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Let’s not play politics with security

Since October 25, 2022, when the United States Embassy in Abuja raised the travel advisory to its citizens in Nigeria to Level 3, the atmosphere…

Since October 25, 2022, when the United States Embassy in Abuja raised the travel advisory to its citizens in Nigeria to Level 3, the atmosphere in the Federal Capital Territory has changed between tension and apprehension. The Level 3 Advisory, symbolized by ‘yellow colour,’ and next to the highest security alert Level 4 (red), means there are serious and potentially life-threatening risks in traveling to Nigeria due to terrorism, banditry, violent crimes, and general safety risks.

At present, only countries at war or trapped in serious civil unrests, like Afghanistan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Burma (Myanmar), Central African Republic, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Russia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tonga, Venezuela, Yemen, and Ukraine, are put under Level 4 Advisory. Citizens of the US and other countries take travel advisories seriously because insurance companies may decide not to provide cover for those who travel to areas under Level 3 Advisory.

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In the advisory issued last week, the United States warned of possible attacks on government buildings, places of worship, schools, markets, shopping malls, hotels, bars, restaurants, athletic gatherings, transport terminals, law enforcement facilities, and international organizations in Abuja. The U.S Embassy then directed its local embassy staff to stay home, raising the level of attention Nigerians paid to the advisory, even though such advisories are not unfamiliar in the country.

The UK government followed suit by warning of potential attacks in other states like Bauchi, Gombe, Kano, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Rivers, and Kogi, which are not known for such attacks. In the past, the US Embassy security alerts were mainly about parts of Nigeria where Boko Haram, ISWAP, IPOB and bandits attacked innocent persons. The addition of new states to the list is one reason why politics should be removed from this as much as possible.

In the past, the nonchalant handling of security reports provided by the Department of State Security (DSS) had led to catastrophic attacks on facilities by terrorists, caused unnecessary deaths, and serious embarrassments to the country. For example, before the attacks on the Abuja-Kaduna train in March 2022, the DSS had warned of impending attacks, but the security alert was not acted upon, and the resulting unfortunate events are still fresh in our memory as a county. Much the same happened in the case of the Kuje Correctional Centre, where, the DSS had provided multiple intelligence information about an impending attack on the facility before the sad attacks on it in July this year.

On his part, President Muhammadu Buhari, through a statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, told Nigerians that government was not unaware of the threats and would take steps to avert them. “The President gives assurances that the government is on top of the security situation in country. While noting, in addition, that security threats are real and have been with us for a long while, the nation’s military, the police and other security agencies have shown a capability to deal with it, as is evident from the fact that a majority of our partners, including the United Nations agencies in our midst have not seen the threat as being sufficient to warrant any form of panic or order citizen evacuations”, the statement said.  But the U.S simply doubled down on its warnings the following day.

The president’s more measured statement is encouraging than the unnecessary grandstanding by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, but it is not by itself a solution. In recent months, the president and top officials of government have assured Nigerians that insecurity would be brought to an end before December 2022. We also recognize and commend the recent successes recorded against non-state actors in various parts of the country. But these are all the reasons why government should take any information about security threats seriously and not allow criminals to discredit the recent gains. It is in this context that the government should view the current situation.

In the same vein, while we recognize the right of the U.S government to protect its citizens anywhere, we urge it to realize that they have a responsibility not to cause panic among Nigerians. The U.S Embassy in Nigeria has direct access to all strata of Nigerian leadership and should be willing to share any useful information on security threats to the relevant authorities in the country.

We note that the U.S Embassy in South Africa last Wednesday similarly issued a security alert warning of an impending terrorist attack on Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg. But in response during a press conference Thursday, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “It is quite unfortunate the US issued that type of warning without having any type of discussion with us,” he said during a press conference. Any form of alert will come from the government of the Republic of South Africa and it is unfortunate that another government should issue such a threat as to send panic amongst our people,” said Ramaphosa.

The Nigerian situation is not different on diplomatic levels. It is comforting that the incident was not escalated to a diplomatic row. And we urge both sides to realize that the whole point of security advisories is not to confirm its warnings, but to avert danger. After all, the security and stability of Nigeria is also in the interest of the U.S. Therefore, we call on the U.S and other diplomatic missions in Nigeria to work closely together with the Nigerian government to share intelligence about any security threats to Nigeria, Nigerians and everyone else who live and work here. There is no room for grandstanding on security.

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