In the last few days, Nigerians have been on edge over a series of security alerts issued by the Embassy of the United States of America in Nigeria for its citizens. The first alert on October 23, entitled, “Security notice – elevated risk of terror attacks,” claimed there was an elevated risk of terror attacks in Nigeria, especially in Abuja.
It added that the targets include, but are not limited to, government buildings, places of worship, schools, markets, shopping malls, hotels, bars, restaurants, athletic gatherings, transport terminals, law enforcement facilities, and international organisations.
Two days later, the US State department, which supervises the Embassy, authorised departures for non-essential staff members and US families in Abuja on account of “the heightened risk of terrorist attack.” Britain, Germany, Australia and Canada followed the US lead, also warning their citizens to avoid non-essential travels to Abuja.
It is within the right of every country to look out for the best interest and safety of its citizens, wherever they are. And we believe that the US, which also issued similar warnings to its citizens in Equatorial Guinea, Chad and South Africa, almost at about the same time, knows why it did so.
What seems unclear, however, is just how far the US authorities may have gone to share any credible intelligence in their possession with their Nigerian counterparts. Of course, we understand that the primary responsibility of the US is to its citizens.
Yet, in a world where security has increasingly become a shared responsibility, and given the extraordinary ramifications of the danger contemplated, we are tempted to believe that in this specific instance, prioritising intelligence sharing, if indeed there was a credible risk, may have been sacrificed on the altar of exceptionalism.
The tone and execution of the security warnings gave the unintended impression that the US was in such a hurry to issue them it could not wait to see the worst consequences come true – the sort of déjà vu that Nigerians witnessed after a US think tank predicted Nigeria’s break up before the 2015 general elections.
This time, days after warning followed warning and viral videos of US citizens scrambling out of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, made the rounds, residents in the Federal Capital were panic stricken. The situation was not helped by unconfirmed reports of arrests of suspects by the security services.
A few high-profile businesses shut down and concerned families and friends outside Abuja have inundated panic-stricken residents with calls and messages. Although relative calm remains, feverish messages of doom continue to flood the social media, and the worst is still being expected. For most people, if the US says it, that settles it.
Perhaps. We must, however, remind ourselves that much of the instability that the world faces today, especially in the last nearly three decades, has been as a result of the catastrophic intelligence of the US, when America and its western allies said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
The world paid a huge price in human lives and misery only to be told later that the war had been triggered by false intelligence: there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after all. Subsequent events in Libya, not to mention the US chaotic and costly withdrawal from Afghanistan ought to make America, and indeed the world, humbler.
With right-wing groups in the West stoking fears of migration caravans, a precipitous warning that feeds social media frenzy which could potentially destabilise Africa’s most populous country would neither be good for the subregion nor for the US or its allies.
It’s fair to argue that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari cannot outsource the job of securing citizens to the US or any other country for that matter. The President should be saddened by the cavalier way his officials handled the warnings and concerned that his assurances of calm are hardly believed.
Buhari was voted to office seven years ago because given his military background, many not only expected but believed his promise to retrieve the country from insurgency and violent extremism.
While it may be plausible to argue that the nature of the threat has mutated in spite of his best efforts, his government’s handling of affairs has left even his ardent supporters frustrated. The shambolic handling of the aftermath of the Kuje prison jailbreak, for example, has left many deeply worried.
On his watch, banditry and kidnapping have become widespread, while ethnic and religious politics have taken on a potency and frequency hardly experienced before or even thought likely.
On top of that, regional efforts to maintain peace and security have either been too fragile or supplanted by a dangerous upsurge of military rulers, while Nigeria, the regional superpower, has been beset by its own internal problems to provide effective leadership.
It’s in light of these vulnerabilities and the multiple security challenges facing Nigeria and the subregion at this time that we believe the US Embassy should have exercised a little more discretion in unleashing its confetti of security alerts.
The haste and intensity of the whole affair can only fuel speculations in some circles that with its appetite for Nigeria’s oil waning and US businesses in Nigeria either in retreat or sidelined, the warnings were a calculated, if not cynical reflection of current US strategic interests in Nigeria.
But America should know better. Even though some countries like the US manage threats far better than most, insecurity is a shared global misery. It knows no boundaries and is hardly a respecter of status.
While the US security alerts were still echoing in Nigeria, Mr. Paul Pelosi, husband of the third most powerful woman in the US House Speaker, Nancy, was attacked in his San Francisco home; a troubling and bizarre sequel to the January 6, 2021 breach of the Capitol.
This year alone also, the New York Times quoted Gun Violence Archive as saying there had been at least 531 mass shootings in the US, from January to mid-October. Mass shooting means gun crime involving at least three victims.
It would not, in our view, be helpful for the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, for example, to issue regular alerts on the average 53 monthly mass shootings in the US this year alone. Or for the Nigerian High Commission in Britain to habitually raise security alerts on knife or sharp instruments crimes which according to The Telegraph was 45,391 cases in England and Wales in the year ending March 2022.
Such moral equivocations are pointless. The world has become a far more dangerous place partly because of our choices and partly also because, thanks to technology, we know more and can share more, if we choose.
Our interconnectedness and the better tools at our disposal should spur us to find common solutions, instead of yielding to the temptation of exceptionalism.
The US and its allies should share any credible intelligence they may have with their Nigerian counterparts. The latter, on its part, should get off its high horse, inspire trust, show a willingness to learn and the capacity to use such information for the benefit of citizens and residents.