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Nigeria ‘Won’t Be Stampeded’ By US and UK Travel Advisories

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Minister of Information Mr. Lai Mohammed

 

The Nigerian government, on Wednesday, reacted, yet again, to the updated travel advisory by the United States Department of State and the United Kingdom for their citizens to reconsider travelling to Nigeria due to terrorism and general crime, saying it would not be stampeded by whatever any foreign government tells its citizens. Minister of Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said this while fielding questions from State House correspondents after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

Mohammed said despite attempts by terrorists to embarrass the government, the security agencies were in charge of the situation and Nigeria remained safe.

But the United States government, taking a step further on the terror alert it issued days back, granted authorised departure status to US citizens in Abuja, and urged Americans to consider personal emergency action plans.

However, Nigeria’s intelligence community began to push back against the updated alert on alleged terror threat in Abuja by the United States Embassy.

The minister, who spoke against the backdrop of previous assurances he had given, said, “Now, of course, this so-called travel advisory, as far as we are concerned, as a government, we have in the last few months taken a firm handle of security.

“What I said is that click baiting, which is, you find a story which is not verified and you immediately share it, always cause panic. But I want to reassure both citizens, non-Nigerians, Nigerians living in this country, that security agencies are on top of this matter.

“Of course, the terrorists would not stop to try to embarrass or intimidate government but what I’m saying is that this country is safe. And there’s no cause for alarm. No cause to panic.

“Unfortunately, because of that travel advisory on Sunday, many schools were closed, shops were closed, travel plans were disrupted, we don’t need it. The security – our soldiers, our police – are working round the clock to contain any terrorist attack. This is where we stand.”

Reminded that the travel advisory specifically mentioned vulnerable states that Americans must not travel to, Mohammed affirmed that it was not strange as even the Nigeria mission in the US could advise Nigerians on their movement in that country.

According to the minister, “I read it that it said non-emergency should leave Nigeria. You see, just like if Nigeria mission in the US also sends a travel advisory and warning in Houston and says, look, don’t go, don’t take your children to school, because there could be mass shooting tomorrow. I mean, it is within their rights to say that their people should go home if they want to.

“But we, as a country, have a responsibility to keep our country safe, and we’re not going to be stampeded, at all, by whatever any government decides to tell its people.”

Asked if government was worried by the perception the advisory could create among investors and the steps that might be taken to prevent it, the minister advised citizens to desist from spreading unverified news.

He stated, “The concrete step is that people should stop spreading unverified news. That is what we are saying. You see, look, how many school shootings happen in the US? How many senseless killings happened in the US?

“So have they been able to predict what’s going to happen next? Which school is going to be a victim next? Do Nigerians in the US also feel safe? I think you should stop de-marketing your home country. Every country has its security challenges. We have ours and we are facing them. Which side are you, American side?”

But the United States government, which granted authorised departure status to its citizens in Abuja, said the authorised departure permitted the voluntary departure of family members and certain employees of its embassy in Abuja due to the heightened risk of terrorists’ attacks.

The US consulate and embassy, which made this known in a new security notice issued yesterday, said it followed a security alert issued recently about an impending terror attack in the country, especially, the nation’s capital, by the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram terror group.

It stated, “The U.S. Department of State granted authorised departure status to Embassy Abuja, which permits the voluntary departure of family members and certain employees due to the heightened risk of terrorist attacks.

“The U.S. Embassy in Abuja continues to have limited ability to provide emergency assistance to U.S. citizens in Nigeria. The U.S Consulate in Lagos continues to provide routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens in Nigeria.”

The US government further urged its citizens to have personal emergency action plans that did not rely on U.S. government assistance.

It told Americans in Nigeria, “Take advantage of commercial transportation options, if you wish to depart Nigeria. Monitor local media for breaking news on the security situation. Be aware of your surroundings. Keep a low profile.”

Similarly, the United States government alerted South Africa that terrorists might be planning an attack aimed at large gatherings, and then warned American citizens to avoid large crowds and gatherings, especially, around Sandton in Johannesburg between the 29 and 30, October 2022. The US made this known on its embassy website yesterday, stressing that it got information about possible attacks by terrorists in Sandton, Johannesburg, on Saturday.

The American government said in the alert, “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.

“There is no further information regarding the timing, method, or target of the potential attack. The US embassy has advised staff to avoid crowds of people and other large public gatherings in the greater Sandton area of Johannesburg during the weekend of October 29-30 2022.”

But Nigeria’s intelligence community sources told THISDAY last night that the initial alert and the update were in bad taste and designed to diminish joint intelligence operations between Nigeria and both countries.

A highly placed security source, who spoke anonymously, said regarding the US and UK terror alerts, “This is in bad taste, because we share intelligence with the these countries (US and UK). We share intelligence on counterterrorism operations and other areas of security concerns.

“Issuing these alerts and the updated one undermines our sovereignty and creates problems for government and security agencies. Why not share this intelligence if you have one?”

THISDAY gathered that while the security forces had intensified security measures around Abuja, the update by the US embassy on the directive to evacuate embassy staff was more worrisome.

A senior security source said, “Within the last six months, there has been a lull in the area of insurgency and banditry and many terror leaders were taken out and things were gradually getting better. There are mass shootings in US virtually on a daily basis. The insecurity in US is worse, going by what we see daily there.

“Since the Kuje incident, security agencies have worked round the clock and so if US and UK, whom we see as partners, could not share intelligence of what they have seen with government, then, there is something else going on.

“Remember, Nigeria and South Africa are the largest economies in Africa.”

Another top security source decried the action of the US and UK embassies, saying, “They are intended to rubbish milestone achievements that are being made by security agencies to keep the country safe, irrespective of emerging security challenges, which are not peculiar to Nigeria. Already, the security agencies have performed exceeding well in recent times, in terms of interception of calls, arrest of terrorists’ commanders, and elimination of their fighters.

“It is unfortunate that while we share security advisories with the embassies on the need for security consciousness, just as we occasionally announce in public statements, these foreign missions use the same to compromise our security efforts.

“What they did is deliberate, considering that we have been transparent and responsible in providing regular security advisory, especially, as we are approaching an election year.

“They are aware that our recently upgraded military platforms and sophisticated digital technology tools have been assisting security agencies in curbing terrorism and violent crimes across the country

“There are certain successes recorded that cannot be publicly disclosed to avoid jeopardising or compromising national security. Since security matters are highly strategic and confidential, we don’t go about explaining our vendors, who supplied them or the processes and strategies to anyone or the media.”

Deji Elumoye, Kingsley Nwezeh and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

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