Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad and Niger Republic are set to speed up the creation of a 2,800-strong regional force to tackle the menace of the Boko Haram sect.
Defence ministers from the four countries said they would each contribute 700 troops to the force.
Niger Republic’s Defence Minister, Karidio Mahamadou, said they were determined to “eradicate this curse.”
Boko Haram’s insurgency is focused on Nigeria, but it has carried out some cross-border raids.
The dreaded group was suspected to have blown up the Ngala Bridge, a key transport link between North-Eastern Nigeria and Cameroon, on Wednesday.
Cars and lorries loaded with goods were stranded on the highway as a result of the damage done to the road.
The regional defence ministers met in Niger’s capital, Niamey, on Wednesday, to hold further discussions on the growing threat posed by the group.
In May, the four countries, whose borders meet at Lake Chad, agreed to share intelligence and coordinate border security.
Efforts to step up regional co-operation gained momentum after the sect caused an international outcry by the abduction of over 200 students from the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, in April.
Boko Haram has carried out a spate of abductions in Cameroon as well, including that of tourists and priests. Unconfirmed reports say the group has also recruited fighters from Chad and Niger.
Former Head of State, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, who escaped a bomb attack in Kaduna on Wednesday, had declared that Nigeria was capable of dealing with the Boko Haram insurgency.
Buhari, who survived the bomb explosion in Kawo, Kaduna metropolis, which killed 82, stated this when Kaduna State Governor, Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, paid him a visit in his residence.
He said that the bomb blast was a terror attack on his convoy.
“When this question of Boko Haram started, I am sure it was on record that the first statement I made about 18 months ago was that no religion advocates what is happening.
“So basically, it is not a case of religion, neither is it ethnic. They kill children in schools in the North- East, they kill teachers, they burn churches, they burn mosques, they burn motor parks, and they burn markets.
“Where is religion there, where is ethnicity there? This is terrorism and I hope the government will come to grips with it.
“Nigeria is capable of dealing with this, we dealt with the civil war, for 30 months we fought and we kept Nigeria one and God willing, we are going to keep Nigeria one.”
In Katsina, the home state of Buhari, a mass protest being planned by eight organisations identifying with the former head of state was averted yesterday.
The intended protest was the organisations’ way of venting their displeasure over the twin-bomb blasts.
The organisations, known to often voice their opinions about matters that had to do with the retired General, had reportedly put finishing touches yesterday morning to how they were to mobilise people and stage the protest in the state.
But their action, according to sources, was aborted as some members of the All Progressives Congress, APC, along with some security personnel, were said to have dissuaded them from doing so.
A leader of one of the organisation, Mallam Mutari of The Buhari Oganisation, said they had planned to protest to show their anger on the twin- bomb blasts, but that urgent intervention by APC leaders led to the halting of the protest.
But APC’s spokesperson in the state, Shitu S. Shitu, however, said that it was a deliberate attempt to truncate the nation’s democracy, create chaos and tension in the country.
Shitu said the bomb blasts were targeted at Gen. Buhari and a renowned Islamic scholar, Sheik Dahiru Bauchi, stressing that such was an agenda against the entire Northern Nigeria.
He also said that the bomb blasts did not come as a surprise to the party following a recent letter by the retired general to President Goodluck Jonathan.
Shittu alleged that the bomb blast that was targeted at Buhari was as a result of the letter he had written, and that this was a way to silence the opposition in the country.
He said the letter, intended to save Nigeria’s young democracy ahead of 2015 general elections and ensure peace and stability of the nation, should not be misconstrued as having any other intent or purpose.
The group leader said that Buhari and Bauchi are respected leaders of the North and that any threat to their lives could lead to protests in the entire North. Meanwhile, criticisms yesterday trailed the bomb blasts.
Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, cautioned politicians against taking extreme position on issues but to see politics as an apostolate and opportunity to serve.
Onaiyekan, who spoke when the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, paid him a courtesy call, cautioned against extreme statements and actions, stressing that politicians should stop making the public to associate politics with evil.
On the activities of the Boko Haram, Onaiyekan noted that it” is just a symptom of the wider disease. If we tackle Boko Haram, we might discover we still have the wider disease which we need to tackle”.
Earlier, Odigie-Oyegun had said that he decided to visit the Cardinal first before any other personality to seek spiritual blessings “because you are my spiritual father”.
He wondered why anyone could make such an honest man as Buhari target of dastardly act.
The APC boss, however, blamed the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, for playing a dangerous game by attempting to tie Boko Haram activities around the neck of the APC and its leaders and reiterated the call for international probe of the allegation.
“The way they are trying to put Boko Haram activities around our neck is so thoughtless. We are a nation and so severely divided: by poverty, ethnicity and now being divided by religion, the most dangerous of all. Has anybody considered how we can rule such a divided people? I shudder on the long term impact that this will have on the polity,” he said.
Also in a statement issued in Lagos yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party sent its condolences to the families of the victims and prayed that God would give them the much-needed strength at times like these, while also wishing the injured a speedy recovery.
It said the attempted assassination of Buhari had changed the narrative about the insurgent group and knocked the bottom off the sinister, irresponsible and partisan colouration given to the insurgency by the Federal Government.
APC said while no one had yet claimed responsibility for the attack, the mere fact that it occurred at all was a lose-lose situation for the Jonathan administration.
The PDP and former National Chairman of the party, Bamanga Tukur, also yesterday condemned the blasts.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, in a statement said the party “joins all well-meaning Nigerians in thanking God for saving the lives of Buhari and Bauchi whose convoys were affected in the incident.”
“We sincerely sympathise with Gen. Buhari. Our hearts go out to him and all those affected in these wicked attacks,” the PDP said.
The party, which stated it was shocked by the ugly development, reiterated its call for all Nigerians to unite against acts of terrorism, irrespective of ethnic, political and religious affiliations, adding that “it has become clear that anybody could be a target.”
It, however, cautioned opposition leaders to be careful with their utterances on the unfortunate incident, saying that Nigerians must unite for the nation to win the war against terror.
The party also charged security agencies to ensure a thorough investigation into the attacks and intensify their efforts in the overall fight against insurgency.
Senate President David Mark urged the perpetrators of terrorism and bomb blasts, terminating the lives of innocent Nigerians, to sheathe their swords.
He said that killings could not be a solution to any problem.
Mark added that there was nowhere in the world where violence or killing of people had solved any issue but rather aggravated and complicated it.
A statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Paul Mumeh, Mark stated that the unabating killings and destruction of property would only worsen the economic and socio-political situation of the country.
Mark, the statement noted, renewed his appeal to the perpetrators to hearken to the voices of reason and embrace dialogue which the present administration consistently offered.
He expressed condolence to the bereaved families even as he called on citizens to be more vigilance in these trying times.
The Northern States Governors’ Forum, NSGF, in a statement by its Chairman and Governor of Niger State, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, described the attack targeted at Buhari as ungodly and a dastardly show of shame.
He noted that the country was sliding into a dark period of uncertainty, fear and general mistrust.
A statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Israel A. Ebije, said: “It is indeed very unfortunate the twin-blasts targeted at Gen. Buhari and Shiek Bauchi in Kaduna which have led to the death of innocent Nigerians.
“We must, therefore, realise that activities of terrorists have no limit, just as it has no focus. Nigerians must, therefore, understand that there is no single person spared by the deadly terror organisation causing serious security challenge in the country.
“We must, therefore, as a people come together, join hands and fight terrorism. We must not see it as the problem of a section of the country alone. The issue of security must not be politicised, it must be given the attention it deserves as no one is spared in their onslaught.”