President Goodluck Jonathan
By Chuks Okocha and Michael Olugbode with agency reports
Despite the ceaseless attacks by terrorist groups in the country, the most recent of which included attacks on a military church at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji, Kaduna State, and a police detention centre in Abuja, the Federal Government Sunday assured Nigerians and the international community that the country remained safe and all security challenges were under control.
The government’s statement came just after the AFP reported that scores of gunmen suspected to be members of the Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram, set fire to three churches and border posts in Gamboru Ngala, a border town 140 kilometres from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
Violence linked to the Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria is believed to have left over 3,000 people dead since 2009, including killings by the security forces.
But in a statement signed by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, he described the attacks as evidence that activities of terrorists were in their last days.
According to Okupe, “It is in the character of insurgencies worldwide to audaciously attack institutions that will promote maximum fears in the heart of the citizenry.
“It will be recalled that in its last days, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) bombed the hotel in which the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and core members of her cabinet were holding a meeting.”
Responding to recent news report that the country was no longer safe, Okupe said: “It is not surprising therefore that as a consequence of the recent activities of the insurgents, some dailies reported that ‘nowhere is safe in Nigeria.’ In truth and in reality this statement is not correct.”
He said: “President Goodluck Jonathan assures Nigerians that in spite of this situation, the country is still largely safe and secure. President Jonathan wishes to state categorically of his unwavering commitment and determination to fight insecurity wherever it is found in Nigeria.
“Government efforts and preparedness will be further enhanced to ensure the security of lives and property of all Nigerians, irrespective of their locations within the country.”
On the issue of intelligence gathering, the presidential aide said: “The government has acquired and deployed highly sophisticated security equipment,” adding that members of the security agencies have received and continued to receive adequate training “such that our intelligence gathering capacity have witnessed a monumental increase in capacity to gather information.
“This is why over 70 per cent of the activities of the Boko Haram and other sinister plans are aborted before they occur. But unfortunately, these are not made known to members of the public,” he said.
He explained that the government would not rest but would continue to work tirelessly with all the security agencies in the country to bring to a complete end, as soon as possible, all security breaches, while those found guilty to have perpetrated criminality and acts of terrorism either by promoting it actively or are passively engaged in it, would be made to face the full wrath of the law.
“It is in times like this that we need the fire of patriotism naturally within us as Nigerians, as individual citizens, organisations, including the media, to bring us together as a nation and rally round the government in its efforts to root out the criminal elements within our society.
“We should not allow fear or allow despair to overcome us. Rather, we should draw strength from our well-known spirit of nationalism and forbearance to support the government and the security agencies in their effort to curb the menace,” he said.
Okupe urged the media to join hands and key into the transformation agenda and ensure that sensational reports that could tarnish the image and bring the country to disrepute, create anxiety and panic, are avoided as much as possible.
He said the government remained committed to moving the country forward through the reform in the power and agricultural sectors, and the ongoing infrastructure rehabilitation and development programmes, which are taking shape.
“These will encourage the growth of local enterprises and attract foreign direct investment in an unprecedented manner which would in turn provide more jobs, create wealth among the citizenry and reduce the drift towards criminality and other social vices in our nation,” he said.
Despite the government’s assurance, yesterday was not a violence-free day in the country as suspected members of Boko Haram set fire on churches and border posts in Gamboru Ngala, a border town between Niger and Chad Republics in Borno State.
Residents said around 50 gunmen in cars and on motorcycles carried out the attacks on three churches and border posts opening fire on the police and chanting Allahu Akbar, (God is Great), residents said. It was not clear the extent of casualties, at the time of this report.
Among the security posts burned were offices of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), the State Security Service (SSS) and a quarantine building.
“The gunmen believed to be Boko Haram members were around 50 in number and came in cars and on motorcycles around 8.30 am and attacked the security offices at the border posts, burning them,” a resident, Modugana Ibrahim, told the French news agency, AFP.
“They opened fire on the security personnel but it is hard to say if anybody was hurt or killed,” Ibrahim said.
Another resident, Hamidu Ahmad, said the gunmen went into town “chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and burnt down the divisional police station and three churches”.
It was not clear whether worshippers were inside the churches at the time of the attacks.
The attacks is the result of earlier warnings by the militants of an attempt to impose a Taliban kind of hegemony on the town.
Two weeks ago, leaflets were circulated decreeing that women were required to wear the Muslim veil and banning the sale of cigarettes, residents said.
“A tailor named Adamu was shot dead last week by some suspected Boko Haram members for making clothes for women the group considers obscene,” said another resident, Hajara Umar.
Also, in Maiduguri, residents were forced into their homes for the second day running yesterday as attacks occurred in parts of the town and traffic was held up for several hours.
In one of the attacks along Bama Road near the University of Maiduguri campus, suspected members of the sect were said to have engaged the military in a shoot-out for several minutes.
Three persons were said to have been killed as a result of stray bullets from the gunfire exchange.
A resident of the area said that the three persons killed near the ever busy Bama motor park were passersby as the combatants escaped unhurt.
Another source said traffic was held up for several minutes on the axis, even after the attack, as motorists were stopped from coming into Maiduguri from the Konduga/ Bama area.
Sunday's attack came barely 24 hours after the entire town was sent into turmoil with many attacks recorded in parts of the troubled town.
Meanwhile, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, has called on Nigerians to come together in the fight against terrorism and other violent crimes in the country.
Speaking during a courtesy visit to Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State yesterday, the Sultan said terrorism, robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes are not restricted to a particular religion or region of the country.
He said: “Some years back, we watched with amazement when we saw suicide bombers and car bombers, we thought we could not have such things in our country. But we have them now.
“It is not a particular religion or ethnicity that specialises in such terrorist or criminal activities in the form of kidnapping or armed robbery, but I believe that we must all come together to resolve these issues the best way possible for our country.”
He stressed that the “challenges that come our way can ginger us to strengthen our resolve to meet them headlong, defeat them collectively in unity and forge a national cohesion.”
In his response, Oshiomhole referred to the Sultan as a bridge-builder who commands respect in all parts of the country, noting that the honour on the Sultan by the Igbinedion University, Okada was well deserved.