Panic, tension across Nigeria over fragile security architecture

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BY ROTIMI DUROJAIYE

Uba Group

Against the backdrop of the terror alerts issued by both the United States and the United Kingdom, the Federal Government, on Monday last week, assured Nigerians to go about their lawful businesses as the country is safe and secure.
The government also came down hard on the United States Mission in Nigeria, the British High Commission and other foreign missions over the terror alerts they issued penultimate week.

The Federal Government dismissed the security advisories, describing them as false, insisting that it was irresponsible to give signals of heightened insecurity in the country when there was no basis for it.

The National Security Adviser, Maj Gen Babagana Monguno (retd.) stated this after the emergency meeting of the National Security Council summoned by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Experts, however, advised the government to exercise caution in its outright dismissal of the security warning.

The US, UK, and later by Canada, Germany and Bulgaria had warned their nationals in Nigeria of an impending terrorist attack and asked them to avoid travel to Abuja.

They noted that suspected terrorists could target government buildings, places of worship, schools, markets, shopping malls, hotels, bars, restaurants, sports gatherings, transport terminals, law enforcement facilities, and international organisations.

The US subsequently permitted its non-essential staff and their family members to leave the country in updated travel advice.

The warnings triggered panic and tension across the country, especially in Abuja, the nation’s capital as many workers stayed away from the office while the roads were devoid of traffic.

In response to the apprehension created by the alert, the popular Jabi Mall and a construction company, Julius Berger Nigeria Plc shut down, citing security concerns.

To allay fears, the security forces launched a counter-intelligence operation which led to the arrest of several terror suspects, including two persons at the Trademore Estate, Lugbe, a satellite town in the Federal Capital.

The operatives also carried out patrols while the military and police mounted checkpoints at strategic parts of the capital city.

But briefing correspondents on the outcome of the meeting, Monguno reassured Nigerians that there was no cause for alarm and urged the citizens and other residents to go about their businesses without any sense of apprehension.

The NSA added that the armed forces, security and intelligence agencies were on alert to ensure that the country was safe.

Monguno stated, “We just concluded a sitting, an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, which was held at the behest of Mr. President. We have just concluded the meeting and the meeting basically, was to discuss recent happenings within the FCT and certain declarations and alerts coming from various quarters, insinuating growing insecurity and threat to security within the FCT and environments.

“In rounding off, I would like to first and foremost, assure all the citizens of this country that any exaggerated sense of insecurity, any hype about the disintegration of our security forces, and intelligence agencies, is unfounded. I want to assure Nigerians that so far, the situation has been under control, and the intelligence and security agencies have made a lot of arrests, they are evaluating and exploiting all the materials in their possession.’’

“It is false, it is irresponsible for anybody to give that signal. We are working with our foreign partners in a responsible way and Nigerians should go about their normal daily undertakings without being put in a situation of fear”

Speaking further, Monguno said, “We are not in the habit of disclosing whatever has been done but the most important thing is that from the time this story started emerging until now, about a week to 10 days, you can see that so far the situation has been brought under control.

“The issue of Nigerians being made to panic is unnecessary. The situation in various areas of the Federal Capital Territory, the situation has been brought under control and we’re trying as much as possible to work with our neighbours and within the domestic situation, to work with our foreign partners responsibly, without giving the impression that Nigeria is skating on thin ice and we are about to implode; that I will want to dispel any illusion about any heightened sense of insecurity.

“CBN"

“It is false, it is irresponsible for anybody to give that signal. We are working with our foreign partners in a responsible way and Nigerians should go about their normal daily undertakings without being put in a situation of fear.”

Also speaking, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor assured that the nation’s armed forces are doing everything to keep the situation under control, saying that Nigerians should go about their normal business without fear.

Irabor stated “Just to also indicate that, as mentioned by the National Security Adviser, to use the opportunity to assure Nigerians that the armed forces, the police and other security agencies are working around the clock to ensure that lives and properties of Nigerians are protected and so far, there is no cause for alarm.

“Nigerians should go about their normal duties as the armed forces and other security agencies are well poised to protect them accordingly. Perhaps, to use this opportunity to mention that; I am sure some of you may have seen in the media, or amongst you, that on the night of 29th, October 2002, Wawa Cantonment in Niger State was attacked.

“Of course, the alertness of the troops led to the neutralisation of the attackers and the vehicles, that were laden with IED and other items, were impounded and five of those attackers were equally arrested.’’

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, in his remarks, said the Nigerian government is working with foreign missions to address insecurity.

He noted “There is a foreign dimension to this issue as alerts are always issued by foreign countries, with missions here in Nigeria. Now, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Nigerian Intelligence Agency, have been working very closely to fully get on top of the situation, and also to engage with our foreign partners, first of all, to mitigate and blunt any threat that there could be from outside the country. We are also working and engaging with the Foreign Missions within the country to ensure that whatever we do, whatever we say, is constructive and should not, in any way, cause unnecessary alarm, and in any way destabilize the country.

“So, just to reassure the country that we are in full engagement with foreign partners and that our security personnel and agencies are fully on top of the situation and that as they have said, there’s no cause for alarm. We want to push more for greater coordination and synergy with our foreign partners and make sure that that cooperation with them is a constructive one, not an alarmist one.”

COMPANIES HALT OPERATIONS

Despite the NSA’s assurances, the management of the highbrow Transcorp Hilton hotel has said it will henceforth halt operations at 9 pm following the security advisories.
Disclosing this in a memo dated October 28, 2022, addressed to the hotel’s staff and business partners, the hotel also said that its workers were now required to wear their identity badges at all times.

The memo signed by the General Manager, Bulent Tarlen, titled ‘security protocol,’ read in part, ‘’Thank you for your continuous patronage and collaboration with Transcorp Hilton, Abuja over the years.

“Given the recent security threat in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, new security protocols have been put in place to ensure the safety of all our guests and staff.

“We seek your support in ensuring that the following measures are observed: all staff should carry a visible means office ID card at all times and avoid accessing areas outside their designated workplace.

“All shops/offices must submit the names of employed staff to the Security Department. All Office operations should be put to a halt latest by 9 pm until further notice and staffing be reduced to critical only.”

Two days after Jabi Lake Mall did the same, Construction giant Julius Berger, also shut down operations over security threats in Abuja.

Julius Berger in a statement made available to the press advised its staff to avoid public premises during the weekend, noting that temporary relocation to other sites may be considered.

The statement reads in full: “In response to the ongoing security concern within the FCT and Central Abuja.

“It is advised to avoid all public events within the FCT environment, including supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, bars, clubs and other areas where many meet.

This advice is applicable from 28.10.2022 in the evening until Monday, 31.10.2022 in the morning.

“It remains possible to move to other JBN work or residential locations throughout the weekend.

“Your safety is our primary concern.”

IT’S A CONSPIRACY – POLICE

The Police also described the alarm raised by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and other countries over security alerts on elevated risk of terror attacks in Abuja as a conspiracy.

The Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, who accused the US, UK, Canada, Denmark and others of conspiracy, said the security alerts were nonsensical, unnecessary and meant to bring Nigeria down.

The IGP spoke in Ibusa, Oshimili North local government area of Delta State, during the commissioning of modern police station/barracks,
He however noted that the force has taken steps to douse tension despite that it is not true, just as he said the Police was not informed about the development.

Wondering whether the warning to avoid Abuja could bring a solution, Baba said, “We are investigating it – probing what they said about the alert if it is true. It is sad that they told their people to avoid Abuja but failed to inform me.

“I should have been informed if there was anything like danger. You are in my territory and you didn’t tell me about the security alert. It is nonsense. It is an unnecessary alarm. You didn’t tell me but you told your people to avoid Abuja.”

The police chief asked journalists to avoid being used as agents of transmitting fake news by making efforts to know and assess news that can create problems as against fake, unreliable news that can bring the nation down.

This, he said, would cause more damage than what the initiators of the fake news intended to achieve.

He said the force was ready for the 2023 general election, assuring that the polls will be credible and would be done according to services provided to ensure free and fair election.

“Our votes will count; we have procured more arms,” IGP Usman said.

NGOs ALLEGE SUBVERSION PLOTS
Also, a coalition of non-governmental organisations known as coalition of patriotic non-governmental organisations has alleged that security alerts issued by the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries are a ploy to destabilize Nigeria ahead of the general election in 2023.

Speaking at a press conference in Abuja, national coordinator of Coalition for Peace in Nigeria, Emeka Akwuobi, urged Nigerians to remain calm and rise above fear.

He said, “Without prejudice to time-honoured social constructs, occasioned by persuasions, we hasten to state that the so-called security advisories by the US and UK governments, are distractive in form, and destabilizing in content.

“In what has become a recurring decimal, the US has continued to predict negative outcomes for Nigeria of which the most telling was the collapse – if you like, the failure of the Nigerian-State – ahead of the 2015 general elections. More than seven years later, their prognosis has fallen flat on its feeble feet.

“Similarly, aligned interests in America predicted that Africa, Nigeria inclusive, will be littered with corpses at the outbreak of COVID-19, but history and medical records show that the outcome has been the opposite with dire consequences for America and her allies. For the avoidance of doubt, the US is preparing for elections, and is customary with the so-called ‘world police’, nations considered not to be in tune with her aggressive disposition, are often whipped into line.”

He also recalled that security agencies like the Department of State Services and the Nigeria Immigration Service had all issued the same alerts in the past.

He said, “We must resist, with the last drop of our Nigerian blood the temptation to live in panic, fear and lack of confidence in the ability of our government to confront common existential threats.

“It is heart-warming to note that our security services- the DSS, Nigeria Immigration Service and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps – have all issued security advisories of plans by terrorists targeting soft targets in the country.

“In April, the DSS warned Nigerians of planned attacks but has gone ahead to destabilize terror cells and their networks in Nigeria leading to arrests in Kogi, Kano, Lagos and in the South Eastern part of the country. If our security architecture has issued security alerts and has braced up in confronting our common enemy and winning, why should we now believe more a security advisory by Americans to their people?

“In the face of this reality, we urge our fellow citizens to see this as a time to rise above fear, and anxiety, in defence of our fatherland.”

In same vein, the Muslim Media Watch Group of Nigeria has described the terror alert as being in bad faith.

It said that all countries that mean well for other nations would not engage in acts capable of creating apprehension for their neighbours.

In a statement issued by its national coordinator, Abdullahi Ibrahim, the group said if the US and the UK meant well by the alert, it would have been raised intelligently and responsibly in secret with a view to drawing the attention of the Nigerian leadership to the particular areas they have uncovered any possible security breach.

“Instead, America raised the matter publicly to create a bad image for Nigeria and warned its citizens not to travel to Abuja, the nation’s capital, for the time being.

“Given the recent security threat in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, new security protocols have been put in place to ensure the safety of all our guests and staff”

It went further to reduce its embassy and consulate staff by recalling some of them, according to reliable reports,” the MMWG said.

It said it was unfortunate that the United States’ “unwarranted alert” had caused panic and tension and described the alert as “a badly calculated political step” meant to disrupt the political and socio-economic stability of Nigeria.

The MMWG called on the United Nations and the Commonwealth Nations to warn the US, the UK and their allies to desist from the “diabolical acts aimed always at creating a bad image for Nigeria.”

It said “even though the nation faces security challenges, hands have been on deck to reverse the trend and the success recorded so far attested to this.”

It commended President Muhammadu Buhari for rising to defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria and that of Africa as a whole, pointing out that his order putting all security forces at alert demonstrated his commitment to the well-being of Nigerians.

The group advised the US, the UK and others to henceforth share intelligence responsibly with other nations confidentially instead of “playing to the gallery by creating negative impressions about Nigeria always.” It recalled that it was a prediction of the US some years ago that Nigeria would fail and break-up.

It commended the Nigerian military, the police, the State Security Service and other security agencies for their efforts to reduce crime in the society and urged them not to relent.

The group also commended the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, for always rising to the challenges “posed by purveyors of fake news and other enemies of Nigeria who are fond of creating bad image for the country through falsehood, misinformation and misrepresentation of facts.”

Another group, Citizens Stability Forum has criticized the approach adopted by the United States, United Kingdom in issuing security alerts raised in Nigeria.

Addressing journalists in Kano, the lead Convener, Citizens Stability Forum, Mukhtar Lawal, said the security alert caused panic and fear amongst Nigerians, a situation he described as alarming and uncalled for.

Muktar said that the US and UK should have diplomatically related the message to the Nigerian government and work with the country’s security architecture to avert the perceived threat and arrest those involved instead of causing panic and fear.

“This action of security alerts by the USA, UK and other foreign nations have caused an unprecedented fear into the lives of Nigerians especially those living in Abuja, and could also weaken the morale of our security personnel.”

“Every Country around the world has its own security challenges , which can be in different forms, this singular acts taken by the US Embassy in Nigeria will likely worsen the livelihood of many citizens of Abuja and other parts of the Nation”, he said.

The group urged the Federal Government to draw the attention of the US and UK governments to the need for them to respect the nation’s security protocols on intelligent sharing.