Kaduna — As Nigerians continue to wonder how bombers beat the security at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC), Jaji on Sunday, residents of the area told Weekly Trust that when they heard the loud sound, they thought it was part of the military exercise announced two days earlier by the authorities
Days before the twin blasts that rocked the St. Andrew military protestant church inside Jaji military cantonment, residents said the authority at the barracks placed an announcement on the radio informing them of their plan to carry out some military drills.
Weekly Trust gathered that traditional rulers around the area also went to mosques, churches and other public places to intimate their subjects about the planned drill to be embarked upon by the soldiers.
Isyaku Sarki, a traditional ruler in the area, said they went round the community neighbouring the barrack to inform the people about the planned exercise.
"We took the explosions for the military exercise. It was an Okada rider who told us that it was bomb explosion. Some people are saying 11 people died, others say 20 and some say 40. We don't know the exact number of casualty," he said.
According to the village head of Jaji, Alhaji Adamu Sale, the announcement of the planned military exercise was placed by the Jaji military authority on the FRCN Kaduna. He also told Weekly Trust that at first they took the blasts for the military exercise.
"Two days before the attack I heard on radio that the Jaji military authority are planning their exercise. On Sunday when people heard the loud bang, we took it for the exercise. It was when the second one exploded that we realised that it wasn't a military exercise," he said.
He faulted the report that many people in his community have been arrested by the military authority, adding that "we are living peacefully here and nobody is harassing us. "
Sgt Bethuel Dogonyaro (rtd) said he went to the Church together with his son, but lost him in the attack. "I left him in the church, because he was having a meeting with the Deputy Commandant of AFCSC. I was already at home when the incident happened. Two pastors died in the incident including my son, Pastor Israel. We are still waiting for the military authority to release his corpse," he told Weekly Trust at his residence in Jaji on Wednesday.
A survivor of the bomb explosion, Mary Ibrahim, 36, said she saw many dead bodies. She said "it was just a few minutes after the service that we saw a car coming towards the church when we the choir members were having rehearsal . Soon after the man passed, we heard a very loud noise and things in the church started falling on us. About 30 of us where inside," she said.
She said though the church service has ended when the first bomb exploded, many church officials were still around including the pastor and his wife.
Spokesperson of the command, Colonel Mohammed Dole confirmed to Weekly Trust the impending military exercise, but said the announcement was for the biannual army obstacle exercise in the bush.
" Yes, we placed an announcement on radio to inform the public especially farmers and herdsmen to be beware of it. We urged them to stay away from there. The exercise is tagged Operation Udiak-Isin and it is for our junior students. It is their final exercise normally in the bush for land warfare," he said.
'Army hiding victims from family, press'
The way the military authorities are hiding the victims of the blast from their family and press is creating suspicion. Immediately the bombers struck, soldiers condoned the area where the incident happened while rescue operation was going on alongside.
Officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and those Red Cross who came for rescue operations were turned back at the gate of the barracks by soldiers.
Weekly Trust gathered that the injured persons were taken to the MRS in Jaji, and 44 Army Reference Hospital and NAF Base Hospital. Soon as they were taken to the hospitals, security was beefed up there around the area.
Many families of the victims and press men were barred from seeing the victims. The 44 Army Reference Hospital where most of the injured are hospitalised, military personnel barred him from seeing the victims.
The accident and emergency unit of the 44 Army Reference Hospital where the victims are, is being manned by heavily armed soldiers, barring reporters and families of victims access to them.
A retired colonel who is heading a security outfit in Kaduna State told Weekly Trust that only high ranking Army officers are allowed into the emergency unit.
"I cannot facilitate your entry to the emergency unit, because only Brigadier Generals and upward are allowed in there," the colonel told Weekly Trust on phone.
However, while reacting to it, Colonel Dole said: "the order was from superior authority, but we are feeding the victims' families information about the condition of the affected persons. The death toll has not increased from 15 and the injured are responding to treatment," he added.
How did the bombers sneak into the barrack?
Because of the water-tight security mounted on the two main entrances leading into the barrack on the day of the attack, residents and authority are suspecting that the bombers found their way into the barrack from behind.
A traditional title holder in Jaji told Weekly Trust that four un-tarred roads lead into the barracks from behind.
"You know the barrack is not fenced at the back. There are four roads that you can follow to enter the barracks. No security checks there, because the roads are through the bush. The roads lead to villages at the back of the barracks," he said.
An Okada rider, Yahuza Nasir said daily he plies the roads. "People leaving in villages at the back of the barracks use the roads. The authority is aware of them."
He said he left the gate where the second bomb exploded 10 minutes before the incident. "A woman coming from church engaged my service. It was while I was taking her to the town that the first bomb exploded. Four of my colleagues who were still waiting there when the bomb exploded died while many were injured," he said.
Before the black Sunday, he said "soldiers maintaining security at the gate of the barracks don't always check us, because we have our uniforms, they only check our passengers."
It is a wake up call - Yakowa
Kaduna State governor, Mr. Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa opened condolence visit on Monday. The governor was received by the Commandant of the Armed Forces Command and Staff College,(AFCSC) Jaji, Air Vice Marshal Ibrahim Abdullahi Kure.
Yakowa said the bombing of a church within a premier institution such as the AFCSC is a wake-up call to all security agencies within the country to continue to fashion out a solution on how to curb the incidents of bombing or terrorism.
He also asked those engaged in terrorism to embrace dialogue, adding that there is a platform for all those aggrieved on any issue to seek redress. "All stakeholders have to now come together to find solution to the frequent bombings or killings of innocent people in Nigeria. The biggest project now in Nigeria should be the search for peace so that the enormous potentials of Nigeria can be fully harnessed. Let us use our differences as sources of strength to move the country forward. Religious bigotry or terrorism will only destroy Nigeria instead of building it. The state will work with all security agencies to continue to provide security," he said.
Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Admiral Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim during his visit to the command on Tuesday described the bomb blast as lesson to security agents in the country.
"It is a very sad incident, the least we expect in this kind of place and in a very peaceful environment that we have cherished for many years. Perhaps it is a good lesson for all security agents now and we cannot afford to take it for granted, so we will put it behind us quickly after the Board of Enquiry concludes its investigation and then we will put some other measures in place to make this community safe," he pointed out.