TRAVEL advisories and ongoing proactive measures taken by the United States and other Western governments in Nigeria underscore the precarious state of security in the country. The Nigerian government’s initial response was to shift to its default mode of denial and combativeness against the actionable intelligence and its purveyors. But the US Mission in Nigeria’s security alert over the risk of terror attacks in Nigeria, in several states, and especially in the Federal Capital Territory, is credible and confirms what is already well-known. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and the security agencies should take strong measures to prevent attacks and crush the terrorists.
The Western nations were dead serious; the US Embassy’s alert was swiftly reiterated by similar advisories to their citizens by the United Kingdom’s, French, Australian, Canadian, and other European Union missions in the country. While Nigerian government spokesmen went into overdrive denying the obvious, the foreign countries moved in the rational direction. Promptly, the foreign missions approved the evacuation of their non-essential staff and their families. This was in response to credible intelligence that they claimed suggested potential attacks on government buildings, places of worship, markets, shopping malls, transport terminals, and other public places in the FCT and other Nigerian cities.
The US Embassy advised its citizens accordingly: “Avoid all non-essential travel or movement. Stay alert. Avoid crowds. Review your personal security plans and keep your cell phone charged in case of emergency and carry proper identification.” The UK issued similar directions to its nationals, stressing that terrorists “are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Nigeria…There is an increased threat of terrorist attack in Abuja.”
Australia also advised its citizens to reconsider travelling to Nigeria “due overall to high threats of terrorist attack and kidnapping, the volatile security situation, possible violent civil unrest, and high levels of violent crime.”
Predictably, however, the Federal Government through the loquacious Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, denied, deflected, and played down the threat, projecting a false sense of security. Taking his cue, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, declared that there was no imminent threat to the FCT.
Mercifully, the State Security Service has been more professional this time; it said it was looking into all leads. It followed this up with action, encouraged the public to be vigilant and provide it with tips, and has since conducted joint security sweeps with foreign and domestic security partner agencies. It has also made some arrests. That accords with globally accepted responsible official behaviour.
The same cannot be said of the government for whom denial and apathy are its default responses to foreign or local intelligence alerts. But in the light of recent serious security breaches, repeated threats by Boko Haram and ISWAP, attacks across the country and in the FCT, and the government’s own admission, Mohammed’s labelling of the advisories as “unverified and misleading” is curious.
Apart from the March 28 train ambush in Kaduna where 62 passengers were abducted and eight persons killed, bandits have attacked the Kaduna Airport, massacred worshippers at a church in Owo, Ondo State, and taken control of territory in parts of the North.
Potently, terrorists have encircled the FCT and punctured its myth of impregnability; residents say at least 30 persons have been abducted this year.
In July, Boko Haram terrorists raided the Kuje Correctional Centre, freeing over 800 inmates, 64 of them terror suspects.Troops of the Nigerian Army Brigade of Guards, which provides security for the Presidential Villa and FCT, were similarly ambushed by terrorists who killed two officers and six soldiers.
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Shortly after, terrorists sacked a military checkpoint at Zuma Rock, a border between Niger State and Abuja, killing a soldier and injuring two others. There have also been attacks leading to the deaths and abduction ofFCT residents, including in Rubochi, Abaji, Kwali, and Kuje.
In 2021, the Niger Governor, Abubakar Bello, raised the alarm that terrorists exerted control in Kaure, and Shiroro local government areas of the state and were just 140 kilometres away from the FCT.
In 2020, citing intelligence reports, the Nigeria Customs Service alerted its personnel to the presence of Boko Haram terrorist camps “in and around the FCT,” in Rubochi/Gwagwalada forest, Kwaku forest, Kuje, and Unaisha forest in Toto LGA, Nasarawa State. The Defence Headquarters had also once reported uncovering terror cells around the FCT.
All these substantiate the foreign security alerts. Foreigners take them seriously; Nigeria should too. The intelligence agencies should redouble their efforts, effectively deploying human and signals assets. As professionals, unlike the odious politicians, they should avoid living in denial.
The SSS, police and the military should flush out moles in their ranks as domestic and foreign sources have long alerted on the infiltration of the security services.
Buhari should shift gear. A former defence intelligence officer, Kunle Olawunmi (a retired Navy Commodore), recalled how some Boko Haram suspects who were arrested by the military mentioned some governors, senators, and Presidency officials as allies during their interrogation. The Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, said in 2021 400 terror financiers had been identified; he has neither revealed their identitiesnor prosecuted them.
Security advisories are taken seriously by other countries. In January, the US warned its citizens not to travel to the Kenya-Somalia border due to terrorism. Similar travel notices had been given about South Africa, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Mexico. None of these countries responded with diatribes or petulant rebuttals.
Such advisories, says the Times of India, depend on factors such as the security situation in a country, public health concerns, law and order, terrorism, relationship with that country and travel season.
The security agencies should therefore retool their intelligence gathering architecture and improve inter-agency coordination. They should deploy ICT more extensively.
Nigeria needs all the help it can get from friendly countries to defeat terrorism. Buhari should charge the security agencies to step up their game and prevent any further terrorist attack anywherein the country. The security alert must be taken seriously.
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