(News investigators) FOLLOWING last Sunday’s travel advisory by the United States Embassy in Nigeria to American citizens in the country over heightened risk of terrorist attack in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, particularly at government buildings, places of worship and schools, among other targets, there has been pandemonium amongst Abuja residents.
The US Embassy, in the advisory warned American citizens in Nigeria to be cautious of their movement in response to what it called “elevated risk of terror attacks in Nigeria, specifically in Abuja.” The US government, in its update said, “On October 25, 2022, the Department authorized the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members due to the heightened risk of terrorist attacks. The U.S. Embassy Abuja continues to have limited ability to provide emergency assistance to U.S. citizens in Nigeria. The U.S. Consulate in Lagos is providing all routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens in Nigeria”.
On the heels of this warning, Saturday Vanguard observed that the British High Commission in Abuja which used to be a beehive of activities for those seeking travel visas, has been left completely desolate while Australia, Ireland, and Canada reduced services and would only attend to critical needs.
Australia, in a memo, reportedly urged its citizens to reconsider traveling to Nigeria “due to high threats of terrorist attacks and kidnapping, the volatile security situation, possible violent civil unrest, and high levels of violent crime. If you are in Abuja, avoid all travel, stay alert, and follow local news and security authorities’ advice,” the memo said.
Another warning reportedly came from the Irish Government through its mission. It said: “Government buildings, shopping malls, hotels, bars, large gatherings, international organizations, transportation facilities, schools, markets, places of worship, and law enforcement institutions, among other things, could be targets”.
Following these terror alerts by foreign missions to their citizens in Nigeria, some residents of the FCT, Abuja, have expressed fear for their lives while many are in total shock wondering how the nation’s capital became an easy target for terrorists.
In a swift response to these terror alerts, however, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said Nigeria will not be stampeded by whatever any government decides to tell its people living in Abuja and parts of the country. He stressed that the government has in the last few months taken a firm handle of security, urging citizens to avoid liking or sharing materials that could incite panic.
Despite Lai’s message to Nigerians, residents of Abuja, in their scores, including clergymen, CSOs, who spoke with Saturday Vanguard averred that the news of evacuation of US citizens in Abuja, heightened anxiety amongst Abuja residents which has led to an unusual calm, and drastic reduction of vehicular movements. They described the situation as double jeopardy, seeing how the dwindling economy is having a toll on their mental health, but are now being forced to face hassles of insecurity alerts.
In his reaction, an Abuja-based business mogul, Promise Chucks, said most residents were in serious panic and that “it appears residents are sitting on landmines. He explained that in the past few days, he had been avoiding crowded places as well as movements around Abuja. He said: “I avoid traffic like most residents now. It is really frightening. It appears as if we are sitting on landmines or gunpowder. We don’t even know where to go from here or how to go about this situation. Some of us are not even sure if the government believes that this is real because they are protected with lots of security forces around them but we who are in the suburbs are dealing with a lot of fear. Some of us had to withdraw our children from their schools because prevention as they say is better than cure. I honestly want to plead with the government to work very hard and ensure that no life is lost and those who are bringing unrest to this country are caught and made to face the law squarely”. He said most traders in Wuse markets now close earlier than before, while others decided to stay clear of the area pending when the Abuja becomes calm again.
Another resident, Dada Sholadoye, a Radiographer, urged the government to take intelligence reports seriously, saying attempts by the government to beef up security in Abuja would help forestall imminent attacks. “I have read and heard the news of the Security Alert raised by the US and UK likewise and also the position of the Ministry of information and DSS accordingly. I don’t think any information on security concerns should be ignored. Until proven otherwise, it should be treated as highly important. Also speaking, a building engineer, Athanasius Manji Albert, said: “It is fascinating how threats within the capital of our country are seen first by a foreign government. Seeing that the US government is evacuating its citizens, I think it’s fair to believe the threat is real and it’s just pathetic that the Nigerian government is yet to address the citizens.”
On her part, a civil servant, Beatrice Odeh, argued that the issues of insecurity in Abuja should not be treated mildly as it could affect the image of the country.
Her words: “It’s really disheartening and a thing of concern that Abuja, the seat of government, is not exempted from insecurity. One would think that people from other parts of the country should run here to take cover and be protected as all sorts of security agents are here in their rank and file. But then, they’re incapacitated and lack the capability due to under fortification in terms of equipment and technological intelligence.” She said, however, that the result of the tension would be that schools may shut down as part of steps to save the lives of the children, adding that it may take a toll on the livelihood of teachers.
Schools, religious centers, malls shut down
At the last count, at least five foreign missions had issued warning notices to their citizens to avoid non-essential trips to Nigeria’s capital over a possible attack by terrorists.
Just recently, the management of Jabi Lake Mall in the Utako area of Abuja, in a post on the mall’s Instagram page, announced that it had shut down its operations amid the threats to security.
The statement reads: “To all our valued shoppers, Jabi Lake Mall will be closed today, Thursday, October 27, 2022. This decision has been taken in the overall interest of the safety of all staff and customers of the mall. Centre Management is committed to minimizing any disruptions; however, the safety of our staff and shoppers remains our highest priority. Management is constantly reviewing the security situation in consultation with relevant security authorities and will inform you when the mall will be reopened. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and hope to provide you with a quality shopping experience soon.”
On shut down of schools, the proprietor of Precious Foundational School, Karu, in Abuja, Pastor Remijus Ukanwa, said that the terror alert within the past few days should not be despised as failure to attempt safety measures may hugely jeopardize the lives of innocent children.
According to him, “whether or not the information was correct, at least we should be able to take precautionary measures in order to forestall impending dangers. It will cost us nothing to protect the lives of children and at the end of the day, if the report is not true it will cost us nothing. But it would cost us more to be recalcitrant to information such as these and jeopardize the lives of innocent children. I know quite a number of schools that have shut down, some of them went on midterm break and from the mid term break, it will be extended pending when calm will be restored in Abuja. I am calling on schools that are still operating to take the lives of students seriously, and my advice to parents is that they should keep their children and watch the time”, he added.
On his part, the General Overseer of Christ the King Missionary Church, Reverend Timothy Ikechukwu, disclosed that the church has reduced its weekly activities since the terror alert from the US Embassy.
“I think everyone should be alert and the church is not an exception to this because even the Bible acknowledges the role of man in decision making. Stubbornness will not yield any good result. So, as a church we have reduced services for the week but on Sundays, we have also written to the police for special security. I believe that safety will be assured because we have played our role and God will do His”, he said.
New security measures around Abuja
Despite denials by the Federal Government of imminent attacks, it was observed that security operatives from the Nigerian Air Force, Department of State Services, DSS, Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Immigration Services have beefed up security in the nation’s capital.
Major areas around the Garki axis have been designed with various military apparatuses such as the armoured tanks, military personnel stationed at critical positions with heavy machine guns and military camouflage.
Similarly, fighter and surveillance jets have now been massively deployed on the air to map out potential hideouts of the terrorists, planning to wreck havoc.
A military officer, who did not want his name in print, explained that the security operatives were already on red alert following ‘an order from above.’
“Following orders from the above, we, in collaboration with DIA, NIA, DSS and other security forces, have stepped up our games. We will tackle those criminals,” the senior military officer told Saturday Vanguard.
Similarly, Saturday Vanguard observed on Friday, heavy deployment of security operatives at soft targets like entry points to the city centre as well as churches, mosques, recreational and business centres. Soldiers at the early hours of Friday deployed near the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport were seen mounting checkpoints before the entrance of the airport, which restricted the free flow of vehicles. There was also heavy presence of policemen in the Asokoro area of Abuja, close to the ECOWAS building. There were also thorough checks on motorists entering Immigration’s passport office located along Dukpa road, Gwagwalada, National Mathematical Centre, Sheda, along the Abuja-Lokoja highway, University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada. Military operatives were likewise seen paroling Karu- Jikwoyi axis, while there were thorough checks at the army checkpoint at Giri along the Airport Road, Zuba-Kubwa Express Way and at the Abaji- Abuja-Lokoja highway, as vehicles were completely stopped for a search.
The Director General, DG, Coalition of Nigerian Youths on Security and Safety Affairs, CONYSSA, Ambassador Ade Mario Emmanuel, while stating that the federal government has failed in its intelligence gathering, advised that government at all levels should act accordingly to the terror alert.
“My advice to the Federal government is to make good use of all volunteer organisations in Nigeria that have have been vetted by the DSS, it will enable us have more man power to help in sensitising and gathering information from local communities”.
Also, the Founder of Concerned Nigerians, a Non-Governmental Organizations, Sandra Okezie, expressed fear over the US alert and appealed to relevant authorities to, as matter of urgency, put in place security measures to avert any eventuality.
Police launch counter-terrorism exercise
Meanwhile, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, has announced the immediate commencement of a counter-terrorism Incident Simulation Exercise code-named “Operation Darkin Gaggawa”.
According to him, the exercise will involve the diversion of traffic, use of blank ammunition, and other operational manpower and assets, designed to improve interoperability and synergy between different Units and Formations of the Force in response to terrorist incidents and other violent crimes. The IG ordered the Commissioner of Police in charge of the Federal Capital Territory, heads of tactical squads domiciled in the FCT, and other State Command CPs to re-strategise security management within their jurisdictions. “The NPF will continually work with other security agencies to make every part of Nigeria safe, especially the FCT,” the police chief said in a statement issued on his behalf by the force spokesman, Olumuyiwa Adejobi.
FCTA deploys 60 Operational Vehicles To Security Agencies
Meanwhile, in a bid to secure the lives and property of residents of Abuja, the FCT administration has procured and distributed 60 operational vehicles to security agencies and relevant agencies domiciled in the territory to fight insecurity. Those to benefit from the vehicles are: police, the armed forces, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), and other paramilitary organisations, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA). The vehicles would have a state-of-the-art security equipment installed in them, which will be controlled centrally.