By Kunle Akogun, Ahamefula Ogbu, Yemi Akinsuyi, Onwuka Nzeshi and John Shiklam
Kaduna State was placed under curfew Sunday as the government slammed a 24-hour restriction on movement of people to rein in the backlash from angry youths against bombings of three churches in Kaduna, the state capital, and Zaria.
The coordinated attacks, executed by suicide bombers, marred the celebration of Father’s Day in the state as many people, including Christians, had to scamper to safety to avoid being trapped in the orgy of violence.
Although no official casualty figure has been released, sources put the death toll in the Kaduna and Zaria attacks at about 30 with over 90 people wounded.
The attacks also cast a pall of gloom on the celebration of Father’s Day in Abuja where a sombre-looking President Goodluck Jonathan, who was at the Aso Villa Chapel for the occasion, expressed sadness over the incident, while Senate President David Mark described it as a threat to national unity.
Yesterday’s incident was the third week in a row when churches have been bombed in the North. Two weeks ago, a suicide bomber hit the Winners’ Chapel Church in Yelwa, Bauchi, killing no fewer than 12 persons and injuring about 30.
Two Sundays ago, three churches were bombed in Plateau and Borno States, in which about 10 persons were killed and scores injured.
In Zaria, the Christ the King Catholic Church, located at Sabon-Gari and the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) located in Wusasa, were bombed around 9 am, while in Kaduna, the bombers attacked Sharon Pentecostal Church located in the Trikaniya area of the metropolis.
A fourth attempt to bomb another church in the capital city failed as the bomb was said to have gone off before the suicide bomber got to the Holy Family Church, Barnawa, Kano Road, Kaduna.
It was gathered that the three attacks followed the same pattern of past suicide bombings, when the suicide bombers were stopped for searching on approaching the entrances of the churches.
In all the cases, the bombers reversed and tried to force their way into the churches. In the process, they hit the churches’ gates and wall, triggering off the blasts.
The first blast was said to have occurred at the ECWA Church at 8.30 am between the main auditorium and the children’s section of the church.
The suicide bomber, who reportedly drove in a bomb-rigged Honda Accord, was said to have forced his way towards the church after being denied entry by security men, when the bomb exploded.
The second blast was reported to have occurred at the Christ the King Catholic Cathedral, Yoruba Street, Sabon Gari, triggering reprisals by youths in the area.
The state government promptly declared a 24-hour curfew to arrest the slide into anarchy as youths attacked people suspected to have links or were sympathetic to the cause of Boko Haram, the terrorist organisation, which many suspected of masterminding the attacks.
It was learnt that when the news of the attacks spread across Kaduna, angry youths from Christian-dominated areas like Sabon-Tasha, Television, Trikania, Gonin-Gora and Narayi, among others, mounted road blocks and started burning tyres on the roads.
They also condemned the continuous attacks on churches and killing of Christians without any respite from the government and security agencies.
“Enough is enough of the bombing of our churches. We will no longer tolerate these murderers. We have been pushed to the wall and we have no choice than to defend our faith and ourselves.
“Every Friday, they go to their mosques and even block roads to pray without anyone attacking them.
“The Federal Government and the security agencies have failed us. No responsible government will tolerate this rubbish. The government and those who take delight in attacking us in our churches must know that we are equal to the task.
“What is going on is pure madness and we must stop it. From now on, we will no longer tolerate the bombing of our churches and the killing of Christians.
“If those in authority want this country to remain one, then they must stand up against Boko Haram. We are tired of cheap talk without action. From now on, we are ready for them,” a spokesman of the protesting youths in Sabon-Tasha who refused to disclose his name said.
The Kaduna incident was said to have occurred at approximately 10 am when worshipers were saying their last prayers.
“The man came in a car and wanted to go into the church premises, but he was prevented by the security. Then he pretended as if he was reversing; suddenly, he drove with full force towards the church, hitting the iron barricade when the bomb exploded, killing a soldier who was part of the security team in the church,” an eyewitness told THISDAY on the phone.
Sources at the National Emergency Management Agency and hospitals in Kaduna and Zaria said it would be difficult to determine the casualty figure, as not all the bodies were brought to hospitals, adding that some families had quietly buried their loved ones in line with Islamic injunction that requires the burial of a faithful within 24 hours, if possible.
However, authorities at the St Gerald’s Catholic Hospital Kakuri, Kaduna, disclosed that 11 bodies and over 50 injured persons were brought to the hospital.
The spokesman of the hospital, Mr. John Ali, who confirmed this in a telephone interview with THISDAY, could not state with certainty whether the figures included either those who died in the bombings and the reprisals or those injured in the two incidents.
Kaduna State Governor, Mr. Patrick Yakowa, in a statement by his media aide, Mr. Reuben Buhari, regretted the bombing of the three churches, saying it was unfortunate.
The statement, which also announced the imposition of the 24-hour curfew, said it was necessary to restore normalcy and to forestall further breakdown of law and order.
Jonathan also expressed sadness over the bombings, regretting that rather than use their talents to positively impact the society, some people were applying them to hurt the country.
He said were it not for the insistence of the clergy at the service, he would not have spoken because of the heaviness of his heart due to the bomb attacks, adding that his prayer has always been for God to stand by him and the country.
“I was particularly thrilled by what was going on in the church before I got the information that while we were here, there were explosions in Kaduna and since I don’t even know the casualty rate and what is happening, I have been quite sad and I didn’t even want to say anything. But when your priest orders you, you must say something,” he said.
He acknowledged the problems of the country and assured the people that he would do his best to solve them.
Mark also described the incessant bombing of churches as a threat to the unity of the nation and called for measures to halt the carnage. Mark further urged the victims not to engage in reprisals.
“Resorting to vengeance will demean your faith as the Lord has said vengeance is His. More so, reprisals can only help the cause of your attackers who want to ignite a religious war and threaten our national unity,” he added.
He said those who have made places of worship targets of bombings should know that they are fighting God, adding, “And the Lord will surely, at an appropriate time, give His own judgement.”
House of Representatives Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, sued for peace among Nigerians in the aftermath of the multiple bomb explosions in Zaria and Kaduna.
He described the bomb blasts as unfortunate but observed that attacking innocent people who know nothing about the blasts in the name of reprisals would worsen an already complicated situation.
Tambuwal, in a statement by his spokesman, Imam Imam, condemned the increasing number of attacks on places of worship, especially on Sundays and called for greater caution on the part of adherents of the various religions in Nigeria.
He said despite the present precarious security situation in some areas in the country, Nigerians must not succumb to the manipulations of the perpetrators of these attacks.
Commenting on the bombings and reprisals, the acting Inspector General of Police (IG) Mohammed Abubakar appealed for calm over the multiple attacks on Christains yesterday in Kaduna.
While expressing concern over the spate of attacks on churches in some parts of the country, Abubakar, in a press release signed by police spokesperson, Frank Mba, a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), promised that the police working in collaboration with other security agencies would do everything humanly and operationally possible to end these seemingly endless attacks.
The IG appealed to residents in and around the affected areas to remain calm while efforts were being made by the government and security agencies to find a permanent solution.
He noted that two wrongs do not make a right and appealed to citizens and opinion leaders to desist from making inciting or inflammatory statements capable of further aggravating the situation.
The IG strongly warned criminal elements who have been carrying out campaigns of violence on innocent Nigerians and institutions to desist forthwith, as the police and other law enforcement agencies would not sit back idly and watch them put the life of innocent citizens at jeopardy.
He promised that the police would do everything possible to protect the innocent and bring the lawless to book.
The IG, the statement added, yesterday ordered the massive deployment of both conventional and riot police units across every nook and cranny of the state including highways.
In addition, the Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG) in charge of ‘A’ Department, Mr. Suleiman Fakai, who is also the DIG coordinating police operations in North-west Nigeria, has moved promptly to Kaduna where he is personally coordinating police operations.
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