Jos church blast death toll rises, survivors recount ordeal

Jonah-JangTHE terrorists who bombed the St. Finbar’s Catholic Church in Rayfield, Jos, Plateau State, surely left tales of woes which were recounted by some of the survivors yesterday as the death toll rose.

The Chief Medical Director (CMD) of Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), Dr. Ishaya Pam, confirmed to newsmen yesterday that another seven charred bodies were brought to the mortuary. He added that eight people died yesterday in the hospital.

But what would have been a full-scale battle between aggrieved Christian and Muslim youths yesterday was averted by soldiers of the Special Task Force (STF).

Governor Jonah Jang cautioned youths against taking the laws into their hands. He spoke yesterday after he visited the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Rev. Ignatius Kaigama.

He said government was working tirelessly to bring perpetrators of incessant suicide bomb attacks on Christians’ worship centres in the country to justice. Kaigama thanked the governor for the show of love and concern for his citizens, adding that the major concern was to identify the sponsors of the evil group.

Some angry youths who are victims of the blast on their hospital beds relieved their experience, saying they no longer wanted soldiers on the streets. According to some of them, the soldiers of the STF have betrayed the confidence the citizens have in them.

One of the youths who is bed-ridden, James Dusu, stated: “Let them just go and we will live peacefully. Gen. Ibrahim’s predecessor, Maj.-Gen. Olayinka Oshinowo, was peace-loving man. During his tenure, we enjoyed relative peace.”

Emmanuel Audu (24), an artisan, said he escaped with a leg gunshot: “I was one of the three people shot by the soldiers. The other two people died instantly and were taken away to the mortuary. The bullet penetrated my left leg and burst out on the other side. I was just in pains and a friend and a woman brought me to this Plateau Hospital.”

Dung Nyam (34) said he did not know how he was brought to the hospital. “I only know that I was taken up by the bomb and I became unconscious only to find myself here.” He is a carpenter who goes regularly to worship at the church.

Another victim who said he also witnessed the shooting of three people by the soldiers, Ignatius Dusu, a miner, said that he was watching helplessly and could not move from the scene when all of a sudden the soldiers’ bullet hit him. He said: “What I just did was to jump from this side and hide at the back of this tall wall. You can see the blood of those that the soldiers shot on the wall. The soldiers shot just like that. The people say they should go back because they don’t want soldiers. It is not that anybody confronted them. That is how they just shot like that. Because people said they are not wanted, that was why they just shoot because they hold guns. I am sure the victims are dead because one of them was shot in the skull, the other one in the stomach.”

An aggressive youth bearing a missile, who threatened reporters for asking for his name and other details, said: “The new Commander of the STF should just go back to where he came from. Since he came, it has been violence upon violence. In fact, we don’t want soldiers again. Even the police are helpless. We don’t want any security again, whether they are soldiers or police. We can defend ourselves.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop, Kaigama, has urged Christians not to be deterred by what happened but to continue in their faith, describing the bomb blast as very devilish, terrible and barbaric. He said Christians should not be afraid to propagate their religion even in the face of persecution.

He added that no decent religion would allow such inhuman action, pointing out that the situation would have been worse if the suicide bombers had succeeded.

However, the suicide bombers did not just die without accomplishing part of their mission. At the COCIN premises, over 28 cars that were parked there by worshippers were destroyed valuing about N100 million. Apart from those people killed in the process in the church, about 38 people sustained various degrees of injuries.

The bomb blast incident, because of the manner it was carried out, led to accusation of military complicity, an accusation, which was swiftly debunked by the STF. Witnesses said that they saw two people in military uniform in a Jetta Volkswagen car, which later turned out to be the suicide-bombing car.

The unfortunate incident took place less than 72 hours after the new STF Commander, Maj.-Gen. Mohammed Ibrahim, took over from Maj.-Gen. Olayinka Oshinowo who is now General Officer Commanding (GOC), 82 Division, Enugu.

Oshinowo had taken his successor to Jang for introduction where Jang commended the professional handling of the crisis, which had resulted in relative peace, adding that the state would still need his expert advice. Jang urged the new commander to toe the line of Oshinowo to ensure that the peace the state was enjoying was consolidated and sustained.

But unfortunately, while Gen. Ibrahim was mapping out strategies on how he would go about the enormous task to sustain the peace, the unexpected happened on Sunday, the bombing of COCIN Headquarters. Before this time, Defence Headquarters had allegedly concluded that he is going to be the last commander judging from the peace brought about by Oshinowo while all the troops of the STF would be withdrawn from the streets of Jos and environs.

Before now, Jang has been pushing for the withdrawal of STF soldiers from the streets of Jos and environs because, according to him, the soldiers are becoming too familiar with the natives and that they may soon loose their steam and professional background.

He said soldiers come in to quell violence only when the police cannot contain the situation, but that after crushing the situation, they go back to their barracks. Some people believe that the governor is too hasty in arriving at his conclusion because peace has to be consolidated, adding that abrupt withdrawal will give the mischief makers the opportunity to stage a come-back as there are no more obstacles.

Apart from this stand, Jang has also been pushing for state police, which he believes will be able to tackle criminality and terrorism. He believes that all the crisis being perpetrated in the state without catching the perpetrators will be checked. The Hausa/Fulani have objected to the constitution of state police because it would be an instrument of oppression by government against them as they will be controlled by the government which pays their salaries.

With the happenings of Sunday, many reactions have been trailing the development. A Jos-based human rights activist, Gad Peter Shamaki, said the bombing of COCIN headquarters is highly condemnable and that it is an indication that the security of the state is under a new threat while all the citizens should be on the alert. “We call on the new STF boss to ensure that the peace Jos has enjoyed in the last few months under the control of his predecessor is sustained. The federal government must ensure that the lives of all Nigerians are protected.”

Plateau State Government equally condemned the blast describing it as very uncalled for especially when the state has been peaceful in the last five months. Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Publicity, Hon. Pam Ayuba, said that the government saw the bombing as an attempt to bring the state to disrepute. “Government in this regard condemns this unprovoked attack in its totality and sues for peace among citizens. Government is calling on all citizens to be security conscious and report any suspicious movement to the security agencies.”

Curiously, Special Adviser to the Governor on Islamic Affairs, Malam Nasiru Goshi, has joined others in condemning the last Sunday bomb blast. According to him, the attack was a calculated attempt to plunch the state into another chaotic situation especially at a time when the wounds of the state were fast healing. He regretted that what was now being witnessed amounted to a total negation of true teachings of Islam which preach peace, love, tolerance and harmonious co-existence.

Goshi, however, commended the leaders of the Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Jamatul Nasril Islam (JNI) for appealing to their followers to exercise a highest degree of restraints thereby eschewing all acts of violence which would have resulted in total breakdown of law and order. He equally applauded the youths for listening to their leaders, urging them to sustain such behavior as the survival of the nation rests on their shoulders.

Wife of the governor, Mrs. Talatu Jang, was not left out in condemning the dastardly act. According to her in a statement by her Press Secretary Akilla Kasham, she described the incident as most unfortunate saying that it was the handiwork of evil-minded people who are not only against the state but had allow the devil to take control of their hearts, expressing confidence that God would bring the perpetrators to justice if they do not repent and turn away from their evil ways. She prayed to God to condole the families of those who lost their lives and property in the blast and a speedy recovery to the injured.

When the traditional council in the state led by its chairman, Da Gyang Buba, paid Jang a visit over the blast, Jang advised all the traditional rulers in the state to work hard and ensure that people desist from taking the laws into their hands whenever they experience unprovoked attacks. Jang, who praised the traditional rulers for their condolence visit, appealed to them to caution their people against all acts of violence in the event of any provocation.

Da Buba had earlier condemned the bombing of the church saying that no religion preaches violence, urging criminals and terrorists not to hide under any guise to take lives as a religious obligation. The Gbong Gwon Jos called on the security operatives to get to the roots of the insecurities not only in the state but the country at large.

Similarly, the Jos Muslim Youth Development Initiative has equally lent its voice to condemning the Sunday bomb blast and the alleged reprisal attacks on some of its members, calling for thorough investigation by the federal government. A statement by its President, Bashir Jibrin, appealed to all well-meaning citizens to remain calm and law-abiding so as to give peace a chance in the state.

Equally, the Middle Belt Youth Forum has described the Sunday bomb as a national shame. The national President of the forum, Pius Attah, stated this when he visited the venue of the bomb blast. He expressed sadness within the region, describing it as barbaric and uncalled for. He said the Forum is worried that most of the attacks were carried out in churches. “We youths of the Middle Belt Forum, want to condemn the activities of the Boko Haram in the Middle Belt. We are looking at it that they are enemies of development in the Middle Belt. We condemn the activities of terrorism in Niger State, Madalla and Suleja likewise the attack on COCIN headquarters and that of Christmas Day.” He appealed to government to address the issue of insecurity in the country before it get out of hand.

The Church of Christ In Nigeria (COCIN) rose from its emergency meeting on Monday in Jos, Plateau State, accusing the military of open complicity in the bomb blast that rocked the church on Sunday, February 26 which left three people dead on the spot which later led to a reprisal attack that resulted in the death of three Muslim motorcycle riders popularly known as Okada riders.     But the Special Task Force (STF) in the state has denied any act of complicity of its troops.

Addressing journalists after the meeting, COCIN President, Rev. Soja Bewarang, said the Christian community in Jos particularly of COCIN Headquarters witnessed yet another Islamic Jihadist attack on their members at COCIN Headquarters Church (which shared a boundary with the Central Bank) in the early hours of Sunday, February 26, 2012, at about 7.20 a.m.

According to Bewarang, “Information gathered by our officials has it that a navy blue colored Volkswagen Vento (sedan) accompanied two military personnel dressed in desert camouflage was escorted through the church security network deployed to strategic positions from the Central Bank axis to the Hill Station roundabout axis of Fidelis Tapgun Road, Jos, by a Special military Task Force Hilux pick-up vehicle. On getting to the church gate, the military hilux drove on towards the Hill Station axis of the same road while 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. They said in “Hausa bude masu. Sun kawo taimako ne” meaning open for them they brought assistance. When the church security refused to oblige to his request, the vehicle rammed into the gate hitting everyone on his path, and made for the church auditorium. As soon as the vehicle had gained entrance, the soldier sitting at the front passenger seat threw himself out of the car and made a run towards the fence of the church through where he hoped to escape, while the driver sped without hesitation towards the church auditorium. Unfortunately for him, he ran over a motorcycle that was on his way and the car tire punctured. This retarded the speed of the car and on reaching the entrance of the auditorium, the bomb went off.

“Immediately, the car shattered into pieces and the engine landed just about five meters before the pulpit and the shrapnel scattered all over. The driver’s body was amputated into several pieces also and shattered all over, within a radius of approximately one hundred meters. Furthermore, two young women and a child were killed immediately and conformed dead and their corpses have since been deposited at the Plateau Specialist Hospital and JUTH mortuaries, while several others were injured and rushed to various hospitals namely, JUTH, Plateau Specialist Hospital, and ECWA Evangel Hospital, now Bingham University Teaching Hospital (Jankwano).

“Meanwhile, the soldiers who leapt out of the bomb laden car was apprehended by angry members of the church and he died as a result of serious beating just as the security were trying to rescue him from them.”

He added, “the soldier who worked very hard at clearing the entrance for the bombers (who were also soldiers) was disarmed and arrested by the mobile police and military personnel who came to the scene of the incident. He was beaten by the angry church youths before he was taken to the military hospital at Rukuba Cantonment.”

He said the church frowns at the rumour going round and carried by some newspapers that there is a faction within the COCIN Church in Bauchi that resulted in the bomb attack. “As the head of the church, I am not aware of any faction within COCIN. Therefore the report is false and malicious.

“With the crisis of Boko Haram that is centered on bombing churches, if nothing is done to stem the tide, it may well gather into an unstoppable typhoon. The consequences of such a possibility can best be imagined than described,” he stated.

“For the church, the truth about Plateau crisis cannot be any other than JIHADIST desire in history to expand Islamic territory. So the Plateau crisis has little to do with politics but is rooted in the observation of the German National Colonial Conference and Islam of October 6th 1910, as an expression of Islam’s threat to peace,” he stated.

According to him, “I do not envy the new commandant of the STF. Just two days of your arrival in the State the church witnessed the most devastating bomb blast at the Headquarters of the state, which is predominantly COCIN. You have a great task ahead of you to do if you to be accepted by COCIN members given what happened last Sunday. You have to work hard and honestly too to build confidence in people and maintain the reputable image of the great Nigerian Army which is known Internationally for Peace Keeping outside the Country. You must aim at achieving that on the Plateau. The Church wish you well provided you remain neutral and pursue the cause of your duty with a high sense of credibility. I want to assure you that COCIN members and the Christian Church on the Plateau are very peaceful and law abiding. The church is always angered when it is attacked and members killed before and form of security is provided and when they want to defend themselves they fall double victims of brutality, arrest and detention.

“We  feel that the Nigerian Armed forces are 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 reassess the neutrality of its security apparatus and Armed Forces. Confidence in the security personnel is fast eroding, we therefore call upon the Federal Government to reassess and maintain the neutrality of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. The availability of weapons in the hands of unofficial people needs to be investigated. We wish to assure all and sundry that despite the provocative manoeuvres by BOKO HARAM the church will move on, wax stronger as no gate of Hades will prevail against it.

“The role of the church on the Jos Plateau is to offer holistic and quality life to its members both spiritually and materially. The church, therefore, condemns in its totality the breach of peace on the Plateau since chaos and crisis are not concomitant to the provision of quality life. Furthermore, development has been spearheaded on the Jos Plateau and indeed in the whole of Nigeria by the church, through its numerous educational, medical, economical and social programs. Crisis situation usually destroys and stifles development.

“Christians are by nature peaceful and no Christian in his/her right mind will dream of starting a crisis against members of other religious faiths. Christians are largely usually not on the streets on Sunday mornings, they are usually busy attending various Sunday services. However, with regards to the event of Sunday 26th February 2012 security of churches must be intensive to avoid further loss of lives.”

The STF Spokesman, Captain Mdahyelya, who invited journalists by 4.30pm yesterday, did not address the press as earlier made the journalists to believe. Instead, he gave journalists press statement.

According to a two-paragraph statement, “This is to inform the general public and the good people of Plateau State that alleged suspected suicide bomber that was killed by the angry youths at the premises of the church on 26 February 2012 was indentified as Adams Joseph Ashaba, a member of the church and not a suicide bomber as alleged. We went to the church with his family and after the explosion he was mistaken by some of the worshipers who killed him.

“The general public and good people of Plateau State are advices to always control their temper and allow security agencies to take control in such situations. The general pubic are also warned not to take laws into their hands. All law-abiding citizens are enjoined to go about their lawful and legal businesses. Any act of lawlessness would not be tolerated by the security agencies.”

Similarly, the Youth Wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria (YOWICAN), Plateau State Chapter, in a statement, called on the federal government to provide security for the churches.

Signed by its chairman, Bistu Johnson and Secretary Joshua Rimgsun, the statement condemned the Sunday bomb blast.

A member representing Jos North/Bass constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Suleiman Yahaya Kwande, condemned the attacks in strong terms, especially the unwarranted wanton destruction of sacred lives of the innocent people.

In a statement he signed himself, Kwande lamented that the state that has been witnessing some measure of peace for some time has again been thrown into darkness.

While commiserating with the families of those whose lives were terminated, he also prayed for the speedy recuperation of those injured.


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