By Luka Binniyat
KADUNA—The ceaseless bloodletting that has been the lot of some Northern parts of the country coloured the Easter celebrations, yesterday, throwing several families in Kaduna and Makurdi into mourning. 58 persons died when a suicide bomber killed 36 persons in Kaduna even as 22 others lost their lives in Makurdi as a church building collapsed on worshippers during Easter vigil mass.
The tragedy in Kaduna occurred, yesterday, when a car loaded with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded with a suicide bomber at the busy Sardauna Crescent Junction, Kaduna killing not less than 20 people on the spot. 16 others were later confirmed dead in several hospitals less than two hours after. Several others were also injured.
Eye wirness account said five minutes before the incident, the car had approached the 1st ECWA Goodnews church, on Gwari Road close to the scene of the incident, but the desperate move by the driver to force his way through a blockade was frustrated by the Police.
When Vanguard arrived the scene of the blast about 45 minutes after, part of charred remains of the car engine, said to be a Honda Accord 2003(EOD) model with number plate BB111DKA, was seen about 500 metres from the point of the explosion which occured directly opposite Fina White Hotel.
The explosion dug a crater about two feet deep. It brought down the roof of Fina White Hotel.
A couple and their two year-old baby, the only guests at the time, came out of the hotel unhurt.
It was estimated that at least 60 buildings within 500 metres radius of the blast may need to be rebuilt.
Eight cars and scores of commercial motorcycles were either burnt or severely damaged.
Thousands of onlookers resisted concerted attempts by soldiers to keep them away from the scene that was cordoned off to both human and vehicular movement.
The smell of burnt human flesh still filled the air, while officials of the Red Cross, and Federal Road Safety Corps picked up human remains into body bags. Human blood mixed with engine oil was noticed on the tarred road.
It was a gory spectacle. But it could have been worse had the intended target been hit – a church with thousands of worshippers.
How ECWA Church was spared
Mr Francis Markus, a security man attached to 1st ECWA Church, Gwari Road narrated how he innocently warded off the bomber with a few police men when he spoke to newsmen close to the Church yesterday.
He said: “It was about 10 am when I saw a man coming to this street, and said he wanted to pass. I told him that he cannot pass because the church service was going on, we don’t normally allow cars to pass when service is going on because of the insecurity in the area. I advised him to pass after the church service. He insisted that he was going to his house. Then I said which of the houses are you talking about? He pointed at that upstairs building (pointing at one storey house painted in green on the street).
And I know so many people in the house, but for him and the car, I didn’t recognize his face because I work here every Sunday. I didn’t recognize his face. I stopped him from passing through the street. But he pointed at another house, saying that, that was where he wanted to go. He came through Arochukwu Road at about 9.45am. He drove in a Honda Accord ash-coloured car.
I told him that he cannot pass through here. He accused me of violating his rights for not allowing him to go to his house. I asked him to wait till after church service before he could pass, but he insisted that he must pass. We dragged this for some minutes. He entered the car and reversed and drove towards me. Yet I stood my ground and held the iron which we used for the road block. He hit the iron against me.
“Luckily enough, one of my church members came with his bike, parked and intervened. At this point we noticed that the man was having an army uniform on the back seat of his car, and an army cap by the rear wind screen. Then I told him that as an Army officer for him to behave that way, ‘you are a disgrace to the Army. You are misbehaving.
“As we were talking, the police men that were posted to the church saw what was happening between me and the man. They walked over and helped me to drive the man away. But within three to five minutes, we heard the explosion across the road, along Junction Road. It was the same car that came here.”
Five killed - Police
Kaduna State Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Jinjiri Abubakar however brought a curious twist to Markus story later in the afternoon.
Said Jinjiri: “Situation report indicated that today (yesterday), April 8, 2012 at about 8:45hours, intelligence report received said two suspected vehicles heading towards Kakuri / Sabon Tasha axis exploded while on transit.
“The two vehicles were pursued by Detective Corporal Francis Marcus, and then suddenly one of the vehicles hit the other, thereby causing a serious bomb explosion between the two vehicles on Junction Road by Sardauna Crescent in Kaduna.
“The bomb explosion was massive which resulted in the death of the suicide bomber and 5 persons with 16 injured victims who were passers-by.
“Police and other security agencies are investigating the issue and final report will soon be made public”.
36 killed, 13 injured— SEMA
But the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Abubakar Zakari Adamu had earlier given newsmen his version of the explosion which most people agreed with.
Adamu said: “We have taken seven persons to Rakiya Memorial Hospital, out of which five died while the remaining two were transferred to 44 Army Reference Hospital.
“At the Army Reference Hospital, 20 people were seriously injured and are receiving treatment there.
“At St Gerald Hospital, 10 people were taken there, five have died while the remaining five were seriously injured. At the Barau Dikko Hospital, we have six dead, six injured. As you may be aware, 20 people died on the spot. That brings the casualty figure to 36 dead and 13 seriously injured”, he said.
At the St. Gerald Catholic Hospital Kaduna, the PRO of the Hospital, Mr. Sunday John Ali, told Vanguard that out of the five victims taken to the hospital, three had been transferred to Ahmadu Bello Teaching Hospital, Chika, near Zaria. Vanguard spoke to some of the victims on their sick beds yesterday
I don’t know what has happened to me – Yako
Umar Garba Yako (25), an indigene of Sokoto, married with a daughter was selling date palm fruits when the explosion took place. He lost part of his right arm, and was in pains when he spoke to Vanguard:
“I was selling dabino (date palm fruits) in wheel barrow. We were four in number selling dabino. I just heard an explosion. I saw myself high up in the air. I hit a pole. I don’t know what hit me and took me up like that. When I woke up here, people were saying that it was a bomb in a car. But I did not see any car. Three of my friends died. I am lucky to be alive. May God save us from evil”, he said.
I just heard an explosion and was blown away – Johnson
Femi Johnson, 28, a printer from Osun State, was on his way to attend church when he became a victim: “I came from Sardauna crescent and crossed to the other side of the road to wait for vehicle to take me to church. I saw bright heavy flash of light followed by a loud bang. I was taken far away and hit something. There was fire on my body. I managed to stand up, but I fell again. People were running and screaming. I just laid there. Then they came and took me here. Till now, I don’t know where the explosion came from. I doubt if a car can explode like that”.
This year alone, there have been five bomb attacks in Kaduna with about six deaths, including Sgt. Sunday Badang of the Kaduna State Anti-bomb detecting squad. Yesterday’s blast was the most serious since an Islamic sect started using bombs to attack targets in the aftermath of the post-April political uprising in some parts of northern Nigeria.
22 worshippers die in Makurdi church collapse
Meanwhile, a total of 22 worshippers died on Saturday during an Easter vigil mass when their Church collapsed on them. An eye witness told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Sunday in Makurdi that the incident happened at an outpost of the Christ the King Parish Church Adamgbe, Vandeikya Local Government Area of Benue. The witness added that the Church collapsed following a heavy rainstorm.
Confirming the incident, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr Alaribe Ejike, said that the worshippers died when the Church collapsed on them. He dismissed speculations that the incidence was caused by an attack as reported by some foreign media agencies.
Ejike assured the people of the state of the readiness of the police to protect lives and property of citizens.
Efforts to get reactions from the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi failed as both the Director of Media Affairs and the Secretary of the Bishop did not pick phone calls.
But a security officer at the Bishop’s residence, Mr Aondover Nyamor, said he was aware of the incidence.