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The Race To Protect Nigeria’s Capital After Security Breaches

The security development in the past months in the capital highlights critical vulnerabilities and the need for a more efficient and proactive approach to securing the country.

A series of high-profile incidents in the past few months has cast a shadow of concern around the security of Nigeria’s capital. 

HumAngle understands that authorities have reacted by rolling out overt and covert countermeasures. However, a security analyst, Chidi Nwaonu says adequate security guarantees will depend on the ability of security forces to reverse the incursion and dominate the battle space.

Abuja, Nigeria’s administrative nerve centre, is considered the country’s most fortified city, but attacks within and around the federal capital have led to panic and public concerns. 

As citizens worry about what this development could mean for their safety, the government has beefed up security around vital points and public infrastructure.  

New checkpoints have been mounted, and security forces have become more evident in certain areas. The tense atmosphere has also led to the tightening of counter-terrorism procedures in high-profile institutions to prevent vulnerability to terror attacks that occurred in the past. The Police Headquarters, a military barracks, the United Nations building, a motor park and a church were targeted. 

The weak links

HumAngle has previously reported on the ring of insecurity around the exterior of the capital and the violence plaguing neighbouring States. 

The vulnerability of the capital is linked to the existence of a number of areas nearby in which it is possible for armed groups to hide, which leads to the creation of insecurity “hotspots”. Protection of the capital’s many potential targets, such as security installations and infrastructure, is affected by the shortcomings of law enforcement. 

Satellite data highlights the risks associated with remote communities in the northern axis of the capital, such as Madalla, Kubwa, and other communities around the greater Bwari area, due to their closeness to a large expanse of semi-governed bushlands and mountains. 

The Northern entry points areas. These are large forest areas near the borders between Niger state (west) and the FCT and Kaduna (east). These areas have been used by terrorists and kidnappers in recent times|Mansir Muhammed|HumAngle. Imagery: Google earth.

An example of the influence of these factors on security breaches is the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP)’s assault in July on a military unit stationed near Zuma rock, an area of the capital bordering Niger State in the northcentral. 

Weeks earlier, the group had stormed the correctional facility in the suburb of Kuje. Hundreds of inmates, including Boko Haram suspects, fled after the security breach. 

Other incidents include the deadly ambush on soldiers of the Presidential Guards Brigade in the northeastern area of Bwari on the outskirts of the capital and adjacent to Niger and close to Kaduna in the northwest.  The identity of the group responsible is still unclear. 

The incidents of kidnapping for ransom have also extended beyond raids along some of the highways connecting the capital to other states. 

In 2021, kidnappers invaded the hilly community of Byazhin in Kubwa, located on the northern axis. An audacious abduction occurred after the raid on the University of Abuja staff quarters in Gwagwalada council, situated in the central-north axis and flanked by savannah-type land and, in some cases, mountainous terrain.

The Southern Forests and Mountain Ranges: Kidnappers have used these southern forests as escape routes through the wilderness near Giri. These vast expanse of lands are usually partially governed, giving terrorists the leeway to move in numbers; concealed and carry out attacks. The forest areas cut across various communities in the southern FCT especially near the borders with Kogi and Nasarawa state|Mansir Muhammed|HumAngle. Imagery: Google Earth

In mid September, the Chairman of the  Parents Teachers Association in the Federal Capital Territory, Alhaji Usman Abubakar, lamented that primary and secondary schools in some rural communities bordering Niger, are not safe to resume for academic activities.

Authorities’ reaction to the trend 

Authorities have responded with a wide range of interventions to subdue security threats. These include revamping the security network around the capital and setting up checkpoints in the city and along strategic routes. This approach increases the visibility of security forces and allows the government to reassure the public. 

According to a Beacon Consulting report in July, security forces have conducted a “series of clearance operations, where they targeted shanty towns, uncompleted buildings and estates and forested and mountainous parts of the FCT Abuja to dislodge so-called “miscreants” and “gunmen who hibernate there”. 

The police have also informed residents that it was not “leaving any stone unturned to fortify the Federal Capital Territory and its environs”. The statement added that additional assets had been despatched to strategic areas while the Intelligence Bureau has been “charged on robust intelligence gathering and information sharing amongst other agencies”.

The Administrative body running the capital has also revamped the operations of the G7 intelligence-sharing organisation of neighbouring federal states in order to improve coordination and “take the fight” to the armed groups in their camps. 

These measures are essential, but the long-term impact would be influenced by the ability of the security forces to rapidly strengthen early detection, response and dispatching of reinforcements. In addition to improving surveillance and policing of remote and low-income suburban areas. 

This capacity could have made a difference in preventing or disrupting the Kuje attack, which involved assembling a significant number of fighters to storm the facility, block the nearby roads, establish a perimeter and facilitate the evacuation of their associates. The forest areas enabled the attack, which could have encouraged the ease of access and withdrawal after the raid. 

Another critical issue for authorities will be the management of the vast swaths of hinterland areas with rocks, grassland, and local communities. These areas are also semi-state controlled for administrative and terrain reasons, providing a suitable environment for armed groups to hibernate and operate undetected and unchecked. 

During a January operation in Kwali situated on the Southern axis, the G-7 discovered a deserted community, dislodged by an armed group.  Months later, the government ordered the closure of Federal Government College, Kwali, due to the security threat in the area. 

Checkpoints have become a common tactic of law enforcement and the military. Although an increased presence can act as a deterrent, it also increases the opportunity to be attacked. It also risks personnel and civilians in the vicinity, as demonstrated by the ISWAP attack in the Zuba area. 

The ability of security forces to mitigate the negative impact of their operation would rely on operating procedures and the intelligence community’s capacity to detect, deter, isolate or disrupt threats.

The Beacon Consulting report also highlighted concerns about the impact of the ongoing operations on law-abiding civilians, specifically the herder communities, “ as all it would do is to isolate them further and make them more disposed to recruitment by the gunmen”.

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Murtala Abdullahi

Abdullahi Murtala is a researcher and reporter. His expertise is in conflict reporting, climate and environmental justice, and charting the security trends in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. He founded the Goro Initiative and contributes to dialogues, publications and think-tanks that report on climate change and human security. He tweets via @murtalaibin

Mansir Muhammed

Mansir Muhammed is a senior GIS/OSINT specialist at HumAngle, with expertise in leveraging information technology, geographic research, open-source data, and visualisation techniques to enhance news publication.

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