By SONI DANIEL Regional Edtor, North, KINGSLEY OMONOBI, SIMON EBEGBULEM, FAVOUR NNABUGWU & NDAHI MARAMA
The Inspector General of Police, IGP, Mohammed Abubakar, has ordered special security operations across the country to ensure peaceful Easter celebrations.
The operations encompass extensive counter-terrorism sweeps, detailed overt and covert surveillance operations, intelligence-driven raids, arms mop-up as well as special stop and search exercise among other strategies.
Abubakar gave the order as parents and youths armed with bows and arrows have commenced thorough search for the 99 out of the 129 girls abducted from the Government Girls’ Secondary School, GGSS, Chibok, in Borno State last Friday by members of the Boko Haram terrorists, blaming the government for not being serious about finding their children and wards.
The people took the decision to take the bull by the horns in looking for their children, following the claim by the Military that over 88 of the abducted students had been rescued.
However, the two- time former Governor of the defunct Bendel State, Dr Samuel Ogbemudia, yesterday asked security agencies in the country to go after local manufacturers of bombs and explosives as well as importers of bombs, warning that bombings by terrorists would remain unabated unless the illegal activities of the importers and manufacturers were checked.
This was even as Saturday Vanguard gathered yesterday that most travelers leaving Abuja and other northern states preferred to enter commercial vehicles along the roadside instead of doing so at the major motor parks following the bomb blast that killed over 100 passengers at the Nyanya Bus Terminus in Abuja last Monday.
But, according to a statement by Police Headquarters in Abuja, police operatives involved in the special security exercise were drawn from the Bomb Disposal Squad, Counter-Terrorism Units, Police Mobile Force and Joint Border Patrol Units.
Other specialized branches involved are the Force Intelligence Bureau, Police Dog Section and the conventional police teams.
The police operatives would also pay special attention to motor parks, airports and seaports, border points, recreation parks, major markets and shopping malls.
“In ensuring a successful execution of this special operation, the IGP has ordered all Zonal Assistant Inspector Generals of Police, AIGs and Commissioners of Police including other Commanding Officers to ensure effective deployments of men and resources throughout the period of the operation.
“In addition, these Commanding Officers have been directed to remain on ground and personally supervise the special operation throughout the Easter holidays and beyond.
“The Police High Command strongly advises owners of unregistered vehicles to withdraw them from the highways immediately.
“Persons and companies operating vehicles painted in police colours or bearing police insignia are also advised to withdraw them from public roads forthwith as field operatives have been directed to arrest and bring to book all such violators.
“Similarly, owners of uncompleted buildings are to keep them clear of undesirable elements and to report to the Police all unauthorized persons inhabiting such places.
“Meanwhile, the IGP has expressed his sincere appreciation to the Nigerian public for their unwavering support to the Nigeria Police and other law enforcement agencies in their resolve to make Nigeria safe and secure.
“He reassures the public that the security agencies will leave no stone unturned in ensuring the safety of all Nigerians during the holidays and thereafter,” the statement said.
PARENTS AND YOUTHS STORM SAMBISA IN SEARCH OF MISSING SCHOOL GIRLS
Meanwhile, following the claim, which was later withdrawn, by the Director of Defence Information, DDI, Major General Chris Olukolade, that the military had rescued more than 88 of the abducted girls, their parents and youths armed with bows and arrows yesterday commenced a thorough search of the missing students, blaming the government for not being serious with the issue of finding their wards and loved ones.
The communities where the female students were abducted from were said to have been infuriated by claim by the Military Spokesman, Olukolade that several of their children had been rescued.
Both the Principal of the GGSS, Mrs Asabe Kwarmbula, and the Borno State Commissioner for Education, Alhaji Inuwa Kubo, denied Olukolade’s statement, forcing the DDI to apologise over the widely publicized information.
Kwarmbula in an interview with newsmen on Thursday said, “the statement credited to the military spokesman was a blatant lie,’’ pointing out that she never spoke to the Defence Headquarters as claimed.
She noted that apart from the 30 students that
escaped, none of the girls had been rescued.
”I am highly disappointed by the spokesman of the Defence Headquarters who told the media that I confirmed to him that 80 of my students who were abducted by terrorists have been rescued. From the official record I have, only 30 out of the 129 missing have been rescued as at today (Thursday).”
A Chibok community leader, one Mr. Bitrus Chibok told newsmen in Maiduguri on the telephone that parents and youths were mobilized by the community elders before they entered the bush in search of their missing daughters.
Easter Holiday: Abuja residents fear parks, stand on roadsides to travel
Residents traveling out of Abuja for the Easter celebrations loathed going into motor parks to board vehicle to their various destination as they stood by the roadsides with their luggage yesterday, waving down commercial vehicles.
At Gwagwalada, Nyanya, Zuba and other satellite towns that served as exit and entry points into the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Saturday Vanguard observed a good number of travelers standing by the roadsides beckoning on moving vehicles to stop even as the city centre was deserted due to the Easter holidays.
Saturday Vanguard could count the number of vehicles on the Abuja- Abaji road which was usually busy during festive period with unusual traffic gridlock, as it was almost desolate.
A traveler, who gave his name simply as Tony, said he was wary of going near the Zuba Motor Park, saying that he preferred to board smaller vehicles and pay higher than going into any crowded park.
Residents shun recreational parks as security agents mount surveillance
Also, at Abuja outskirts in Nyanya, residents of the Federal Capital territory, have opted to keep clear of areas that can easily be attacked by terrorists.
Major parks and recreational rendezvous in the FCT, which are normally filled to capacity during festive periods, like Easter and Christmas celebrations, remained empty, as residents fear that they could be ambushed by terrorists.
Nonetheless, security agents took over such places in the town and mounted surveillance throughout the day in a proactive bid to ward off any attack.
Findings by Saturday Vanguard revealed that a combination of Department of State Services, DSS, operatives and their counterparts from the Police Bomb Disposal Unit were at hand in most of the parks in the city for most of the day.
They were backed by some officials of the Anti-Terrorism Unit of the police, who also extended their operations to major hotels and public institutions around the FCT.
Many of the DSS operatives, bomb disposal experts and ATS officials took positions at the entrance of the Millennium Park, which is at the precincts of the Presidential Villa and extends towards Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Maitama District of the city.
A DSS Van and a bomb-disposal Mercedes Benz Truck were stationed by the side of the park while some armed personnel of other security agencies kept watch over the area.
Although the presence of the security agents bolstered the confidence of revelers, it also scared aware potential visitors to the park, which was the scene of a bomb attack on October 1, 2010.
At least a dozen perish in the blasts, which shook Abuja and the administration and triggered a major manhunt for the perpetrators.
Many other recreational facilities were shunned by revelers. A major children’s playground near the National Mosque Abuja and a cinema centre, witnessed very low patronage as parents were cautious in bringing their wards to recline there.
A security operative, who spoke in confidence, said they had tried to be more proactive ‘this time around’ to avoid a repeat of the October 1, 2010 episode around the Millennium Park.
“We are trying to prevent any untoward action of the enemies of progress in the city. The cordon of many areas in the town will continue even after the Easter break,” the source explained.
But many parents had to shelve major Easter packages arranged for their children and wards, especially those that would have taken place along the troubled Nyanya-Keffi Road, which has now been taken over by security agents.
The cordon-and-search operation being carried out by the Nigerian Army in the wake of the Nyanya bombing has created another problem of its own for residents and commuters along the route.
The search has led to unavoidable long queues of vehicles that stretched several kilometres and led to the breakdown of many vehicles due to overheating.
On Thursday, the stop-and-search operation by soldiers caused a major traffic gridlock on the Nyanya-Keffi Road for over seven hours, leaving many commuters stranded in the process.
However, the former Governor of the defunct Bendel State, Dr Samuel Ogbemudia, yesterday urged security agencies in the country to go after local manufacturers of bombs and explosives as well as importers of bombs, as a way of checking the menace.
Ogbemudia lambasted those criticizing President Goodluck Jonathan for embarking on political tours despite the bombings in Nyanya Park and the abduction of students by the terrorists pointing out that it would amount to defeat if the President remained indoors due to terrorist activities.
He said that for the war on terror to be won, the Federal Government must work with the locals in order to fish out suspects.
“From the little I know, there are three important methods of having a bomb in Nigeria. The first is through importation by those granted licence by the Federal Government to bring in explosives to do their civil engineering work. The second is through smuggling and that the Customs can take care of that while the third is through local manufacturing because the materials for manufacturing them are also in the country.
“When I was in training in America they sent us to a Chemist to buy the powder; we would bring them, mix them together and ignite them either with water or something else. That was in 1962. Now the technology has improved so the security agencies must do something. But we must also bear in mind that the Boko Haram people carrying guns may not be the manufacturers of the explosives because the type of explosives you have mostly in plastic forms, the PNT, they cannot do that, they are imported. So we must go after these importers and monitor them.
“The one we can put together are the local ones. I think again, the appeal should go to our local people whose homes they keep these equipment. The local people in whose presence they make these because if you are going to make a bomb you need accesilin, you need gas… and all these materials they buy from people. The people know who buys accesilin, who buys gas, who buys cutting torch, all the materials they use locally, they can follow them, supervise them and monitor their movements.
“Government has done everything humanly possible but the people are more in number than the people government put there to work. Government set up a road block if some funny people are working, they can calm down when they get to the road block and walk through the road block and pick up another vehicle in front. Security men will not know but you need the people themselves to report that that vehicle coming is carrying some dangerous materials.
“In the late 50s when Nigeria was helping the Cameroun to overcome the rebellion against it, some of us were sent to the Cameroun border and we found that people were transporting ammunition using spare tyres and so when the vehicles come for inspection we will leave it to pass. But one day we caught a woman who confessed to us that all the empty vehicles passing were the ones carrying the ammunition before we learnt our lessons. So there is need to identify ammunition in any vehicle,” he said.
On the recent abduction of students in Borno state, he asserted: “first of all it is an unfortunate incident. Two, we must sympathise with the families of the students. On this issue of kidnapping, I hold the view that many people in the locality may have seen these children being marched away. They are the people who ought to give information to the security agencies, security men cannot be everywhere.
“Nigeria is over 900,000 square kilometres and …we cannot have enough soldiers to do that or police or Air Force or Navy. Therefore those who are on ground should help the police with information so that they can catch up with these people. Those children they took away they have parents, the parents may not have been present but there are people in the village who saw them being marched away, they could easily have traced them.
“So I think that the appeal must go to the local people to open their eyes and ears and also use their communication gadgets to inform the security people. Every day the police must list telephone numbers which the public should take note of and use them to the maximum.
“People who are criticizing the President may probably be feeling like the parents of the victims that the President did not declare state of mourning or cancellation of his appointments, but that is exactly what the bombers want. If you do that, then you have already conceded victory to them. We all know that the President in his quiet moment feels so bad and he comes out strong to ensure that the people do not show any sign of defeat by leading them with a bold face. If he does not do that people will say this is a weak man; only one bombing and he has given up. So he is right with what he is doing.
“Every country has its own challenge. If you look round Africa, Europe, Latin America, you will find that there are always problems in every country and many end up stronger than they were when such problems started. Nigeria, in my view will be a united country because this current challenge is designed to strengthen our resolve to live together. Designed by an unknown force to ensure that we live together and to also accept and make sacrifice for the betterment of the country and the people,” Ogbemudia further said.