Terror alerts and 2023 general elections
Warnings by foreign missions of possible terrorist attack on parts of the country are serious enough to warrant the prompt reactions given them by the Federal Government lately. Any threat to human lives and property should never be taken lightly nor treated with mere words of assurances on safety. Rightly, heads of security agencies are matching words with actions in coordinated sweep of potential threats around the seat of power. But more significant for the Federal Government is to deal with conspiracy theories that are connecting dots of sponsored terrorism with those general elections and attempts to disrupt the transition schedule. Like terrorism forewarned, the alleged undercurrent and festering conspiracies are too weighty for the Buhari administration to ignore.
The trend of events has been far from reassuring and a reason for all to worry, including foreigners. The governments of Germany, Bulgaria, Ireland and Denmark have cautioned their citizens against non-essential travel to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, over a heightened risk of terror attacks. The travel advisories came a few days after the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada all warned of a possible implosion in Abuja. The embassies had listed targets to include: schools, government buildings, hotels, markets, shopping malls, bars, athletic gatherings, transport terminals, law enforcement facilities, restaurants, places of worship and international organisations.
There have been reports that other countries have aligned with the United States after a series of meetings, intelligence sharing and “incontrovertible proof” of imminent danger. For instance, a report had it that a spying suspect was nabbed near the U.S. Embassy at the Central Area in Abuja. Also, explosive devices were found near the entrance of a compound housing U.S. staff on October 22. Characteristically, the Federal Government through the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, has since dismissed the advisories and specifically said the United States was also not safe.
Suffice to note that in enlightened self-interest, diplomats in foreign missions globally prioritise self-preservation and safety of envoys and citizens. It is for that purpose – not necessarily scaremongering the host – that they issue alerts to members in highly volatile environments like ours. Without doubt, simultaneous sounds of evacuation bells, blaring around Abuja, are very disturbing. Yet, the Nigerian authorities and the intelligence community should not get scandalised or petty in its response to terrorism updates. Rather, it should examine the merits of such claims in intelligence sharing, and be fastidious in proving the ‘alarmists’ wrong – as an administration that is committed to its constitutional duty of security and well-being of the citizenry.
For a fact, the alarm bells are oddly familiar. Recall that on March 19, 2022, April 22, 2022 and December 14, 2021, the Department of State Services (DSS) warned about impending bombs, violent attacks and plans by elements to attack public places. Some months afterwards, Kano, Jigawa, Imo states and Kuje Correctional Centre, a few kilometres from Aso Rock, were attacked without any corresponding defence. Some weeks ago, two high-profile terrorists were located at the Tipper garage, along the Kubwa Express Road by Jahi District and security operatives put them on their radar. And on Thursday, October 20, one Abubakar Dan Borno, an Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) kingpin, who fled from the Sambisa Forest, was picked up at Mararaba, a suburb of Abuja in Nasarawa State after days of trailing.
Similarly on the day U.S. issued its threat alarm, to set-off a deafening chorus from other missions, elder statesman and former Defence Minister, General Theophilus Danjuma, rallied all Nigerians to get battle-ready to defend themselves against marauding and sophisticatedly armed bandits. Danjuma, who has been consistent in the unpopular position, reiterated that the Federal Government had been “overpowered by bandits” and not dependable for the protection of lives and properties. “Our country is under siege by armed bandits. There is evidence that the whole country is overrun and these foreign invaders are not even Muslims. They were allowed to come into the country by the government,” he said. Danjuma was reacting on the heels of the renewed farmer-herder clashes in Benue, claiming at least 13 lives and over 7000 in the last five years.
Put together, these incidences are not coincidence but a testament to deepening volatility. Only a propagandist machine of an ineffectual government would deny such realities! Indeed, there are two fundamental questions to ask. First, was there actually a terror plot to heightened tension, which got busted and leaked to foreign missions that would not keep quiet on the danger? Or, on the flip side, was it actually a false alarm, laced with similar motive, to portray the entire country as grossly insecure to hold a general election just three months away? Either way, those theories are very weighty and should not be ignored by both the government and all well-meaning Nigerians.
Evidently, haters of democracy and enemies of Nigeria are working hard to put the Buhari administration in a very bad light at its twilight. The president has the exclusive responsibility to deny allegations of being one of them, by actually emboldening security forces to eradicate banditry and terrorists. It is to the credit of the administration that inter-agency collaboration appears to be getting better among the security operatives. Since the terror alerts started blaring, security agencies, in collaboration with their foreign counterparts, have been more dutiful with arrests of key terror suspects in Abuja. It is a proactive response and more are needed to stop terrorists on their tracks. Next is for the government to wean off the conspiracy albatross that is instigating agitation for self-defence among civilians. It is the sole responsibility of the government to keep all Nigerians protected. To appear to be shirking the constitutional duty, in the alleged criminal intent of arming a sect against Nigerians, is to create anarchy and worsen the existential crisis.
Collectively, Nigerians should insist on fidelity to the general elections schedule and the transition programme as mandated by the constitution. Recall that President Jonathan commanded the armed forces and conducted elections even in the volatile Northeast region in 2011 and 2015. There should be no reason merchants of crisis should be allowed to fuel rumours of war that can derail the 2023 transition agenda. Buhari has assured Nigerians that terrorism would disappear by December 2022 and Nigerians should insist he keeps to that pledge and be held accountable accordingly too. Buhari owes the country the duty of security, free and fair conduct of the general election on schedule. Excuse of insecurity or escalation of tension to warrant another interim national government in place of a duly elected successor, is not tenable and the idea, if it exists, should perish in the calculations of its instigators.