Jimoh Moshoo, police spokesman in the capital, Abuja, said 17 people were wounded in Friday’s blasts, which went off about an hour after an emailed bomb threat from a rebel group in the oil-producing Niger delta.
Nigerian paper This Day, citing presidency sources, said British intelligence had got wind of a plot and passed on a warning to Abuja. Britain’s Duke of Gloucester, who was due to represent Queen Elizabeth II at the event, pulled out.
The secret service in Africa’s most populous nation confirmed it had received foreign tip-offs and had stepped up security accordingly, including towing 65 vehicles from the streets and cordoning off roads leading to the parade ground.
“If we had ignored them the situation could have perhaps been worse than what happened,” State Security Service spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar said.
News outlets including Reuters received an emailed bomb warning about an hour before the explosions, signed by Jomo Gbomo, principal spokesman for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
Ogar said Henry Okah, a senior member of MEND, had been arrested in South Africa. Police there declined to comment.
MEND has been fighting for years for a greater share of oil revenues for the delta, home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry, but signed an amnesty with the government last year.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who faces an election next year and who is from the impoverished delta region, has condemned the attacks and vowed to bring those responsible to justice.
Although most of MEND’s activities have been focused on the creeks of the region, it has struck oil installations offshore and in the heart of Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos.
However, it has tended to avoid civilian casualties, leading some to question whether the Abuja bombs were the work of a splinter group or might relate to the power struggle brewing ahead of next year’s elections.
Jonathan is facing several challengers, including former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, for nomination as the ruling People’s Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.
“I think there is a political undertone to this whole bombing,” said Akinaka Richard, a senior official overseeing the Delta amnesty programme.
“We doubt if these people are actually fighting for the genuine agitations of the people of the Niger Delta. Perhaps they have been paid by some highly placed persons to discredit the administration of President Jonathan.”
As well as overshadowing the 50th birthday celebrations, the bombs could deal another blow to the already shaky amnesty agreement.
Nigeria’s oil production has climbed from about 1.6 million barrels per day before the deal to around 2 million now as oil companies have managed to repair sabotaged pipelines and terminals.
A return to all-out conflict would be likely to reverse those gains, with implications for the wider economy of a country that relies on oil and gas exports for 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings. Reuters