By Levinus Nwabughiogu
She woke up with a bad start that Monday morning, ready to confront whosoever it was that made the sound. It was just 6:45 am when many people were still in bed. The loud sound woke her; she headed for the gate to warn the local vigilante group maintaining security on her street to be alert. According to her, it was still very early to display any madness.
But on opening the gate, she found no one. Immediately, a feeling struck her that even if the vigilante had released bullets from their locally made gun, the fire power could not have made the deafening sound. Then she heard wailings from same distance. Something so uncanny had happened.
She placed a call to someone who lived in the direction where the wailings came from. Lo and behold, it was a bomb blast. She raced to the scene to see for herself an ill development that later attracted Nigerians from all walks of life.
This is how Victoria, a resident of Nyanya, a suburb of Abuja, shared the news of the Monday bomb explosion that rocked the area’s commercial bus terminal otherwise called el-Rufai Motor Park with Sunday Vanguard.
”If not for this work, I would have just gone back to my house. I have seen a lot today”, said an officer of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) whose name badge bore ‘Igah G.’
His remark got me started. “Pls tell me more. How did it happen?”, I shot at him.
”Look at those Okada (motorcycles) on the ground along the road there, the owners didn’t escape. They were all killed”.
A look in that direction did not only reveal burnt motor bikes that littered the ground but also a tray and loaves of bread, Lipton tea and tins of liquid milk. The tray, bread and tea ingredients belonged to a commercial tea operator popularly called “Mai shai” in Hausa language. He too was gone. Shortly before Victoria arrived the scene, what looked like the last phase of an evacuation exercise had taken place by rescue workers made up of officers of NSCDC, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the police, the Nigerian Army and other volunteer workers. The scene was full and heavy with people.
At the scene were some wheel barrows stained with blood. On the ground also was coagulating blood at different spots. One needed not be told that the barrows were used to evacuate the dead or injured persons. Remains of human beings had been picked and conveyed to waiting ambulances and other emergency vehicles.
Also littering the scene were shoes, wallets and bags. One of the bags contained a West African Examination Council (WAEC) original certificate. It could be that the owner was on his or her way for an interview which of course ended at Nyanya. There were also mobile phones which had been gathered by NEMA officials.
Suddenly, one of the phone began to ring. But who would pick? How do you start a conversation with the caller? Already, words had gone out. The videos and pictures of the incident had gone viral on the internet apparently posted by individual who had taken shots of the blast. Most people in Abuja who knew their loved ones went in that direction began to work their phones. It was Monday morning and anyone familiar with Nyanya/Keffi/Abuja road must have known the usual serpentine traffic that characterizes the motor way. So, it was possible that apprehension had taken the air to necessitate calls.
”Madam, please, come to Nyanya under bridge”, a NEMA official talking, on one of the phones recovered from the scene of the blast to, perhaps, the wife of a victim who at the time hadn’t been certified dead or alive, said.
”Oh! You are in Kano”, the rescue worker spoke aloud. That was the last thing I heard before I sighted a local delicacy called “Okpa”. It was seated dumbly on a table, unharmed by the blast or the fire that ensued. Again, the owner was gone. The gap between it and the spot of the blast was so close to prove otherwise.
At the middle of the park, which had been marked off with the police crime scene tape, was a crated hole by the explosion. A combined team of anti-bomb squad from the police and army were busy digging and picking the debris of the bomb. Beside them were the wreckage of the vehicle which was used for the operation. No one would believe that it was a complete vehicle before the blast.
Of course, there was an array of high capacity buses called el-Rufai buses. Both the park and the buses got the sobriquet from Malam Nasir el-Rufai who, during his time as the Minister of FCT, banned commercial motor bikes within the metropolis and initiated the urban mass transport scheme that brought about the buses. The buses had been burnt while other commuter buses operated by individuals, said to have loaded and ready to depart the park were now the shadow of themselves. They were burnt beyond recognition.
71 persons were killed while a total 124 persons were left critically injured. These were the official figures. But eyewitnesses disagreed with them. In their estimation, over 150 died.
Now, there was this 15 year old boy whose legs were shattered by the explosion. The boy had cried “Mummy! mummy!!, don’t let me die” as he held on to his mother amid the melee that ensued. These were all the relics of the blast.
According to the press officer of NEMA, Mr. Manzo Ezekiel, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard on Monday, the victims were distributed as follows:
”In Abuja Clinic, we have four injured people, Nyanya hospital 11 injured, Nigerian Customs Service Hospital, 14 injured and one person dead, Asokoro General Hospital, we have 25 injured, 27 dead, Maitama, 27 injured, 14 dead, Wuse 10 injured, 15 dead, National Hospital, 25 injured, 14 dead, Garki Hospital, one injured, Maraba General Hospital, we have 7 injured. So, by and large, Asokoro has the largest death figure,” he said.
But by Tuesday, the figures rose to 75 for the dead, while 216 were injured. This was according to the Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, who briefed journalists at the National Hospital, Abuja.
How the act was carried out
Eye witnesses said a man drove a red Volkswagen space bus into the premises of the big capacity bus terminus and parked in front of two of the buses which were loaded ready to leave for town.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that upon protest from drivers of the buses that he was obstructing their exit, the driver, who allegedly came with four other passengers, said he was going to get ‘change’ to settle his ‘passengers’.
About five minutes after their hurried departure, the bus exploded, killing everything, both animate and inanimate that was nearby.
Relatives count losses
A relative of one of the dead victims, Sadiat, who could not hold back tears, told Sunday Vanguard that his nephew was to travel to Taraba and left home about 5 am in spite of the fact they live not far away from the park just for him to catch the first bus since Taraba is far “ only to hear deafening sound of a blast and rushed to the scene.
She said it took quite some time before she could locate his nephew’s charred body and identified his with his dress. She wept sorely.
At the Asokoro General Hospital, relatives of victims were seen in different corners, waiting to see them.
One Adigun Bidemi, looking for her relation, Mr. Gbenga Oladele, an architect, said her mother called her and told her about the blast and that her brother used to join the high capacity bus to work.
She said her mother and her brother left home together that morning but that they parted ways at the park shortly before the explosion and that they had not been able to contact the young man.
God saved me
Very funny you may say, but Timothy Okorie, a commercial bus driver, was grateful to God that He took him away from the park at the time of the blast to buy Alomo Bitters. Alomo Bitters is a Ghanaian alcoholic drink that has gained patronage in Nigeria. For most commercial bus drivers, conductors and thugs popularly called “Agbero” who usually lurk around motor parks in most Nigerian cites, the drink is a delight.
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard’s Ben Agande at the scene of the blast, Okorie, who was distraught, said he routinely terminates his trips at the park and loads for a returning trip to Masaka, another settlement along the road.
His words: “I left my house at about six in the morning to bring passengers from Masaka, Maraba, One Man Village and Ado to the Nyanya bus terminus where they will board El-Rufai Bus to the city centre. I dropped the last passenger under the Nyanya bridge and was supposed to enter the park to carry passengers back to Masaka. Strangely, I had this sudden and strong feeling to take Alomo before beginning the day’s job. So rather than enter the park, I took the next turn, went round the bridge and headed towards Jukwoyi to buy a bottle of Alomo”.
That decision turned out to be his saving grace as less than three minutes after he left the bus park, the huge explosion occurred. Okorie said though the decision to indulge in alcoholic drink so early in the morning, especially as a commercial bus driver, was something he would not have been proud of in normal circumstance,
the fact that decision alone saved him from certain death has made other considerations to pale into insignificance.
According to the excited but shaken bus driver, God intervened, using a most unlikely avenue to save his life: a place where cheap alcohol and Marijuana are sold.
“I should not be proud ordinarily to be saying this but God has saved me this morning using the most unlikely place. I had no reason to go there this morning because it was a rush hour and every driver knows that Monday mornings are the best time to get passengers. But I could not resist the urge to go and buy the drink. That decision saved my life!” he said.
He said it was just as he parked his bus and was about to disembark, that he heard a deafening explosion that threw his bus high in the air before slamming it to the ground. According to the bus driver, the first thing that came to his mind was that a reckless driver had rammed into his bus from the back but when he looked up, he saw a huge black smoke billowing to the sky from the bus park where he had passed less than three minutes ago!
“People started running helter-skelter. Cars and buses suddenly exploded into flame. There was loud wailing from the direction of the bus park. I was too dazed to move; but after a few minutes, I gathered courage and moved close to the place.
My colleagues who less than ten minutes ago I exchanged pleasantries with were stone dead! I couldn’t believe my eyes. That spur of the moment decision to make a detour to buy Alomo Bitters saved my life. God saved me using the most unusual place. I thank God,” he said almost at the verge of tears.
Who is responsible?
At the time of filing this report, no one or group had claimed responsibility for the attack. But everyone including the government is pointing finger at the deadly Boko Haram, a terrorist cell that has dealt decisively with Nigeria and her people since 2009. The guess is predicated on the previous bombings that had the imprint of the group.
Expectedly, the explosion has prompted a renewed call for drastic measures to be taken to stem what has appeared to be an escalated insecurity situation in the country. The deaths, the carnages on the streets across the federation are just too alarming that government should be greatly perturbed. Many Nigerians believe government still has not done enough to contain the situation. But piqued by the magnitude of the recent attacks, including the abduction of scores of school girls in Chibok, Borno State, President Goodluck Jonathan swiftly visited the scene of the incident that Monday and subsequently summoned a state security meeting apparently to discuss how to contain terror in the country with all relevant authorities. It is left to be seen what the result would be in the weeks ahead.