The peaceful atmosphere of Port Harcourt was Thursday shattered as a commercial bus exploded around the ever-busy Rumuokoro roundabout area of the city, leaving one dead and three others injured.
But the state government and the police command have ruled out any possibility of a terrorist attack.
The police linked the incident to suspected armed robbers on a failed robbery operation.
The incident sent panic round the city and some other parts of the state as people believed it was an attack by Boko Haram.
An eyewitness, who gave his name as Emmanuel Okon, said the 18-seater Toyota Hiace bus, painted in Rivers State commercial vehicle colour of blue-white-blue, was coming from the Choba axis of the East-west Road when it broke down around the Rumuokoro Junction, prompting the four occupants to come down to request help to push it.
He said the bus was pushed across the road to the section leading to Eliozu when it suddenly exploded, killing one person and injuring three of the people pushing it.
The victim, identified as Edet Akpan, was said to be one of those who had gone to assist in pushing the bus.
According to Okon, “The vehicle was coming from Choba, it stopped and two young men came down, dressed normally, but were holding chaplets in their hands. The driver called two pure water boys to help him push the bus with the conductor.
“When they got here they told the driver that smoke was coming out under the vehicle, so the driver said he wanted to check the battery’s head. As the two pure water boys left, one guy who bought kunu went over and that was when the bomb exploded.”
Another eyewitness, who claimed to be a friend of the deceased, said he saw when his late friend crossed to assist the driver in pushing the bus, not knowing that an explosive had been planted inside.
“The next thing I heard was a loud sound and there was a thick black smoke everywhere. People started running for their lives. There was confusion everywhere and later police came and removed my friend that died and some people who were wounded,” he said.
But the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Indabawa, while addressing journalists at the site of the incident, ruled out suspicion of terrorism or Boko Haram.
He noted that the impact of the explosion would have been more if it were an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) considering the busy nature of the area.
Indabawa, who inspected the site and supervised the operations of the command’s Bomb Disposal Unit, said samples had been collected from the site and would be investigated.
He said even though it would be hasty to arrive at conclusions yet, the command believed the occupants of the bus were suspected armed robbers who were going for an operation as four AK47 riffles and ammunition were recovered from the charred vehicle.
His words: “This is not a terrorist attack. I didn’t tell you it is a bomb. If it is a bomb you would have seen the impact on the road, all the houses around here would have been impacted, even the woman selling oranges here would have been impacted.
"Of course ammunition could do this, but they might have had all the small dynamites. I wouldn’t know exactly what happened here, but what I’m telling you is they were not terrorists. I’m sure they are armed robbers going for an operation and something went wrong for them and right for us.”
He called on members of the public to report suspicious characters to the police, saying everybody should be involved in security issues, pointing out that the cordon would be removed as soon as the bomb disposal unit were done with their work.
The State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, who visited the scene of the incident, also ruled out terrorist attack.
He re-echoed the opinion of the police, saying it was an accident involving suspected armed robbers.
According to Amaechi, “There were three men; we don’t know where they were going to. They were in a vehicle they had explosives believed to be dynamites. No building was affected. The commissioner of police even confirmed that a lady selling by the road site was not ever affected. There is no damage on the road to show that it was bomb.
“From time-to-time, armed robbers, when they want to rob, carry dynamites because of this bullet proof doors we have in the banks. You can see that it was not a bomb but dynamite.”
The scene was cordoned off by security men and the governor assured residents of the state of adequate protection.