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Nigeria explosion: Independence celebrations marred by violence

The Nigeria explosion prompts blogger Jeremy Weate, an Abuja resident, to wonder if there's anything to celebrate on Nigerian Independence Day.

By Jeremy WeateGuest blogger / October 1, 2010

People stand around wreckage after a car bomb exploded in Abuja, Nigeria, Friday, Oct. 1, 2010. Two car bombs blew up on Friday as Nigeria celebrated its 50th independence anniversary, killing at least seven people in an unprecedented attack on the capital by suspected militants from the country's oil region.

Felix Onigbinde/AP

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Abuja, Nigeria

Last night we had a group of friends round for dinner to celebrate my forty-first birthday. Without trying to sound smug, I am fortunate to count some keen minds as mates, who never fail to impress in their analysis of their beloved country, Nigeria. But, just now, it seems that no one really knows what is going to happen – both with the elections, and more generally, with Project Nigeria. After the party, at midnight, we headed down to the area near Millennium Tower, a half-completed building site near the National Mosque. From behind razor wire, we looked on at the celebrations an invited few dignitaries were privileged to watch. I was filled with a sense of sadness that yet again, ordinary Nigerians were being excluded from the main event.

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At 10 this morning, still a little blurry from the night before, the alert came in on my Twitter client (from NEXT) that Jomo Gbomo, the mythical spokesman from MEND, had said that there would be bombs in and around Eagle Square at 10:30. I retweeted the NEXT message. A few others did the same. In the following few minutes, the general sense was that it was more hot air and blather from a weakened organisation. I reminded myself at the same time that Henry Okah’s house in Jo’burg had been raided the day before by South African police on a tip off from Nigeria. I speculated that the two events might be connected. Then, I left it and went to make coffee.

At 10:15, a friend called, and told me both the UK and US Embassies were issuing warnings to stay indoors among their staff and expats. The message was that the threats were both real, specific and credible. I decided to put off a jaunt into town to take pictures of Nigerians celebrating Independence. The Twitterverse started to hot up. I tweeted that there was a heightened security alert among the diplomatic corps. Still there was scepticism that anything would happen.

Then, around 10.30-10.40 I heard what I thought was a thunder-clap. It had started to rain by then. However, the sound wasn’t quite like thunder – it was more of a powdery boom from far away. I suspect now that what I heard was the sound of the bomb – only a couple of miles from my house close by the Arcade Hotel on Shehu Shagari. By this time, I had logged on to watching the official celebration online via live streaming from Eagle Square.

I followed the tweets coming in commenting on the schoolchildren dancing, followed by a powerful show of military hardware. We could all finally understand why Abuja has thrummed with the sound of helicopters and planes flying by in the past week.

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