By Guyson Nanagayi – ABUJA- (Reuters) – At least eight people have been killed and three others injured in car bomb explosions near a parade in Nigeria’s capital on Friday during the marking of 50th anniversary of the country’s independence from Britain , police said.
Two blasts, which also destroyed three cars, came an hour after the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Nigeria’s biggest rebel militia, warned it had planted several bombs and told people to evacuate the area.
“Two car bombs exploded and eight people are confirmed dead,” Abuja police spokesman Jimoh Moshood told Reuters.
“Several explosive devices have been successfully planted in and around the venue by our operatives working inside the government security services,” the warning email, signed by MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo said.
“In evacuating the area, keep a safe distance from vehicles and trash bins.”
However, the lavish celebrations with army bands, dancing children and air force displays continued although President Goodluck Jonathan, who faces an election early next year, left in an armored limousine without making a scheduled national address.
MEND has been fighting for years for a greater share of oil revenues from the impoverished Niger Delta, home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry.
Although most of its activities have been focused on the creeks and swamps of the delta, MEND has struck further afield, including at off-shore oil installations and in the heart of Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos.
Besides overshadowing the 50th birthday of Africa’s most populous nation, the bombs will deal another blow to an already a shaky amnesty brokered last year with rebels in the Delta.
Nigeria’s oil production has climbed from about 1.6 million barrels per day before the amnesty to around 2 million now, as oil companies have been able to repair sabotaged pipelines and supply terminals.
A return to violence would be likely to reverse that process, with implications for Nigeria’s economic growth.
Jonathan is from the Niger Delta area, and many analysts thought his accession to the presidency earlier this year after the death of president Umaru Yar’Adua would have eased tensions between rebels and central government.
“A very sad and unwelcome development, when a small group of people from the same region as the President carry out such attacks on Nigeria’s special day,” said one Nigerian security expert, who did not wish to be named.
“These people do not reflect the wider feelings of Niger Deltans and such acts can only be fully condemned.”
Despite the official pomp, the 50-year landmark has caused considerable introspection among Nigeria’s 140 million people, many of whom regard the period since the end of British rule in 1960 as a half-century of broken dreams.
As well as a succession of brutal and economically disastrous military dictatorships and the squandering of billions of dollars in oil revenues, Nigeria suffered a civil war in the late 1960s in which a million people died.
“Leadership has failed the nation again and again and again,” said author Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, describing the post-colonial era as a “wasted generation.”
“It has been backwards steps — one step forwards and then ten back.”