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October 03, 2010

Nigerian Police Arrest Nine Bombing Suspects

by Scott Stearns

Nigerian police have arrested nine suspects in connection with Friday's independence-day bombings that killed 12 people. Nigeria's president says terrorists are using the struggles of the oil-rich Niger Delta to camouflage their criminality.

Connections with militant leader Henry Okah

Nigerian intelligence services spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar says the nine suspects are connected with former Niger Delta militant leader Henry Okah, who is under arrest in South Africa.

"Nine arrests have been made and all have direct links with Henry Okah, the incident, and some unscrupulous prominent elements in the society," Ogar said. "Due to ongoing investigations, the names of the suspects and their sponsors can not be disclosed at this stage."

Original plot

Ogar says terrorists originally planned to attack Abuja last Wednesday, but their plans were foiled by state security services who towed more than 60 abandoned vehicles from areas near the parade ground where independence-day ceremonies were scheduled to take place.

"The overriding objectives of the group was to scare away foreign visitors from attending the 50th anniversary celebrations on First October, 2010," Ogar added.

Ogar says security services used electronic equipment to jam the detonation of explosives within the parade grounds. But because vehicles were doubled-parked around the area on independence day, terrorists were able to set off two car bombs.

MEND claims responsibility

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta says it carried out the attack because Nigeria has nothing to celebrate after 50 years of failure, including the neglect of the people and the environment in the oil-rich delta.

Asked if the nine suspects are part of the MEND group, Ogar said only that they were related to Henry Okah, who has been charged under South African anti-terrorism laws.

President Goodluck Jonathan says the attack is not related to Niger Delta militants, but was instead carried out by a small terrorist group from outside Nigeria that is using the problems of the Delta as a disguise.

"What happened had nothing to do with the Niger Delta," Mr. Jonathan said. " People just use the name of MEND to camouflage criminality and terrorism."

Mr. Jonathan came to office earlier this year following the death of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. He is the first Nigerian leader who is from the Niger Delta, so Niger Delta violence is a big issue for him, especially because he is running for president next year.

Lack of attention not tenable

On a hospital visit to those injured in the attacks, he told reporters that no one can claim to be more Niger Delta than him, so he is certain the bombings had nothing to do with the problems of the Delta.

"They are not struggling for anybody. They are not representing anybody's interest," he added. "And the release purported to be from MEND attributing to the lack of attention to the Niger Delta is not tenable because this is the first time somebody from the Niger Delta has the opportunity to even be president of this country for four months. So whatever your grievances are, you have your own [leader] here. You should have some hope. Good things do not happen overnight."

Some former militants who joined the amnesty program appear to back up the president's claim the bombing was not the work of MEND. Cross Ebikosore is a former MEND commander in the Delta.

"Those who do that bombing, we do not know where they come from," said Ebikosore. "All of our MEND from Delta State and Bayelsa, everybody is surprised by the bombing. We do not support the bombing at all. Those who are bombing Abuja, they are not fighting for our rights. They are looking for their other type of thing they want."

Need to draw line between political struggle and criminality

Human rights activist Oke Adheke says turning Nigeria into a country where people settle political scores by killing one and other does not serve the interests of the Delta.

"Let us draw the line between political struggle and criminality," Adheke said. "This is pure criminality. Full stop. You can not say you are fighting for me when we have a lot of opportunities for dialogue. Nothing calls for this kind of behavior."

Pastor Sylvester Odemakpore has been involved in the Niger Delta amnesty. He says the legitimate demands of militants must be addressed through dialogue not violence.

"Let us see what the present government, the president leaders will do," Odemakpore said. "If they did not measure up before or whatever measures they will take they will continue. But for now we should stop the killing."

Thousands of former fighters took part in last year's amnesty, which promised monthly stipends and job training as well as greater investment in the Delta's infrastructure. Some of those militants now say the federal government has failed to keep its word. Violence resumed in March with a car bombing near the site of a meeting to discuss the amnesty.