Is Nigeria Safe From Terrorist Attack?

On Thursday September 6th 2007, the United States Mission in Nigeria issued a warning of an imminent terrorist threat in the country. The official warning, in a message for U.S. citizens in Nigeria, gave few details, but said potential targets included official and commercial installations in the capital Abuja and the commercial city of Lagos. The statement affirmed that the U.S. Mission in Nigeria had received information that U.S. and other Western interests in Nigeria are currently at risk for terrorist attack. A private security consultant said he had also received a similar warning from the U.S. embassy which stated that the threat was seen until mid-October.

Militant attacks on multi-billion dollar Western oil facilities in the Niger Delta are common, but there has never been any large scale terrorist attack on Western targets outside the Niger Delta. Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe berated foreign diplomats on Wednesday following the warning over what he said were excessive concerns voiced by their countries about insecurity in the delta. The U.S. and other Western states had warned their citizens against travel to the lawless region, where attacks have cut a fifth of Nigeria‘s oil production capacity since early 2006.

As soon as the report broke, the Acting Inspector General of Police quickly met with the consular of the Embassy in Nigeria and assured them of their safety. The Lagos State Government and Police Command also assured expatriates living in Lagos of their safety and gave out some numbers through which Lagosians can report any suspicious movement around the city. The question is this, given the increasing rise of terrorist attacks which have multiplied since the September 11th 2001 attack in US, how safe are we in Nigeria? Also given the strategic importance of the country as the fifth largest supplier of oil to the US and the sixth largest producer of the product in the world, how immune to terror attacks are we? How prepare we will be in case the unforeseeable happens?

It should be noted that the September 11th attack hit hard at the United States in spite of country’s being security conscious with billions of dollars voted for Homeland Security and the alertness of their security agencies. Should the terrorist threat be taken with a pinch of salt despite its being played down? With the porous nature of our borders and numerous illegal immigrants in the country without an ongoing database, the threat, though played down is real. There are many questions begging for answers. How prepared are our security agencies? How conscious are we as a people to report suspicious and strange people in our midst given the relationship between the citizens and the security agencies? And also given that the threat of terror is borderless and can happen anywhere, we should take the threat seriously.

How will it be detected if a terrorist decides to place a high caliber bomb under the Third Mainland Bridge during rush hour with cars lining up the entire bridge and walks away quietly? The bridge is not under any form of patrol neither is the lights working. I drove the whole length of the bridge with only my headlights guiding me sometime in August with the rain pouring down ceaselessly. I shudder if a deranged terrorist finds his way into the country and decides to blow himself and others up at the busy Oshodi! Imagine the casualty. Do you see any of our security agencies detecting a man wired up and running towards the busy bustop? Your guess is as good as mine.

I still cannot fathom how a terrorist with the promise of martyrdom and who decides to bring down any of the high rise buildings on Marina would be stopped. How about the one who decides to use the car? In this age of car bomb explosion killing over two hundred people and more. On daily basis cars are parked on our highways and inner streets with the slightest suspicions. Sometimes cars can be seen parked near strategic buildings, locations and formations without questions being asked. How about if they are loaded with explosives and someone detonates it in a busy street. Didn’t this happen in Port Harcourt in 2006? An Al Qaeda attempt would be more devastating. Have we ever considered that the numerous petrol tankers and their contents are sitting ducks in the hands would be terrorists? How about if several terrorists decide to hijack tankers loaded with inflammable substance and drive them to strategic buildings in the cities at the same time?

How safe are our airports? In Glasgow Scotland, a young terrorist drove his car laden with bombs into the arrival of the airport with devastating consequences. The London bus bomb attack in July 2005 is still fresh in our memory. Terrorists armed with rucksack blew up transit London buses up killing innocent souls. This is a country with Close Circuit Cameras (CCTV) at major intersections, traffic lights, public places, buildings etc. But that in itself is a good thing because if you cannot prevent the crime, you can be sure that footages will reveal the perpetrators.

But sadly this is not the case in our dear country where ordinary burglars, pickpockets and armed robbers have a field day plying their trade unmolested. How about the different high profile crime cases in the country? The truth is that we should pray that such calamity should not befall us for we are simply not ready to prevent it or manage the aftermath, the reassurances of the authorities not withstanding. But it should also be noted that majority of our people are not security conscious and are not in the habit of reporting suspicious movement, strange faces and are not about to change despite security warnings.

One should indeed be surprised that our authorities are not viewing the threat of a terrorist attack with the red alert it requires. My point is that the threat of a terror attack is real, warning or no warning. Nigerians should be conscious of this. In the wake of the terror attack on US in 2001, the incidences of attack increased worldwide. The following indices that it can happen would suffice. In 2003, there was massive slayings in the Al-Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in Kenya and Tanzania. The Kenya bombing left more than two hundred people dead. The two countries were caught unawares and had no known link with hatred manifested through the terror attack. Shortly after the attack on the two African countries in 2003, Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden included Nigeria in a list of six countries he said he wanted to see liberated from enslavement to Washington.

Again, after Bin Laden’s comment, a little-known group called the Nigerian Taliban launched a series of armed attacks on police stations and government buildings in the remote Northeast states of Yobe and Borno in late 2003 and early 2004.This prompted a military crackdown in which at least 20 people were killed. The Taliban, who said they wanted an Islamic state in Nigeria, have hardly been heard of since. But these are not coincidences. Terrorist organizations are known to weigh in on their targets with years of careful planning before they attack. The import of the above is that we should take our security seriously.

The counter terrorism department of our various security agencies should follow up on any known and perceived threat and nip it in the bud. Preemptive strikes are a major tool of counter terrorism. Though because of the sophistication of recent attacks and because terrorist organizations violate rules of modern warfare established in The Hague and Geneva Conventions, it has become almost impossible to detect. With the aim of achieving political change, acts of terror are designed to get attention from the public and media. International terrorism is considered to have got its start at the 1972 Munich Olympics, at which a Palestinian organization Black September kidnapped and killed Israeli athletes preparing to compete.

The event also gave us our contemporary sense of terrorism as highly theatrical, symbolic acts of violence by organized groups with specific political grievances. Black September’s political goal was negotiating the release of Palestinian prisoners. They used spectacular tactics to bring international attention to their national cause. Munich radically changed the world’s handling of terrorism. Religiously motivated terrorism is considered the most alarming terrorist threat today. Groups that justify their violence on Islamic grounds Al Qaeda, Hamas, and the Hezbollah—come to mind first. But Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and other religions have given rise to their own forms of militant extremism.

What is most distressing about this turn, as religion scholars’ points out, is terrorists’ departure from any real religious precepts. Muhammad Atta, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, and the Egyptian hijacker who was driving the first plane, was a near alcoholic and was drinking vodka before he boarded the aircraft. Alcohol would be strictly off limits for a highly observant Muslim. Atta, and perhaps many others, are not simply orthodox believers turned violent, but rather violent extremists who manipulate religious concepts for their own purposes.

According to the United States Counter Terrorism Unit and the Department of Homeland Security, international terrorism has shown no sign of abating in the next fifteen years due to lagging economies, ethnic affiliations, intense religious convictions, creating conditions likely to spawn internal conflict. The governing capacity of states, however, will determine whether and to what extent conflicts actually occur. Those states unable both to satisfy the expectations of their peoples and to resolve or quell conflicting demands among them are likely to encounter the most severe and most frequent outbreaks of violence. We must move away from these conditions and strengthened our internal security to avert any major disaster on our nation.

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