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University abduction, leadership and security

By Paul Azebeyi Johnson  
13 December 2021   |   3:30 am
Anyone who had been following the trajectory of the wide-ranging insecurity in the country knew that it was only a matter of time before gunmen plied their nefarious trade at the Federal Capital Territory.

A general view of University of Abuja Staff Quarters’ gate where unknown gunmen kidnapped people amongst whom were 2 of the university professors, lecturers and their family members in Abuja, Nigeria on November 2, 2021. Kola Sulaimon / AFP

Anyone who had been following the trajectory of the wide-ranging insecurity in the country knew that it was only a matter of time before gunmen plied their nefarious trade at the Federal Capital Territory. The dare-devil gunmen had begun by striking at the satellite towns of the FCT, which included villages around Gwagwalada, Tungamaje, Kuje, Kwali and Abaji, abducting residents, travellers, and demanding outrageous ransom from their victims.

But, their biggest strike would have been the University of Abuja, the only public university in the Federal Capital Territory.  So in the early hours of November 2, 2021, the gunmen, in large numbers, armed to the teeth, had stormed the serene abode of the senior staff quarters of the university in Giri, abducting three senior staff of the University of Abuja and children and moving them several kilometres into the bush. The abductees included Deputy Registrar Sambo Mohammed; Dr Fegurson Tobins; and two children of Prof. Bassey Udom of the Faculty of Environmental Sciences – one of whom was a nine-year-old boy.

The reasons for the attack on the institution on that fateful day are as clear as they were strategic. One, it was a way of announcing the arrival of the evil gunmen to the city in a grand style and sending a very strong message to the Federal Government and the university that they were powerful criminals to reckon with. Second, it was a continuation of their long-term interest or agenda to destroy education; and third, perhaps most important, would be to demand outrageously high amount in huge ransom. Recall that before the victims were rescued a few days after and some of the gunmen reportedly arrested,  the later had demanded a whooping sum of 300 million ransom –  N50, 000,000 on each of the six persons they had in their custody.

The November 2 attack was no doubt, a devastating one, particularly for the university, which described it in its Facebook page rightly, as a “sad day!” It was also sad for the nation, the federal capital territory, and the entire education stakeholders. It would have been sadder and more devastating if the university had been made to cough out that amount of money –  or something close – or if the abductees had not been released up till now, or something untoward had happened to them. It is no exaggeration therefore to state that the gunmen failed largely in their mission.

But why were these dangerous and self-serving targets of the gunmen not achieved as probably planned? We may never know all the reasons for now, but I am keen about the role of the leadership of the university under its vice-chancellor, Professor Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, which promptly rose to the occasion, abandoning everything else, providing succor and support to all relevant services –   all of who worked very closely with the combined forces of security men to ensure the safe return of the staff. The true test of leadership is actually in the face of crisis, and Na’Allah made sure that the security personnel including the staff of the university didn’t rest until his abducted staff were found and brought back home safely.

The truth must be told, the University of Abuja is one of the most porous federal higher institutions in the country, and what makes its case unpardonably pathetic is that it is strategically located in the federal capital territory, a stone throw to busy military points, the police and other security agencies, which should ordinarily protect it from such shocking attacks.

With its vast land of 11,000 hectares, the university is so unprotected that you would expect that gunmen could easily access some points and get away easily. In all fairness, the vice-chancellor had never hidden his fears about the porosity of the university. Sometimes last year,  he started raising the alarm about the exposed nature of the campuses and that suspected bandits were encroaching on them, claiming rightful ownership of them, buying and unscrupulously selling portions of such land to unsuspecting persons, erecting structures across the campuses, and even levying the university. To deal with this challenge, he had called on several stakeholders for help, paying visits to minister of the FCT, Malam Muhammed Bello and TETFund chief executives among others to solicit their support. Part of the results was the reported approval by TETFund of the sum of N400 million to the university to assist it in erecting a fence to stop the land encroachments. This fencing, which is now very visible from the main road has not only increased the beauty of the campus, but greatly reduced the porosity of the campus.

This development never occurred since the university was established more than 30 years ago, until the coming of Vice-Chancellor Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah. He is using part of the relatively meagre resources of the institution to develop and strengthen its internal security. Those who knew the security workings around the campus, said that the gunmen had earlier attempted the hostels, twice but because of Na’Allah’s close working relationship with the safety unit of the university and federal security personnel, those evil boys were effectively repelled, until they ended up finding their ways to the staff quarters.

Encouraging as these proactive security measures taken by the leadership of the University are, it would need to do more by leveraging its recent experience and exploring the effective contact with federal power to protect its staff and over 6,000 students who are residing on the two campuses.

Thankfully, the internal security officials of the university are well supported by the university, and of recent, those who demonstrated impressive courage and valour among them in working with the security operatives to ensure the return of staff were rightly honored by the Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah-led management and some cash donations made to them. This is a wise and remarkable step.   When you have a crop of well-trained and motivated staff, you are sure they will go to extra mile to defend and protect their people and territory.

There is no doubt that the University of Abuja represents a central and strategic position in the league of universities in the country, and its safety places basic responsibility on federal shoulders.  Though the government appears overwhelmed with the rising spate of terrorism-related attacks, it has to continue to do its best to protect its citizens, including students and staff of our institutions of higher learning.

That the act of abduction is becoming a very thriving industry in the country, and those who engage in it will continue to see higher institutions especially our universities as easy targets is unarguable. At the moment, chief executives of our tertiary institutions must muster the political will to fight the destructive onslaught of these terrorists invading our much cherished educational institutions without wholly relying on the government.

I think other universities should learn from the courage and organizational strategy of the management of the University of Abuja led by its vice chancellor, Professor of Na’ Allah, by not only working to fortify their territory, but rising to the occasion when it mattered most. Of course, if our universities aren’t safe and protected, how will the future of our youths be safe?

Johnson wrote from Federal Housing Estate, Gwarinpa, Abuja.