Remains of UN Building after the blast
Exactly a year ago, a suicide bomber rammed his car into the United Nations House in Abuja, the nation’s capital, killing about 23 persons and injuring 129 others in an action that gave an international dimension to the problem of terrorism in Nigeria. Olaolu Olusina, with reports from Dele Ogbodo, who escaped death by the whiskers in the attack, reflects on the incident, noting that nothing has changed one year after
Twenty-two-year-old Member Feese has every cause to rejoice for being alive today. If she is a Christian, she will definitely lead a procession to the altar to offer thanks to her Creator in her church this Sunday morning. And nobody should blame her even if she decides to roll on the floor and dazzle the congregation with her long testimony. Exactly a year ago, Feese, who was studying at a university in the United Kingdom, had gone to the United Nations House in Abuja to obtain some materials for her Master’s degree thesis. But she was unfortunate to have been caught up in the suicide bombing that rocked the UN House to its foundation that morning.
Her experience, which she narrated to a national newspaper with headquarters in Lagos, was indeed a moving and chilling one. “I went to UN Building on 26th of August to carry out research for my Master’s thesis and the person I was meeting said I should stay in the reception and he will come down and meet me. But before the person could come down, the blast occurred. I was taken to the National Hospital. The UN evacuated us to National Hospital first and after two days, evacuated me to United Kingdom in an air ambulance,” she recalled.
Feese, who hovered between life and death for two days at the Intensive Care Unit of the National Hospital in Abuja, was to spend the next eight months in the hospital in United Kingdom. She was, in fact, unconscious for about five months as a result of the incident. “The earliest I remember is on the 28th of December, 2011, when I regained full consciousness. But they said I woke up a week before that and was blinking and that if you asked me what I wanted, I blinked once for yes, twice for no, but I didn’t remember much,” she told the paper.
Lucky Feese has since returned to Nigeria as she was lucky to have survived the August 26,2011 suicide bombing of the UN House in Abuja which killed about 23 persons and injured 129 others. But THISDAY correspondent, Dele Ogbodo, was luckier to have escaped by the whiskers. “I was only lucky, perhaps, through the special grace of God to be alive to tell this story. Like every other Abuja residents, I woke up that fateful Friday morning full of expectations to conquer the challenges of the day. In a hurry, I bade my lovely wife, Oleragbor, goodbye as I zoomed off for the UN House. To confirm my appointment for 10 am that day, I pulled a call to the organisation’s National Expert: Information Communication Technology (ICT), Mr. Francis Ukoh, that I was on my way.
“At 9: 30am, I had parked my car outside the premises at a park reserved for visitors. Ukoh, who was expecting me, had detailed one of his aides to bring me up from the ground floor which, unfortunately, the bomber rammed into about 45 minutes later. I had finished my business with Ukoh and about descending through the lift when an instinct pulled me back to exchange pleasantries with Ukoh’s colleague, Mrs Lillian Okwu, when a loud bang hit the building. It was confusion all over the building as bodies were seen falling over each other,” Ogbodo narrated as he reflected on the sad incident, saying how he escaped unhurt remains a mystery till today.However, one person who is still devastated by the UN House bombing is Mrs. Onome Dede, who lost her husband, a medical doctor, to the blast. Dede, who was still reeling from emotional pains last week, declined to talk to THISDAY when the paper called on her.
Located in the Central Business District of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Abuja, the UN Building housing several specialised bodies of the global organisation is quite easy to access even for a first-time visitor to the nation’s capital. But like a deadly monster let loose, the calm and serenity of its location were shattered when a suicide bomber rammed his car into the building in a fit of fury in the early hours of Friday, August 26, 2011. Apparently taking many people unaware, the devastation was so fatal and the World Health Organisation (WHO) wing was badly affected. A private security outfit contracted to oversee the security of the building, King’s Guard Security Limited, also lost a couple of its staff to the blast. Widespread condemnation of the attack came from far and near with the Federal Government vowing to get to the root of the matter.
Those Who Died
A Norwegian, Ms. Ingrid Midtgaard, an associate expert with the UNODC, was the only expatriate who died in the incident which was masterminded by the dreaded Boko Haram sect. Other UN personnel, who lost their lives in the bomb attack were Mr. Abraham Osunsanya (Administrative Assistant, WHO), Mr. Stephen Obamoh (Radio Operator, UNDP), Mrs. Felicia Nkwuokwu (Receptionist, UN Common Services, UNDP), Mr. Iliya David Musa (Receptionist, UN Common Services, UNDP) and Mr. Ahmed Abiodun Adewale-Kareem (Shipping Assistant, UNICEF). Others were Mr. Elisha Enaburekhan (Driver, UNAIDS), Dr. Edward Dede (National Professional Officer, WHO) Mr. Johnson Awotunde (Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, UNICEF), Mr. Musa Ali (Zonal Logistics Assistant for North West Zone, WHO) and Ms. Rahmat Abdullahi (Registry Clerk, UNDP).
The non-UN staff included Mr. Sunday James Ebere (Shipping Agent, Balast Agency), Mr. Ndubuisi Bright (Hospitality Industry Consultant), Ms. Kate Demehin (Federal Ministry of Health), Ms. Caroline Michael (Guard), Mr. Sunday Omelenyi (Guard), Mr.Yakubu Garuba (Guard) and Mr. Abiodun Cyril Adeseye (Julius Berger).Others are: Ms. Patricia Ekwetinge (Travel Agent), Ms. Joy Audu (Nigeria Cleaning Services) and Mr. Paul Waziri (Nigeria Cleaning services).
Speaking at a media briefing in Abuja after the incident, the UN Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr.Daouda Toure, said 14 critically wounded victims of the bomb attack whose cases could not be handled by the National Hospital, Abuja had to be flown to South Africa for better medical treatment. He also denied knowledge of the arrest of any suspect linked to the bomb attack as claimed by the security agencies.
“The evacuation concerned 14 people which comprises of UN and non-UN people with no discrimination in terms of who needed to be evacuated. We have our medical team here that has been working with the Nigerian doctors in looking at those who had life-threatening conditions and although the UN staff have coverage to be evacuated, we have worked closely with the Nigerian authorities and we owe it to the truth to say that they showed total commitment in catering for everybody irrespective of where the person worked or if they were employees or if they happened to be visiting the UN house that day,” he said.
On the purported arrest of suspects in the bombing, Toure said “This is the second time that I am hearing about finding the culprits that are behind this attack. Officially, I will like to tell you that the UN has not been informed of any arrests of any sort nor has the identity of those who have a hand in the bombing unveiled. So, you will understand that I cannot comment on that issue. We look forward to being informed if truly arrests have been made. Indeed, we demand that there is no impunity that the lives of those innocent people are not left to just die, this is something that we demand as international justice and that’s what we are talking about but I’m not yet aware and I’m not sure if any of my colleagues has been informed about arrests that have happened or given names of those who have been arrested.”
The memorial held for the victims of the bombing on Thursday, September 1, 2011 at the premises of the bombed United Nations House witnessed the outpouring of emotions. Minister for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Bala Mohammed, reiterated the Federal Government’s resolve to fight violence and terrorism in the country. He also disclosed that the Federal Government will provide a temporary office accommodation for the UN till another permanent house is built.
The UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, whose address was presented at the occasion by Toure, said: “We are gathered today in honour of our fallen colleagues who were blown away in that unprovoked attack against the UN. That attack is against every principle and value of the UN. It is gross ignorance of the non-sectarian and non-partisan nature of the UN which partners with government of any race and culture to enrich the lives of the people through provision of health care solutions to reduce women and child mortality rate across the world.
“Yet those bombers attacked us and cut short lives, dreams, aspirations and ambitions to make this world a better place.” He however maintained that the global family was not broken as a people by the attack and that as a people; it would continue to forge ahead with the vision of the UN.
In his remark at the occasion, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Olugbenga Asiru, who noted that Nigeria had been at the forefront of global peace mission, declared that this posture will not be affected by the attack.
He also promised that the country will continue to be the anchor of the UN in maintaining global peace. Ashiru further declared that the country had been strengthened by the bombing and would continue to be the anchor of UN as far as the achievement of global peace was concerned.
Hunting for Suspects
A day after the bombing, the United States of America moved in swiftly as agents of the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrived the country apparently on the invitation of the Federal Government. “The FBI is on the ground at the request of the Nigerian government,” Deborah MacLean, an official of the United States Embassy in Nigeria, was to later confirm, though she refused to give further details. But the Nigerian Police later arraigned four suspected Boko Haram members, namely Salisu Mohammed, Musa Mukaila, Danzum iHaruna and AbdulsalamAdamu, at an Abuja Magistrate Court for allegedly sending the suicide bomber in a Honda CRV car with Reg. No. AV 38 NSR loaded with explosives to bomb the UN House.
The four men, who were brought to the court along with 15 other members of the sect, were accused of committing “mischief and culpable homicide punishable with death contrary to sections 327 and 221 of the penal code law.” Specifically, the Police alleged that, “on the 26-8-11 at about 1025hrs, you Salisu Mohammed, Musa Mukaila, DanzumiHaruna and Abdulsalam Adamu (M) of Kano State, conspired amongst your and sent a suicide bomber in a CRV SUV with Reg. No. AV 38 NSR loaded with explosives who forcefully drove into the United Nations House in Abuja and detonated the explosives killing 25 persons while others sustained injuries. You are thereby suspected to have committed the above offences.”
However, a statement issued by the Assistant Director in charge of Public Relations at the State Security Service (SSS), Mrs Marilyn Ogar, confirmed that one Mohammed Nur, along with two other persons, masterminded the bomb blast. The statement further indicated that a combined operation of all security agencies had led to the arrest of two top leaders of the Boko Haram sect, namely Babagana Ismail Kwaljima (a.k.a. Abu Summaya) and Babagana Mali (a.k.a. Bulama).
While the UN tries to put the incident behind it and move ahead in its task of fostering global peace, many Nigerians are however worried that 365 days after the dastardly act, the Federal Government is yet to get to the root of the problem as nothing much is being heard of the trial of the suspected masterminds of the bombing. More worrisome is the fact that the government seems to be losing the war on terror despite its avowed determination to fight it to finish. The promise of building a new edifice for the UN is also yet to be seen as repair works on the bombed building appear to be going on a slow pace. When THISDAY visited the building on Friday, security men were seen guarding the place as a truck belonging to a construction company handling the repair works on the building was parked outside the premises.
Frantic efforts to speak with people who lost relatives in the bombing hit a dead end before filing this report. When THISDAY visited the Wuse office of Kings Guard Security Limited which lost a couple of its staff members in the blast, nobody was willing to speak on the issue. THISDAY checks at one of the offices presently hosting some of the UN staff however showed that much was in the offing towards a remembrance event.
The UN Representative in Nigeria, Traore , promised to speak with THISDAY on the matter this week. “I’m presently very busy now, however, I will make out time to talk to you next week,” he told our correspondent in Abuja on Friday.
However, a regular face at the UN House who was fortunate not to be in that building on the day the suicide bomber struck is The Guardian Newspaper Abuja Bureau Chief, Mr. Martins Oloja. Narrating the August 26 gory bombing of the UN House, he lamented the current plight of the body, saying the fact that the organisation now operates from different apartments and buildings scattered across the city does not speak well of the role government was supposed to play, especially when the Federal Government promised to speed up the reconstruction of the main building. He said: “It is very unfortunate because by now, one would have expected that the Federal Government would have completed the conduct of the integrity test on the building; but it is yet to be completed, fully aware of the workings of the UN system here in Nigeria. It is a huge concern to observers as accessing them has become difficult.” He added that cost of upsetting the various accommodations overhead will be enormous because Nigeria will share in that bill as it is the country’s responsibility to host the UN bodies.
Oloja said it is unfortunate that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not in a hurry to fast track the completion of the house. “Here in this country, we don’t have this sense of urgency to do anything smooth even when it is a year now as nothing has been done beyond conducting integrity test on the building. As we speak, they have not told us the exact result of the test as they have used so much money in excess of N100 million to conduct it, “ he said. Oloja added that anytime someone passes through that place, “you will see that nothing is happening.”
He stated that the repercussion in quick resettlement of the UN staff connotes some drawbacks to the actualisation of the Millennium Development Goals objectives even though Nigeria is even behind. He said: “I was New York in 2010, when the UN systems raised a serious concern on slow pace of the MDGs especially when Nigeria was said to have started late through the reports presented to the body.”