Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan escapes suspected suicide blast near election rally
A suspected suicide bomb has exploded near a campaign rally in north-east Nigeria minutes after president Goodluck Jonathan left the venue.
The blast occured at a car park close to a stadium where Mr Jonathan addressed supporters of the ruling People’s Democratic Party in Gombe City.
Rescue workers and health officials said the bodies of two women were brought to the Gombe State Specialist Hospital, along with 18 people who were injured.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although suspicion is likely to fall on Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which has attacked Gombe several times.
On Sunday a suicide bombing near a mosque in the market area there killed five people and wounded eight.
The target of the attack was not clear.
“We have evacuated two bodies of females we believe were suicide bombers behind the blast,” said the rescue official, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak to media.
Nigeria is due to hold a presidential election on February 14, pitting the ruling People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) Mr Jonathan against former military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari, for the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
Both candidates are wrapping up their campaigns for what is expected to be the most closely fought election since the end of military rule in 1999.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has warned Nigeria’s leaders not to stir up violence around the poll.
APC supporters and the ruling PDP have already clashed in street battles that have killed several people.
Battle for control
Nigeria’s government, meanwhile, claimed that it had retaken Gamboru and four other towns after a joint weekend offensive by its military, civilian vigilantes and forces from Chad and Cameroon.
“Our troops are in control after operations which had the active support of volunteers (vigilantes) and our friendly neighbours,” national security spokesman Mike Omeri told AFP.
The military progress comes after Chadian fighter jets have for three days been bombing Boko Haram positions in the town of Gamboru, according to an AFP reporter in Fotokol, a Cameroonian town less than one kilometre from Gamboru.
The situation appeared quiet by Monday evening, he said.
Security analysts believe the key city of Maiduguri will likely be hit again before polling day, given its symbolism for the group and because it would further undermine the February 14 vote.
The election is expected to be the closest since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999, with the prospect of the PDP being dumped out of power for the first time in 16 years.
Combating Boko Haram
Boko Haram is in control of most of Borno state and has effectively surrounded Maiduguri, which is seen as one of the few places left in the state where voting could feasibly still take place.
But turnout could be affected if large numbers of people, many of them displaced by six years of violence, desert the city, which with other areas in the north-east is a main opposition stronghold.
Capturing Maiduguri would not only be a morale-booster for the rebels but also likely sink Mr Jonathan’s re-election bid once and for all, said Nnamdi Obasi, a senior analyst for Nigeria at the International Crisis Group.
Chad’s offensive comes after the African Union and United Nations last week backed a new 7,500-strong, five-nation force to tackle Boko Haram.
Nigeria’s military maintains that N’Djamena’s involvement is part of an existing agreement with Chad and Niger for their troops to assist in the counter-insurgency.
Chad and Niger had withdrawn their troops from the multi-national base at Baga, in northern Borno, last year, leaving only Nigerian soldiers to defend the town when it was attacked on January 3, a massive assault in which hundreds were feared killed.
It was that devastating attack that appears to have jolted the multi-national effort back into action.
More than 13,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009 in Nigeria and close to 1.5 million people have been made homeless.