After a long lull, Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, was in turmoil yesterday. A car bomb killed 19 people and injured 40, according to witnesses.
But, it was not immediately clear who was responsible for the explosion, which destroyed cars and caused panic in the city.
The bomb, planted in a three-wheel rickshaw taxi, exploded outside the state television offices at around 1.30 pm (1230 GMT), witnesses told Reuters.
“My men counted 17 dead as at 2:00 pm and they are still counting. I have instructed my men to go to the University of Maiduguri
Teaching Hospital and the state specialist hospital to verify if there are others,” said Borno Police Commissioner Lawan Tanko.
“I saw two boys on the ground and their bodies cut into pieces. Two other cars immediately caught fire and I ran away because there was too much blood,” city resident Aisha Hassan said.
Soldiers fired shots into the air to disperse crowds before cordoning off the roads around the bomb site, witnesses said.
Dozens of youths, some armed with machetes, protested on the street after the attack, accusing politicians of failing to curb violence in Maiduguri.
Yesterday was public holiday when millions of Muslims marked the birth of Prophet Mohammad.
Also yesterday, the Commanding Officer of a Special Operative Battalion in Mubi, Adamawa State, Lt.-Col. Beyidi Martins, said the military killed 13 suspected members of Boko Haram in a battle last December.
He said two notorious members of the sect, who had been on the wanted list of the military, were among those killed, adding that they were responsible for terrorising the ancient city and its environ.
Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima condemned the explosion, which came at a time return of peace was being celebrated by residents.
Shettima described the incident as “most cruel, evil and inhuman”, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Communications, Isa Gusau.
The governor expressed his deep condolences to the families and friends of all the victims and prayed for the repose of those who died and the quick recovery of the injured.
He directed security agents to probe the incident, which resulted in a youths rampage that led to the breakdown of law and order.
The governor also condemned riots in the last three days in the state capital, which he described as “unfortunate” and “avoidable”.
Shettima directed the Ministry of Health to ensure proper medication for all those injured. The government is to bear all costs of treatment.
The government will take firm measures to continually protect lives and property of citizens, he added.
The governor met yesterday with the National Security Adviser in Abuja during which issues of security of lives and property of Borno citizens were discussed.
Gusau said Shettima was expected back in Maiduguri yesterday. He urged all residents to remain calm and law abiding.
The explosion followed a political crisis between ex-Governor Ali Modu Sheriff and Governor Kashim Shettima.
Some angry youths also set Sheriff’s office ablaze.
There has been tension in the last 48 hours in the state following plans by Sheriff to launch a political comeback.
It was gathered that the explosion might have been a consequence of the attack on Sheriff at the Shehu of Borno’s Palace on Monday.
Earlier on Saturday, some thugs suspected to be loyal to Sheriff waylaid the convoy of the governor who was on an inspection visit to the Maiduguri International Airport.
The loyalists of the two leaders have been attacking one another since Saturday.
Yesterday’s explosion came after one year of relative peace, with residents enjoying increased commercial and social activities and night outings in Maiduguri.
“The youths spontaneously went on the rampage. They set ablaze Sheriff’s campaign office and went about destroying any campaign material bearing his pictures and those of his associates.
The youths were screaming, alleging that one of those responsible for the explosion was captured and they fingered Sheriff as the sponsor. But this has not been confirmed by any credible authority.
The youths matched on the residence of Sheriff’s father on Damboa Road, demanding his head. Soon, they sighted Sheriff’s convoy sneaking out of Maiduguri and launched a fresh attack, smashing most of the vehicles. Sheriff was rescued by soldiers attached to him. Sheriff reportedly called for two chartered aircraft and flew out with his supporters.
Youths went to Sheriff’s house at the GRA, prepared to set it ablaze, but were repelled by armed security men guarding the expansive mansion.
“They went about smashing vehicles of people believed to be associates of Sheriff. They made bonfires on streets in violent protest, promising to go after Sheriff any time he returns to Borno.
Tension has rised in Maiduguri since Saturday because Sheriff wanted to inaugurate APC’s interim executives without the governor’s knowledge even when the party has vested the party’s leadership in the governor.
Shettima rejected the move, but Sheriff insisted.
The former governor organised political meetings and planned the inauguration but all the 10 executives to be inaugurated ran out of the state.
Sheriff had also planned a visit to relaunch his campaign office on Sir Kashim Ibrahim road in Maiduguri on Monday, but the attack on him at the palace forced him to shelve the plan.