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KIDNAPPING CRISIS OP-ED

Rampaging attackers in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, force residents to sleep with one eye open

Rampaging attackers in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, force residents to sleep with one eye open
Nigeria President Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, waves during the inauguration ceremony in Eagle Square venue in Abuja, Nigeria. 29 May 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / STR)

Communities in Abuja are under siege. In the last year, about 87 residents have been killed and another 176 kidnapped. There has been a steady rise in violent attacks within the city since the assumption of office by President Bola Tinubu, and it is fueling fear and tension among residents.

Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city and the nation’s seat of power, used to be one of the most secure cities in the country. Home to politicians and military officers, one would assume that the city would be protected from criminality, especially armed robbery and banditry.

The city has a perception of relative immunity from security challenges plaguing parts of the country. However, this appears no longer to be the case. The situation is fast changing as the city is now facing a surge of insecurity.

Communities within it are under siege. Media reports indicate that in the last year, about 87 residents have been killed and another 176 kidnapped. There has been a steady rise in violent attacks within the city since the assumption of office by President Bola Tinubu, and it is fueling fear and tension among residents.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Bola Tinubu wins tightest Nigerian presidential election in decades

A recent report by a security consulting firm ranked Abuja 11th in the world among cities where frequent abductions occur. Earlier in the year, kidnappers stormed a military estate abducting two persons. They come in numbers, often dressed in military camouflage.

In May this year, Dawaki, a small community opposite the Gwarimpa Housing Estate, came under attack as more than 50 armed men invaded the area. Dressed in military uniforms, they reportedly raided six houses and abducted about 20 residents.

The next day, another set of hoodlums invaded Shagari quarters near Dei-Dei, where they attacked the house of a customs officer and abducted his pregnant wife, three children and his younger brother.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Nigeria has a kidnapping epidemic fuelled by terrorists, criminals and ‘bandits’

Last January, 11 persons were kidnapped in the Sagwari Estate layout in Dutse Alhaji within the Abuja metropolis. On 7 June, about 16 gunmen invaded another estate in Kuchiko Resettlement Area (KRDA) and abducted a resident.

Nigeria security forces

Security forces members stand guard during nationwide protests over the removal of fuel subsidies in Lagos, Nigeria. 02 August 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Samuel Alabi)

Kidnapping crisis

Often described as bandits, these kidnappers come in numbers from 10 to 50, usually dressed in military camouflage. Many of them are men, with a few women. Bandits have become more daring and operate mostly in the satellite towns where most residents live. They once operated for four consecutive days, blocking the Kaduna-Abuja expressway, killing three people and abducting dozens. Residents sometimes sell properties to pay the ransom.

But the locations of bandits around the metropolis are known to the authorities.

Many of the bandits terrorising Abuja environs are part of those displaced from Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna. They occupy many of the ungoverned spaces that exist outside the boundaries between the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Nasarawa, Kaduna and Niger states. These locations are close to the city.

A place like Jibi Forest bordering Dei Dei, Mpape towards Ushafa Hills, Kuje forests, the Karshi corridor and Gidandogo on the outskirts of the federal capital territory are known hideouts of the bandits.

Some of these communities border Niger, Nassarawa and Kaduna States from where they can get access to Gurara and Shiroro areas. For instance, Gidandogo is very close to Bwari town, where these bandits allegedly get supplies for their daily needs.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Gunmen kidnap 227 pupils from school in Nigeria

It is a well-known fact that bandits use old cattle grazing routes as paths to move their victims, often to Kaduna, especially Rijana and Kajuru Forests. The base of the bandits in Rijana is said to be huge and already infiltrated by the Islamic State of West Africa Province (Iswap), where these terrorists provide the bandits support in making bombs and firearms.

In some of these communities, the villagers, predominantly peasant farmers, are chased away and displaced for the occupation of bandits. Rijana Forests near the railway station in Kaduna State is another known enclave for bandits, as are the Kajuru Forests.

The bandits often come to the mainland in search of grains, mattresses and other logistics, including drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and tramadol, among others. They operate with a network of informants, including drivers, motorcyclists, cooks, gatemen, artisans and security men. They operate in small gangs where the gang leader provides the guns which they use for their operations.

Nigeria, bandits

A broken fuel price signboard at a fuel station in Ojodu district in Lagos, Nigeria. 9 June 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Akintunde Akinleye)

Insecurity negatively impacts businesses

A recent report from SBM Intelligence revealed that the deteriorating security in Abuja has negatively impacted business concerns, leading to an estimated 33% decline in revenue. Residents are nervous, and many can hardly move around at night, potentially impacting social and recreational activities.

Transport fares have increased as many people prefer to use taxis or board vehicles in registered motor parks. Food prices have also been affected as many farmers do not feel safe to go to their farms. Currently, there is very low patronage for real estate in kidnapping-prone areas by investors and tenants.

The administration of the Federal Capital Territory has been mobilising combined efforts of security agencies, but these efforts are few and far between. Security personnel often respond to distress calls from those under attack but only manage to reach there after the attackers have left with their victims.

Many residents complain that security officials treat intelligence leads with levity, suggesting that there could be accomplices among them. For instance, residents in Mpape complained that a particular known bandit informant had been arrested many times only to be released by security agencies.

Some of the bandit leaders appear to have links with prominent politicians. Often, when their camps are about to be raided, they get advance information that enables them to escape. After such raids, these bandit leaders appear in videos taunting security agencies, making them appear almost invincible.

Political will is therefore crucial and must be expressed beyond lip service by using a network of intelligence gathering. Outright combat and kinetic solutions have been helpful but have yet to prove completely effective. Bottom-up, non-kinetic approaches should be considered too.

The government is reportedly contemplating the establishment of a group of armed guards to be deployed in these forests. There is a need to consider innovative approaches and homegrown solutions, such as strengthening the implementation of nomadic education and structural ranching. Self-defence is key. Personal precautions in the hiring of domestic personnel is important and increased vigilance will also help. DM

Dr Uche Igwe is a senior political economy analyst and visiting fellow at Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He can be reached at [email protected]

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