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Abuja scare: Where the rain started beating Nigeria’s security architecture

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
30 July 2022   |   2:54 am
The widely held notion that Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital is the most secured location in the country has been gravely punctured. In recent times, the attack on the nation’s medium Correctional Centre

President Buhari (left) during his visit to kuje correctional facility in Abuja

The widely held notion that Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital is the most secured location in the country has been gravely punctured. In recent times, the attack on the nation’s medium Correctional Centre, Kuje, was one of such alarming instances when rag-tag terrorists took the wind off the sails of Nigeria’s security agencies.

  
That attack was followed up with a successful ambush, which recorded a number of casualties with the nation’s elite guard brigade, otherwise known as the President’s guardsmen.
   
The ambush, which happened just hours after the Boko Haram/Islamist State of West African Province (ISWAP) delivered a threat to abduct President Muhammadu Buhari and Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, left a sour taste in the mouth.
  
Both the ambush and threat reminded Nigerians of how the same bandit/terrorists assaulted President Buhari’s advance team on their way to Daura, Katsina State days before the Eid el Kabir celebrations.
     
Then, the affront on a military checkpoint at Zuma Rock came as the final stamp of authority by the insurgents that they mean business, which is to take over the federal capital and topple the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
  
The insurgents had sounded the first beagle about their nefarious plot, when on Friday, August 26, 2011, they unleashed a car bomb on the United Nations (UN) facility in the federal capital city. In what sounded a reverse of a 21-gun salute to the bravery and daring-do of the terrorists, 21 lives were decimated in that ignoble attack, while about 60 others were physically wounded. Boko Haram, through its spokesperson, gloated over that bloody attack.
   
The spokesperson, Abu Kaka, explained that the sect decided to levy the attack in order to force the government to release Boko Haram members held in detention facilities. He stated: “Government must release all our members detained across the country unconditionally before we accept dialogue. We also warn security agencies in Kano to stop persecuting our members.”
   
Apart from the casualties, the car bomb destroyed the lower floors of the UN Building, leaving a mass of rubble. The then Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Prof. Viola Onwuliri, described the assault, not just as an attack on Nigeria, but as an attack on the world.
 
 
Nigeria’s secret police, the Department of State Services (DSS), claimed that one Mamman Nur actually masterminded the brazen attack on the UN building, even as a bounty of a million was placed on his head. While Nur was at large and efforts were being made to apprehend him, the DSS picked up four persons believed to be associated with the bombing.
   
The four men were charged to a magistrate court in Abuja but were remanded in custody pending the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions for an eventual trial at the Federal High Court.
  
But, as the wheel of justice ground slowly, the UN building was reconstructed and delivered back for use to the UN eight years later in 2019, shortly after President Buhari was inaugurated for a second term.
   
It would be recalled that President Buhari was elected in 2015 instead of the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan based on his (Buhari’s) promise to address the Boko Haram insurgency, fight corruption and improve the socio-economic well being the people.

However, after years in office, the President was harassed about his personal health and second-guessed over military tactics adopted in the fight against insurgency and secessionist agitations in the country.

  
A military officer in Kaduna, who did not want his name in print, last week in Kaduna, told The Guardian that the challenges confronting the nation’s military set in after President Buhari failed to endorse the retirement of the former Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai in 2018.
  
He said Buratai, who hails from Biu in Borno State ran the military against the laid down regulations, noting that cronyism and preferential treatment became rife leading to a loss of discipline in the Army.
    
While lamenting that the military has been made to look less than it is worth by the terrorist, the infantry officer recalled the compulsory retirement of about 40 young senior officers from the Army. He stressed, “With Buratai, who was due for retirement after 35 years, to sanction the retirement of officers in the name of discipline affected the military in many ways.
   
“Some of us did not understand how alleged partisanship during elections became serious offences to warrant compulsory retirement. It was more painful than the 38 officers, most of who were below 40 years of age, were not queried, charged, tried or found guilty of any offence. They did not face any court-martial; you just retired them. Are you building the army or sectionalising it?”
   
The officer maintained that the search for the current sagging morale in the Army should be traced to the Commander-in-Chief’s insistence on retaining Buratai and other service chiefs beyond their due retirement period, adding that the worst thing that could happen to any Army is indiscipline and double standards.
   
He maintained that after Buratai stayed beyond his expected retirement period, other high-ranking commanders decided to take their fate into their hands, pointing out that it was like “all men unto his own.”
    
“When the C-in-C directed the COAS to relocate to Maiduguri, was the order complied with? When the former Inspector General of Police was asked to move to Benue State, did he obey? So, why do you think the allegation of inter-agency rivalry set in,” he stated.
   
Allegations of the involvement of soldiers in criminal activities have also been rife within the present dispensation. It would be recalled that in July 2019, five soldiers were declared wanted for running away with billions of naira believed to belong to an unknown Very Important Personality (VIP).
    
0It was later discovered that the huge sum belonged to the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 8 Division of the Nigerian Army, Sokoto, Hakeem Otiki, who was leading operations against bandits in the Northwest region. The source of the money was known, but reports indicated that Major General Otiki sent the soldiers on July 11, 2019, to provide security cover in transit for the money to an undisclosed location in Abuja.
    
Having escorted the cash on the road from Sokoto to the Nigeria Army airstrip in Jaji, Kaduna State, the five soldiers turned coats. They were said to have refused to trans load the cash into a waiting military jet for an onward air trip to Abuja.
  
Although the money ran into billions, when General Otiki faced a military panel the amount was put at N400million, even as the names of the errant five soldiers that deserted the Army were given as Cpl (Corporal) Gabriel Oluwaniyi, Cpl Mohammed Aminu, Cpl Haruna, Oluji Joshua and Hayatudeen.
   
Their mobile phones and rifles were left at the Infantry Corps in Jaji to ensure that they disappeared into the thin air without a trace. While it was not readily ascertained whether the stolen loot belonged to the former GOC, the fact that he led the trip from Sokoto to Jaji in a Toyota Hilux that preceded the gun truck left the impression that he knows something about the source and destination of the money.

Ambush
LAST Monday’s ambush on Guards Brigade came at the lowest ebb of the mounting insecurity in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), which is also the seat of Nigeria’s Federal Government.
   
Military sources explained that the Guards Brigade is responsible for securing Abuja, particularly the Presidential Villa, where President Buhari sleeps and works.
   
While on their routine patrol, the elite squad ran into an ambush at the Bwari-Kubwa precincts, where they received a battery of gunshots, leaving some troops dead and others wounded. In a signal, the military authorities declared that the Guards Brigade was “ambushed by suspected terrorists.
   
“Three soldiers were injured during the attack; the soldiers have been evacuated for medical attention. Details on the extent of their injuries are still under confirmation. The ambush attack happening within the general area of Bwari shows that the terrorists are actually within the location and possibly preparing to carry out their plans to attack the Law School in Bwari, as earlier reported.”

    
Although the military signal was lean on details, the perception among residents of Abuja is that there is more than meets the eye in the ambush. While some people think that the military has not been auctioning credible intelligence about the security threats around the FCT, others insist that the ambush happened with the active connivance of a squealer within the security circles.
   
Niger State Governor, Mohammed Abubakar Bello, had, at the abduction of 136 pupils from an Islamiyya School in the state, alerted the nation that Boko Haram elements displaced from the Northeast region have set up camps in his state.
  
The governor expressed alarm that if the terrorists could find a safe haven in Niger State, Abuja was within their reach.
   
Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives, Ahmed Idris Wase, disclosed during plenary that the DSS raised 44 reports signalling the possible attack on Kuje Custodial Centre before it happened.
  
Consequently, with the latest attacks, especially the security breach at a military checkpoint in Zuma, Nigerians are asking questions. Concerns have mounted in such a way that even the members of the pliable National Assembly have made demands on President Buhari to the extent of handing down a six-week ultimatum to secure the country or face impeachment proceedings.
  
However, the most worrisome aspects of the security scare in Abuja and the nation in general, relate to the lack of synergy and insider collaboration with insurgents.
   
Have the Army carried out a thorough audit to fish out terrorist sympathisers and bad eggs within their fold? On the issue of synergy, the account of an anonymous voice in the military raises the question as to why there was no aerial cover or surveillance during that attack on Kuje and ambush on the Guards Brigade.
   
The account of the anonymous voice raised chilling posers verging on lack of proper planning and intelligence. He stated: “It is not a little matter. The issue is that they wrote to Law School in Bwari-Kwari road. So, they wrote that they were coming to attack it.
 
   
“The moment they received that letter they informed our battalion, which is the Guards Brigade. Instantly, we went there and we started all-around defence deployment. We were now contemplating that this person that said they were coming to the Law School may have Plan B to attack another place.
    
“So, we looked for a nearest prominent target that they might come for as well and that happens to be one Veritas University, very close to that place, like 3.2kilometers away. We were there as well to create all-around defence. So, we have been there for over two weeks before the attack came up on Sunday.
   
“At night, we normally observed some torch lights in the bush at that Veritas University and we were like who are these people in the bush? We asked the security men in the school if this is how they normally observe torchlights and they said ‘no,’ so when it was a break of day, we had to advance into the bush; it was on Sunday. I went with them myself.
    
“So, when we got there, we saw where they were smoking; we saw where they killed goats and they ate, we saw their tramadol and that was when we confirmed that these people are in this bush. We now reinforced; called for backup. They brought APC (Armoured Personnel Carrier), gun truck, and artillery team and we advanced into the bush.
 
  
“I am talking about on Sunday, this previous Sunday, we advanced searching for them. We got to a place where there was water and some rocks, the gun truck cannot channel through that particular route, so we had to park them, that was why we had casualties to be sincere with you.
   
“We parked the AA, the GPMG, we parked the gun trucks, we only went into the bushes with our rifles alone, that is all; even we didn’t carry RPG, I am telling you the simple truth thinking that they might just be a pocket of the enemy, that they may not be more than 20, 30 or thereabout.
    
“The moment we went into the bush, they’ve seen us from afar, but we hadn’t seen them; so they laid ambush for us, waiting for us to come and penetrate. They flanked us from left and right. So, the moment we got to their own AOR, they engaged us; they really engaged us. We lost four soldiers in my own unit, it was three units that went there, 177 and 102 from Keffi, including my own unit, that is 7 Guard Battalion, so they dislodged us because they were fully prepared.
   
“They shelled mortar, their IED (Improvised Explosive Devices), they shelled it, but we managed and killed almost 12 of them and they succeeded by killing one captain, one lieutenant and two soldiers in my unit and the rest units, I think they lost one soldier each. But, at least we engaged them to some extent, so that was it.
   
“But for now, we have been dislodging them, since that day reinforcement. In short, I think none of them is in that bush again; they’ve all gone through this Kaduna route because we followed them. It wasn’t a little attack, we followed them, bombarded that place.”
   
The anonymous officer said had it been there no soldiers at the Law School, the terrorists would have scattered the school for a very long time, adding, “They had to wait because they knew soldiers were outside and we mount there like it is our barrack.
    
“Since they wrote the school, we turned it into duty, 10 soldiers every day with rifles and gun truck, that was how we have been doing it till this very moment, before we said let’s even advance since we have seen the torchlight, let’s advance and see them and clear their doubts.
    
“But, because they knew we were coming as well, they were ready and they did their worse, but they found themselves to blame, so that is the situation of things,” he stated.
  
Nigeria Army has won laurels in UN peacekeeping operations. The question that demands urgent answers is why some ill-equipped and poorly trained fundamentalists should be holding the nation to ransom. Is the C-in-C still in charge or lost touch with modern military tactics?