A series of attacks and threats within close proximity of Nigeria’s seat of government in Abuja by Islamist and other armed groups are causing fear and apprehension among citizens in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and across the country, Human Rights Watch said today.
The Nigeria Police Force has assured citizens that it has scaled up security in the federal region, which includes Abuja, but these attacks and threats, even to kidnap the president, indicate an alarming deterioration of the nation’s security situation. The authorities need to ensure adequate security for all civilians while respecting human rights.
“The recent events unfolding in the capital confirms many Nigerians’ fears that the threat from Islamist insurgents and other armed groups are now national threats that have reached critical levels,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The ability of the groups to expand outside their base even to the nation’s capital means that the authorities need to greatly expand their efforts to protect people.”
For over a decade, Nigeria has been embroiled in conflict in the Northeast region with Boko Haram, an Islamist insurgency group, and its breakaway factions including the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). These groups kill and kidnap people in their quest to topple the government and establish an Islamic state. In the Northwest, years of conflict between nomadic herders, mainly of Fulani ethnicity, and farming communities of Hausa ethnicity have given rise to a proliferation of powerful criminal gangs with sophisticated weaponry that terrorize communities and kill, pillage, and kidnap people, including schoolchildren, for ransom.
On July 5, armed men attacked a minimum security prison in Kuje, a community within the federal district, about 40 kilometers from Abuja. During the attack, for which the Islamic State West Africa Province claimed responsibility, about 900 inmates escaped, including more than 60 Boko Haram suspects. Security analysts have also highlighted the involvement of Ansaru, an Al Qaeda-backed splinter faction of Boko Haram, in the attack, though the extent of its involvement is unclear.
On July 25, unidentified assailants killed six officers of the presidential guard brigade, an elite force of the army responsible for protecting the president and the federal area, in Bwari, a community in the federal region where a campus of the Nigeria Law School is located. The officers were deployed to provide security after the management of the law school received a letter from unidentified sources threatening an imminent attack on the school.
In response, the Federal Education Ministry announced the immediate closure of all federal government colleges in the federal region to ensure students’ safety, affecting thousands of students.
On July 29, media reported that gunmen attacked a military checkpoint in the federal region along the Abuja-Kaduna Highway, which has become notorious in recent years for kidnappings and other attacks against citizens.
On July 24, a video surfaced on social media showing kidnapped victims of a March attack by suspected members of ISWAP on a train that left Abuja, heading for Kaduna state, being beaten by their captors. In the video, members of the armed group threatened to kill or sell off the victims as captives to others if the government did not adhere to their demands, including the release of some ISWAP members and payment for ransom. They also threatened to kidnap President Muhammadu Buhari and other government officials.
These incidents as well as other reports of kidnapping in the federal region have spread fear, panic, and apprehension among citizens.