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What Message Are Terrorists Sending By Invading Kaduna Airport?

From attacking commuters on highways to sabotaging railway tracks, terrorists are raising the stakes by invading the Kaduna airport in Northwest Nigeria.

Terrorists reportedly invaded the Kaduna airport on Saturday, March 26, 2022, killing one person and preventing a plane from taking off, a move that indicates even travel by air is no longer safe in the northwestern Nigerian State. 

The aircraft was scheduled for Lagos, Southwest Nigeria by 12:30 p.m. (WAT) when a gang of up to 200 terrorists flooded the runway. 

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) later confirmed the attack  to be on the runway 05 axis of the airport. It also added that “a combined team of anti-banditry military personnel and the Crime Investigation Unit of FAAN Aviation Security Department swiftly intervened for a rescue operation with one casualty reported in the incident.” 

Two motorbikes abandoned by the terrorists were said to have been recovered.  Also, a security guard patrolling the runway was shot, which drew the attention of soldiers who responded. 

Faithful Hope-Ivbaze, the Acting General Manager, Corporate Affairs of FAAN, in a statement said the airport now operates as it were and extended the Authority’s sympathies to “family and friends of the victim of this unfortunate incident.” 

But there was a twist to the incident as workers at the airport who craved anonymity told Tribune that the terrorists “started attacking the airport around midnight. The bandits were alleging that the military personnel took away their cows.

“The military were able to repel them that midnight and we thought that was all. In fact, our staff resumed work this morning as usual. They worked around the runway from 5 a.m. till around 12 p.m.

“Then shortly after that, some NAMA staff went to check some of their equipment, then these people [bandits] appeared and started shouting. The NAMA engineers scampered for safety, they could not even go and enter the vehicle that took them to the site. It was in the process that their security man was shot in the head.”

The latest attack appears as though the terrorists were sending a message to the Nigerian authorities. What the message connotes may not be immediately clear, but it suggests that they (terrorists) have gained more confidence to attack more protected government institutions in broad daylight.

Unconfirmed reports say the intention of the terrorists who attacked the airport was to abduct pilots. This does not leave out the possibility that they might also abduct some passengers or hijack a plane. Their past actions suggest they turn more ambitious with every successful criminal act. It started from major highways, then attacks on prominent institutions, the railway, and now the state’s airport.  

From roads to rail

Terrorists have made the Kaduna-Abuja highway a beehive of kidnappings for more than two years now. As if in a bid to show off their might, in Nov. 2021, they blocked the route for over 60 minutes in broad daylight and whisked away some travellers. Other travellers who plied the route narrated how “when we heard gunshots we quickly made a u-turn until after two hours when the bandits left that we continued our journey.

“On our way we saw over ten cars empty. The occupants might have been kidnapped or were able to run into the nearby forests for their lives.”

But this is no longer shocking news to Nigerians. Abductions on the highway have gone on for years now despite the government’s ‘efforts’ to improve security and protect travellers. 

But the terrorists widened their scope to include the Kaduna-Kachia road where they kidnapped 21 persons in Jan. 2021. When some military personnel encountered abduction victims who escaped on a path leading up to Sabon Gaya in Chikun Local Government Area (LGA) of Kaduna State, about 12 of them were reportedly kidnapped along the Kaduna-Kachia route.      

Then just towards the end of 2021, over 70 traders travelling to Kano along the Birnin Gwari-Kaduna road were kidnapped. This particular route is probably the second most dangerous after the Kaduna-Abuja highway.

The completion of the Abuja-Kaduna railway in 2016 later proved to be the saving grace for many Kaduna-Abuja travellers who shunned road travel for fear of being kidnapped. As the train services gained popularity among the ordinary citizens, top military personnel with trailing security details are also now relying on rail travel to avoid the terrorists operating on the highway.  

However, the notion that the rail was safe was temporarily dampened in Oct. 2021 when suspected terrorists fired bullets at the driver side of a train and demolished the rail line using explosives suspected to be dynamites. Without a better option, passengers still flocked to the train stations in both cities after operations resumed following a temporary suspension. The tracks were quickly fixed to prove to the terrorists that they were not going to win.

There has not been a recent move by the terrorists to frustrate train travel, but the point was made that they have their minds set on attacking and kidnapping Nigerians by all means necessary. The attack on Kaduna’s airport is a clear sign of that resolve.   

NDA attack: an early warning not taken

The entire country was taken aback in the same year when terrorists attacked the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, leaving two officers dead and another one kidnapped. Witnesses said they came in large numbers in the early hours of Tuesday, Aug. 24.  NDA is just a stone throw away from Kaduna’s airport.

Not long before the attack, there were intelligence reports that “Boko Haram flags were sighted at the Afaka Forest close to NDA and Kaduna Airport.” But this signal appeared not to have been taken seriously as an intelligence by the military authorities. 

Long before the NDA incident, on May 5, 2021, the last set of the 39 students kidnapped from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation were finally released. They had spent over 50 days in the hands of terrorists.

Then in the same month, May 29, the remaining 14 abducted students of Greenfield University were set free after parents allegedly paid a huge ransom. 

There is also, of course, the Bethel Baptist High School abduction where 121 students were taken on July 5, 2022. Although they were all subsequently released after ransom payment, one still remains in captivity.

These were all early warnings that terrorism is eating into, not just Local Government Areas across the state, but the capital itself. Between 2021 and 2022, terrorists have demonstrated that asides terrorising commuters off roads, they can venture into the city, attack the military, frustrate the Nigerian railway and even flights. Perhaps if there was travel by sea they would equally strive to make a mark.

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Nathaniel Bivan

Nathaniel Bivan is Features Editor at HumAngle. He tweets @nathanielbivan

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