Insecurity: It’s Now Again Abuja’s Turn
This week, my children’s school faced a major crisis like many other schools in Abuja. The school had to conclude its third term examination three days earlier than it had planned, while also suspending the use of school uniform and school bus for the last few days of this week. The school was responding to the terrorism scare the city currently faces and which has forced the authorities in Abuja to order all schools closed by the end of this week.
“While Jonathan was pressured into taking some drastic actions like the use of South African mercenaries that were instrumental in turning the tide of the war in early 2015, the current administration has been spared of such public pressure”.
Parents and school management had to quickly make changes to their plans, and this almost led to a conflict in the school’s WhatsApp group where some parents opposed some of the changes the school was initiating at very short notice.
Ultimately, everyone had to accept that the school and parents have to adjust to the new security situation. Just as when schools had to plan around COVID-19 in 2020. Only this time around, the capital city is alone under siege.
‘How did we get here again”, a parent asked. She referring to the climate of insecurity that everyone had thought Abuja had outgrown since 2015. The last terrorist attack on the city was in 2015, in Kuje. Prior to that, there was a major attack in Wuse in 2014 and another one in Nyanya, a town in Nasarawa State that’s effectively considered part of Abuja due to its proximity.
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There was also an attack on the UN building in 2011 as well as the Independence Day bombing at Eagles Square in 2010. Each of these attacks killed at least a dozen people, injuring scores more and rendering an entire city paralysed with fear. We wondered where the attackers could hit next.
Since 2015, however, Abuja residents have not had to worry about terrorism until the July 5 attack on Kuje prison. In the intervening years, Abuja was an oasis of relative peace as terrorists struck in many parts of the country. We perhaps should have known that this would not last. While Abuja was sparred of terrorist attacks, reports of crimes in the city, especially kidnapping and robberies, became frequent. In 2021, the University of Abuja community on the outskirts of Abuja was attacked and 21 people were abducted.
The road linking the city to Kaduna has been a haven of kidnappers for years now while the railway, the only safe means of traveling between the two cities, was successfully attacked in March, after previous unsuccessful attempts. Despite almost a billion naira paid in ransom, most of the people kidnapped remain with their abductors. Farming in many Abuja villages has become dangerous as farmers are routinely kidnapped for ransom.
It was clear to anyone paying attention that the capital city was struggling to keep itself safe and the Kuje prison attack shouldn’t have come as a major surprise to anyone. What could be surprising is the weakness of the response of the security forces to the attack, as eight hundred prisoners were released in a 2-hour attack that was not interrupted by the security forces. The Minister of Interior, who is responsible for the prison, was left lamenting the intelligence and security failure on social media.
On Sunday, July 24, three soldiers were killed while responding to responding to a distress call from the Nigerian Law School in Bwari. This attack spooked the who-is-who in Abuja and was directly responsible for the school closure. From Borno to Zamfara, Yobe to Niger, attacks on schools have become the new feature of Nigeria’s insecurity, with thousands of school children kidnapped since 2014. Abuja authorities are right to be worried.
But are we not responding late? By we, I mean the people of Abuja, especially the middle-class and upper-class residents who could have done a better job of holding our leaders accountable. More and more money has been pushed into national security, but the country remains unsafe. The Army’s budget has grown by over 300% since 2015, while Navy and Air Force have seen their budgets rise by an average of 100%, and yet not even the capital is safe from terrorists and kidnappers.
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In the last two years of Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, Abuja was the centre of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, which focused attention on the insecurity in the Northeast, 800km away from Abuja. The banditry of the much-closer Northwest and Northcentral under the current administration has not inspired a similar protest movement in Abuja, despite the record number of school children that have been affected. While Jonathan was pressured into taking some drastic actions like the use of South African mercenaries that were instrumental in turning the tide of the war in early 2015, the current administration has been spared of such public pressure.
The good news is that it is not too late for Abuja people to wake up and push for a more secured country. It should be obvious now that one cannot create an oasis of peace in the midst of raging war. For Abuja to be safe, Nigeria has to be safe.