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Bombing Remarks Misunderstood, Nigerian President Says

Scott Stearns | Niamey 12 October 2010

As investigations into Nigeria's Independence Day (October 1) bombings continue, President Goodluck Jonathan appears to be backing off his earlier assertion that the violence was not related to the problems of the oil-rich but underdeveloped Niger Delta.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta immediately claimed responsibility for the Independence Day blasts in the capital.

But President Jonathan says the attack was the work of a small group of terrorists, based outside the country, who were funded by unpatriotic elements within the country. President Jonathan is from the Niger Delta, so the speed with which he absolved the militant group known as MEND brought criticism from northern politicians that the president did not understand the security threat and should resign.

In a meeting with Northern political leaders Monday, President Jonathan sought to clarify his remarks, saying the "sin" that he committed was asking Nigerians not to automatically assume that car bombs in Edo State or Bayelsa State or Port Harcourt and now in Abuja are the work of MEND or are somehow related to the problems of the Niger Delta.

"Whether you are a member of MEND or not, don't use MEND. My position was not saying that a member of MEND or from the Niger Delta is not an issue," he said. "But don't cover it up using MEND or Niger Delta. That is what I said."

This is what the president said on a visit to Abuja's main hospital the day after the bombing.

"Let me also use this opportunity to reassure Nigerians that what happened yesterday had nothing, and I have to repeat, had nothing to do with the Niger Delta," he reiterated. "People just use the name of MEND to camouflage criminality and terrorism."

Dalhatu Sarki Tafida directs Mr. Jonathan's presidential campaign.

"He did not say MEND is not part of this particular scenario. He only said they are not the only ones," Tafida noted. "He said there will be deeper investigations. And, deeper investigations are going on."

President Jonathan says he has decided to refrain from further comment on the bomb blasts to allow security agencies to do their work.

Nigeria's State Security Service says its main suspect is the former MEND arms dealer Henry Okah, who is under arrest in South Africa.

In a telephone interview with the Al-Jazeera television network, Okah says a close aide of President Jonathan called him after the bombing and asked him to have MEND retract its claim of responsibility. Okah says the aide wanted to blame the attack on Northerners who are challenging President Jonathan's election campaign. Okah says, when he refused, he was arrested by South African authorities.

Presidential spokesman Ima Niboro says that is an outright lie. In a written statement, Niboro challenges Okah to name the Jonathan aide who called him. Niboro says Okah should face the charges against him in South Africa and stop making what he calls "frivolous claims."



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