“I want to dispel any illusion about any heightened sense of insecurity. It is false; it is irresponsible for anybody to give that signal. We’re 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.”
Deji Elumoye and Udora Orizu in Abuja
In the wake of the controversy surrounding a recent travel advisory issued by the United States government and some other countries asking their citizens to steer clear of Abuja, the Nigerian government has again allayed fears over the safety of people living in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The FCT Executive Committee (EXCO) also reassured Abuja residents of their safety, saying adequate security arrangements have been made to sustain the state of law and order in the nation’s capital.
Security personnel at the National Assembly complex yesterday commenced thorough search of all vehicles coming into the compound.
The US recently warned its citizens against traveling to some states in Nigeria, specifically warning about terror threats in the FCT. The travel advisory set off panic in the city, forcing businesses and other activities to shut down for fear of attack.
The US alarm was followed by similar warnings and actions by the United Kingdom and some other European countries in the last few days.
However, speaking with newsmen yesterday in Abuja, at the end of an emergency meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major-General Babagana Monguno (rtd.) punctured the security alerts, which had generated fear about Nigeria, especially Abuja, saying citizens are in no danger.
Monguno stressed that the panic that followed the US terror alert, addressed to its citizens in Nigeria, was needless, as the hype and sense of insecurity it created were unfounded. He urged Nigerians and other residents to go about their businesses without fear of any security breach.
According to him, the armed forces and other security and intelligence agencies are not relenting in their efforts to ensure that all Nigerians in every part of the country are safe.
The NSA stated, “I will like to, first and foremost, assure all the citizens of this country that any exaggerated sense of insecurity, any hype about a disintegration of our security forces, intelligence agencies, is unfounded. I want to assure Nigerians that so far, the situation has been under control, the intelligence and security agencies have made a lot of arrests.
“They’re evaluating; they’re exploiting all the materials in their possession. We’re 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 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 in a responsible way, without giving the impression that Nigeria is skating on thin ice and we’re about to implode.
“I want to dispel any illusion about any heightened sense of insecurity. It is false; it is irresponsible for anybody to give that signal.
“We’re 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.”
Monguno explained the target of the security alert and how it had negatively affected the public psyche in the country. He said, “The alert was targeted at the citizens of the United States residing in Nigeria, in Abuja, not at the larger Nigerian society. Now, if that thing has cascaded to give a different impression, colouration, there’s nothing anybody can do.
“The damage, whether it is intended or unintended, has been done. People’s minds have been tuned to a state of insecurity, which is quite bad, there’s nothing we can do if the US Embassy has gone out to give an advisory to its citizens and it has also affected other people.
“But what I want you to know is that the advisory was issued to their citizens. As far as we are concerned, our own citizens are not in peril.
“We’ve been sharing intelligence with not just the US, but with other partners and we’ve been acting on the intelligence, we’ve been working. Has anything happened so far? No, nothing has happened; but they went ahead to issue this advisory to their people and, of course, the connotations are there. They could have various reasons for doing that.”
Monguno added, “I don’t have that crystal ball to know the workings of their minds, but the truth is that the alert was for their own citizens. Probably, the way in which it was released became complicated at the end of the day.
“These are conjectures. There’s nothing that is specific. You are right; there will be a lot of interpretations of this alert. It is an unnecessary distraction. As far as we are concerned, the safety, the security of Nigerians is paramount and as far as we know, there’s nothing untoward so far.
“Nigerians should be allowed to go about their legitimate undertakings without being put in a tight spot. The country is safe, Abuja is safe, the security elements are doing the best they can. That is the most important thing.
“We just want you to understand that there is no need to aggravate a situation that is not that dire. Nigerians should, please, not allow themselves, because at the end of the day, it will disrupt everything, economic, whatever, people going to school, and so on and so forth. The important thing is for you to realise that that alert had a different purpose.”
Commenting on the US approach at the diplomatic level before the threat alert, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, said the Americans claimed it was a piece of information meant for only their citizens in Nigeria. Though Onyeama acknowledged the negative effect of the action.
According to the minister, “We engaged the US on this and their response was that they are obliged to put out those kinds of statements, normally travel advisories, but in this case it was an alert. But they said that they are obliged to, for their citizens and that the alert was really for their citizens, that they do it around the world. As you know, they did it also in South Africa in this particular case.
“But, of course, we are used to US travel advisories, as the DG NIA made that distinction between the two, and so they said for them, it’s a constitutional obligation. So, that is their position.
“On our side, coming to the next question about coordination, ordinarily, we would have liked to be able to coordinate with them because, as you can see, a lot of panic has been spread.
“So, you have to look at the purpose of this kind of announcement and, then, you also have to look at intelligence sharing and the best use you can make of shared intelligence and strike that balance.”
Chief of Defence Staff, General Leo Irabor, mentioned the recent attempted terrorist attack on Wawa Cantonment in Niger State and the successes made by the army in the incident.
Irabor said, “Perhaps, to use this opportunity to mention that I’m sure some of you may have seen in the media, or among 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. Just to use that to let you know the level of alertness of members of the armed forces, the police and other security agencies.”
Those present at the emergency National Security Council meeting included Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, and Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari.
Others were Minister of Defense, Major General Bashir Magashi (rtd.); Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola; Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; and Minister of Police Affairs, Mohammed Maigari Dingyadi.
Irabor led the three service chiefs, namely, Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Farouk Yahaya; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo; Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Isiaka Oladayo Amao, to the meeting.
The National Assembly commenced thorough search of all vehicles coming into the complex.
There was no exception to the search, as representatives of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the federal government, who came for the 2023 budget defence, were checked by the security agents strategically positioned within and around the complex.
The NASS Security Management Committee, in a memo, stated that the stop and search exercise was to prevent the complex from being a vulnerable target for insurgents.
The memo signed by Director, Administrative, Dr. Tahir Sani, read in part, “One of such measures is the directive to security agencies and the Sergeant-at-Arms Department to ensure that, effective 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 booths 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.”
The FCT EXCO gave the safety reassurance yesterday after its 12th meeting at Gwarinpa. The meeting was sequel to the series of security advisories issued by some foreign embassies in Abuja alerting their citizens to alleged threat by terrorists. It was presided by the FCT Permanent Secretary, Mr. Olusade Adesola, who represented the FCT minister, Mallam Muhammad Bello.
The meeting had in attendance Chief of Staff to the FCT Minister, Mallam Bashir Mai-Borno, Secretaries of Mandate Secretariats, and AMMC Coordinator, among others.
The EXCO said necessary arrangements had been made by the government, in conjunction with security agencies, to safeguard life and property of all residents. It noted that though the advisory had generated tension, fear and panic among residents, the security agencies were combing every nook and cranny of the territory to fish out criminals and other persons wishing to truncate the peace and tranquillity of the FCT.
The EXCO noted that even before the issuance of the advisories, the security agencies had maintained and upscaled surveillance through their personnel within the FCT to ward off any security breach.
It reiterated that the procurement and distribution of 60 operational vehicles fitted with state-of-the-art equipment to security agencies by the FCT administration was strategically done to assist and enhance their performance.
The EXCO recalled that Bello had earlier convened an emergency security meeting, where issues concerning the security alert given by some embassies in Abuja to their citizens were exhaustively discussed and measures taken to sustain the current state of security and prevent any breach.
The meeting, however, urged residents to cooperate at all times with the security agencies by volunteering useful and timely information that will assist in nipping any form of criminality in the bud.
The committee also enjoined residents to install Close-Circuit Television (CCTV) in public places and buildings, to complement on-going efforts by government to tackle the security challenges in the country, in line with the National Security Council advice.
“The installation will, no doubt, enhance surveillance and deter criminal activities around the Federal Capital City, Abuja,” the EXCO emphasised, in a statement last night signed by Director, Information and Communication, FCT, Muhammad Hazat Sule.
The EXCO noted that the first phase of the joint security operation by G-7, being states contiguous to the FCT, which ended on October 25, recorded a remarkable success, especially with the arrest of bandits and rescue of kidnapped victims.