By Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Alice Festus
Fear rules here. The signs are everywhere. Any vehicle that comes around to drop passengers intending to catch a bus out of Abuja is looked at with suspicion. And unlike the former practice, touts here no longer run after approaching vehicles as they scout for passengers. They allow the vehicles to stop and the passengers out before meeting them. Indeed the fear of suicide bomber operating in a vehicle has become the beginning of wisdom for touts at the Jabi Motor Park, Utako, Abuja since the bombing at the Sabon Gari Motor Park, Kano which claimed scores of lives.
The Kano bomber reportedly drove a Golf car. Many touts were said to have been victims of the attack as the bomber detonated his device while the touts ran after his vehicle. The Kano incident only signifies the level to which motor parks in the major towns and cities are prone to terror attack. The operators of the Jabi Motor Park, one of the major facilities from which people travel out of the Federal Capital to other parts of the country, now carry out their activities with that mindset.
An operator told Sunday Vanguard that the Kano park bombing prompted them to remove abandoned vehicles from the vicinity of the Jabi Park. This makes sense as experience shows that terrorists often explode bombs in abandoned vehicles. The personnel employed by the park operators use metal detectors to frisk passengers for weapons before allowing them to board vehicles to proceed on their journeys.
This practical predates the Kano bombing. But the other side to the security situation in the park is the charge against the management of Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), which oversees the park, that it had done nothing to uplift the park since it was established not to talk of securing the users. Instead, a member of the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), said AMAC had been creating mushroom parks to make money.
The NARTO member, who spoke in Pidgin English, said, “Oga, make I tell you the truth; security is a big challenge to us here. AMAC does not do anything to make this park function properly. They provided office but no police to check who comes and wetin they carry. We have no protection here, na God dey protect us.
“This park is dirty, smelling, people are urinating every where, people carry any kind of thing here, anybody can bring in bomb here. The last ThisDay bombing affected the buildings here. When the park was functioning, there was police here, but now nobody searches anybody before entering the park. This place is supposed to have fire service and police but nothing. We have complained to AMAC many times but nothing was done,” he said.
But officials of the National Union for Road Transport Workers, NURTW, at the park, who said it was established over 20 years ago by AMAC, disclosed that the union had put in place measures to monitor the movement of people and vehicles in the area. They added that since the Kano bombing, there had been presence of members of the Department of Security Service, DSS. The union, however, was mute on the kind of security put in place to protect the park users against attack.
At the Luxurious Bus Section of the park, the Administrative Manager, Mr. Emmanuel Okoli, said they had in place a security network and that the police come to monitor movements especially between 7pm and 11 pm when activities at the park are at the peak because the luxurious buses mostly operate night journeys.
Okoli said, “After the Kano incident, we sanitized the park by removing abandoned vehicles. When buses are loading in the night, we don’t allow any vehicle to come into the park. We are trying to put iron gate so that in the evening, whoever is coming will be searched. We have three metal detectors which the security operatives use here to check if any one is carrying a weapon”, he stated.
The manager also disclosed that the management of the park recruited 15 persons to mount surveillance day and night, saying, however, that everything done was through the money donated by members.
Efforts made to talk to the authorities of AMAC did not yield any result as the staff said it was only the chairman that was competent to talk on the security situation in the parks, while the AMAC chairman himself was not available when Sunday Vanguard visited his office. However, the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, in charge of the Jabi Park, Usman Umar, a Chief Superintendent of Police, CSP, said that before the Kano incident the police were not resting on their oars.
Umar said, “We have been partnering with members of the public within the district so as to monitor them effectively through the PPRC, the Police Public Relations Committee. And following the attack that happened in Kano, the commissioner of police invited the leadership of the various unions within the park , we sat down with them and brainstormed on how to effectively police the various motor parks within Utako with particular emphasis on the Jabi Motor Park which is the major motor park in the FCT.
“The operators need to partner with us because they are the ones using the park. It is their investment; the role of the police is to protect lives and properties, but they are the ones operating there, therefore we want them to partner with us. And they should be extra vigilant knowing people that are coming in.
“On the part of the police, we have deployed men, some carrying metal detectors to frisk people coming in with emphasis on people driving in so as not to carry anything. We have sensitized them, and asked them to be more proactive by asking people that have no business being there to leave. “Vehicles that are abandoned should be taken away because you will agree with me that bombers can use such vehicles”.
The DPO added, “If you check the various gates at the park, police men are there and what is expected is for them to cooperate with passengers and the leadership of the various unions within the park to also cooperate”.
Umar further explained that emphasis was on people driving as the police are not oblivious of the fact that suicide bombers for example don’t mind dying along with others.
“We are talking about people carrying IED, now we emphasis on people coming, we screen them but that does not mean that luggages cannot be screened; vehicles going out will also be screened.”
To ensure that there is no untoward activity during the Easter period, the DPO said the call for partnership between the police and the park operators had become necessary.
But despite the statements of the DPO, there was virtually no presence of the police at the Jabi Park and the other motor parks in Utako when Sunday Vanguard visited.