US emergency warning: A wake-up call

2012-04-19
THE PUNCH Newspaper- Emeka Madunagu

It was May 9, 2008 at a conference for senior police officers in Obudu, Cross River State presided over by the then Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro.

He reportedly made an earthshaking statement that seemed like a prophesy at the time. According to a report in Saturday PUNCH of May 10, 2008, Okiro told the senior police officers that the Al Qaeda terrorist network was planning to orchestrate a bombing campaign in Nigeria.

“The al-Qaeda network has threatened to send time bombs to Nigeria. The AIG Surveillance should intensify surveillance while the CP Airwing, CP Border Patrol and the CPs of all the commands should be on the alert and ensure that these items (bombs) do not pass through their end,”Okiro was quoted as saying.

Perhaps, under pressure, Okiro denied the report a few days later.

However, it was a matter of time before bombs began flying about like champagne at a party in Nigeria.

In the Niger Delta, militants used dynamite to blow up oil pipelines and buildings.

By October 1, 2010, militants purportedly under the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta set off bombs a few metres from the Eagle Square, where President Goodluck Jonathan and some other world leaders were marking Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary.

Curiously, there had been regular warnings from Western embassies in Nigeria that terrorists were planning to attack strategic locations around the country but the Federal Government and security agencies downplayed the advice.

The warnings usually predicated on the February 2002 call by Al Qaeda founder, the late Osama bin Laden are for Muslims in Nigeria and some other countries to overthrow their governments.

But the standard response from Abuja was that the Western embassies were up to regular scaremongering, in the bid to portray Nigeria in a bad light.

Less than a year after the Independence Day incident, the Boko Haram sect joined the bombing campaign, hitting the headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force and the United Nations office in Abuja in June and August respectively.

More bomb attacks followed while Western embassies continued to issue warnings.

Few days before Easter 2012, some Western embassies warned that there were plans by Boko Haram to bomb some locations in the country during the holiday weekend.

As usual, Abuja dismissed the warnings and assured Nigerians that all was well.

Sadly, Boko Haram struck in Kaduna on Easter Sunday in a bomb attack that claimed dozens of lives and destroyed property in the area.

The accuracy of the embassies’ prediction jolted many Nigerians, as they believed that Abuja’s dismissal of the warnings was in line with the Federal Government’s poor handling of security threats.

On Wednesday, April 18, the United States Embassy, Abuja issued an emergency notice to Americans in the country that it had received credible information about Boko Haram’s plans to bombs hotels and other locations frequently visited by Westerners.

This warning was copied by the British and Australian governments in updated travel warnings issued by the foreign affairs offices.

In its usual combative posture, Abuja chided the embassies for spreading fear in the polity and claimed ignorance of the said plots.

The posture of security officials in President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration on such issues had left much to be desired.

The global standard is that security agencies share information about the activities of terrorists and issue public notices, where credible threats are detected.

For sure, embassies have a duty to their nationals to warn them about any threats to their security. A story routinely told about the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, United States is that no Israeli was hurt or killed in the collapse of the twin towers because Israel’s secret service, Mossad, forewarned them of Al Qaeda’s plan to carry out the deadly mission.

A business website, businessdictionary.com defines a travel warning as ä “formal warning issued by a governmental or international organisation (such as the UN) advising caution in travelling to specified destinations due to reasons such as armed violence, civil or political unrest, high incidence of crime (specially kidnapping and/or murder), natural disaster, or outbreak of one or more contagious diseases.

A tourism website, travel-news.co.uk, says most travel warnings are usually ignored because “there there are simply too many of them.”

The U.S Department of State explains that travel warnings are “issued when long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travelling to that country.”

It is expected that government will take the security threats from Boko Haram and other dangerous elements more seriously and investigate travel alerts and emergency warnings from embassies instead of being antagonistic.

In today’s globalised system, it is imperative for countries to cooperate against a variety of security threats.

According to the Editor of the influential Foreign Policy magazine, Moises Naim, in his bestseller, “Illicit,” a major reason why terrorists, money launderers, human and drug traffickers, weapons dealers and sundry criminals proliferate is because governments often treat one another with suspicion.

Instead of collaborating on issues of common concern, governments adopt antagonistic attitudes, which then bolster the conditions for criminals to operate.

Had the Nigerian government taken the Easter warnings seriously, perhaps, it would have thwarted the Boko Haram attack in Kaduna.

The time for a soul-searching within the Jonathan administration on the security concerns in the country has come and its operatives must come to terms with contemporary trends in the management of security information and collaboration with foreign countries in the fight against terrorism and other crimes.

 

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