For the first time since it began a series of deadly bomb attacks, the Boko Haram sect yesterday turned its attention to the media. It unleashed a string of coordinated attacks on three media houses in Abuja and Kaduna, killing no fewer than nine people in the process.
The three media houses attacked by the bombers were the Abuja office of ThisDay Newspaper, and then The Sun and The Moment offices in Kaduna which were hit almost simultaneously by the blasts.
Hardest hit was ThisDay whose office in Jabi, Abuja, was almost brought down by the impact of the blast that swept through the area at about 11:03am.
Witnesses said that a suicide bomber forced his way through the back gate of the Jabi office of the media empire and rammed his black Isuzu Jeep into the main building housing the printing press and other facilities. Everything went up in flames, as the bomb went off.
The impact of the blast also destroyed nearby commercial and residential buildings and caused a major apprehension and confusion around the Jabi Motor Park, which is a major exit and landing point for commuters in the Federal Capital Territory. The park is directly opposite the attacked ThisDay building.
As the bomb went off, motorists, traders and passengers at the park as well as customers of the media house scampered for safety, especially as rumours spread that another blast was imminent with the sighting of a Toyota SUV similar to the one used by the bomber, left in front of the newspaper house.
Initially, journalists were barred from the scene of the blast by the combined team of riot policemen, anti-bomb disposal men and soldiers, who cordoned off the area right from Jabi junction.
ThisDay has, in a statement released yesterday, claimed that five people died during the incident, saying that the victims comprised the bomber, its security official and three passers-by.
A NEMA official in Kaduna, who sought anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the event, confided in our correspondents that four people died during the attack in Kaduna.
The evacuation and rescue operations were shielded from the press and the dead and injured taken away before journalists were allowed into the premises.
However, the group executive director of ThisDay, Ireogbu Israel, confirmed that the company's security and support staff were mostly affected by the blast. Israel put the number of those killed at three and the wounded at six.
He said, "We have been able to identify some of the dead with their uniforms and have taken them to the mortuary. Those injured have also been taken to the hospital."
The FCT police commissioner, Mr. Ade Sinaba, and the comptroller-general of the Federal Fire Service visited the scene of the blast and supervised the evacuation of the dead and the wounded.
El-Rufa'i commiserates with Thisday
Former FCT minister Mallam Nasiru el-Rufai, who visited the scene of the blast, said he went there as a member of the newspaper's editorial board to see things for himself.
The former minister said, "Well, I came in as a member of the editorial board; I am very sad. I can only say "Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilahi Rajiun", meaning "From God we came and to Him we shall return. He left immediately after uttering those words.
We can't be intimidated - NPAN
Meanwhile, the Newspaper Proprietors' Association of Nigeria (NPAN) said yesterday that its members would not be cowed by the attack on media organisations in Abuja and Kaduna.
In a statement signed by its general secretary, Comfort Obi, the association condemned the attack and described it as not only insensitive, barbaric and retrogressive but also an unwarranted attack on free press in the country.
The statement reads in part, "The NPAN finds it difficult to understand why the sect would make the media a target, when the media is only performing its social and constitutional duty of reporting events as they unfold.
It is this call to duty that explains why members of the sect always have a space in the media when its spokesperson(s) call in to grant interviews, or press statements. Their views are usually well reported.
"However, if the current attack is to intimidate the press, we hasten to say that we shall neither be cowed nor intimidated as we shall continue to discharge our professional responsibilities without fear or favour.
"We hasten to task the government, again, on the need to guarantee the security of lives and property. It does seem that nowhere is safe."
There had been earlier warnings by the Boko Haram sect of its intent to launch an onslaught on the Nigerian media.
Jonathan, Obama condemn attacks
President Goodluck Jonathan also condemned the attack on the media, asking them not to succumb to the whims of those who were trying to stop them from carrying out their campaign for peace, justice and equity.
In a statement by his special adviser on media and publicity, the president described the attack as ignoble, misguided, horrendous and wicked but assured, as usual, that his government was committed to the protection of lives and property in the country.
The statement reads in part: "President Jonathan reaffirmed the commitment of the federal government to continue to uphold the constitutional right 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 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.
"President Jonathan commiserated with the bereaved families and other innocent victims of the explosions, and also prayed that Almighty God would grant them succour in their moment of grief and the souls of the departed, peaceful repose."
Also, United States President Barrack Obama has condemned the attacks on ThisDay, The Sun and The Moment newspapers in Nigeria by Boko Haram and called for a comprehensive probe into the attacks.
In a press release made available to our correspondent yesterday night, the US leader said that: "we strongly condemn these attacks on the two offices of the newspaper ThisDay, both in Abuja and Kaduna. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the loved ones and those who were killed or injured.
This is an attack not only on innocent people but on free speech itself in Nigeria, and we call for a full investigation in holding those responsible to account"
"We are continuing to look at Boko Haram in this context. We haven't made any decisions yet. Frankly, we're not in a position from here to evaluate responsibility. I think we will, obviously, offer any support to the Nigerians that they may require.
But that said, we share the concerns about the threat that Boko Haram poses, and this is among the reasons that we cooperate so strongly with Nigeria in terms of not only security support but also political and economic support in the north so that the vulnerable populations in the north of Nigeria can't be sort of attracted and coerced by Boko Haram"
Also, the US Embassy in Abuja has warned U.S. citizens to take additional precautions while living in or visiting the Federal Republic of Nigeria, stressing that they should maintain a high state of vigilance and personal security awareness, particularly in and around Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, near Nigerian government facilities, diplomatic missions, large gathering places, hotels, markets and malls, and places of worship.
Responding to the attack, the chairman and founder of ThisDay, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, described the blast on the three media houses in Abuja and Kaduna as an attack on Nigerian journalism.
Obaigbena said, "Today, Nigerian journalism was attacked, but the truth will not be cowed."
Residents nab bomber in Kaduna
Meanwhile The State Security Service (SSS) has confirmed that five persons died in bomb blasts that rocked the some media houses in Abuja and Kaduna.
The SSS deputy director of public relations, Marilyn Ogar, in a statement yesterday identified one of the assailants of the blast in the ThisDay office in Kaduna as Umaru Mustapha of Maiduguri, Borno State.
Ogar also disclosed that the bomber, who was overpowered by some gallant Nigerians, came in a cream Honda Accord (Academy) She said: "Mustapha and another man drove into R9, Kontagora Road, Ahmadu Bello Way in a cream-coloured Honda Accord (Academy), registration number AL 306 MKA, at about 11am.
That address belongs to SOJ Global Communications and Investment Limited Plaza, and houses correspondents of The Sun, Thisday and The Moment newspapers."
According to Ogar, Mustapha alighted with a container of improvised explosive device (IED).
"He was immediately challenged by two gallant Nigerians following which he threw the bomb at them and it denoted, killing them instantly. Subsequently, Mustapha pulled out a pistol and fired several shots in the air in an attempt to escape.
"He was however caught and subdued by brave members of the public who refused to be intimidated and handed him over to security forces. Nine persons were injured and are receiving treatment."
"At about the same time, at the premises of Thisday newspaper in Abuja, another car, a dark green Isuzu jeep outfitted with bombs forced its way in, detonated and killed the suicide bomber.
Ogar confirmed that two other persons were confirmed killed, while five persons were injured in the Abuja attack.
The SSS spokesman, who expressed hope that the attacks would not deter reportage of issues that affect Nigerians, applauded the gallantry and patriotism of the members of the public who risked their lives to save others.
Boko Haram claims responsibility, says more attacks on media coming
The Boko Haram sect has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing that rocked the Kaduna and Abuja offices of ThisDay, saying that the Nigerian media should expect more suicide bombings from them.
It said it carried out the attack to sound a note of warning to media houses that it would no longer tolerate reports which misrepresent them in the media or blame them for attacks they know nothing about.
A spokesperson for the sect, Abul Qaqa, told an internet medium that his organisation was fed up with the deliberate misinformation being peddled about it in the Nigerian and foreign media.
Qaqa said: "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 report of the ongoing war; they chose to take sides."
When asked why ThisDay appeared specifically chosen for the attack, Qaqa said that ThisDay's "sins" are more grievous.
"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 recently said our Imam executed me, which is false. Here I am speaking to you, I am alive and healthy."
The group's spokesman further warned of more attacks on the media.
"We have just started this new campaign against the media and we will not stop here, we will hit the media hard since they have refused to listen to our plea for them to be fair in their reportage," he said.
Qaqa also said his group would give further information on biases by the media.
"In the coming days, we will give details and instances where the media have not been fair to us and why we are going to attack them as well."
"But each time we say something it is either changed or downplayed. But when our enemy says something even without logical proof, it is blown out of proportion."
"We have repeatedly asked some reporters to retract some stories or even give us the right of reply but none of these requests was given to us."
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," he said.
The second misrepresentation, according to Qaqa, was the reporting on the kidnappings of foreigners in the northern part of Nigeria.
"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."
The third example, Qaqa said, is the mistranslation of the video the group posted recently.
"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."