Red Alert

LAGOS ON RED ALERT

  • VI, Ikoyi residents fret over reports of aborted bomb attack
  • Govt, police allay Boko Haram fears, say no cause for alarm

Things are no longer at ease for most residents of Lagos, particularly those who live in the highbrow estates that pimple the city. Their fears follow a recent revelation by operatives of the Directorate of State Security (DSS) that Boko Haram insurgents were plotting to bomb some highbrow residential estates in the state.

The revelation, which came on the heels of the recent surge in the activities of the deadly sect in Borno, Adamawa and other North-East states and the arrest of 45 suspected members of the sect identified by the DSS as the brains behind the deadly plot, has created panic among residents.

Investigations conducted by our correspondents revealed that residents of high brow estates in Ikoyi, Lekki and Victoria Island areas of Lagos were visibly shaken by the development and were doing whatever they could to guard against any ugly trend.

According to information gathered, the executive of the residents’ association of Ikoyi and Victoria Island under the aegis of Victoria Island and Ikoyi Security Trust (VIISET) are leaving no stone unturned in their bid to forestall any attack. They had therefore held series of meetings in this regard.

A top member of the group, who attended one of such meetings held during the week, told one of our correspondents that the reported plot by suspected insurgents to bomb the high brow settlements had sent jitters down the spines of the residents.

He said that one of the immediate measures being considered by the security group was to send people who hawk in traffic away from the axis.

He said: “There is no way one would hear such an unpleasant story and handle it with levity. We were alarmed and seriously disturbed when we heard the news.

“But I must say that we are not leaving any stone unturned in our determination to make sure that terrorists don’t succeed in wreaking havoc in any part of Ikoyi and Victoria Island.

“We know that the security agencies are on top of the situation and are doing their best to provide security for the generality of the people, but we would not leave it to them alone.

“We are also looking at what we the residents can do to make sure the security of lives and property is guaranteed.

“I must confess to you that we have come up with a number of measures that would enhance our security. One of these measures is to send all the people that are hawking in traffic in the entire area packing. It is very easy for a terrorist to mingle with them and wreak havoc without anybody suspecting him.

“By the time we rid the roads of these guys, the coast would be clear and one would be able to monitor the movement of motorists and other passersby. The move may appear callous but we cannot sacrifice our security on the altar of being nice to these guys.”

The Executive Secretary of VIISET, Alhaji Abdulazeez Muse, said the body was working round the clock to make sure that lives and property of residents were safe.

He said: “We often hold meetings to brief our members about the security situation in the area. We also have formal relationship with security agents.

“From time to time, we do call the police to draw their attention to dark spots. We also urge our members to constantly observe their environments and report back to us.

“We are working on having a database for every resident in the area, and that would be rounded off as soon as possible.”

He added that the efforts to rid the axis of street hawkers have nothing to do with Boko Haram’s plot.

“It has been an ongoing thing and has nothing to do with the issue of Boko Haram. It is part of our general efforts to bring sanity to the area. We have always worked with the local government authorities to raid these people and bring sanity to our environment,” he said.

Checks on estates like Dolphin, Osborne, Victoria Garden City (VGC) and Oniru, among others, revealed that residents have beefed up security in and around the estates to ward off danger.

At Dolphin Estate, for instance, checks showed that one of the gates leading into the area is now under lock and key since the threat to its security was reported last week. A resident, who did not want his name in print, told The Nation that it was imperative for them to beef up security to make sure no terrorist attack happens in the area.

The resident said: “We have actually stepped up our security arrangement, but they may not be visible to people out there. What we have now is totally different from what we had before now. We are not taking the report likely because whatever is capable of threatening human lives cannot be treated with kid gloves.

“With the new security arrangement on ground, we monitor everybody that comes in and moves out of the estate both on foot and in vehicles. This is the much I can tell you because it is not proper to let out our security plans on the pages of a newspaper. The arrangement is top secret which every responsible member of the estate should keep to his heart.”

An official of the estate’s residents’ association, who pleaded anonymity, said the association had always given the matter of security the priority before now, adding that the revelation of a plot by Boko Haram to bomb highbrow estates had led to a better security arrangement by the estate.

“Even before now, we have always treated security matters with all seriousness. So, this latest revelation has only made us to increase our efforts and put in place more measures that will prevent any attack by any group,” the official said.

A female resident of Osborne Estate said she had been fear-stricken since the matter was reported last week.

She said: “I have not been sleeping with my two eyes closed since last weekend when the issue was reported. My fear stems from the fact that there is no security arrangement that you can put in place that can stop bomb explosion.

“I am not sure there is any technological device in place to stop bomb explosion. In the last one week, I have been preoccupied with the thought of the safety of my children when they go to school. Whenever they are not back when they should, I would be apprehensive and keep calling. If a tyre bursts anywhere around, your blood pressure will shoot up because you would think it is bomb. This past week has been full of anxiety for me because of the news. The whole thing is better imagined than experienced.”

Another resident, who identified himself as Benjamin, says although he appreciates the efforts of the various residents’ associations to beef up security in the area, he would rather put his confidence in divine security.

He said: “The various associations are doing well by working round the clock to upgrade the security arrangement in the area and I really give them kudos for their efforts.

“But I must say that every human security arrangement, no matter how solid, can be breached. This is my firm belief, and developments around the world and even here in Nigeria attest to this fact.

“For this reason, I will rather look up to God for my security than putting my confidence in human arrangement, which is susceptible to all manner of manipulations. It is worrisome that many security providers even compromise at times because of pecuniary gains.”

For Femi, a resident of Victoria Island, Lagos, moving out of the area is not an option to the challenge posed by the threat. Beyond beefing up security in the axis, he advised that security agencies should spread their dragnets across the state to make sure that people with ulterior motives are flushed out.

He said: “Moving out of the environment is not an option at all because security threat is all over the country. The problem shouldn’t be the concern of those of us living in Lekki, Victoria Island and Ikoyi alone; iIt is a challenge that the entire state should rise up to.

“Before the report last week that there was a plot to bomb this area, there had been reports about the arrest of Boko Haram members in different areas on the mainland. So, if everybody begins to move when such developments are reported, where would they all be running to at the end of the day?

“This simply tells us that nowhere is safe from the threat, and the earlier we begin to look at a collective solution the better for us. If you secure the island and leave the mainland without security, you will find out that the area you consider secure will eventually not be safe.

“I want to appeal to the state government to come up with fresh security arrangement to secure the entire state. We must not wait to have Sambisa forest where people can be kidnapped and kept before we start doing something. The police, army and other security agencies should immediately be sent out to comb shady areas across the state.

Oniru Estate

At Oniru Estate, an upscale neighbourhood on the Lekki-Ere Expressway, most of the residents who spoke to The Nation said they were aware of the reported threat by Boko Haram insurgents to bomb parts of Lagos.

The Chief Security Officer of the estate, Mr. Julius Bamidele, said: “We are well aware of Boko Haram and other kinds of security threats. We are constantly on patrol doing different kinds of security checks around the estate.

“A few days ago, we did a clampdown on all empty plots of land and uncompleted buildings on the estate, since these are the likely places that hoodlums could take advantage of. We have evicted those who are squatting in such uncompleted buildings and we have stepped up security consciousness in such areas.

“We are also constantly studying any possible loophole. Oniru Estate, as you can see, is gated. We do not have loose roads. We will intensify efforts to have only one entrance throughout the estate.

“For now, we are liaising with the police to beef up security on the estate. While we have not had such negative indices in this estate, we are calling on the Lagos State Government to intensify security on the expressway around us. Incidents of early morning robbery have been regularly reported, especially in traffic. This has become rampant and also recent. We need more RRS presence.”

Also speaking, the administrator at White Oak Preparatory School, Mrs Dayo Ade, said authorities of the school place high premium on security matters.

She said: “We have always been vigilant with our safety rules. Like you saw, the whole place is under security surveillance. We are on the alert. We are constantly regulating our procedures and we are also liaising with others in the estate on furthering security measures.”

The Nation also observed that authorities of the British International School, located on Oniru Estate, had stepped up security checks around the institution, with latest security gadgets used to frisk visitors.

Speaking on the new measures, the Protocol Officer of the school, Gbolahan Farri, said: “We have our own standard access procedure which we follow very strictly. We believe that our access procedure could checkmate whatever infiltration there could be.

“We have different levels of security in place to withhold all kinds of threats. Obviously, we are well prepared. Our external security body is well trained and equipped and knows what to look out for. Around the estate generally, there is general alertness.”

A resident, who identified himself as Dami, said most residents of the estate feel secured. He described the security measures put in place by the residents’ association as impregnable.

Lagos urges residents to remain calm

In its reaction to the threat, the Lagos State Government urged residents of the state to remain calm but vigilant. The state government, in a statement issued by the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, expressed confidence in the combined efforts of the DSS, police and other security agencies to keep the state free of terror attacks. He also vowed that the government would not relent in its constitutional duty to ensure the safety of lives and property across the state.

He said: “Our appeals go to all schools, housing estates, religious houses, markets and shopping complexes, hotels and restaurants and sporting arenas to take issues of security and personal safety more seriously these days and to work with both the government and security agencies in promptly reporting any persons with suspicious activities or unusual gatherings that may compromise security. Care must also be taken in how domestic servants and house aides are employed.”

The spokesman of the Lagos State Police Command, Mr Joe Offor, told The Nation: “The Commissioner of Police, Mr Fatai Oowoseni, has held several meetings with community leaders, leaders of the Arewa community and the leadership of various transport unions. The essence of the interactions is to sensitise people on the need to be wary of suspected members of the terrorist group.

“I want to tell you that the initiative has yielded result with the arrest of some suspected Boko Haram members in parts of the state. Members of the Arewa community were able to identify some of the suspects and we discovered that those arrested had earlier been declared wanted for participating in terrorist acts in Adamawa and Yobe states. They have since been repatriated to the states to face the wrath of the law.

“We did not parade them because of the sensitive nature of their case, in order not to create panic in the minds of the residents. The Lagos State Police Command is on top of the situation and we will arrest any Boko Haram member anywhere they try to hide in Lagos. We are quietly but seriously proactive in forestalling the influx of insurgents into a cosmopolitan state like Lagos.’’

The police spokesman also admonished residents to feel free to work with the police in combating crimes, including terrorism, by reporting strange or queer elements in the society.

He said: “People should feel free to report any act of suspicion or people with questionable character and we shall take care of the situation. We have had cases like that when people reported the suspicious movement of some persons and we discovered after profiling them to be criminals.

“Therefore, security is not a matter of choice but a necessity. Hence, everyone must be involved in the process to ensure law and order in the society. And I want to use the opportunity to appeal to members of the public not to panic, but to have confidence in the police in our battle against acts of terrorism and other heinous crimes in Lagos.”

Security experts speak

Following the rise in the spate of arrests of suspected Boko Haram members outside the northern parts of the country, particularly the north east believed to be their stronghold, security experts have warned that the southern part of the country could be the sect’s next target.

Former Edo State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Olayinka Balogun, said: “Terrorism is an advanced form of other crimes. Currently, security agencies are doing their best, but they should prop up the machineries to fight crimes. There is a need for adequate government support, provision of more equipment, raising intelligence gathering with little seriousness added to it.

“Let the Nigeria Immigration Service also help by launching massive manhunt for illegal immigrants as well as preventing the influx of unlawful aliens to Lagos. That way, the insurgents would be prevented from gaining access into Lagos or any other parts of the South West.”

Dr. Dipo Okeyomi, an international security consultant, described the insurgents as a crop of people who have fallen and would not mind pulling others down.

He said: “With the level of bombardment that the terrorists have suffered in the hands of the military in recent times, their next line of action would be to shift base. In shifting base, the next place they would have in mind would be the south. They would be all out to attack the south so that their desire of setting the country on fire could be achieved.

“This is why it is urgent for governors in the entire southern part of the country to put sentiments aside and work together to flush the insurgents out of the zone. We should not in any way deceive ourselves by thinking that they are not already in the south. They are here and have mixed with the people. But they can be fished out if proactive steps are taken by the security operatives.”

Advising the residents of highbrow estates in Lagos, he said: “There is an urgent need for them to beef up security in their areas. They must put modern technological devices that can detect bombs and other dangerous weapons from afar.

“They should engage the services of experienced security experts who would be on surveillance 24/7, feeding the authorities with developments.

“Aside from that, they could also employ private police to monitor security situations in the area. Adequate attention must be paid to commercial motorcyclists from the north, because it is easy for these insurgents to mix with them and use the opportunity to unleash terror on innocent people.

“Residents themselves should not keep quiet whenever they observe any strange person or developments around them.”

Okada riders on the alert

Also, as part of the efforts to check any planned influx by suspected Boko Haram members into Lagos, the leadership of the association of commercial motorcycles operators in the state, under the aegis of Motorcycle Operators Association of Lagos State (MOALS), has commenced new regulations among its members to ensure that only trusted and responsible people are allowed to operate.

A chieftain of MOALS at the headquarters of the association in Abule Egba area of Lagos State, who pleaded anonymity, said the association was aware of the threat posed by Boko Haram and had put measures in place to check it.

He said: “We are not unaware that some Boko Haram members who fled the North-East as a result of the intensity of the ongoing battle against terrorism by the security forces are moving into the southwest states, including Lagos, hence, circumspection is being deployed in taking new commercial motorcyclists of northern extraction into our fold.

“As a rule, new members are taken based on recommendation. We also ensure that we ascertain where they live before accepting them as members in order to discourage fleeing terrorists from infiltrating our parks. We are monitoring our members as well as new members of northern origin to discourage fleeing insurgents from disguising as okada riders in order to perpetrate evil.”

Another chieftain of the association in Oja Oba Area of Orile Agege, who spoke in confidence, said the Lagos State Police Command had given okada riders some security tips to stave off any act of terror.

He said: “We have many northerners as members, but we have been told during an interactive session with the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State to look out for strange objects or items around our parks. We have been told that such items may be explosive devices being disguised as refuse or disused objects. We were warned not to pick or move such items, but to inform the nearest police division.”

Arewa youths speak

Reacting to the arrest and arraignment of the suspects, the Chairman, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Comrade Shettima Yerima, said: “The suspects should be tried and convicted if found guilty. It is time we started doing things the way they should be done. Everybody has realised that the group is a threat to our national security and existence.”

He, however, allayed the fears of the people that commercial motorcyclists of northern extraction could be used to unleash terror in Lagos State. Such insinuation is not right and it is very unfair to us,” he said.

“We, the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, in conjunction with Arewa Council of Chiefs, under the leadership of Alhaji Aminu Yaro and other northern groups, have been doing everything possible to make sure that every northerner in the state is on our register.

“We do take the inventory of every person that comes into the state and have mandated our people not to harbour anybody without taking his inventory. Our coordinators are always moving around to apprehend strangers and hand them over to the law enforcement agents. We have, by this effort, curbed criminality everywhere you find our people. This is why there is no tension and panic everywhere you find our people.

“Terrorism is a collective problem and that is how all of us must see it. We should no longer see it as a northern problem. We should therefore work together to expose the perpetrators.”

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