Nigeria: insecurity grips the national capital

(Abuja) A series of attacks and threats near the Nigerian government headquarters in Abuja by Islamists and other armed groups are sparking fear and apprehension among citizens of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and across the country, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Nigerian police have assured citizens that they have tightened security in the federal region, which includes Abuja, but these attacks and threats, even to kidnap the president, point to an alarming deterioration in the country’s security situation. The authorities must guarantee adequate security to all civilians while respecting human rights.

“Recent events unfolding in the capital confirm the fears of many Nigerians that the threat from Islamist insurgents and other armed groups is now a national threat that has reached critical levels,” said Anietie Ewang, researcher on the Nigeria to Human Rights Watch. “The groups’ ability to expand beyond their base, even as far as the nation’s capital, means authorities need to significantly increase their efforts to protect people.”

For more than a decade, Nigeria has been embroiled in a conflict in the North East region with Boko Haram, an Islamist insurgent group, and its splinter factions, including the Islamic State of East Africa Province. West (ISWAP). These groups kill and kidnap people in their quest to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic state. In the northwest, years of conflict between nomadic pastoralists, mostly ethnic Fulani, and farming communities of Hausa ethnicity have resulted in a proliferation of powerful criminal gangs with sophisticated weapons that terrorize communities and kill , loot and kidnap people, including school children, for ransom.

On July 5, armed men attacked a minimum security prison in Kuje, a community in the Federal District, about 40 kilometers from Abuja. During the attack, claimed by the Islamic State West Africa Province, around 900 detainees escaped, including more than 60 Boko Haram suspects. Security analysts have also pointed to the involvement of Ansaru, a splinter faction backed by Boko Haram’s al-Qaeda, in the attack, although the extent of its involvement is unclear.

On July 25, unidentified assailants killed six officers of the Presidential Guard Brigade, an elite army force tasked with protecting the president and the federal area, in Bwari, a community in the federal area where finds a campus of Nigeria Law School. . The officers were deployed to provide security after law school management received a letter from unidentified sources threatening an imminent attack on the school.

In response, the Federal Ministry of Education announced the immediate closure of all federal government colleges in the federal region to ensure student safety, affecting thousands of students.

On July 29, media reported that gunmen attacked a military checkpoint in the Federal Region along the Abuja-Kaduna highway, which has become notorious in recent years for kidnappings and other attacks on citizens.

On July 24, a video surfaced on social media showing kidnapped victims of a March attack by suspected ISWAP members on a train leaving Abuja, heading for Kaduna State, being beaten by their kidnappers. In the video, members of the armed group threatened to kill or sell the victims as captives to others if the government did not comply with their demands, including the release of some ISWAP members and the payment of ransom. They also threatened to kidnap President Muhammadu Buhari and other government officials.

These incidents and other reports of abductions in the federal region have caused fear, panic and apprehension among the citizens.

A local taxi driver, who transports passengers from Abuja to Mararaba and Nyanya in neighboring Nasarawa state, told Human Rights Watch: “The kind of fear I feel is overwhelming, as I travel on the road. I don’t know where or how [an attack] can happen, so I’m always on high alert. I panic at every checkpoint because I don’t know if it’s bandits or police there. Even the passengers are suspicious because there is no way of knowing if I am transporting a bandit or a terrorist who can harm me.

Another taxi driver taking the same route said: ‘The reports are so alarming and have made everyone very aware of their safety. Before, we could be on the road with passengers after 10 p.m., but now we try to wrap up and get home at 8 p.m. and it’s losing up to 30% of our daily income. The taxi driver said he and several of his colleagues also observed that there weren’t many passengers on the road after 8 p.m., possibly because everyone was scared.

A 45-year-old civil servant from Borno State, the center of the Boko Haram conflict, who moved his family out of the state in 2008 at the start of the crisis, has expressed concern about the insecurity in the federal region as it looks a lot like the start of the crisis in Borno State, with disturbing waves of attacks and threats: “If the government does not take the necessary measures, the FCT will overflow and everyone will will flee as we fled Borno state to find safety in other places.

Confidence MacHarry, senior security analyst at SBM Intelligence, an organization that tracks Nigeria’s security issues, said the security situation in the federal region is worse than it has ever been, even in comparison with the early days of the Boko Haram conflict when places like the United Nations office in Abuja were attacked.

He said this is because there are now more groups outside of Boko Haram posing threats and the security forces are stretched thin trying to respond. MacHarry also said authorities use words like “bandits” or “terrorists” to brush various groups under the same blanket, rather than specifically identifying groups so they can formulate appropriate responses.

In response to the attacks and threats, the Nigerian police chief deployed more officers to the region and the Federal Executive Council approved 2.6 billion naira ($6.2 million) for vehicles and equipment. equipment of the security agencies operating there.

Despite huge budgetary allocations to the country’s security sector in recent years, the security forces remain ill-equipped, while corruption scandals continue to emerge. Security forces have also been implicated in gross human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions and extrajudicial executions, while responding to security crises across the country, and have repeatedly failed to hold officers responsible for these violations accountable to the justice system.

“Nigerian authorities must ensure that adequate security measures are in place to keep citizens safe, prosecute perpetrators and bring those responsible to justice in accordance with human rights laws,” Ewang said. “Anything short of this will spark more grievances against the government, which could escalate an already tense situation and fuel new cycles of violence.”