters, AP and Al Jazeera) reported that there was a blast at a bus station in Nyanya, which is on the outskirts of the capital – Abuja. A location like that might not seem like much – especially when the most populated area is Lagos. However, it was the capital during rush hour – so there was plenty of people around. Unfortunately, 71-72 people have died (reports vary – see linked articles) and scores of people are injured/wounded (AP reports that the total was 164, RT suggested it was 124 – the variance could be due to publication times and confusion at the scene).
According to this Guardian article, a significant hole in the ground, started fires and destroyed 30 or more vehicles. The bus station is just 10 miles from the city centre.
It is a truly terrible event and is yet another in a string that have claimed peoples lives in Nigeria over the past few months.
Dismissal and accusations
Due to many of the recent events being linked to Boko Haram – a jihadist terrorist group seeking an Islamic state – it was unsurprising that this explosion was linked to them. However, at the typing of typing, the group has not claimed responsibility. It’s worth noting that they typically operate in the north eastern area of Nigeria, which is not an urban environment. However, they have mentioned expansion in the past.
“The issue of Boko Haram is quite an ugly history within this period of our own development,” he said.
“But we will get over it … The issue of Boko Haram is temporary.”
This quote can be taken a couple of ways. The first sentence is a clear statement of fact. The events are ugly. The second sentence can be interpreted as a statement of defiance directed at a group that seeks to disrupt the remarkable progress (Nigeria recently became the largest economy in Africa). That is what you would expect a leader to say in a situation like this. However, he mentions that the “issue of Boko Haram is temporary”. As a group, they have existed since 2002 and have been responsible for about 10,000 deaths. They were possibly responsible for an event yesterday. Clearly they haven’t gone away and have gotten progressively worse. President Jonathan could also be seen as being in a state of denial.
Many people blame Boko Haram and it is understandable despite the lack of any confirmation. However, other accusations have been made. The following is a quote from a press release issued by the National Publicity Secretary and member of the ruling PDP, Oliseh Metuh:
“We stand by our earlier statements that these attacks on our people are politically motivated by unpatriotic persons, especially those in the APC, who have been making utterances and comments, promoting violence and blood-letting as a means of achieving political control.”
This is a very interesting accusation. The APC are a major opposition party in Nigeria and there will be a Presidential election in February next year. President Jonathan isn’t necessarily a certainty to retain his job either. It is a hugely controversial thing to say at any time, but you could suspect another purpose when it is relatively close to an election.
Whilst not mentioning specific names, the APC has clearly been accused.
There’s also a point about mixed messages here. President Jonathan effectively accused Boko Haram. He is a member of the PDP and the publicity spokesperson just accused another group. It would be nice if there was some uniformity and may be even some evidence. You would expect that from a responsible and a professional government.
The APC have no response on the website to the accusation but they do have an article criticising the effectiveness of the government.
Understandably, there was a response from the United Nations:
“The Secretary-General strongly condemns all indiscriminate killings and acts of violent extremism,” the statement added. “The perpetrators of this attack, and those responsible for the continuing brutal attacks in the northeast of the country, must be brought to justice.”
Later on in the release, there was this:
“…the members of the Security Council also strongly condemned the multiple terrorist attacks committed by Boko Haram that occurred in Nigeria on 13 and 14 April, causing numerous deaths and injuries.”
Whilst this can be interpreted as a general condemnation of violence (particularly in Nigeria), it’s worth noting that this was in a response to the Nyanya bus station bombing. That means the mention of Boko Haram could be seen as pointing blame without explicitly saying it (done that way due to an absence of evidence at the time).
Why are these events important to you?
Well, for a start, there is the obvious human tragedy as a result of an act of terrorism. In the UK, we have experienced that sort of thing. For anyone reading this in the US and the rest of the world, you will have your own examples.
The UK has 174,000 Nigerian born residents, according the the 2011 Census, although that isn’t necessarily 100% accurate and the figure will have gone up by now. The Central Association of Nigerians in the United Kingdom state that the total number of Nigerians in the UK (born here or not) is between 1.5m and 2m.
According to DfID’s Dev Tracker, the UK project budget for Nigeria in 2014/15 is £211,617,804 (expected to vary in future years). The statement at the top of the page suggests that the aid would benefit trade, energy and security. One that isn’t mentioned is Health, which accounts for 23.5% of project spending. According to the CIA Factbook, Nigeria is top of the rankings for AIDS related deaths and second for those living with the condition. Like many African nations, AIDS is a major issue.
On the subject of energy, 95% of Nigerian exports are related to petroleum (also, 43% of the GDP relates to ‘industry’ – presumably related to petroleum). The UK is an trade partner and responsible for taking 5.1% of exports (the US and India are the partners with the highest percentages – 16.8 and 11.5 respectively). It means they also have a link to our Commonwealth and trans-atlantic partners. As energy was mentioned on the DfID page, you can imagine that a large portion of that 5.1% is petroleum and we are therefore dependent on the country and it’s future success for part of our energy. Terrorism in the country can affect both energy supply and prices to our country.
In terms of current travel advice, the UK Government recommends no travel to a number of cities and states. Unsurprisingly, Abuja is now added to the list. There is a high threat of terrorism according to the Travel Advice page and the CIA Factbook.
As I mentioned earlier, there is no confirmation that Boko Haram were responsible at the time of typing. However, there are enough accusations directed at them as a result of other recent events and because they may want to expand ‘operations’ in order to achieve their goal of an Islamic state. Whilst the APC have also been blamed, it seems unlikely that they were at fault (why do this and risk losing their share of parliament and the chances of a presidency?).
There are many reasons to be interested in the bomb blast and subsequent reaction. There and multiple reasons to be interested in Nigeria. I hope you feel that this blog post has informed you.
So, what do you think?