British dignitaries due to attend Nigerian independence celebrations stayed away from the event marred by two nearby car bombs, a spokesman said Saturday, amid a report there were warnings of attacks.
The confirmation that the Duke of Gloucester and the rest of the British delegation did not attend came after a Nigerian newspaper reported that British intelligence warned Nigerian officials of the possibility of an attack.
At least 12 people were killed after two car bombs went off about a 10-minute walk away from Eagle Square, where the main celebrations, including a military parade, occurred on Friday.
“The duke didn’t attend the parade at Eagle Square,” said British High Commission spokesman David Lloyd-Davies. “The rest of his programme is going on as planned.”
Lloyd-Davies said he could not comment on the reason why they did not attend or on the report in Nigerian newspaper ThisDay.
Britain’s former prime minister Gordon Brown had also been advertised to appear at an event in Abuja being sponsored by ThisDay. The event was canceled following the bomb attacks.
Lloyd-Davies could not comment on whether Brown had canceled plans to travel to Abuja, saying it was a private trip.
The British Foreign Office refused to comment on whether intelligence had been given to Nigeria. Police in Nigeria also could not confirm the report.
ThisDay quoted presidency sources as saying British intelligence received word of the planned attacks and warned the Nigerian government.
MEND, the militant group that has claimed responsibility for the attack, blamed government officials for the deaths, saying they “acted irresponsibly by ignoring our forewarning.”
“We hinted to the government security forces and gave them an ample warning of five days in addition to the one hour given today,” it said in a statement on Friday.
The group had issued a statement to media outlets an hour ahead of the blasts warning of explosions.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Saturday said “terrorists” were behind the two car bombings, adding that claims those responsible were fighting for justice in the oil-producing Niger Delta were a “camouflage.”
“It has nothing to do with the Niger Delta,” he told journalists after visiting victims of the blasts at an Abuja hospital. “These are terrorists.”
Jonathan said that “people just use the name of MEND to camouflage criminality and terrorism.”
MEND — the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta — says it is fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue.
The Niger Delta is the heart of the country’s oil industry, but remains deeply impoverished and spills have caused serious damage to the environment.
Jonathan, who is from the Niger Delta and is running in elections early next year, said “for anybody to work within a terrorist organisation and try to use the Niger Delta as a camouflage is totally unacceptable”.
Asked to respond to Jonathan’s comments on Saturday, MEND issued a statement saying they were an “attempt by his government to get the US and other world powers to label us a terrorist organisation.”
“If he does not address the root issues … he will find that seat very hot to sit on,” it said.
It was the first time MEND had struck in the capital, with most of its attacks having occurred in the Niger Delta region and rarely involving such a high number of casualties.
MEND is also believed to have splintered, particularly over a government amnesty programme offered last year that has seen thousands of militants give up their arms.