Home Opinion Insecurity: Gradually coming home?  By Kazeem Akintunde

Insecurity: Gradually coming home?  By Kazeem Akintunde

What remained of a section of Kuje Prison last week after terrorist attack

Two major security breaches occurred in Nigeria last week. The first was the daredevil attack on the Kuje Custodial Centre in Abuja while the second was the attack on the advance convoy of President Muhammadu Buhari on its way to Daura in Katsina State. The two sad events occurred within hours of each other on Tuesday. Many Nigerians may not know the full import of those attacks, but those in security circles are aware of the grave implications of those attacks on Nigeria as a country.

That terrorists numbering over 200 could storm Kuje in a bid to free some of their fighters in detention and succeed despite the fact that security operatives picked up intelligence that something big was afoot, shows that we are all like sitting ducks in the country in the hand of terrorists. It actually shows that nowhere and nobody is safe in Nigeria again. 

The video of the attack posted on social media by the terrorists was gruesome. It took them less than 30 minutes to completely takeover the facility despite several layers of security mounted around Kuje. The war arsenal deployed by the criminals, has, once again, shown that if they desire to storm Aso Rock, they will, but we hope that they won’t get away with it. A dress rehearsal of such a possibility was the attack on the advance team of the President on their way to Daura, in Katsina State for the Eid-el-Kabir celebration. Though Garba Shehu, in a press release, said that security agents in the convoy were up to the task of pushing back the terrorists, he never mentioned the fact that two senior police officers lost their lives during the attack. 

What these latest attack have sign-posted is the fact that terrorists that have been a threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria are not joking and are bent on having their way. The question then will be what actually is the mission of these dare devil armed men who are ready to kill at the drop of a hat? Let me try to provide an answer. In the last 12 years, a group known as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad, better known in Nigeria as Boko Haram, has been waging a consistent war against the entity called Nigeria. Led by the late Abubakar Shekau, the group wanted to carve out a portion of Nigeria and other neigbouring countries as theirs where they could propagate their brand of Islam. 

The group, in March 2015, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as Al-Qaida, in Iraq, and changed the group’s name to Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). ISIL accepted the pledge the same month, as ISIL spokesman Abou Mohamed al Adnani released an audio message directing their members, who could not enter Iraq or the Syrian Arab Republic to travel to West Africa and team up with Shekau. In August 2016, ISIL leadership recognised and appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the de facto leader of ISWAP, which Shekau refused to accept. Due to infighting, ISIL-West Africa split into two factions, al-Barnawi’s faction (ISWAP) and Shekau’s faction (Boko Haram). 

It is estimated that ISWAP has approximately 3,500-5,000 fighters. It is the same ISWAP that has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna Train in March as well as last week’s attack on Kuje Custodial Centre. 

Prior to that, ISWAP has carried out numerous attacks in Nigeria, since its formation: In June 2019, the group attacked two military bases in the towns of Marte and Kirenowa, near the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, Nigeria, ransacking weapons and pushing Nigerian troops back; 

•In May 2019, the group conducted an attack on a military base in the town of Gubio, north of Maiduguri, Nigeria, killing at least three Nigerian soldiers; 

•In December 2018, the group conducted a series of attacks, taking over the commercial town of Baga, Nigeria, near the border with Chad as well as a nearby Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) base; 

•On 18 November 2018, the group attacked an army base in the village of Metele, in northeastern Borno state, Nigeria, killing over 100 Nigerian soldiers; 

•In September 2018, the group captured a town in Borno State after sacking and occupying a military base in northeast Nigeria; •In April 2018, the group conducted attacks on the outskirts of Maiduguri, Nigeria, killing 18 people and leaving 84 wounded; •In February 2018, the group abducted 110 schoolgirls in Nigeria and in March, kidnapped three aid workers during an attack that killed dozens of other people; •In January 2017, the group conducted a midnight attack against Nigerian troops in the village of Kamuya, Nigeria, resulting in the death of three Nigerian soldiers. 

The boldness with which the group carries out its operations now shows that there are internal collaborators within the security agencies that are providing information and intelligence report to the criminals. Indeed, during the raid on Kuje Prison, which lasted over two hours, the terrorists, after gaining control of the centre, separated the inmates and directed their members to step aside. After that, they allegedly preached to non-members about the virtue of their cause while they gave out money to their members for transportation back to base. 

The attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train in March during which many innocent Nigerians were killed and scores abducted was primarily aimed at forcing the Federal Government to the negotiation table for the release of their members in captivity. While the release of their members was of paramount importance to the terrorists, the Federal Government was least bothered about the welfare of its citizens in the hands of the terrorists. It was this non-challant disposition of the  government that allowed the negotiation to drag on for more than three months. But the terrorists, who are more purposeful, considered other alternatives, hence the decision to storm Kuje to forcefully free their members. Having now gotten their members out of jail, they are at liberty to do whatever they so desire to the abductees whom they had wanted to use as bargaining tools. Thank God they have shown ‘magnanimity’ by releasing another batch of seven victims in their captivity, following threats to start killing them due to government’s inaction on their demands.

Few hours after the attack, President Muhammadu Buhari, on his way out of the country, visited the facility and expressed worry about the lack of intelligence by security agencies in picking up the plan and well-coordinated attack on Kuje. After Buhari’s departure, many politicians have been visiting the facility to lament while their aides issued same watery press releases, telling Nigerians what went wrong and how measures would be put in place to prevent future attacks. Among those that have visited is Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Internal Affairs, who, in a serious clime would have tendered his resignation letter to the President by now. The attack on Kuje Custodial Centre which he superintends was not the first. In October last year, Abolongo Custodial Centre in Oyo State was also attacked and inmates were freed. 

What were the measures the Minister put in place to prevent such occurrences?

Hear him: “After the Abolongo, Oyo State attack on a correctional facility, in October last year, it became apparent that a new form of attack for which our system was not prepared for had emerged. Our system was primed to prevent and foil internal disturbance and riots, not external attacks/invasion, since the facilities were usually built around police and military formations.” 

The minister went on to say that he then directed that the NCoS to “urgently work with other security agencies to fortify all correctional centres in the country and insulate them against future attacks. This was carried out, as well-armed soldiers, police and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) officers were drafted to our facilities nationwide, to secure them against further attacks. “Several but unsuccessful attempts were made to attack our facilities since then, as the armed guards repelled them on each occasion. We are working with the Ministry of Defence and the Office of the National Security Adviser as well as other intelligence and security agencies to ensure that the attackers and the escaped inmates are captured and returned to custody. As we speak, security personnel are combing the whole area, up to a distance of 100 kilometres radius, looking for them. All checkpoints nationwide have been put on alert. More than 400 of them have been brought in and more are still coming.” I wish him well in the search for the escaped criminals. 

When it became apparent that ISWAP was bent on getting back its fighters in government facilities across the country, security should have been stepped up around those facilities. Most of the known fighters could even have been moved to a maximum-security prison and such movement, known only to a few people. But in Nigeria, we play politics with everything. 

While the Federal Government and the National Assembly could be commended for providing necessary funding for prosecuting the war against the terrorists, the fact remains that the government and NASS have not lived up to expectation by ensuring that money meant for procuring hardware for the fight are track and judiciously used. It is a known fact that many of the security operatives deployed to protect Kuje prison ran away due to the heavy fire-power unleashed on them by the terrorists.

And this is because money budgeted for the procurement of military hardware in this part of the world almost always ends up in the wrong pockets. The soldiers on the battlefield complain of poor equipment in prosecuting the war while the commanders in offices seemingly smile to the bank. 

But the purposeful terrorists would carry out kidnapping for ransom, share few of the proceeds with the fighters and invest the rest in getting high-caliber weapons in the black market to continue with their dastardly acts. This has allowed the war against terror to drag on endlessly in the last 12 years, with no solution in sight.

The General that we have as our commander-in-chief seems overwhelmed by all these and is comfortable marking days to hand over the ruin of Nigeria to the next undertaker. It is this sorry state that has forced many Nigerians to consider relocating out of the country in a bid to escape the mess the country has become. The rest who cannot escape now have the opportunity to reset the country by voting for competent leaders in next year’s general elections. If we miss the opportunity to get it right next year, then we may have to start singing bye-bye to Nigeria.

See you next week.

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