Special Report

March 4, 2012

Another carnage in Jos: New-found peace shattered

Another carnage in Jos: New-found peace shattered

*One of the cars affected by the blast

By Taye Obateru & Grateful Dakat
Baptism of Fire:
It was like any other Sunday in the Plateau State capital in the recent past. Unknown to many, however, what appeared to be a serene day with bright morning sun emerging from the clouds was to be blighted by a blast which opened another chapter in the chronicle of crises and the search for peace in Jos.

People innocently went to the church to receive spiritual blessing but what they got instead was literally, a baptism of fire, no thanks to the terrorist attack, with many lucky to be alive to tell the story.

As the first service of the COCIN (Church of Christ in Nigeria, its headquarters) was on that fateful morning, a Volkswagen car said to have two occupants, rammed through the gates of the church into the premises and made straight for the church building clearing everything on its way including human beings.

*One of the cars affected by the blast

Then a big bang! a deafening explosion that threw the city into confusion. At the end of the blast, three members of the church were confirmed killed while about 40 were injured. Estimated loss is put at over 100million. Apart from buildings, about 30 assorted vehicles were also damaged.

By some divine arrangement which ended up saving what could have resulted in severe casualty figures, a motorcyclist trying to get away from the on-coming car in his confusion, found himself in front of the car laden with explosives. The car crushed the motorcycle thereby missing its target by some meters.

Hence, instead of crashing into the congregation as planned, the car crashed into the stairway of the church building which is undergoing expansion.

The thunderous blast was heard in most parts of the state capital as it shook buildings and shattered glasses of buildings hundreds of meters away. To many, the suicide bomb attack amounted to setting back the hand of the clock of peace which government and the security agencies have been striving to maintain.

Despite repeated rumours of the plan by the Boko Haram Sect members to strike in the state and the Christmas Day strike at the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Church, the state had enjoyed relative peace. Many give kudos to the immediate past Commander of the Special Task Force (STF), Major General Olayinka Oshinowo who, in collaboration with the police, state security service and other security agencies restored a level of stability to the peace process.

By some coincidence, the suicide attack came barely a week after he was transferred to Enugu as General Officer Commanding 81 Battalion of the army. Many are wondering why the peace which was enjoyed in the state under his command should snap almost immediately after his departure. However, some others view it as mere happenstance.

Whatever is the real situation, accounts of eyewitnesses of the attack who claim that it was made possible by the complicity of some security personnel who allegedly cleared the way for the explosives-laden vehicle, has been a subject of analysis since the attack.

Although the STF has tried to pooh-pooh the allegation that its men were involved, the suspicion of their involvement remains a talk of the town. Briefing journalists on the incident on Monday, COCIN President, Rev. Soja, said the accounts of the church security unit lent credence to the allegation of complicity by some soldiers.

According to him, the two suicide bombers who crashed into the church compound were dressed in military desert camouflage and were escorted through the security network of the church by an STF Hilux Pick-up vehicle.

“On getting to the church gate, the military Hilux drove towards the Hill Station axis of the same road while the VW vento car made a right turn to enter COCIN Headquarters Church. Meanwhile, there was another military personnel readily standing at the church gate requesting the church security to open the gate for the two personnel to drive in”, he said.

He added: “we view certain actions and roles of the law enforcement agencies, particularly, the military with deep concern. If soldiers are detailed to protect us, they must do so without favor. We feel that the Nigerian Armed Forces is a neutral organ, since they have a constitutional responsibility to defend and protect all citizens of Nigeria without showing partiality, bias or prejudice as was witnessed in the 26th February bomb blast.

This is a dangerous trend capable of creating security breach. We are therefore calling upon the Federal Government to re-assess and maintain the neutrality of the armed forces in Nigeria.”

The soldier alleged to have directed that the car be allowed into the church premises was almost lynched by irate church members but for the intervention of church leaders who insisted he should be spared to help in the investigations.

The struggle to save him inflamed the wrath of the angry church members as they manhandled some of the leaders in the process with a few ending up in hospital. The soldier was said to have been taken into custody for questioning but nothing has been heard about him since then.

The alleged involvement of some soldiers in the attack would appear to have jelled with the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) which Chairman, Rev. Philip Defas, and Secretary, Rev. Chuwang Davou, in a statement demanded that non-Christian soldiers should no longer be posted to churches during services.

“No Muslim security personnel should be posted to our churches since they are now part of the planned conspiracy to kill and destroy our members and churches.We also demand, now that it is certain that Boko Haram are not only against western education but Church of God, that the Federal Government should provide our Churches and Clergymen with security personnel”, the statement said.

However, the Plateau State Chapter of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) has faulted the allegation and instead, insinuated that the attack might have been stage-managed, calling for a thorough investigation to unearth the truth. State Chairman of the party, Alhaji Mubashiru Aliyu, in a statement, said with the security mounted by the church around its premises, it would have been difficult for an outsider to penetrate it.

“More to that puzzle is the fact that a survivor of the bombers was reportedly killed by angry youths at the scene of attack speaks volume. We would have believed the claim of the church if the bomber caught was handed over to the security agencies to name their sponsors.

The doubt surrounding the story is more because the city is under a state of emergency and not conducive for such attack to be planned and executed from outside.” But there was a twist to the story during the week as it was discovered that the assumed bomber who was lynched in the belief that he jumped out of the car used to launch the attack was actually a church member who was among those hit by the attackers as they made for the church building.

Several of those injured had been treated and discharged, while those with serious injuries are still hospitalized.

Among those slightly injured was former Secretary to the Plateau State Government who is the Executive Director of the Jos Business School, Mr. Ezekiel Gomos. He told Sunday Vanguard that the death toll would have been much if the car had crashed into the congregation as planned. “I was sitting near the entrance to the corner of the church building where services are now held because of the expansion work going on in the church. From where I was sitting, I could see the gate clearly and I was attracted by the noise when the car forced its way into the premises. A motorcyclist which saw the car coming at top speed tried to get away but was not fast enough as he was hit by the car. But this ended up being the saving grace because the impact forced the car to veer off the target before the explosion. It all happened within seconds and the blast was deafening. Dust immediately enveloped everywhere and those of us who were still on our feet tried to assist those injured. I took one of those injured to hospital and
it was there that I discovered that I also had a cut in my ear”, he said.

The manner the blast shook almost every part of the city has made some to tag it as “the mother of all bomb blasts” with many arguing that the December 24, 2010 blasts did not make such an impact despite the many deaths recorded. Some other victims narrated their experience to Sunday Vanguard on their hospital beds.

John Peter, a church member who had injuries on various parts of the body said: “I was at the church at about 20 minutes after 7 in the morning and suddenly I heard a car crashed into the gate and a loud blaring sound like that of an ambulance. The next thing I could recall was a dead woman who earlier was seated close to me then I blacked out. I have internal injuries, my hands and a problem with my left ear. Doctors are still running a series of tests to ascertain extend of injuries internally sustained as you see me lying here.

They wanted us in the mortuary but our God is greater than any evil machinations fashioned by Satan and his cohorts hence I am grateful to God at least I am alive and in no time I might leave the hospital.”

Recounting his ordeal another injured church member, Henry Miri  said ‘I was the first to be hit by the car on its way after crashing into the gate because I was on my way to take the bulletin after being checked by the security at the gate.

I saw a man in a military uniform I wanted to start running but since he was in a military uniform I did not see any reason to. However shortly after this, the man in the car started driving in a zigzag form which alerted me that all was not well. What I recall is seeing myself at the back of the fence. I was first taken to Sauki Hospital which is not too far from the church and was later transferred to Plateau State Specialist Hospital.

Despite his injury, Miri preached against reprisals saying “there is no way I will as a Christian support such senseless killings even as I am directly affected. Our Lord Jesus preached peace and love hence all Christians must endeavor to live by these principles.

However you will understand that when things like this happen there is the tendency that emotions of people are bound to get out of control.” A nurse with the specialist hospital told Sunday Vanguard that most of those hospitalized after the bomb blast have been discharged while the few left are responding to treatment and will soon be discharged.

Many Nigerians have likened the Boko Haram debacle facing Nigeria to a festering cancer to which no solution has been found. People live in fear in most parts and questions like “where will be the next target?” is heard on many lips. What appears certain is that Nigerians cannot wait for a solution to the debacle but when is the question.