Residents of Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are lamenting the unprecedented security scare now prevalent in the nation’s capital. They also voice out their worries and concerns, as well as proffer solutions to the frightening turn of events in Abuja, as the whole territory is known. Our correspondents, BEN ADOGA, BEN OGBEMUDIA, DAVID LAWANI, DEBORA ONYOFUFEKE, LINUS AKEKE, OKUNADE TOMIWA REJOICE, MOHAMMED ALKALI, and JOY MOSES, capture their moods
For the residents of Nigeria’s federal capital, fear is now the buzzword everywhere. Daily, they now groan that living in the nation’s ‘most important territory is like having a date set for sorrow, tears, and blood in the hands of terrorists.
It wasn’t like this before, many residents say. “Here used to be the most peaceful, most secure, and most serene location in Nigeria, but it can no longer be said to be so,” Mr Livingstone Madu, a long-standing resident businessman, told one of our correspondents during the week.
A combination of a raging set of marauding factors, rooted in rural-urban migration, unemployment, and population expansion, among others, they submitted has altered the scope of innocence that hitherto serenaded the FCT.
Residents trace the new wave of insecurity, which peaked with hair-raising incidents like the attack on an army presidential guard battalion (claiming the lives of three officers); a threat by terrorists to hit the president, Kaduna State governor, and other high-profile VIPs, as well as the attack on Kuje Correctional Centre jail break insurgency, as evidence that nobody is safe again in the nation’s capital. In short, everyone now LIVES IN FEAR.
Since the July 5, 2022 ‘successive attack’ on the Kuje correctional facility, no day passes without a rumour (wild or genuine) of planned attacks.
This fear has been aided by activities in social media which are believed to be aiding the spate of fears.
But, as if to authenticate social media claims, the Federal Government recently gave a directive for the closure of all unity schools in the FCT because of insecurity.
Rumour of terrorists’ communications with some communities in the FCT also made things worse and created more panic and fear in the residents.
It is now alleged that some communities in the FCT have received communications from the terrorists notifying them of impending attacks. No such information is taken for granted now as the terrorists had earlier made bold their threat after the Kuje attack.
The present state of fear is located in the increase in the tempo of terrorist activities in Nigeria’s restive North East. This resident’s note has made it expedient for most people who can’t face the violence to relocate to the FCT.
The unscheduled movement into the nation’s capital became worse when Boko Haram shifted its base to the North-West.
It has also been exposed to over four large IDP camps established in the FCT for fleeing refugees. There are also hordes of others of questionable identities who could only find solace in accommodation by putting up with relatives and friends.
This is in addition to the daily influx of people from all walks of life into the FCT, to eke out a living.
Meanwhile, the serene ambiance of the FCT has also been ruptured by touting in the garb of ‘agbero’, ‘baban bolas’, and the unruly activities of commercial cyclists ‘Okada’, tricycle ‘keke’ operators, and even homeless drug addicts.
Apart from the loss of serenity, threats to life and property and the many rumour of Boko Haram, ISWAP, bandits, and other terrorist attacks, have created palpable tension and panic in the FCT, so much that residents now live in morbid fear and apprehension.
Residents of Sheda community claimed that they had been contacted before the attack that led to the closure of Federal Government College, Bwari, and others by the Minister of Education. There is tension in the community as an earlier rumoured threat of attacking Kuje Medium Correctional Centre ended up being true when it resulted in a massive jailbreak.
Following the panic in Sheda, Federal Government College, Kwali, nearby Sheda was thrown into fear and panic.
Before the Federal Government’s directive to close all unity schools in the FCT, the college authority, out of panic, had contacted the Federal Ministry of Education over the matter and were advised to contact parents to take their children from the school.
Using the patents’ platform, parents were contacted to pick up their children as the school authority could no longer guarantee the safety of the children.
One resident, who said she was an alumnus of the college whose friend’s children are in the school, confirmed the development.
She also confirmed that before the closure of the school, students heard sporadic gunshots in the community, driving fear into the students and the entire Sheda community.
It was also widely rumoured that Bingham University has been contacted by terrorists too. The university is located in Nasarawa State, near Abuja.
Another rumour that has sent fear into Abuja residents is the alleged camping of Boko Haram on Karshi hills.
Karshi hill is a ridge stretching from Kpaduma Hills in high-brow Asokoro through Kugbo to Gidan Mangoro; Orozo to Karshi. The terrain is difficult and is part of the hard-to-reach area between the FCT and Nasarawa State to the east.
It is alleged that the terrorists have hoisted their flag on the hill. Karshi is a satellite town in the municipality. Federal Technical College, Orozo, near Karshi, is equally in panic as the rumour is gaining ground.
On the North-West flank of the FCT, Bwari is equally in fear. Security has been beefed up near the Nigeria Law School in Bwari, Abuja.
These are coming on the heels of terrorists’ threats to kidnap President Muhammadu Buhari and the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el –Rufai, and the threat to kill the remaining Abuja-Kaduna train captives, after a video of them being flogged went viral.
In all these, it is believed that the Federal Government has not successfully allayed the fears of residents.
At the moment, threats of attacks are snowballing, and the rumour mill is once again busy churning out so rapidly that it’s difficult to keep track. Church attendance has become slimmer, especially in churches that operate mid-week services.
Insecurity is the talking point in FCT markets and even bars and drinking joints. Businesses are scaling down in Abuja, and residents living in satellite towns can’t sleep with both eyes closed.
A popular Abuja pastor who pleaded not to be named in print confided that the scare is real and unprecedented.
“This is real, it’s unprecedented,” he said, adding, “It has never happened in this manner before. I have been in Abuja for over 20 years. When will we put all these behind us and return to our normal lives? ”
A popular TV presenter, on his social media platform, posted his experience last week, with photographs of how some mean-looking armed men on power bikes were seen riding around a section of the city, maybe surveying parts of the city for a possible attack.
The police did not react to the post or allegation, nor denied or confirmed the post.
Last Friday, Zuba area towards Kaduna road experienced heavy shooting around Zuma Rock. Details of this were not available at the time of going to press, but pictures showed that people were scampering, and the roads were very crowded.
Residents who belong to other platforms read scary messages daily, heightening fear among families.
Alert notices from security agencies filter into the public domain causing more fear and apprehension in the FCT.
ECOWAS security advisory to their staff mentioned that FCT is part of the locations at high-security advisory and warned the sub-regional body’s staff to take caution.
Nigeria’s weekly Security Report for July rates FCT high on security risk and also advised residents to mind where they go, and not to keep late nights.
In all these, residents try to go about their daily chores, but with high apprehension.
Matters, residents say, are not being helped by ‘denials’. Instances have been cited of the Guards’ Brigade terror, which resulted from an ambush where about seven personnel, including two officers, were killed in Bwari, was initially denied by the government.
Later, one of the victims who survived the attack, spoke from his hospital bed, via a recorded voice message posted on social media, confirming and narrating how the ambush took place.
The victim also confirmed that the Abuja Law School had been a target of attack and that they, the military, had been working on it.
According to him, when they entered the location, they were ambushed, resulting in casualties on both sides.
Residents have been responding to the scary security situation in Abuja and its satellite towns.
Bashir Ahmed, who resides in Kurudu, Abuja, told ThisNigeria: “I don’t understand why such an attack and rumour of attack should persist in the country’s capital. This is where the president resides and where you find most of our major firms and companies. The level of security here is supposed to be at its best.
“The government needs to do more before things go out of hand. Just Saturday, July 30, someone was kidnapped along Kaduna road, and this is not the first case of kidnapping, which makes it normal for the government. We need to stay vigilant because this life is the only one.”
Another resident, Nwankwo Nelson, who was on a visit to the FCT from Enugu State, said, “The security condition in Nigeria is generally critical, but Abuja, with all the security headquarters and presence of the Federal Government, one would expect otherwise.
“There’s so much air of unsafety around; different attacks at different locations and the perpetrators go unscathed -none of them apprehended or identified. Every day, there’s a case of kidnapping or armed robbery, and we don’t get urgent action from security officials or the president, and that speaks loud volumes, considering it is happening in the backyard of the presidency. We don’t know who or where is next, and to think this is happening in the capital is sad.”
Mify Moses, who resides in Suleja, a satellite town to Abuja told our correspondent, “The recent terrorist attacks in Abuja environ is a red flag of insecurity, and this means fear and threat to life and property. It is now an unsafe environment for people and invariably a threat and attack to schools, families; movement, businesses, agriculture, and so on.
“The victims of these attacks are ordinary citizens. The military is supposed to secure us. Think about this properly; if the security personnel can be attacked and killed, how much more you as a common citizen with no personal protection? Our lives are at stake, and no one knows what is next for the attack. Everyone is living in fear and regrets bringing this present government into power.”
A resident of Karu, to the Nasarawa axis, Victor Akanbi, said, “Honestly, I have always felt that living in Abuja is safe and I have always felt that Abuja is a place where one can live and raise a family because of how safe I think it is, but in the light of the security challenges we are facing in Abuja, I don’t feel safe anymore.
“I am thinking about relocating my family out of FCT. I am not saying there is any state that is 100 percent safe in Nigeria, nowhere is safe but right now, it’s like the insecurity is focused in Abuja. Two days ago, I went to the Kuje area of Abuja to see my elder sister, on my way back for the first time, I saw a convoy of about 20 military men at a checkpoint.
“I asked a man sitting with me on the bus what was going on, and he told me that is how it has been; every night, about 30 soldiers are deployed and it affects the traffic flow. But basically, what I am saying is that people are tense, the atmosphere is tense, people are afraid and I am so afraid. I am worried and I believe it is a serious thing.”
A customs officer, who refused disclosure of identity, said, “We’re not allowed to comment on national security to press men, but only through the spokesperson of the Nigeria Customs Service.
“I’m now a ‘personnel’, and we work for the government. I am no longer a civilian that is free to comment. But the situation is terrible and everybody needs to be vigilant, and report any suspicious movement around him to the closest security agency. Thanks for the opportunity.”
There’s so much air of unsafety around; different attacks at different locations and the perpetrators go unscathed -none of them apprehended or identified. Every day, there’s a case of kidnapping or armed robbery, and we don’t get urgent action from security officials