BY OKEY NDIRIBE
The near empty streets of Abuja and the corresponding free-flow of traffic last Wednesday may mislead a first time visitor to believe that the city is a dream land.
Indeed, some residents of the Federal Capital Territory had likened the look and atmosphere of the city since midweek to what normally obtains during major festivities when public holidays are declared.
It is believed by observers of the city that the scanty presence of residents was deliberately conceived by the Federal Government for the purpose of enhancing security within Abuja.
The Federal Government had apparently adopted the measure to reassure invitees to the on-going World Economic Forum, WEF, summit which began in the city last Wednesday that “All is Well”.
The move became necessary following two bomb blasts at Nyanya- a suburb of the FCT- which killed at least 95 persons based on official figures. Unofficial figures are much higher.
Following the second bomb explosion on May Day which occurred 17 days after the first, the military had thrown additional security cordon around the FCT. More military checkpoints were erected along all the entry points into Abuja from Nassarawa, Kogi and Niger states. Movement from all the satellite towns into the city also became highly restricted.
These notwithstanding, residents of the city continued to live in fear as rumour spread about another impending bomb attack by terrorists.
Indeed, wide-spread fear and panic within FCT caused a pandemonium last Tuesday at Nyanya, Karu, Kurudu, Jikwoyi, Gidan Mangoro, Orozo, Karshi and Kubwa.
The pandemonium occurred when many parents rushed to both public and private schools within the affected communities to withdraw their children following the spread of rumour that a group of school children in a bus had been kidnapped while being driven to Ave Maria school in Kurudu.
However, Vanguard Metro’s VM investigation revealed that three gunmen had arrived in the area at about 6 a.m. in Volkswagen-Golf car and parked a few metres away from the The Vine International Kiddies School gate. They waited until 8am when classes began. The security man further said he could not ascertain their exact mission to the school.
He said that at about 8am, the men approached the school gate, brought out their guns and forced him to lie on the ground. He said while he was on the ground, they forced one of the school bus drivers, who had just conveyed pupils to the premises, to hand over the key of the bus to them.
He further explained that the men drove away the bus with Abuja registration number, XG 246 GWA and engine number R2H1050040875. The security guard identified the guns carried by the men as AK47.
The incident attracted security operatives including soldiers, policemen and men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps who arrived the scene few hours after the attack.
An army officer from the Brigade of Guards, who pleaded anonymity, said that because of increasing cases of crime and bomb attacks in Nyanya, a military unit had been mounted in the area for speedy response to distress calls.
The Commander, Army Headquarters Garrison, N.T Ndionu, FCT Director, State Security Service, John Okogie and the Commander of the NSCDC, FCT Command visited the school shortly after the attack.
The FCT Police Public Relations Officer, Altine Daniel, said no child was abducted from the school, adding that it was just a car-hijacking incident.
But the police headquarters said it recovered a Toyota Hiace bus that was stolen by the three gunmen from The Vine International Academy, Kurudu.
Police operatives attached to Nasarawa State Police Command, following a massive hunt, intercepted and recovered the bus along Lafia Road, Nasarawa State and arrested two suspects, Victor Essien, aged 40 and Ubong Bassey, aged 49.
Even before the Kurudu incident, it was learnt that residents of communities located along Nyanya-Karshi Road had been living in fear after rumour spread that terrorists had written letters to several schools located along the road about their planned strike. Schools alleged to have received such letters included Federal Government Secondary Technical College, Orozo; Loyola Jesuit College, Gidan Mangoro and Government Secondary School Karshi.
Commenting on the incident, a community leader at Orozo who identified himself as Paul Udenyi said the rumour was actually traceable to a petition that was written to the Minister of Education Mr Nyesom Wike by a teacher at the Federal Government Secondary Technical School, Orozo. The teacher had raised alarm over the strange activities of some Fulani herdsmen in the area. Udenyi believes the military checkpoints that have just been mounted at several points along the road were in response to the rising concerns of residents of the area over security.
Nevertheless there have been mixed reactions among residents of the city over the security situation and partial shut down of Abuja. Many residents who spoke to VM said their view were not opposed to the Federal Government’s decision.
This view was also shared by Dr. Peter Ozo-Esan, the Chief Economist of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC. He explained that the economic cost of the measure should be evaluated side by side with the security benefit especially given the background of the presence of foreign dignitaries who are attending the WEF summit.
Said he: “Maybe public schools shouldn’t have been affected by the partial shut down. But there is nothing wrong with such a decision given our recent security challenges”.
Commenting on the security situation in FCT and the necessity for the partial shut down of the city for three days, the Special Adviser on Media to the FCT Minister, Mr Nosike Ogbuenyi said the Federal Capital could not be reached by the terrorists hence they resorted to attacking the suburbs.
He maintained that what the Federal Government had done was normal and consistent with the practice in other parts of the world hosting important international conferences.