By Nick Dazang
In the late 1980s, when I had the privilege of editing the Abuja Newsday, the Federal Capital Territory’s (FCT’s) first private newspaper, Abuja was placid and crime- free. This was to be expected. There were then only four major districts: the high density Garki and Wuse districts and the high-brow Asokoro and Maitama districts. Even then, the better-heeled Asokoro and Maitama districts were in inchoate states, dotted with a few elegant structures.
The population of Abuja was so small that the city dwellers knew each other. Vehicular traffic was so scanty that in a good day one could count the number of the cars that plied the Wuse Zone 4-6 route on his two hands. As Editor, though I had an official accommodation at Wuse Zone 6, opposite the office, I had a Guest House at PW, Kubwa. It was a measure of how secure Abuja was that I hardly lock the Guest House!
- Late Osinachi’s husband arrested as Nigerians rise against domestic violence
- Ramadan: We’re given food once a day, Kaduna IDPs cry out
In 1992, the federal government, under the watch of military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, relocated the seat of government from Lagos to Abuja. This singular and epochal event transformed Abuja overnight. It also put a lot of pressure on the city. Since every Nigerian does business with government, one way or the other, there was a frenetic scramble for Abuja. Cost of land, property and accommodation suddenly shot through the roof. Members of the Organised Private Sector (OPS), who were hitherto reluctant to invest in Abuja, descended on it in droves.
The city, which was originally meant to accommodate not more than one million people, simply burgeoned. As at 2020, Abuja boasted of a population of 3,278,000. Abuja lost its pristine placidity and innocence. It became a bazaar, with structures rising on available land where sites and services had been provided. The Kubwa town grew exponentially to the extent that it won the coveted trophy of the biggest settlement in the entire Commonwealth. Enter General Sani Abacha as Head of State, and the Gwarinpa District overtook and bested Kubwa as the largest settlement in Africa.
Abuja grew by leaps and by bounds, all thanks to its famed security and exquisite infrastructure. It became a haven for those escaping from ethno-religious crises or insurgency from other states of the federation. But when you organise a bazaar, you must expect a visit of thieves and pickpockets. In less than five years after the relocation of the seat of government from Lagos to Abuja, there were not less than 400 violations of the original Masterplan. Green Areas, which were supposed to be preserved to add aesthetics to the eco system and to check flooding, were serially violated or encroached upon by desperate builders and land speculators.
As I write, the cost of land in the City Centre surpasses that in the choicest precincts of London. Traffic congestion continues to afflict the AYA-Nyanja-Mararaba-Keffi Road with workers wasting precious man-hours on a daily basis in the hold up. Flooding continues to beset some districts such as Galadimawa on a perennial basis. Kidnappings, abductions and robberies are now a common feature, particularly in Kuje, Bwari, Kwali, Gwagwalada, Lugbe, Abaji and Kubwa.
Though these kidnappings and crimes are taking place outside the City Centre, their volume and frequency are worrisome and reinforce the impression that the country is not safe.
The frequency with which these heinous crimes are taking place appears to be linked with, or related to, the incessant kidnappings and banditry in Kaduna and Niger states and the dastardly attacks on military institutions and formations. These states are contiguous with and share boundaries, with the FCT.
It is against this background that the government must identify the camps of these terrorists, wherever they may be in the Nigerian space and obliterate them. Thankfully, a careful study of the pattern of attack of these bandits and terrorists betrays two facts: they usually descend on their targets/victims in large numbers, thereby overwhelming them. And most of the time, the bandits ride on motorcycles and operate, unchallenged, for hours. This makes them an easy target to pick from the air. A surgical attack against them, after air strikes have been launched, must be followed by a surge of more boots on the ground, with superior fire power, to mope them up.
With regard to the FCT, the Minister, Muhammad Musa Bello, should immediately institute the following: (1) A joint military patrol of the FCT, especially, the vulnerable areas aforementioned. A regular/daily show of force which should send a strong signal to would-be criminals that the administration is up to the task of securing its citizens. (2) Increase in the surveillance of all Area Councils. Particular attention should be paid to vulnerable Area Councils bordering Kaduna, Niger and Kogi states. Intelligence should be gathered by security agents and traditional rulers on strange and suspicious persons/visitors and they should be passed on immediately to the Hon. Minister’s office. (3) Increase the frequency of meetings and size of the Security Committee in the FCT to include: Special Adviser to Minister on Security; the AIG in charge of Zone/FCT; Commissioner of Police, FCT; Director SSS, FCT; representatives of Army and Civil Defence Corps; and Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Abuja Council. (4) Create dedicated hotlines and social media platforms which members of the public can use to supply information. (5) Create a Situation Room to be co-ordinated by Special Adviser, Security; Commissioner of Police FCT; Director, SSS; and representative of Army to receive, analyse and respond real time to threats. (6) Identify security focal persons on several popular FM Radio Stations in Abuja and NTA Channel 5, who will, on a daily basis, advertise/encourage members of the public to call and send information to the Situation Room (using the hotlines and social media platforms).
One is delighted that the FCT Minister has proactively demolished some of the shanties in the FCT where criminals and insurgents are likely to lurk and eventually attack. But that is the easy part. The harder and crucial thing to do is to increase and sustain surveillance on the disbanded occupants of these shanties and their movements. And the loftiest thing to do is to look at how they can be meaningfully engaged so that they are not easily lured into crimes or serve as cannon fodder for insurgents who may wish to recruit them.
The most imaginative thing the FCT administration must do is to be continuously guided by the bigger picture, namely that there might be a nexus between the increase in crimes in the FCT and the heinous attacks in neighboring Kaduna and Niger states. This should make the administration alert at all times and to avert a major attack.
Nice Dazang is a former Director at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)