Nigeria: Reminder Of An Old Security Question

LAST week, the United States government through its Embassy and Consulate General in Abuja and Lagos simultaneously alerted its citizens, the Nigerian government and other diplomatic missions of a planned terrorist attack on its Consulate

 General located along Walter Carrington Crescent, Lagos, which is home to a good number of other missions.

This alert is not the first of its kind, as the US and other Western countries have in the past, either issued warnings to their citizens not to visit some places in the country or get ready for possible terrorist attacks.

US Embassies around the world have become easy targets for groups who feel aggrieved, but are unable to confront the U.S on equal footing, to demand redress. They look for opportunities where they could inflict damage on U.S citizens or facilities anywhere in the world.

The most daring of these attacks is the historical September 11, 2001 attacks, during which militants of the Al Qaeda stock hijacked four passenger airliners in groups of five, forced two to explode on the twin towers of the World Trace Centre in New York, drove another to explode around the U.S Pentagon, while the fought crashed in Pennsylvania. The attacks were monumental in the destruction of lives and property. More than 3,000 souls perished and that set the fiery tone for a routine terror alert by the U.S government.

Before 9/11, terrorists had made a record hit at U.S Embassies around the world. One of the most disastrous is the August 1998 multiple attacks on U.S Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, which killed over 200 people, mainly workers in the Embassies.

As far back as 1979, the U.S has recorded a long list of attacks on its missions around the world. In Tehran, Iran in 1979, a group of protesters stormed the Embassy and took hostage 66 Americans, demanding apology for U.S advertorials in support of the deposed Shah. That same year, a mob in Tripoli, Libya set fire to U.S Embassy in support of the Iranians. Yet in that year, a mob attacked the U.S Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the American Cultural Centre in Lahore, over rumour that the U.S participated in the seizure of the Grand mosque in Mecca. Four persons died, two of who were American citizens.

The list is indeed very long, but so far, Nigeria has been spared of these ugly embassy incidents, in spite of regular alerts. What is common sight at embassies and missions located in Abuja and Lagos are the long queues of beleaguered visa applicants, who are daily subjected to untold hardship as they observe the tortuous routine to be documented. For such persons, the last thing on their minds is the possibility of a terror attack that would disrupt their travel plans. Yet, in there desperation, these applicants could become easy target of an attack, because they are not alert to clandestine terrorist maneuvers.

They are probably more conscious of the touting, petty fraud and travel scams, which embassy workers and officials aid and abet. And the condition of Walter Carrington is such that, over the years, a tradition has evolved which series of attempts have not been able to reform and sanitise. Information technology has been deployed in so many ways, to reduce the level of traffic along the Crescent, where many embassies are located. On-line bookings and registrations, subletting of bookings to outside firms and the introduction of e-passport have not significantly reduced the high number of applicants who daily visit the Crescent. Not even the movement of the main offices of Embassies to the Federal Capital, Abuja has robbed ‘Eleke’ Crescent of its strong, traditional allure to visa applicants.

So, what happens to these applicants, and of course, embassy workers if the Crescent plays an unwilling host to some daring terrorists who do not value lives and property?

Perhaps, this is the concern of U.S embassy officials who sent out a warden message to alert of a possible attack. The message is terse, giving no details regarding dates and mode of attack. Such details are most probably, with the Nigerian government and the Police. All through last week, security agents have taken over the embassies. Officers from Counter-terrorist Units of the State Security Services (SSS) and anti-bomb experts from the Nigeria Police took over the axis from the block of flats at the entrance to the Crescent, down to the Russian Embassy junction. Only embassy vehicles were allowed to go unchecked; others were thoroughly checked and searched.

But beyond the terror alert by the U.S, how informed is the government and the various security agencies about the movement of persons and arms into the country and across the length and breadth of the states? So far, there are two major areas of security challenges, which government has not displayed appropriate capacity to put under firm control.

One is the festering Niger Delta crisis, a situation that began in the early sixties as a mere advocacy by persons in the Niger Delta for adequate development of the region, to compensate for its difficult ecological terrain. It transformed into a demand for appropriate financial reimbursement for the oil resources that Nigeria taps from the region. Today, the Niger Delta is receiving global attention owing to the activities of militants who have waged war to demand for resource control, and the response of the government to their actions.

The international community, particularly the United States is interested in the Niger Delta and the oil resources therein. The U.S had offered to police the Gulf of Guinea, on behalf of the governments of the countries, which border the Gulf. The Nigerian government is struggling between her sovereign pride and the huge resources required to police its vast oil resources.

Daily, militants break through security checks mounted by the Navy and the Joint Task Force, to inflict damage on oil installations. On the other hand, an obvious U.S presence in the Gulf could create impressions in the minds of militants, to the extent of diverting their attention to facilities of oil companies, U.S property and citizens in the mainland. So far, that has not happened, beyond the kidnap of expatriate oil workers.

The Niger Delta is therefore, a major security risk for the country, as arms come in from the open sea.

Another area of security concern is the incessant ethno-religious clashes in the middle-belt city of Jos and adjourning states in the farther north. Time and again, crisis fueled by religious hatred, the kind that is peddled by Al Qaeda and similar groups in the Middle and Far East is unleashed. The losses in lives and property far outnumber what was recorded at embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania by terrorists. Nearly all the time, government’s response is weak and feeble.

There are insinuations that terrorist elements operate at such mayhems. The ease with which arms are mobilised and networks are connected to ignite and unleash terror bear the signs of terrorism. The Maitatsine episode in the early 1980s is a typical example of the movement of militants across borders, with little or no resistant by government security personnel.

It is obvious that terrorists may not have found a permanent stronghold here, apart from the occasional hit and run. It is hoped, that they never find a stronghold.

It was the U.S State Department that once prophesied of the possibility that Nigeria would atrophy. Government did not disclaim that prophesy. And that possibility has not happened yet. The same government did not waste time in deploying security agencies to ‘Eleke’, over a routine terrorist alert. It is hoped that government would see the sense in taking the broader issues of internal security more serious and save the country from far more serious possibilities.

By Alabi Williams Assistant Political Editor