The growing apprehension in the Federal Capital Territory over the terror alerts issued by the United States and the United Kingdom persisted on Friday, even as the Federal Government heightened security in the capital city.
Saturday PUNCH observed massive deployment of Special Forces and the elite Presidential Guards Brigade in Abuja metropolis to prevent possible terrorist attacks.
Armed security personnel, including policemen, were seen patrolling the city centre, the Kubwa Expressway, Jabi and other strategic points.
They were also seen around the NNPC Towers, War College, both in the Central Business District, and around the Central Bank of Nigeria headquarters.
The US and UK had stated that there was an elevated risk of terror attacks in Nigeria, specifically in Abuja.
The US advisory said the militants might target government buildings, places of worship, schools, markets, shopping malls, hotels, bars, restaurants, athletic gatherings, transport terminals, facilities belonging to law enforcement agencies and international organisations.
It, therefore, directed non-essential embassy staff and their family members to leave the Federal Capital Territory.
Though the Federal Government gave assurances that the security forces were on top of the situation, the US Embassy in an updated alert warned its staff, their family members and American nationals to leave Abuja or avoid public places.
Denmark, Bulgaria, Germany, Ireland and Canadian authorities also issued separate security alerts, asking their citizens in the country to stay alert, refrain from visiting public events, avoid clusters of people and exercise caution in and around Abuja.
The Denmark Ministry of Foreign Affairs further advised its nationals against travelling to Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Taraba, Plateau, Bauchi, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger, Kogi, Abia, Bayelsa, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Cross River states.
Based on this development, security agencies including the Department of State Services, National Intelligence Agency, the military and police launched a joint security operation to smoke out criminals said to have embedded themselves in Abuja preparatory to launching a massive terror attack.
On Monday, two suspects were arrested at the Trademore Estate, Lugbe, Abuja, while suspected Islamic State West Africa Province commanders and their foot soldiers were also apprehended between Tuesday and Thursday.
Saturday PUNCH gathered on Friday that the authorities have also dispatched intelligence officers to the satellite towns, including Bwari, Kubwa, Suleja, Lugbe and other places where terror suspects were believed to be hibernating.
Reliable security sources confirmed that scores of suspects had been arrested for profiling in what has been described as a major counterintelligence operation.
One of the sources stated, “The ongoing operation has successfully netted many suspects who will be profiled. Beyond this, the Special Forces and Guards Brigade have been activated to strengthen the security cordon around the FCT. I’m sure you have seen their show of force patrol around the city and on the highways. Nothing is being spared to keep the capital city safe and secure.”
Our correspondents who monitored the situation in the FCT observed the combat-ready troops of the Guards Brigade and men of the Special Forces in Gwarimpa. Plain-clothes operatives were also seen in unmarked Hilux vans patrolling the city.
Police justify patrol
Justifying the heavy deployment of security agents across the capital city, the spokesperson for the FCT Police Command, DSP Josephine Adeh, noted that the patrol was intensified for visibility and confidence-building and not as a panic response.
She stated, “This isn’t the first time our men are patrolling the city. We all know what informed this question. However, I would like to reiterate the standpoint of the police as pronounced by the Inspector General Usman Baba in a publication released by the Force PRO, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, that the FCT is safe.
“This is an intensified routine patrol for visibility policing and confidence building, and should not be mistaken for a panic response at all.”
The IG had in the statement on Thursday night charged strategic managers in charge of police commands and tactical formations to beef up security in their respective jurisdictions, especially in the FCT.
Adejobi stated, “The IG therefore allays the fear of residents of the FCT and admonishes them to go about their lawful business and normal social lives/engagements as all hands are on deck to nip any security threat in the bud and respond to distress calls promptly.” He said people should report suspicious occurrences to the designated emergency numbers.
NASS on alert
Meanwhile, the National Assembly says it has activated preventive security measures in response to the terror alert.
One of our correspondents gathered on Friday that the management had taken discreet measures to fortify the security at the complex so that ongoing budget defence won’t be truncated.
Standing committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives are currently engaging ministries, departments and agencies to defend their budgets in the 2023 Appropriation Bill presented by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on October 7.
The National Assembly had adjourned the plenary for one month – till November 15 – for the budget defence. Lawmakers are expected to grill ministers and heads of departments, agencies and corporations on their 2022 budget performance and allocations in the 2023 bill.
Speaking to Saturday PUNCH on Friday, the Director of Information, National Assembly, Rawlings Agada, noted that the management had taken preventive measures.
The ongoing renovation of the complex had led to the closure of the main entrance to the premises, while alternative routes were being used.
Agada said, “Security measures have been put in place, both covert and overt arrangements. Basic security measures have been put in place and we are fully alert.
“Due to the budget defence sessions taking place now, it will not be appropriate to put panic in the system. The general security concern is to ensure that the security agencies and complementary bodies within the complex are on top of their game. It is a national alert.”
The director echoed the assurance from the Inspector-General of Police that security had been beefed up, especially in the nation’s capital.
According to him, the management has a security committee that meets weekly and is apprised of developments in the complex on a daily basis.
“If there is the need to upgrade the alert, it will be done, but the security agencies are in charge and they are all on alert,” he added.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru, also said efforts were in place to secure the complex.
“If we are doing something in terms of our security, I won’t tell you. I can tell you that we are working but I cannot tell you the details,” Basiru said.
A member of the House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Bamidele Salam, however, said there were not enough indications that adequate measures had been taken to guard the complex.
He said he had observed more security presence in Abuja since the alarm was raised but that the NASS premises remained porous despite the ongoing budget defense that had been attracting high-profile persons to the National Assembly.
When asked if security had been tightened around the complex, he said, “Absolutely not! Unfortunately, the management of the National Assembly does not appear to be taking the issue as seriously as it is.
“Personally, I have raised this matter at some level a few days ago. I was in the National Assembly today (Friday) – I went in and out – and I did not see any sign of heightened security presence that I should have expected within that vicinity.
“It is a no-brainer; it is too obvious for anybody to know that it is porous. There is a need to do more to secure lives and property, not only of the members of the National Assembly but also workers and those who come to the National Assembly for the budget defense.”
However, the Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Adejoro Adeogun, criticised the US, UK and other foreign missions in Nigeria for “causing unnecessary panic.”
Adeogun, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said, “The US and the western nations are causing unnecessary panic. The alarm raised is needless. The local intelligence agencies are aware of the intelligence at the disposal of the US and have stepped up actions to arrest the ISWAP terrorists who opened cells in the FCT. Some arrests have been made and joint ops are ongoing.”
He said the committee was satisfied with how security agencies had handled the threat.
“Yes, the leadership of the committee has been briefed and we are in contact with the heads of the intelligence agencies to follow up on actions being taken. I think so far we are satisfied with the steps they are taking,” he added.
NASS’s security alert
Meanwhile, the National Assembly on Friday night announced the commencement of stop-and-search to further secure the complex. The National Assembly Security Committee said the complex was a vulnerable target for insurgent attacks.
In a memo signed by the Director, Administrative, Dr Tahir Sani, for the clerk to the National Assembly, the committee said it resolved to adopt several proactive measures in the short and long terms.
The memo read, “One of such measures is the directive to security agencies and the Sergeant-at-Arms Department to ensure that effective Monday, October 31, 2022, all vehicles coming into the National Assembly premises are thoroughly searched. This entails that the drivers of the vehicles shall by themselves open the boot of their cars and submit their vehicles to comprehensive checks.
“Honourable members and distinguished senators are by this notice advised to use the presidential gate, unless they are willing to submit themselves to this ‘stop and search’ policy. While regretting the inconvenience that this policy may cause to our visitors, staff, honourable members and distinguished senators, it is important to state that this measure is due to the exigent demands of our security challenges.”
546 terrorists missing
Three months after ISWAP fighters attacked the Kuje Custodial Centre in Abuja, no fewer than 546 inmates, including dangerous criminals, convicted terrorists and awaiting trial inmates have yet to be recaptured.
ISWAP fighters attacked the medium security correctional centre on July 5, 2022 freeing 64 of their members and other inmates. The day after the attack, security operatives were able to recapture 443 escapees.
The Nigeria Correctional Service uploaded the data of the escapees to the International Criminal Police Organisation database and equally circulated the names, pictures and other data of the inmates to the various security agencies.
When asked on Friday how many escapees were still on the loose, the NCoS Public Relations Officer, Abubakar Umar, refused to disclose the number of inmates recaptured so far. He, however, disclosed that efforts were still ongoing to recapture the fleeing inmates.
He stated, “Recapturing the inmates is a continuous exercise. As long as we keep getting crucial information on the whereabouts of these inmates, we go on covert operations. What I want to assure Nigerians is that before the end of the year, we will let them know the numbers of recaptured inmates.
“For now, we will keep the figures to ourselves while we keep working. Obviously, there is so much success in recapturing the fleeing inmates.”
Meanwhile, a check on the correctional service’s website on Friday showed that a total of 573 inmates were declared wanted while only 27 have so far been recaptured.
Out of the 27 recaptured inmates, 10 were linked with terrorism while the offences of 11 were not mentioned.
The list categorised two as sexual offenders and three others for stealing, robbery and drug dealing.
However, fear has continued to grip residents of the FCT over the inability of the security operatives to recapture all the fleeing inmates.
Residents who spoke with one of our correspondents said the security agencies’ inability to re-arrest the fleeing inmates could not be divorced from the heightened tension in the city.
A Kubwa resident, Uche Monday, said the terrorist had carried out daring attacks after the Kuje attack, adding that the current terror threat could be carried out if the government failed to act. “For instance, it was not too long when the prison was attacked that the attack on the presidential guards happened. Thereafter, they attacked a military checkpoint. We are even hearing that one spy was arrested at the US embassy which was why they issued the advisory,” Monday said.
Another resident, Anita Okoro, also said it was difficult to divorce the jail break from the terror alert.
‘Apprehend escapee inmates’
A security expert, Oladele Fajana, said the fleeing inmates remained a threat to national security, as he urged the security agencies to act swiftly.
He added, “These inmates can be recaptured before the election and even after the election if only there is available data. These inmates pose a threat to national security, not only the election.”
Another security expert, Chidi Omeje, stated, “The matter of fleeing inmates yet to be recaptured has gone beyond the Correctional Service. It is now left with the military, other security agencies and intelligence agencies to comb the country in search of these terrorists.”
Don’t panic – Presidency
The Presidency on Friday asked Nigerians to be calm, in spite of the terror alert in the FCT.
The Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu, in a statement advised the nation’s security establishment and entire citizens to remain vigilant.
The statement partly read, “Nigeria is no exception in having terror threats listed in foreign government’s travel advice to their citizens. UK and US travel advisories also state there is a high likelihood of terror attacks in many Western European nations.
“Indeed, the UK and US advice to their respective citizens for travel to one another’s countries contain the same warning. Unfortunately, terror is a reality the world over.
“However, it does not mean an attack in Abuja is imminent. Since the July prison raid, security measures have been reinforced in and around the FCT. Heightened monitoring and interception of terrorist communications ensure potential threats are caught further upstream.
“Attacks are being foiled. Security agents are proactively rooting out threats to keep citizens safe – much of their work unseen and necessarily confidential. Nigerians’ safety remains the highest priority of the government. Security services are working around the clock to keep harm at bay.”
The President gave an assurance that the government was on top of the security situation in the country.
The statement added, “While noting, in addition that security threats are real and have been with us for a long while, the nation’s military, the police and other security agencies have shown capability to deal with it, as is evident from the fact that majority of our partners, including the United Nations agencies, in our midst have not seen the threat as being sufficient to warrant any form of panic or order citizens’ evacuations.”
The President stressed that while being security conscious, alert and careful, it is also important that responsible members of the society do not create situations leading to unnecessary panic.
British Airways flights
Meanwhile, some air travellers have expressed dissatisfaction over reports that British Airways diverted an Abuja-bound flight to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos.
It was learnt that the diversion was based on the terror alert in the FCT.
While affected passengers bemoaned the short notice, the airline did not provide its reasons for diverting the flight.
The airline did not officially confirm the diversion, but insinuations were strong that it was based on the terror alert.
‘Sack service chiefs’
A northern group, The Arewa Youth Assembly, said the security advisory had vindicated their call for the sacking of the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (retd.). The group also called for the sacking of the service chiefs and heads of intelligence agencies.
The PUNCH reported that the group on August 1, 2022 gave the President a 14-day ultimatum to sack the NSA or face mass action.
A statement by the Speaker, Arewa Youth Assembly, Mohammed Danlami, in Kaduna on Friday, partly read, “It is unimaginable that despite the astronomic increase in our security budget and procurement of equipments to aide intelligence gathering, it took the intervention of the United States of America to expose the plans of the terrorists to attack our nation’s capital.”