Emmanuel Onwubiko: Nigeria: What security alerts should mean


When I was in high school at the Kafanchan Teachers College, I began to develope deep interest in international affairs or what was commonly called current affairs.

One of the great civilisations that attracted my young mind was the United States of America or Uncle Sam as that big and powerful nation is called perjoratively.

One of the phrases that became common place then was that which says that “When America coughs, the World catches cold”.

I really couldn’t apprehend the profound import of that catch- phrase not until these past few days in Abuja with what has played out around the world with specific reference to the security alert level raised by the USA and then the entire developed societies of the West such as the UK, Australia, and much of Western Europe similarly followed suit.

It then dawned on me that the United States of America has actually coughed on Nigeria thereby generating rapid reactions from its close allies and these actions included travel advisors issued to their citizens not to travel to Abuja the capital of Nigeria due to increased threat level of attack by boko haram terrorists and ISWAP.

Regrettably, rather than seek clarifications diplomatically and work out better ways of containing these threats by the terrorists to attack Nigeria, the current President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in a very disjointed fashion dismissed the security alert level raised by the USA on Abuja. The President Muhammadu Buhari who was away to South Korea returned after some days to tell Nigerians not to panic about the warning by USA but to remain vigilant. This contradicts the position said to have been made by this government.

The position of the President Buhari’s government was presented in the beginning by the minister of information Lai Mohammed who however is not in anyway trusted by millions of Nigerians.

The man had once told a journalist that even his Children asked him why Nigerians think he lies. Such is the amount of public disdain towards the government that has failed to take proactive action to nip the threats of the terrorists in the bud before it has now degenerated to a major disgraceful factor for Nigeria internationally to a level that Foreigners were running away from the political capital of Nigeria fearing that massive terrorist attacks similar to 9/11 were going to happen imminently. Many businesses in Abuja quickly closed because Nigerians now believe the Western societies than they are prepared to again be deceived by the sugar coated ineffective local officials working for the President of Nigeria who spends more time abroad than in Nigeria. Amidst these threats of terrorists to attack Abuja, President Muhammadu Buhari is again scheduled to travel to the UK for medical treatment from today for two weeks. This absent mindedness of President Muhammadu Buhari and the perception that he is not in charge of affairs in his office has made Nigerians to lose faith and confidence in his administration. Today after he met with his so called security chiefs, the National Security Adviser came out to say the security alerts raised by Western powers were fake. We will conclude with this lame and laughable conclusion of the NSA to Buhari. Still on the attacks on the American soil, we will look deeper at the reaction by their government.

On September 11th 2001, the security ecosystem of the world changed dramatically when the world’s strongest nation militarily was hit by terrorists leading to several casualties and the destruction of assets worth billions of dollars in the United States of America.

The September 11 attacks commonly known as 9/11 in international media Affairs, were four coordinated suicide terrorist attacks master minded by the militant Islamic extremist network al-Qaeda against the USA on Tuesday, September 11th 2001. A total of 2,996 persons were murdered by the vicious terrorists.

The intelligence community in the USA identified the perpetrators as Al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden and the locations of the targeted attacks were the World Trade Center, New York, the pentagon, Manhattan, Groud zero, shanksville.

The then United States President George Bush (Jnr) made it clear that those coordinated attacks changed the World and how terrorists should be dealt with going forward. USA subsequently went after the masterminds and got them killed in different well coordinated counterterrorism attacks.

As I said earlier, the 9/11 attacks consequences led to expansive counter-terrorism war all around the global community coordinated by the United States of America. When the World marked 20 years after these attacks President George Bush spoke with the British Broadcasting Cooperation on how he felt during the periods of those attacks.

Ahead of the 20-year anniversary of 9/11, former President George W. Bush looked back on the moment he found out that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center — and that an attack was underway in America.

In the BBC documentary 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room, Bush details the emotions he felt when he first learned about the attack on Sept. 11, 2001. His reaction was famously captured on camera during a previously scheduled school trip.

At the time, he was visiting Emma E. Booker Elementary in Sarasota, Florida, where he was reading to a room of young children when White House Chief of Staff Andy Card delivered the news.

“Andy Card comes up behind me and says, ‘Second plane has hit the second tower. America is under attack.’ And I’m watching a child read,” Bush recalled in the documentary, which premiered Tuesday. “And then I see the press in the back of the room beginning to get the same message that I just got.”

“And I could see that horror … on the face of the news people who had just gotten the same news. During a crisis it’s really important to set a tone and not to panic,” he continued. “And so I waited for the appropriate moment to leave the classroom. I didn’t want to do anything dramatic. I didn’t want to lurch out of the chair and scare the classroom full of children, and so I waited.”

Bloomberg reporter Richard Keil, who was in the classroom at the time, said in the documentary that he had been “intently” studying the president’s reaction.

“His mouth was kind of drawn and tight, and there was almost for a brief moment a kind of startled look in his eyes and also a weightiness to him, if you will,” Keil said. “I could tell he was really focused on trying to get through that event.”

Card told filmmakers he “had to deliver a message that the president didn’t expect to hear and was almost unbelievable,” adding, “It also literally was the message he had to hear, whether he wanted to or not.”

Earlier that day, Bush administration officials delivered the president’s daily briefing, which had included no information about potential terror attacks, Michael Morell, the president’s CIA intelligence briefer, recalled in the documentary.

While on the way to the school that morning, Ari Fleischer, then the White House press secretary, said that he got a message on his pager that an airplane had flown into World Trade Center but was given no further information.

When Karl Rover, a senior adviser to the president, informed him the first plane had flown into the World Trade Center, Bush was puzzled.

“I thought it was pilot error. I couldn’t imagine anything other than a lousy pilot getting lost,” he said in the documentary.

He proceeded to enter the school and continue with his visit — only to be interrupted by Card, with word of the second plane.

After leaving the classroom, Bush boarded Air Force One. But officials were soon alerted that they could be a potential target in another attack that day.

“There was a call in to a switchboard that said, ‘Angel’s next,’ ” Bush said. “And Angel was the codeword for Air Force One.” While the plane eventually landed safely, Secret Service agent Dave Wilkinson recalled, “Once we found that the president was a target, we take no chances. We’ve taken all the weapons away, we believe, we’ve done everything we can do — but you never know.” (The eeriness and isolation of those hours were described at length in the 2019 book The Only Plane in the Sky.)

In the BBC documentary, Bush also reflected on the fighting sparked by the attacks.

He initially sent U.S. troops to invade Afghanistan weeks after 9/11, starting a war that largely shaped his legacy and only just ended. As I said earlier security alerts are raised by different nations even within their domestic environment as the trends if security threat dictates.

Besides, on 5th November 2019, The UK’s national terror threat level was downgraded from severe to substantial for the first time in five years, the home secretary revealed.

Announcing the decision by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) in a statement to parliament, Priti Patel emphasised that “substantial” continues to indicate a high level of threat and an attack might well occur “without further warning”.

Stating that the threat level is kept under “constant review”, she added that: “Government, police and intelligence agencies will continue to work tirelessly to address the threat posed by terrorism in all its forms.”

The country’s threat level is determined by the JTAC, which is part of MI5. It makes its recommendations independently from the government. The BBC explains that “substantial” is the third of five ratings at which the threat level can stand.

The five ratings are: Low – an attack is highly unlikely; Moderate – an attack is possible but not likely

Substantial – an attack is likely; Severe – an attack is highly likely and ;Critical – an attack is highly likely in the near future.

The terror threat level was raised to “critical” in May 2017 after the Manchester Arena bombing. That attack killed 23 people and left more than 200 injured at an Ariana Grande concert.

The threat was later downgraded to “severe” where it has remained since September 2017.

The Head of Counter Terrorism Policing, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, said: “The reduction to ‘substantial’ indicates positive developments in reducing the threat from terrorism but still means an attack is likely.”

He added that Counter Terrorism Policing has “around 800” live counter-terror investigations nationally, adding: “So it is vital that we all maintain a high level of vigilance and continue to invest in strong protective security measures to deter future attacks.”

Then, the decision by the United States government to withdraw its non-emergency staff from its diplomatic missions in the country as a result of what it called “elevated risk of terror attacks in Nigeria, specifically in Abuja” was triggered by recent security breaches around US infrastructure assets in the country, a media investigative analyst reports.

An informed source told the reporter that the decision by the US government to issue the alert came after “a series of disturbing security threats and activities targeted against US interests in Abuja”.

In an emergency security alert to American citizens in the country on October 23, the US Embassy warned its citizens about the presence of “an elevated risk of terror attacks in Nigeria, specifically in Abuja”. The targets, it said, “may include, but are not limited to, government buildings, places of worship, schools, markets, shopping malls, hotels, bars, restaurants, athletic gatherings, transport terminals, law enforcement facilities, and international organisations”. The US Embassy said it would offer reduced services until further notice.

“I can tell you that a short time before the alert was issued, a bomb was found at the entrance of one of the US compounds,” the source said.

The source added that security officials at the US mission in Abuja had noticed increased surveillance of the diplomatic mission’s facilities by suspicious persons.

“They detected these suspicious individuals casing their compounds as very unusual. The profile of the individuals observing and monitoring the facilities piqued the interest of the US security officials. They found that their surveillance methods as well as certain actions differed remarkably from that carried out by Nigeria’s counterespionage officers who usually place many of the foreign missions and their officials of interest under varied levels of observation,” the source said.

Another source told the media reporter/analyst that the US embassy in Abuja obviously shared the information they had about threats to their citizens and facilities with the Nigerian government. “I can tell you that the Nigerian government’s response in public has been very different from the response and assistance provided to the US mission in Nigeria in private.”

He added that security had been beefed up around US assets in the country and both countries have engaged in information sharing and risk management.

While Nigeria’s security authorities have called for calm, the government has blamed the media and the commentators for the decision by the US and some western embassies to issue the security alert.

Recall that regrettably, Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, said: “Some media outlets and social media personalities are usually caught spreading unverified information on their platforms just for click bait and the attendant monetary gain.

“Talking of click bait, this may be what informed the spread of the supposed security alert issued recently by some foreign embassies in Nigeria.”

“It is understandable that Nigeria’s government responded as it did. The US security alert is meant for US citizens and not for Nigerians. But of course, such alerts will always get to Nigerians who are right in view of the dire security situation in the country to be apprehensive,” the source who craved anonymity said.

“No government likes to put the general populace in a panic,” a retired Nigerian intelligence officer told BusinessDay. The default move of every government is not to put its general population in a panic but to show that all is well and the government is on top of the situation. It is in very urgent and extreme cases that a government would have by necessity inform its citizens to take certain security actions to protect themselves. So, the Nigerian government’s public response isn’t surprising.”

The recent offensive carried out by Nigeria’s military and security services against the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) and other terrorist groups in the country has also led to large-scale dispersal of fighters of the terrorist groups fleeing from the military’s onslaught.

In September, Nigeria’s military claimed to have killed hundreds of Islamic terrorist fighters in the North-East.

“Our ground troops have killed at least 420 Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists in many of our operations in Borno State within August,” said Maj. Gen Christopher Musa, commander of the Counter-terrorism Joint Task Force Northeast.

Security sources say many of the fleeing fighters as well as some of the terrorist combatants freed by ISWAP in the July attack on Kuje prison may have found refuge in cities across Nigeria and pose a threat to Nigerians.

“These are highly trained and religiously incentivised fighters who have the capacity and the motivation to launch attacks against innocent Nigerians,” a senior police officer noted.

In August 26, 2011, Boko Haram conducted its first attack against a Western interest — a vehicle-bomb attack on UN headquarters in Abuja — killing at least 23 people and injuring more than 80. A purported Boko Haram spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack and promised future targeting of US and Nigerian government interests.

The US has faced numerous terrorist attacks across the world over the past 30 years.

Besides, the Travel Advisory for Nigeria was updated due to a heightened risk of terrorist attacks in Abuja. We recommend U.S. citizens do not travel to Abuja at this time. In addition, on October 27, 2022, the Department ordered the departure of family members of U.S. government employees from Abuja due to heightened risk of terrorist attacks, following on the October 25 authorization of departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members from Abuja due to heightened risk of terrorist attacks, the US Embassy statement said.

U.S. citizens should consider departing Abuja using available commercial options. U.S. citizens who wish to depart but are unable to secure commercial options to do so can contact the U.S. Consulate in Lagos at LagosFM@state.gov for assistance.

The U.S. Embassy Abuja is only able to provide emergency assistance to U.S. citizens in Abuja. The U.S. Consulate General in Lagos is providing all routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens in Nigeria. U.S. Citizens in Nigeria who require assistance should contact LagosACS@state.gov or +234 1 460 3410.

This indeed is how committed administration should act to protect their citizens. Our government is laid back and bereft of steps to take to provide foolproof protection for the citizens but relies on propaganda.

Nigeria ought to have a functional central intelligence agency that ought to be circulating security alerts from time to time to keep the citizens alert and vigilant to their responsibilities as good citizens and to be aware of their surroundings.

What is wrong if Nigeria should have her own means of raising security alert levels about some flashpoints around the World to forewarn Nigerians in those places about imminent attacks?

Nigeria isn’t supposed to be pissed off when Western Nations circulate travel advisory to her citizens. Nigerian citizens face xenophobic attacks in South Africa and many die suspiciously in other far distant nations. So why is Nigeria not operating effective and efficient security alert systems for the benefit of her citizens?

Instead the incompetent security officers working for the administration, have continued to dispute the security alert raised by the USA.

Today again the so- called federal government described as false and irresponsible the perception of heightened insecurity the recent terror alerts released by the United States and the United Kingdom in Nigeria.

The National Security Adviser (NSA), retired General Babagana Monguno, made the disclosure at a media briefing immediately after a Security Council Meeting presided over by President Muhamadu Buhari at the state house.

While assuring Nigerians that there is no cause for alarm, the NSA said the situation is under control.

Monguno insisted that the alert was for American and British citizens and that the way it was released complicated the situation.

The alert, he underscored, was simply an unnecessary distraction and nothing untoward so far.

The NSA advised Nigerians to go about their daily activities without fear, saying that the security agencies are in control and that Nigeria country is safe.

What the NSA forgot to reckon with before making his unscientific attacks on the well conceived security threat level raised by the USA is that having been lied to for 7 whole years, most Nigerians are no more stupid to believe the unsophisticated and miscalculated, misguided and mischievous lies peddled about insecurity by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. Monguno should perish his thought is he believes that anybody is listening to him because Nigerians know that witha totally disconnected President Muhammadu Buhari ob top, the remaining cabal are simply doing whatever pleases them and have no sense of transparency and accountability.

EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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