Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - Suicide bombers' attack on media houses was the main story in Nigeria this week.
"Nigerian Press comes under bombers’ attacks" was the headline in the guardian on Friday with the story saying that three media organisations were on Thursday hit by suicide bombers in Abuja and Kaduna. The two incidents were the first attacks on the Nigerian media since the Boko Haram insurgency started. The affected newspapers are ThisDay, The Sun, and The Moment.
The paper reported that the gates to Thisday offices, which house both the newsroom and the printing press hall, were blown apart and the giant generator was smouldering.
The roof was blown off. The walls of the building crumbled. The fence walls were levelled. A tree by the left side of the entrance gate was uprooted. Debris covered the offices whose glass windows and doors were turned into shreds. All the vehicles parked inside the compound had their windscreens destroyed.
The only thing standing is the imposing gate and the pillars opposite the ever-busy Jabi main lorry park.
The Nation, which had four stories on the blast, said in the first headline: "Blasts hit Thisday, The Sun". The paper said that early morning explosions rocked the Abuja and Kaduna offices of two major Nigerian newspapers on Thursday. A blast in the Abuja office of Thisday newspaper killed at least three people, including the attacker.
In its second story, headlined "Jonathan condemns newspaper houses’ blasts", the Nation said that President Goodluck Jonathan had condemned Thursday’s bomb blasts which occurred in Abuja and Kaduna offices of Thisday and The Sun newspapers.
The President, away in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, where he is attending an Extra-Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the situation in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, said he received the news with sadness.
Jonathan, according to a statement issued by his media aide, Dr. Reuben Abati, also described the action of those behind the dastardly act as “ignoble, misguided, horrendous and wicked”.
The President, the statement further stated, “reaffirmed the commitment of the Federal Government to continue to uphold the constitutional rights to freedom of expression in general and of press freedom in particular, pledging that criminal elements bent on instilling fear in the minds of Nigerians and foreigners will not succeed".
The President assured all Nigerians that the administration remains undeterred in its resolve to ensure the safety of lives and property at all times.
The President also urged media practitioners not to be dissuaded from carrying out their fearless campaign for peace, justice and equity as democracy cannot flourish without press freedom.
Jonathan commiserated with the bereaved families and other innocent victims of the explosions, and also prayed that Almighty God will grant them succour in their moment of grief and the souls of the departed, peaceful repose.
In another story, the Nation, with the headline "Suspect held as bomb kills three in Kaduna", reported that the suicide bomber drove a Honda Academy car, with registration number Al 306 MKA into the SOJ Plaza housing ThisDay, The Sun and The Moment. When the car failed to explode, he reportedly jumped out, shouting “bomb, bomb, bomb”!
Other newspaper offices around the vicinity, located a few metres away from the scene of the explosion, include The Nation, Peoples Daily, Sunlight (owned by the Taraba State Government), Daily Independent and the circulation office of Leadership.
Business premises within the area were immediately closed down as police cordoned off the scene. But they could not move into the building as angry youths threatened to burn down the building, which was the prime target of the attacker.
The youths, who were apparently angry with the security men for not allowing them to lynch the suspected bomber, set fire to the car. Some of them threw stones at the building, breaking glasses.
The police teargassed the surging crowd of youths, who started confronting the security agents on Ahmadu Bello Way, forcing reporters and security personnel to disperse. Security agents made efforts to remove the vehicle from the premises.
It was gathered that when the vehicle rammed into the building and failed to explode, those who rushed in to help, thinking it was an accident, found three cylinders on the front seat of the car and promptly raised the alarm.
They forced the suspect out of the vehicle, ordering him to remove the bomb. He reportedly said in Hausa that it would explode if he removed it.
He was forced to remove the bomb, which was apparently meant to ignite the cylinders and bring down the two storey building. He threw the bomb outside the building where it exploded, killing three people on the spot.
There were, however, two other minor explosions between 12.10 pm and 12.30 pm (local time) from the vehicle.
Other headlines in the Nation were "Suicide bomber used dark green SUV, says NEMA", "How our office was bombed, by The Sun" and "It’s attack on free speech, says US".
The Punch, under the headline "Why we attacked ThisDay – Boko Haram", said that the dreaded Islamic sect Boko Haram on Thursday explained that its grouse with ThisDay over alleged misrepresentation of its position and perceived bias led to the bomb attacks on its offices in Abuja and Kaduna.
Suspected Boko Haram members bombed ThisDay’s Abuja office as well as a complex housing ThisDay, Sun and Moment newspapers in Kaduna, leaving a number of people dead and many more injured.
The sect also known as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad said in an interview with a blog, premiumtimesng.com, that it was targeting Nigerian and foreign journalists.
The interview appeared to confirm suspicions that the Kaduna attack might have been actually targeted at ThisDay.
In the interview by a member who claimed to be Abul Qaqa, Boko Haram said the attacks were meant to send a strong message to the media that it had become fed up with alleged misrepresentations of its position by journalists.
It also said it would no longer take blame for actions not committed by its members.
“We have repeatedly cautioned reporters and media houses to be professional and objective in their reports. This is a war between us and the government of Nigeria; unfortunately the media have not been objective and fair in their reports of the ongoing war; they chose to take side,” Qaqa said.
He identified three instances where he claimed his group was deliberately misrepresented by the media. The first, according to him, was the rumour of his capture by the Nigerian intelligence agencies.
“Some reporters are aware that I am Abul Qaqa. They know my voice through our long interactions and they also know the role of Abu Darda who heads the enlightenment committee and sometimes facilitates interviews; yet they (media) go by the unsubstantiated view of government that Abul Qaqa is in custody and I am the new spokesman or number two.
“Another issue was the recent kidnappings in the North; we were clear with our position as a group during a teleconference with reporters but we were shocked the next day when newspaper headlines added a lot of things which I never said during that interview.
“Another example is the recent video posted on YouTube by our Imam. I challenge every Nigerian to watch that video again. There is no place our imam either said he will crush President Jonathan or issued an ultimatum to the government in Nigeria; but nearly all papers carried very wrong and mischievous headlines.”
When asked why ThisDay appeared specifically chosen for the attack, Qaqa replied, “It is not only ThisDay that has been engaged in negative media campaign, fictional stories and constantly promoting fake stories by the JTF to give an impression that they are making headway against us; yet there is no time the media investigated further as an objective and responsible bystander in this war. But the sins of ThisDay are more.
“They once insulted the Prophet Mohammed in 2001 and we have not forgotten. They recently said our Imam executed me which is false. Here I am speaking to you, I am alive and healthy.”
According to the blog, the purported Boko Haram spokesman threatened that the group would launch more attacks against the media.
While the Sun headlined its story "War on the media", with the rider 'Five killed, many injured as Boko Haram bombs The Sun, THISDAY offices', the Tribune said: Abuja, Kaduna bomb blasts: Why we struck - Boko Haram".
-0- PANA VAO/MA 28April2012