On Sunday, the 23rd of October, the United States Embassy and Consulate in Nigeria released a security alert statement to its nationals on its website about elevated risks of terror attacks in Nigeria, particularly in Abuja. The US has also stated that there would be reduced services at its embassy until further notice.
The United Kingdom, on Monday, 25th of October, also restricted access to the British High Commission, which has, in turn, issued a notice, cautioning its staff on their movement and stating that only high priority matters should be attended to, as “attacks could be indiscriminate and could affect western interests, as well as places visited by tourists”
For the ordinary Nigerian, especially one resident in Abuja, two security alerts issued by foreign governments on the heels of each other should ordinarily be a tangible cause for concern.
What do we know?
Both the security alerts released by the U.S Embassy and the British High Commission warn of an increased risk of terrorist attacks in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and caution against visits to public spaces like ‘government buildings, places of worship, schools, markets, shopping malls, hotels, bars, restaurants, athletic gatherings, transport terminals, law enforcement facilities, and international organizations. American and British citizens have also been advised to not allow their children in schools, for now, avoid all non-essential travel, keep their cell phones charged and on them, and carry suitable identification in the event of an emergency.
How have Nigerians reacted?
Security alerts are not alien to Nigerians, especially in recent years, and close to festive seasons. While there are usually mixed reactions to these alerts, ranging from nonchalance to mild panic, many Nigerians usually respond by going about their daily business with little to no adjustment. Following the alerts by the U.S Embassy and British High Commission, the office of the Department of State Services, through its representative, Dr. Peter Afunanya has reported receiving multiple inquiries from the concerned public about the security alerts, wondering about the veracity of the statements released, as well as their safety. Some Nigerians have also taken to social media to complain about why foreign governments are releasing statements on terrorist risks ahead of the DSS, and are having online conversations about what they believe to be the complacency of Nigerian security agencies.
Has the Government responded?
The Department of State Services, through its spokesman, Dr. Peter Afunanya, has responded to the alerts by saying that the department had, at different periods in the past, released statements equivalent to the security alerts and that “while advising that necessary precautions are taken by all and sundry, the populace is enjoined to remain alert and assist security agencies with useful information regarding threats and suspicious criminal acts around them”, they also called for calm while they worked with other law enforcement agencies and stakeholders in order to maintain peace and order in and beyond Abuja.
The federal government has however condemned the security alerts, calling them ‘unverified’. While attending a panel at the on-going UNESCO Media and Information Literacy Week in Abuja on Tuesday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed expressed strong disapproval of the alerts and also admonished the media for propagating the news without substantial verification. He stated that thanks to security efforts and military efforts, Nigeria was currently safer than it had been in recent times and that the security alerts did not portray the actual reality of the country’s security position or issues, and would only cause unnecessary panic. Encouraging Nigerians to not be alarmed, the Minister of Information declared that “Terrorists have been hard hit and put on the run. Bandits have been decimated and scattered” and if there was in fact any need for a security alert, it was for the benefit of the U.S and U.K citizens, not for the general Nigerian public.