By Kola King
Nigerians were shocked to no end when on 23 October the United States declared a red terror alert claiming there was a high risk of a terrorist attack on the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Simultaneously a similar terror alert was issued on the Republic of South Africa. What’s more curious is the fact that the alert targeted Nigeria, which is Africa’s largest economy, and South Africa, the most industrialized economy in Africa. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa was quick to reject the US claim and expressed his displeasure over this announcement by US authorities and wondered why such information was not shared at the highest level of government as demanded by protocol instead of going public with it.
On his part, President Muhammadu cautioned Nigerians that travel advice from the United States and the United Kingdom governments should not be a cause for panic, even as he asked the nation’s security establishment and citizens to continue being vigilant and careful with security. Buhari called on the citizens to remain calm, saying: “it does not mean an attack in Abuja is imminent. He added, “Since the July prison raid, security measures have been reinforced in and around the FCT.”
Though President Buhari said that Nigeria is no exception in having terror threats listed in foreign governments’ travel advice, saying that the US and other Western nations usually give travel advisories to their citizens. “Unfortunately, terror is a reality the world over,” he stated.
Buhari said that security threats are real and have been with us for a long time, saying that 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.”
Still, the two African governments have been left baffled by the US government’s sudden warnings of imminent terrorist threats in their countries, without warning them in advance or giving any more detail. The question on the lips of observers has been what’s the motive behind these warnings by the USA.
US consulates in both Nigeria and South Africa warned their staff penultimate week that attacks on major cities in both countries were likely, seemingly without telling their host governments what the threat was and spreading “panic”.
“The US government has received information that terrorists may be planning to conduct an attack targeting large gatherings of people at an unspecified location in the greater Sandton area of Johannesburg, South Africa, on 29 October 2022,” the US Embassy in South Africa said. “There is no further information regarding the timing, method, or target of the potential attack.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called the unexpected alerts “unfortunate” as it was issued “without having any type of discussion with us,” before warning of the dangers such a sudden warning could cause.
The South African government said it had noted the terror alert warnings and South Africa will be the first to communicate such information about any imminent threat to the public, adding that it was aware it’s “part of the US government’s standard communication to its citizens.”
In a similar vein, the US warned: “There is an elevated risk of terror attacks in Nigeria, specifically in Abuja,” the statement said, “Targets 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 organizations.”
Shortly after releasing the statement, the US government evacuated a number of its staff and citizens from the country. Videos and photos of Americans leaving the country soon spread on social media, prompting the Department of State Services, DSS to release a statement encouraging Nigerians to remain calm. The action of the US government threw residents of the FCT into panic mode with many expecting the worst to happen
Most often predicting terrorism entails forecasts based on intelligence gathering and risk assessment. This involves a simple process of issuing and publicizing classified threat alerts to notify the public of the possibility of a terror attack on a certain target in a particular location. Such alerts enable the government and its security agencies to be proactive in the eventuality of an attack. Also, such alerts enable the public to be vigilant so as to avoid being a victim. More importantly, alerts enable security agencies to take necessary measures to avert incidents.
Be that as it may, there have been conspiracy theories about the US terror alert. For example, the former Minister of Information, Major General Ibrahim Haruna(Rtd) who is also a civil war veteran described the terror alert as a plot to destabilize Nigeria by the World Powers by creating panic, chaos, and disorder. He averred that it was a signal to instigate a coup since military coups have become fashionable once again in the continent.
Speaking on Arise Television programme, Gen Haruna said: “We can fault the actors and perpetrators of this terror alert. There’s a diplomatic code of behavior. The red alert was given out of context since we are not in a state of war.”
Furthermore, he wondered why the US would always predict chaos and mayhem anytime the nation was close to an election cycle. He recalled that this was the same thing that happened prior to the 2015 general elections when US think tanks predicted the implosion of Nigeria. Yet the election came and went to the chagrin of the doomsday forecasters and their paymasters. Now another election is around the corner and chaos is being predicted again.
Haruna said that the red alert and the method applied were hostile, and the procedure used was unacceptable, claiming we have an upper hand in the fight against terrorism. To corroborate this, the Chief of air Staff, Air Marshal Oladayo Amao had declared that operatives had neutralized the activities of terrorists through intensive air interdiction of their locations and facilities. He added that this has disrupted their supply lines and denied them freedom of movement.
“We have to be vigilant. We are trying to democratize. They should leave us in peace and not distract us from the coming elections. We should be allowed to conduct a free and fair election,” Gen Haruna said.
Gen Haruna declared that “Since we have discovered those who are stealing our oil and the non-remittances of our oil money by crude oil thieves, mostly international oil traders from the USA and Western Europe, who would later lend the same money that belongs to us and chose where and when to reinvest money from our oil, and which predictably explains the bedlam.” As far as General Haruna is concerned, Nigeria is on the verge of unmasking the oil thieves, hence this reaction from the West.
“Why should they ask their citizens to leave as if we are in a state of war? Do they want more IDPs? We are already overwhelmed by floods. They should assist us and not put us in a state of panic. We are not at war. They should not pour petrol on the existing situation. They should respect our sovereignty.”
On the other hand, some analysts have noted that the US might have been infuriated with the government after sharing such intelligence with the security agencies without corresponding action being taken to nip such a planned attack in the bud. They point at the Kuje Prison attack by Boko Haram insurgents, for which intelligence had been shared without any steps taken to avert the subsequent prison attack during which members of the Boko Haram were rescued from the prison by their members.
However, the federal government was quick to rebut this allegation, describing the US government claims as unfounded and baseless. The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed declared with magisterial finality that Nigeria was more secure than it has been in recent times since the military had degraded and decimated the terrorists in their enclaves.
“Well, I can assure all that our military and other security agencies have continued to do everything possible to secure and protect Nigerians and foreigners living in Nigeria.
“We do not discountenance the fact that terrorists, bandits and their kind would always want to do whatever it takes to disrupt our nation’s peace, security, and stability. But our security forces have been proactive. Nigerians too should continue to be alert but must not panic. Like I said in a recent statement, as far as insecurity is concerned, the worst is over for Nigeria.”
Acting on cue, the DSS promptly swung into action and arrested some suspected terrorists in the Trademore area of the FCT, Abuja, and also recovered some cache of arms from the location. Also, both the police and other security forces have deployed more security men around the FCT to beef up security in the nation’s capital.
Indeed, terrorism remains a sore spot for many governments and a global security challenge. Worldwide security agents try to predict it is an important part of the effort to counter terrorism. Thus it’s not usual for Intelligence and security agencies around the world to issue warnings from time to time about the likelihood of terrorist attacks in certain places.
Even so, Nigeria is ranked as the sixth most terrorised country in the world, according to the Global terror index, and has witnessed worsening security situation but the security forces have ramped up the war against terrorists in recent times, taking the battle to their enclaves and smoking them out of their lair. Still, both Nigeria and South Africa’s reactions to the terror alerts can be seen in the context of two nations trying to assert themselves since every country tries to protect and maintain its sovereignty and can ill afford a situation in which a foreign entity will define its national security situation. That said, no matter the motive of the US it is incumbent on the federal government to nip any impending terror attacks in the embryo before it comes to full term.