Car bombs mar Nigerian Independence Day

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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. We start our program today in Nigeria. Africa's most populous nation is marking 50 years of independence from Britain today. It was supposed to be a day of celebration. Instead, in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, bombers had other plans. Two car bombs went of in the capital, killing at least eight people, according to local police. A militant group active in Nigeria's south claimed responsibility. The BBC's Komla Dumor is in Abuja. Komla, tell us what the scene is like right now.

KOMLA DUMOR: Early on in the day those were the sounds that people were hearing. Sounds of people screaming, people running and just all sorts of pandemonium. I mean it was completely unexpected and, as you said, it was a day that should have been a day of jubilation. Now, what we know right now is that it appears as though this was a coordinated attack. It appears as though one went off, which was inside a vehicle, and as people were running there to find out what went on, another bomb went off. We rushed down to one of the local hospitals. We met many people who had been injured. We saw one man completely covered in blood. But information was very difficult to come by because the Nigerian security authorities immediately cordoned off the area which to some extent is understandable because you had around 50 heads of state, their representatives, there at the independence celebration.

WERMAN: Now the group that's claimed responsibility for this bombing is MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. Who are they and what's their political agenda?

DUMOR: MEND is just one of many militant groups that have been operating in the Niger Delta. The one thing that is important that your listeners understand is that a lot of these militant groups do come under one umbrella name, but some of them operate independently. So it's very difficult to nail down who is behind this and what their agenda was because many of the groups that cal themselves MEND, or emancipation groups or groups that say they're fighting for a fairer share of the oil wealth, are actually, the best word is thugs. They are criminals. And they engage is this under the umbrella of fighting for some cause. But then again there are those who have, even their worst critics will say, a legitimate claim. The poverty in the Delta. And then even worse you talk about the environmental damage of 50 years of oil exploration. I mean the attention of the world was on the Gulf oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. Well, some estimates say there's been a Gulf oil spill every year in Nigeria for the past 50 years. And imagine what that is like in a marshy delta. The fish die so people aren't getting the right kind of protein. They can't grow their crops. Their children have all kind of skin diseases. So there are groups that do have a legitimate claim, but this current action, what has happened today, here in Abuja, to a large extent is going to erode a lot of the support that such groups may have.

WERMAN: Now you mentioned Komla the deteriorating ecosystems and malnutrition in the Delta region, but the people there do seem to have a significant grievance and they're seeing very little benefit from the massive revenues coming in from oil.

DUMOR: Absolutely, Marco. I've met one man. His name is [PH] Walson Ebegu. I mean his name won't ring a bell to anyone. He's a chief of a small town called Oloibiri and that is where the very first Nigerian oil well was sunk. I set down and had a conversation with him and he said, look, when the people came here, we didn't even know what they wanted. They told us they were looking for oil and we thought it was palm oil. Then at some stage this black gold starts gushing out of the ground. And for him, 50 years later, he says his town, the town where oil was first discovered in Nigeria, remains impoverished. And when they look at other parts of the country and they look at the amount of oil wealth that has come out of the Delta, Nigeria receives, 95% of its exports is oil. I mean especially when they compare themselves to other oil cities. I mean, Marco I'm sure you know what Houston looks like. There is no comparison. And the argument can be made that yes, this is a developing country. But when 300 billion dollars worth of oil has come out of your community and you look around and the children have distended bellies because they don't get enough food to eat. When people are surviving like that, more often than not, they're prepared to resort to the most drastic means to achieve what they think they deserve.

WERMAN: The BBC's Komla Dumor in Abuja, Nigeria. Thanks so much, Komla.

DUMOR: You're welcome, Marco.