By Nicholas Ibekwe, Ifedayo Adebayo and Elizabeth Archibong:

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan had a baptism of fire yesterday as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) detonated two bombs at the post amnesty dialogue organised by Vanguard Media Limited, the publishers of Vanguard newspapers in Warri, Delta State, that left one person dead.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) quoted Charles Muka, the Delta State Police Command spokesperson, that one person died in the explosion. Mr. Muka said that the police headquarters in Asaba, the state capital, had received the report of the death of a woman in the explosion, which also injured a number of other persons. He could not ascertain the number of those who were injured in the blast, which twice rocked the venue of the meeting.

The explosions caused the postponement of the meeting hosted by the Delta State government.

It was gathered that the first bomb exploded at 11 a.m. as governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta was walking into the hall with his colleagues from Imo and Edo states, Ikedi Ohakim and Adams Oshiomhole.

The Niger Delta Minister, Ufot Ekaette, who represented Mr. Jonathan, was also behind the governors, witnesses said.

Eyewitness account

Daniel Orji, a staff of the Delta Broadcasting Corporation, who was at the scene of the explosions said in a phone interview, “There was a bomb explosion while the programme was on.

“After about 30 minutes, the second one exploded. The initial report was that three people were injured. Two cars exploded but altogether four cars were affected; two other cars that w ere beside the second car were affected.”

Mr. Orji added that immediately after the second explosion everybody scampered away for safety, unlike the first explosion when people still stayed at the venue.

Also, MEND in an e-mail message signed by its usual signatory, Jomo Gbomo, to journalists confirmed the attacks:

“The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta salutes all its operatives who at great risk, successfully planted and detonated two car bombs at the venue of the Vanguard Post Amnesty Conference in Warri,” the statement said.

“Three such bombs, of varying strength, were planted at this venue. It was unnecessary to detonate the third and most powerful bomb as our operatives noticed the participants at this jamboree fled towards the direction of the last bomb.

“Any attempt to detonate this bomb would have resulted in great loss of lives. This bomb is being preserved for future use.

“All who participated in this operation safely returned to their respective bases.”

Oma Djebah, the Delta State information commissioner, had earlier in the day confirmed the explosion.

“Yes, there was an explosion about 200 meters away from the conference venue,” Mr. Djebah said in a phone interview.

Contrary to agency reports which indicated that the device went off near the main hall of the event, Mr. Djebah claimed that the explosion went off in a car parked away from the venue.

“The explosion happened while Sam Amuka-Pemu – the Vanguard Publisher – was giving his address after the chairman, Patrick Aziza, had given his opening remarks,” said a source who was at the conference.

We’re no media creation

However, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said in an e-mailed statement to journalists that it had planted three explosive devices in and around Delta State Government House in Warri to debunk the state governor’s claim that “MEND is a media creation.” “After receiving the baton of ignorance from his Bayelsa State counterpart, the governor of Delta State declared in the Vanguard newspaper of February 22, 2010 that “the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is a media creation,” the statement said and promised that it would detonate the first bomb remotely at 11:30 hours Nigerian time, which it did.

The use of car bombs marks a significant change in the tactics adopted by MEND, which had maintained a tenuous peace since the federal government amnesty programme commenced last June. The deal, brokered with the aid of the then Vice President Goddluck Jonathan, has been touted as the greatest achievement of the Yar’Adua administration till date.

MEND also disputed insinuations that the attack was targeted against specific individuals saying, “It was not targeted to harm anyone and that is why the cars were not filled with bolts, nuts and nails which in the event of a blast become deadly projectiles. Our aim was to stop the jamboree and pass a message to Uduaghan.”

Amnesty on course

Meanwhile at Abuja, the Federal Government reinstated its commitment to pursue the post amnesty programme, the explosions notwithstanding.

“We’re on top of the situation in Niger Delta,” Mr. Jonathan said at the State House while receiving Kenneth Yellowe, the chairman and chief executive of Global Gas and Refining Limited.

“The problems in the region, being human and development-related, are such that require time to be addressed. I encourage the Niger Delta people and major companies in the region to keep faith with government, as we are determined to reinvigorate post-amnesty plans and programmes for the region.”

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