BY: Olu Jacob, Ngozi Oboh and Soji Bamidele
The National Police Headquarters, Abuja was yesterday rocked by a blast from an explosive-laden car that was driven into the compound by a suspected bomber. The attack, which claimed at least two lives, came barely 24 hours after the Inspector General of Police, Hafiz Ringim, boasted that the violent Islamist sect, Boko Haram, would be suppressed in days.
A traffic warden near the scene who requested anonymity said the explosion took place shortly after Mr Ringim’s convoy entered the building. He said the bomber, who was driving an old model Mercedez Benz car, was right behind the IG’s incoming convoy, and gained entrance into the building premises despite efforts to dissuade him by policemen riding in the last vehicle in the convoy.
Sources say that as soon as the suspected bomber entered the premises, he attempted to park the car beside that of the inspector general but was stopped by a police superintendent who forced him to move to an adjacent parking garage.
According to police spokesperson, Olusola Amore, “The traffic warden who entered the vehicle of the suicide bomber to direct him to the car park was blown off along with him as soon as they got to the park.”
Early visitors to the scene say burning flesh and car parts flew out of the building and landed in adjacent streets, and cars parked metres away from the building had their windows shattered. Mr Amore said that over 700 cars were affected, with half of them destroyed.
When NEXT visited the scene about 30 minutes after the blast, military officers were seen guarding a human body part on a street near Protea Hotel, Asokoro, and there was blood beside the fence of the hotel near the police headquarters. A police cap with bloodstains could be seen by the walls of the police headquarters although the body of the victim was not there.
Only a day earlier, in response to Mr Ringim’s statement vowing to end the menace of Boko Haram, the group responded by promising an all out war. It also threatened that it was pulling out of all peace talks with the government. A police officer at the scene of the blast said smugly that his colleagues have no doubt that, “the IG comment in Maiduguri led to this suicide attempt on his life”.
Although the police claimed that only one person died besides the bomber, the actual figures may be more than that as at least three ambulances were seen arriving and leaving the police headquarters, taking victims to the Asokoro General Hospital. Many of the victims where injured during the stampede that followed the blast, which set off a series of explosions as cars burst into flames.
Doctors battled to save the lives of the 11 people who were rushed to three hospitals following the explosions. Correspondents of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) who went to the National Hospital, Asokoro General Hospital and Garki General Hospital, report that the victims who sustained various degrees of injuries, were in stable conditions, according to doctors.
The acting chairman of Asokoro General Hospital, Abubakar Ahmadu said nine of the victims were brought to the hospital, and were being treated for minor injuries. He said no dead person was brought from the scene of the explosions.
People working in offices hundreds of metres away from the police headquarters said the force of the explosion rattled their building and forced many of them to abandon work. Even police officers working at the headquarters decided to take the day off. Several offices within the police headquarters itself were damaged in the blast.
Workers with offices in Maitama, Asokoro, Federal Secretariat, and the Federal Capital Development Authority were seen leaving their offices in droves.
Zephaniah Avreson, who works with the FCDA said, “The blast was so heavy, you would think it happened in your office. There was panic everywhere until we saw the smoke coming from the police headquarters.”
Mohammed Salihu, whose office at the Airtel call centre is opposite the Louis Edet House, said: “Just moments after the siren of the IG blasted past, I heard the explosion. It was a shocking sound, one I hope never to hear such again.”
Parents whose children attend the Police Officers Wife Association Nursery and Primary school across the road from the headquarters were seen rushing into the school that morning to take their wards home. Many mothers whose children attend a creche at Asokoro could be seen crying as they searched frantically for their children, some of whom had been taken to the Women Centre. Both schools were immediately closed down as staff and students rushed home.
A national disgrace
At a brief news conference, Mr Amore in responding to a question asked by reporter for a foreign media house, said there is no need to ask if the police boss will resign.
“The IG will not be embarrassed into resigning. Members of the public are assured that the criminal elements will be fished out as the government will not succumb to the demands of any criminal group,” he said.
Mr Amore however said the body of the attacker has been recovered and a full investigation has commenced. He commended the prompt response by the army, the fire service, and the National Emergency Management Agency.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Boko Haram said yesterday that the group was responsible for the explosion in an interview with VOA. Usman Alzawahiri told the group that “Yes, the blast is our handiwork. We are behind it and we are going to attack the entire north and other parts of the country, including the capital, Abuja.” He also said Boko Haram personnel just returned from Somalia five days ago and have been scattered around northern parts of the country. He said his group is advising Nigerians to be careful.