ONCE upon a time, Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital, was a serene and sprawling city that accommodated persons of all faith, social strata, and economic pursuits. Abuja, to the elite, offered an escape from insecurity, hustling, and bustling that plagued other major cities in the county. It was a city in which most elite wanted to own a property, raise a family, or even retire in old age.
The city was a haven for the professional middle class linked to the public sector. It was a city of hope to the many poor people who migrated to its surburbs with the dream of advancement. Abuja is a prototype of future cities in Nigeria. It was founded on the vision of a centralised symbol of our national unity. But the era of Abuja being a fortress of peace and tranquillity seems to belong to history.
Now, Abuja is fast becoming the epicentre of terrorist activities that have literally and metaphorically held the country captive. Abuja is technically under a siege. Recently, the barrage of attacks on this city has left everyone perplexed. The more these attacks unfold, the more it has becomes clear that they are well-orchestrated and coordinated. The assault of bandits and terrorists has gradually focused on symbols of power and national monuments.
It is either attack on trains linking the nation’s capital, the targeting and killing of military personnel in various parts of the city, or attack on Kuje correctional centre, or an attack on the presidential guard brigade – the last line of defence of the President. These terrorists are even emboldened to issue a threat to kidnap the President. Residents of Abuja, like other Nigerians, live in morbid fear of insecurity, and most have doubts about their peaceful existence in a city that is gradually becoming a ghost of itself.
Things got a bit more complicated after 800 inmates, among them 60 Boko Haram members,were freed in the Kuje jailbreak. The war front of terrorist activities has moved from the North-East to the North-West, parts of North-Central, and now Abuja. Recently, the President has called a high-stake security meeting to tackle insecurity in Abuja and other parts of Nigeria that have faced the brunt of bandits and terrorist attacks.
The Nigerian military is promising to take the war to these terrorists and bandits in their camping areas in neighbouring states near Abuja. These assurances and statements are recurring decimals and soundbites each time these criminals attack. Government assures residents of safety after every incident without a corresponding improvement in the security of the people. Abuja residents, like the Nigerian populace, have lost confidence in the nation’s security architecture and apparatus.
Abuja is rightly a metaphor for the situation in the whole of Nigeria today. Nobody envisaged that Abuja would ever come under a siege, so there are no connected satellite cities to absorb refugees in such eventuality. The heightened sense of siege is even more evident, given that road transport in and out of Abuja from a nearby state is fraught with danger. The Kaduna-Abuja express road is a den of kidnappers and bandits, while other major roads linking Nasarawa and Niger states to Abuja are unsafe. After terrorists attacked the Abuja-Kaduna train line, travel options for the elite and middle class have been further depleted.
With increasing attacks ever closer to the airport even air travel doesn’t appear so safe anymore. Further evidence of Abuja being under a siege is apparent in the security measures put in place by both government and non-governmental agencies. Abuja increasingly has more checkpoints with armed police and military men littering everywhere. There is a pervading sense of impending doom in the collective psyche of residents, and individuals are more security conscious than usual. Government has shut down schools within the Abuja Metropolis and has beefed up security at other soft targets.
The increased attacks on Abuja is reminiscent of the strategy adopted by other ISWAP insurgents and bandits in other parts of Africa and Afghanistan. We should remember that the Taliban started attacking the Afghanistan’s fringes and rural areas. Next, they attacked Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, intending to take over control of state power. This strategy was like their approach in nearby African countries like Mali, Chad, and Guinea.
The terrorists or ISWAP start by attacking villages and cities near the capital and capturing them. After that, they will begin destroying military facilities and other symbols of power in and outside the capital. Then they will mount an all-out attack to seize the government. We hope Nigeria is not heading to be the next Afghanistan.
Therefore, we must defend Abuja and ensure that we do not fall prey to these non-state actors with a sinister motive. A pertinent rhetorical question is why are these terrorists fixated on attacking the President, the best representation of power, government, and democracy? They are sending a clear message that they are bold enough to challenge Nigeria’s very essence of raw power. If Abuja peace, safety and security are compromised, its meaning and symbolism of national unity will evaporate.
There are narratives and counter-narratives as to why the Nigerian military does not wipe these people out. Some reports highlight the possibility of collusion with some elements in the military that give them information and protect them because they are sympathetic to their course. This narrative gets credence when reports indicate the security operatives got credible intelligence of some of these attacks, yet the intelligence was neglected. For example, DSS raised 44 official reports signalling a possible attack on Kuje Correctional Facility, but the security operatives could not forestall the attack. Some conspiracy theories border on a belief that there is an unwritten agreement to allow these people to take over the government of Nigeria for whatever purpose. This conspiracy is gathering momentum given that the security operatives know the hiding places of terrorists and bandits but seem to have been dealing with them lightly. People cannot understand how the Nigerian professional Army cannot defeat this rag, untrained, criminal bunch running around killing and maiming Nigerians. It begs the question of why Nigeria, with all the resources it has dedicated to security in the past 10 years, have not made any considerable progress in eradicating insecurity; instead, insecurity increases at an alarming rate.
An essential aspect of proffering a permanent solution to insecurity in Abuja and the country is to look at the socio-economic, religious, and political dimensions of the issues. This strategy will help us identify the root cause of insecurity and the steps we must take to tackle the problem from the root causes. Combining heightened insecurity with the free-fall of the Nigerian economy is a recipe for disaster. There seems to be hopelessness in the land, and nobody is optimistic about fixing insecurity and the economy. Government seemed perplexed. Every day new security threats dampen the hope of ordinary citizens. The capacity of the state to enforce law, order and security keeps shrinking, and nobody seems concerned.
Electioneering campaigns will soon dominate our public space, and Nigerians will be fed with various promises on how each party or candidate will tackle insecurity and the economy. We cannot survive as a nation if things continue like this. All well-meaning Nigerians must wake up and “smell the coffee” regardless of ethnic group, religion, or creed. We must act now or never!
We must avoid the pitfalls of Mali and Afghanistan. We must never allow our country to be in the hands of warlords like in Sudan. A stitch in time saves nine.