By Rotimi Fasan
THE United States Embassy in Nigeria just over a week ago issued alerts of possible terrorist attacks on Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. The first of the alerts was an advisory by the embassy warning Americans in Nigeria to be watchful and careful of their movements around the city.
While this notice of an imminent attack didn’t go down well with Abuja and the Federal Government was still smarting from it, the US Embassy was to follow the initial alert with another announcing the evacuation of non-essential staff of the embassy and their families back to the US.
An apparently angry Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information, had responded to the first report by the American Embassy with an assurance to Nigerians that the government had received no intelligence of an attack and that if there was such plan in the offing, the country’s security agencies were on top of it.
If Lai Muhammed’s response downplayed the seriousness of the initial alert and probably gave Nigerians some sense that Abuja was not sleeping with its roof on fire, the second alert literally brought Abuja under lockdown in a manner only seen during the uncertain months of the corona virus pandemic, sending residents of the city into a state of panic and palpable fear.
The situation was not helped by the fact that the US Embassy’s position was soon to be supported by embassies of some other western countries that also scaled down their operations in Abuja and thereafter proceeded with an air of detached unconcern and apparent sense of self-righteousness at having delivered what it considered its bounden duty by the people of Nigeria. But the aftermath of these terror warnings is yet to be fully known even as major businesses, especially those in the hospitality sector, have since shut their doors to customers. The suffering to those directly affected is only best imagined.
There is a lot to quarrel with about the manner the US and its western allies went about alerting the world to the probability of Abuja coming under terrorist attacks. The response from the Nigerian government also leaves so much to be desired. The synergy between governments, especially between a host government and representatives of foreign powers in a country, was clearly not evident in the conduct of the western missions and their Nigerian host.
There was a hint of hostility or indifference, at the very least, arrogant disdain in the way the western missions issued the terror alerts. There was no consideration, apparently, for the way the Nigerian government, much less the Nigerian people, was likely to respond to the warnings. It was like throwing a bomb into a crowd and walking away. The manner of delivery itself looked like an act of terror, aimed at achieving the worst form of reaction.
Beyond its display of impotent rage that was clear in the words of Alhaji Lai Muhammed, the Nigerian government doesn’t seem to have a lot more to do or say to show its displeasure. The minister didn’t even talk in a way that could suggest Abuja was ready to do what it would, as a matter of course, be expected to do in such circumstances, which is to engage its western counterparts and to demand from them details of the intelligence that informed their terror alerts. It seemed to have concluded that they were up to no good and it was content to go on without paying them any heed. But how much can such empty rage achieve; how far can it go to douse the tension created by the alerts?
What effort did the US Embassy and its western allies make to warn the Nigerian government before throwing its bombshell of terror alerts in the public square and scaring the wits out of the Nigerian residents of Abuja and their loved ones? There was a sense in which the alerts portray Nigeria as a whole, and not just Abuja, as an unsafe place to be. The sense of foreboding was palpable and its discouraging effects on foreign investors may not be easily measured. And in the wake of the insensitivity that underlined the whole effort, could it be said that these western representatives of foreign governments have done well by their hosts?
Was theirs a show of power without responsibility or a performance of arrogant western exceptionalism? How much of this constitutes interference in the affairs of a foreign country and, therefore, a breach of diplomatic protocol considering that a similar alert was issued by the US Embassy in South Africa?
If the Nigerian government is notorious for ignoring intelligence put at its disposal by both local and international agencies, could the South African government be guilty of the same thing too? Or is there something sinister going on in the manner these western governments, especially the US, go about their mission of policing the world in the new order? Were the terror alerts the frustrated response of a proactive America to the inept ways of Africa’s leading powers?
It is on record that the Nigerian government received multiple intelligence reports it failed to act on prior to recent acts of terror that were made to look unanticipated. The Abuja-Kaduna train attack saga that lasted all of six months during which more than a billion naira was paid as ransom had been preceded by multiple intelligence warnings that were ignored. Not even the recommendation for the installation of security cameras along the routes by the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, was accepted. It was only about two weeks ago that the last of the hostages taken during the train attacks were released.
How about the attacks on the correctional centres in Abuja? Did these happen without prior intelligence? What did Abuja do with the intelligence? Literally nothing! It simply sat on its palm and waited for the infernal messengers of death to knock on their door. So, how much of these visible acts of official irresponsibility dictated the manner the US and other western embassies in Nigeria made their terror alerts public?
In one major operation at an Abuja suburb, the Department of State Service, DSS, and US Army personnel were reported to have arrested suspected terrorists. This joint operation that followed the issuance of the two terror alerts by the US Embassy would suggest that the US government and Abuja are not totally at loggerhead. What then led to the apparent breakdown in communication that the two terror alerts suggested?
Were the Americans unhappy or suspicious of something Abuja is doing or failing to do? How could confidence be restored in the present situation? If anyone needs to take the lead, it has to be Abuja that must show its sincerity and readiness in its effort of fighting terrorism.