Worst Attack in Nigeria Capital Kills 71 in Rush Hour

At least 71 people died in a bomb blast at a bus station in rush hour traffic in Abuja this morning in the worst-ever attack to strike Nigeria’s capital.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who visited the scene, blamed the Islamist militant group Boko Haram for the car bomb that exploded at about 6:55 a.m. local time in Nyanya district, about nine kilometers (5.6 miles) from the city center. At least 124 people were injured, 16 buses destroyed and 24 other vehicles damaged, police spokesman Frank Mba told reporters at the site. Witnesses said as many as 200 people were killed.

“When the bomb exploded, it caught four large buses filled with passengers and many smaller ones, destroying them completely,” Yakubu Pam, a bus driver who passed by the area 20 minutes after the blast, said in an interview. Chika Okorie, a resident of Nyanya, said she believed as many as 300 people died.

Security forces in Africa’s biggest oil producer are fighting a four-year-old insurgency by Boko Haram, which has killed thousands of people in gun and bomb attacks in the country’s north and Abuja. Nigeria’s population of about 170 million is roughly split between a mainly Muslim north and a largely Christian south.

At the weekend, attacks by suspected Boko Haram members killed 217 people in the country’s northeastern state of Borno, a senator representing the region said.

Heightened Security

“People are worried that the government has not been able to take action that assures them that it’s on top of the security situation in the country,” Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, said by phone from the capital. “The question that comes up is whether the government can really describe itself as a strong, big economy when it cannot provide security?”

Jonathan ordered heightened security in Abuja, a city of about 1 million people, his spokesman Reuben Abati said on his Twitter account.

Nigeria’s Stock Exchange All-Share Index fell 0.3 percent after earlier weakening 0.5 percent, its the biggest fall on an intraday basis since April 1. The naira snapped a three-day gain, weakening 0.3 percent to 161.23 per dollar as of 3:57 p.m. in Lagos, the commercial capital. Yields on Eurobonds due July 2023 rose 1 basis point to 5.718 percent.

Christmas Attack

Today’s bombing was even deadlier than the attack on a church on Christmas Day in 2011 that killed at least 43 people. Boko Haram, which is seeking to impose Shariah, or religious law, in the country, also claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb that left about 23 people dead at the United Nations building in Abuja that same year.

Since then, Nigeria’s military has sought to contain the violence in the northeast of the country, with Jonathan declaring a state of emergency in three states in the region. The violence there has claimed more than 4,000 lives and forced almost half a million to flee their homes, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said this month.

“Monday’s attacks in Abuja are causing widespread concern in Nigeria, since attacks outside the insurgents’ northern theater of operations are so rare,” Francois Conradie, an analyst at Paarl, South Africa-based political and economic research group NKC Independent Economists, said in e-mailed comments. “If attacks in Abuja and elsewhere in the center and south become common, the effect of terror on Nigeria as a whole will consequently be greater.”

Election Threat

Abuja is scheduled to host the World Economic Forum on Africa next month in a meeting that’s due to be attended by Jonathan, Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, and Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote. Calls to WEF spokesman Oliver Cann weren’t answered.

With less than a year before general elections, Nigerian security forces are increasingly stretched in their efforts to quell violence and lawlessness across huge swathes of the country, which has Africa’s biggest economy.

This month, police said they sent special forces to the northwestern state of Zamfara after an attack that may have killed more than 200 people. In March, the army started operations against “criminal gangs” in the central states of Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa, which borders the Federal Capital Territory, home to Abuja.

“We urgently need new methods and strategies to deal with our security issues, including accepting foreign assistance,” Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice President who defected from the ruling People’s Democratic Party to the opposition All Progressives Congress in February, said today on his Twitter account.

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