By Festus Adedayo
For those who watch the complicated Nigerian security mess from afar, the killing of Japanese ex-Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe in Nara, Japan last Tuesday and the ambushing, same day, of President Muhammadu Buhari’s advance convoy in Dutsinma, about 152 kilometres from his hometown of Daura, Katsina State, both speak to rising global insecurity. A few hours after on that same Tuesday, that joke went burst. Approximately three hours after shelling the president’s advance convoy with an assortment of bullets, killing two people in the process, around 10pm, terrorists stormed the Kuje Custodial Centre in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, in a night-time attack that left a security personnel and six inmates dead, with about 600 inmates, 65 reported to be detained Boko Haram inmates, at large. Arriving the prison in a convoy of motorcycles, the terrorists detonated several bombs and deployed Rocket-Propelled Grenades (RPGs), General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMGs) and a profusion of AK-49 assault rifles, AK-47 assault rifles, as well as service pistols to aid their penetration of the prison.
Once inside the prison, the terrorists had what looked like a saturnalia. First was that they reportedly entered the Kuje prison facility through the bush and from its backend. This path was where the Nigerian military armoured tanker guarding the facility was stationed, with its dilating-eyed, readied platoon of sharp-shooters. So they drove in, unchecked and without any shred of resistance. Reports had it that this area that the terrorists trod into the custodial centre was usually manned by army officers who the Army authorities deployed about 12 hours before the attack took place. This location is the first contact of anyone meandering into the facility, which the terrorists also did as they arrived the facility. Strolling in without any resistance the terrorists approached the Civil Defence officers’ point. Were the situation normal, this was where a hailstone of bullets ought to have been rained on the terrorists by soldiers.
Again, in a very suggestive way, the terrorists did not do any violence to the armoured tanker they met, en-route the facility. They did not even rupture a pin of the deadly machine’s parts. If you compare this “magnanimity” of the terrorists with the fit of madness they went into by setting ablaze several vehicles parked about 10 metres off the military tanker in the premises of the Kuje prison, the terrorists deserved a national award for helping to safeguard national asset. In all however, you will conclude, as the Yoruba say when they suspect an admixture of mischief and Satanism, that the snake, in this circumstance of the Kuje attack, indeed had its hidden hands tucked off view.
For two hours and forty five minutes, the terrorists, reportedly numbering about 300, annexed Kuje as a temporary headquarters of their Satanic Empire. Thereafter, they set the prison’s records office on fire. If the maishayi in charge of serving the terrorist comrades their hard drugs-embossed tea was in the mood to follow them to that triumphant rescue of their comrades in Kuje, he would have had a field day serving them while the operation lasted. One after the other, the terrorists, who gained access to the facility by bombing the walls with explosives, reportedly called the over 60 terrorists in captivity by their names and bombed the cell doors open. Shouts of grisly, triumphal Allahu akbar rend the air, entwined by huge balls of fire and booms of bazookas and bombs. Kuje would feel like a theatre of war reminiscent of the bombings in Sarajevo during the Bosnia and Herzegovina war of the early to mid-1990s. Then, the terrorists began a long sermon on Jihadism and winning of souls of the inmates.
Before releasing their comrades in terrorism, comprising 64 high-profile terrorists and more than 260 other hardened criminals who were set free, media reports said that the terrorists peremptorily breached the custodial facility’s security without a single pushback from the security that was usually deployed to Kuje prison. Indeed, said media reports, no single shot was fired by a platoon of security men in Kuje that comprised military, DSS, Police, Immigration/Prisons Armed Squad. More petrifying was the report which indicated that the expended bullet shells that were seen on the floor after the attack were left as terrifying memorabilia of the terrorists’ superiority over the Nigerian state. The Nigerian security, made up of same gallant officers who received garlands from the United Nations in peacekeeping operations in Darfur, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Chad, among others, like frightened cats that tuck their tails inside thighs when outpaced, all faded into thin air for the almost three hours of the attack. Gallant officers that they were, they only reappeared when their terrorist comrades had completed their national assignments, on the verge of leaving in a triumphal celebration.
Very unlike him, with his globally celebrated medallion for pussyfooting and national aloofness, President Buhari was in Kuje almost immediately. And I must say that he deserves national commendation for the brilliant performance of the role that the Producer of the national opera cast for him. The second day, being Wednesday, on his way to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport for an international junket to Dakar, Senegal which he could very well have sent his Vice, Buhari actually honoured Nigeria with his august visit to Kuje. As a symbol of national shame that the attack was, Buhari could have, there and then, announced his decision to abandon the junket, a number of which, in the last two months, have since become the paterfamilias of his departing lame duck administration. So Buhari stopped by at the Kuje Correctional Centre and for about 30 minutes, played his cast role in the surreal drama quite commendably.
Like a knowledgeable cast who understood his role well enough, Buhari openly queried the intelligence gathering system in Kuje which resulted in the attack. He expressed worry at the level of damage done and queried, for optical effect of the camera, “How did the defences at the prison fail to prevent the attack? How many inmates were in the facility? How many of them can you account for? How many personnel did you have on duty? How many of them were armed? Were there guards on the watchtower? What did they do? Does the CCTV work?” Smart Nollywood actor this was!
After effectively performing his cast role, as they say in Shakespearean theatre lingo, Buhari exeunted. Then came unto the scene another of the cast, Garba Shehu. Untutored, this cast immediately provided a poetic enjambment to this inchoate poem of sorrow. This is a cast who always provides comedic relief to every of the grief-stricken drama of the presidency. As if one knew that the Abe Shinzo tragedy in Japan would be alluded to by this actor, Shehu, reacting to allegation that by flying directly from a place of mourning to his junket rendezvous, Buhari did worse than Nero who fiddled while Rome burnt, he said that, not embarking on the trip by Buhari would have meant that government should stop working. No nation stops working because they faced terrorist threats, Shehu said in a quote that sounded like an inspirational talk to a crowd at the graveyard. “To cancel the trip to Senegal would mean that the terrorists are successful in calling the shots, something that no responsible government in the world will allow”, Shehu said so glibly.
Not long after Buhari departed to play his Nero flute, dramatic ironies began to appear in the melancholic drama at Kuje. First was a cast whose lines became a dramatic disjuncture from the whole script. Ahmad Lawan, President of the Senate, said he saw the Kuje snake hiding its hands within its belly. On a visit to the Medium Security Custodial Centre, Lawan said such cataclysmic and huge attack, without a pushback, could only have been made possible with insider collaboration. Similarly, the man in whose hands lies the operations of the prison, Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, while leading his team from the ministry to the custodial centre, shockingly demurred from this well-written script of the presidency. In his usually simulated stoicism, the minister revealed that what happened in Kuje was mysterious and benumbing, so much that he was not ready to disclose its awful details in public. He said he was disappointed by the effete defence of the platoon of the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Police Force, officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence (NSCD) and armed officers of the Nigerian Correctional Service, who were armed with sophisticated weapons deployed to the centre who turned their backs while the shelling lasted. As we speak, from Buhari, to the National Security Adviser, the Minister of Interior, to even the Chief of Army Staff, no one has resigned their appointment.
Like many of the Buhari administration’s puerile attempt to hide behind a finger, the raison d’etre of this national embarrassment has since been a subject of discourse on the streets of Nigeria. As they say in street lingo, Nigerians have concluded that the closet burial that Buhari gave his secretly interred body has its legs jutting out for all to see. The Kuje attack, to Nigerians, is the final denouement of the earlier national calamitous opera of the kidnap of train passengers in Katari on March 28, 2022. On that day, at around 7:45 pm, hundreds of passengers, rumoured to be numbering about 970, were abducted by bandits. Eight persons were killed and 26 others injured by terrorists who bombed their train. Several of them were whisked into the bush by the daredevil bandits. Over 150 passengers were declared missing in the encounter.
Negotiations then began between the Federal Government and the terrorists. To rev up the importance of the negotiation, the terrorists released a video that went viral of the abducted passengers sitting under a tree in an unknown location. Media reports claimed that the terrorists demanded the release of their sponsors and commanders in the custody of the Nigerian government as exchange for the abducted victims. This was not the first time the Buhari government would exchange insurgent commanders with abductees. Some months ago when it did, their release paved way for a rev of the insurgency.
Street rationalization cobbled the strands of the Kuje attack together, especially the irresistance of state-funded security operatives to the calamitous Kuje attack. It came to the conclusion that the effeminate, terrorists-sympathetic government of a retired General of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Muhammadu Buhari, unable to rescue its people, agreed with the terrorists that it would feign engagement with other things while the attacks on the Kuje centre was going on. The question then became, what kind of unequal equation would ensure that a government is unable to rescue its people from terrorists while terrorists brazed all odds to rescue their people from the hands of government?
Though it is a route often taken by pacifist and sissy governments, you could say that the Buhari administration, in this equation of what to do with the abducted Nigerians by the terrorists, was before the devil and the deep blue sea. However, the larger indication of the Kuje attack is that terrorists are on the verge of overrunning Nigeria. And Buhari doesn’t care, so far as it is his family members that are doing so. A revelation was made a few years ago that terrorists were all over the Abuja seat of power. When Buhari was being voted into office in 2015, it was on the understanding that a military General, who had risen to the rank of a Major General, was the right person to shell out the insurgents from their base. However, we miscalculated in not realizing the terrorism-baiting inclination and persuasion of the man we were voting into office. At the end of the day, Nigerians became the proverbial farmer who knew that his new farmland was under the grips of squirrels but stubbornly went ahead to make it a plantation of groundnuts. Shouldn’t he have himself to blame as squirrels devoured his harvests?
A very daringly frightening collation of ten examples of General Buhari’s alleged romance with or terrorism-baiting moves was compiled in a viral post last week on the social media. It gave an indication that, with the voting of Buhari into office in 2015, Nigerians might not have voted a Boko Haram supporter into office but they didn’t vote a non-terrorism sympathizer as well. Beginning with the famous 2012 news report of Boko Haram reportedly picking General Buhari to moderate its talks with the Goodluck Jonathan government, another June 2, 2013 report quoted to have been said by Buhari urging Jonathan government to “stop killing Boko Haram members” with Buhari equating a military offensive against Boko Haram as anti-North, as well as a report on November 26, 2018 attributed to some South African mercenaries who allegedly claimed that Buhari stopped them from fighting Boko Haram insurgents, the impression on the street about Buhari isn’t that he runs a terrorism disdainful government.
If you now add these to a worrying list of Buhari government’s soft landing for insurgents who have killed thousands of Nigerian soldiers, rendered thousands homeless and created so many IDPs in the north, like a February 11, 2020 report that the FG was “setting our killers free” attributed to Nigerian soldiers over the release of 1400 Boko Haram fighters, a fertile ground would seem to have been excavated for the insinuations that arose after the Kuje prison attack. It is on record that in Buhari’s Nigeria, where citizens are forced to enroll to have National Identification Number before they can have cell phone numbers allocated to them and non-possession of which invalidates phone possession, terrorists and kidnappers flaunt the use of mobile phones in negotiation of ransoms. The allegation is that Boko Haram sympathizers and accomplices envelope the government of Muhammadu Buhari and his telecommunication ministry is its base.
If the Kuje permutation above that is being bandied on Nigerian street is real, did those who midwife the attack think of its consequences for Nigeria? Allowing terrorists a free rein in Kuje, a few kilometers away from Aso Rock, is a grim construct that evokes a very eerie feeling of foreboding. One is that it invests on the terrorists a can-do spirit. Who says they cannot try the presidential palace, using the same derring-do methodology? Second, 64 freed lethal insurgents on the street of the FCT makes Abuja equal to stepping on landmines. What kind of government hands over its people to terror-minded enemies like this?
The Buhari government’s perceived relationship with insurgents is a tragic irony and an embarrassment to the country. It reveals that the government has turned Nigeria into one huge and horrific jokesville. However, as bad as it is, our bother now should not be on Buhari as it is a lost battle. It should be on how, in 2023, this country will not clone this same cataclysmic mistake in electing its leadership. We must elect a president whose sprit is riled by terrorism. Since 1999, the only administration that possessed this national anger and the capacity to rout insurgents was Olusegun Obasanjo’s. Since Obasanjo’s departure, the country has oscillated in the hands of the feeble, the unable to the embracer of terrorism.
May the soul of that lone NSDC operative, the only man who was said to have attempted to repel the attack of the Kuje terrorists, rest in perfect peace.
*Dr Festus Adedayo, journalist, lawyer and public affairs analyst, writes from Ibadan