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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Fear, anxiety as Abuja hosts the world

by Olalekan Adetayo


Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar and FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed

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It was Friday evening at a bus stop close to the Wuse Market in Abuja. Workers were finding their ways home after the day's work and the area was understandably crowded.

Suddenly, a Nissan Primera car had a burst tyre. The loud noise that accompanied the burst did more havoc than the cost of the tyre. Pedestrians scampered for safety, motorists applied brakes abruptly. By the time they realised what happened, some passers-by had sustained minor injuries while at least four posh cars had been dented.

It was with relief that those who witnessed the incident were discussing it long after the owner of the car with a burst tyre had successfully parked it in order to fix it. Their initial fear was that the sound could have been a bomb explosion.

That is how residents of Abuja have been living in perpetual fear since the bomb explosion that recently claimed about 86 lives in a bus station in Nyanya, one of the satellite towns in the Federal Capital Territory.

Between that time and now, there has been bomb scare twice at the Federal Secretariat within the precinct of the Three Arms Zone of Abuja, leading to the evacuation of workers. In the case of the first scare, the National Assembly was also affected.

The Nyanya incident was not the first time such an occurrence would be recorded in Abuja. Similar incidents had been recorded at the Louis Edet House headquarters of the Nigeria Police, the Mogadishu Barracks, the United Nations Building, Abuja office of ThisDay newspaper in Jabi and at a popular Abuja nightclub, Crystal Lounge, in Wuse II.

As usual, security agencies have come out to advise residents to go about their legitimate duties without fear as, according to them, proper arrangements have been put in place for their safety and that of their property.

Residents' fears were however compounded when members of the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, released a video in which they claimed responsibility for the Nyanya blast which they described as "tiny incident" and further claimed that they were already inside the city.

Amid these fear and anxiety among Abuja residents, however, the city will be playing host to the world next week.

Between May 7 and May 9, 2014, over 1,000 delegates from across the world will converge on the city for the 24th edition of the World Economic Forum on Africa, which has "Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs" as its theme.

The forum is expected to bring together regional and global leaders to discuss innovative structural reforms and investments that can sustain the continent's growth while creating jobs and prosperity for all its citizens.

Justifying the choice of Nigeria as the host of the forum, the Director, Head of Africa, WEF, Elsie Kanza, said in an interview that Africa had been recording impressive growth with the growth rate projected to remain above five per cent this year. With West Africa as the fastest growing sub-region, representing the continent's largest business opportunity, Nigeria remains at the top of the growth rate with a lot of investment opportunities. She added that Nigeria with over 160 million people already plays a crucial role in advancing the continent's growth which is the attraction.

So pronounced is the fear of possible attack during the forthcoming event that President Goodluck Jonathan had to come out personally to assure intending participants of their safety.

Jonathan chose the time China's new Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Gu Xiaojie, visited the Presidential Villa to present his letter of credence to give that assurance to the international community. The President promised the new ambassador that the security challenges being experienced in parts of the country would have no adverse effect on the safety of participants in the forum. He expressed delight at the confirmation by China that its delegation to the forum would be led by Premier Li Keqiang.

The President said, "I am quite pleased that the Premier of the People's Republic of China has confirmed that he is coming. We will be addressing the World Economic Forum on Africa together. We will also sit down together to discuss shared national interests. We will give all participants a good reception in Abuja. We have faced challenges in the area of security, but we will overcome the situation so that our economy can move forward faster. Participants will not have a problem with security during the summit."

The ambassador assured Jonathan of the Chinese President's confidence in Nigeria's security measures and the country's ability to host the WEF successfully. "From our assessment, we are confident that all is under control and we have relayed that to our people," he said.

But indications that more needed to be done to assure the participants of their safety emerged on Monday when security chiefs met with foreign envoys in the country to brief them on efforts being made to ensure safety of lives and property, especially ahead of the forum.

The meeting was coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Those who attended included the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh; Chief of Army Staff, Maj.-Gen. Kenneth Minimah; and the Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Abubakar. Representatives of the Director-General of the Department of Security Services, Ita Ekpeyong and the DG, National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke, also attended.

The envoys took the security chiefs to task on issues bordering on their safety. Badeh assured them that Abuja is safe. He explained that the current hardship occasioned by traffic gridlock being encountered when entering the city was caused by stringent security checks at entry points. He said it was better for commuters to endure the hardship than allow unscrupulous persons to find their way into the city.

Minimah said apart from states in the North-East, other parts of the country are stable. He noted that the Army was committed to the protecting the country as well as lives and properties of citizens. He pledged that security would be guaranteed for all foreign nationals and investors, apart from security for the forthcoming forum.

Abubakar said the police had been working hard in the last six months to ensure that the WEF was devoid of any ugly incident as far as security is concerned. He said the Force had the manpower and resources to ensure that security was provided for those attending the forum.

Chairman, Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Ambassador Emmanuel Imohe, also said the committee was doing everything possible to stop inflow of arms into the country, adding that strategy was being worked out to mop up arms in circulation and destroy them.

Earlier, the Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Martin Uhomoibhi, had assured them of the country's readiness to put all necessary arrangements in place to host a successful forum.

Also, the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was represented by the Director-General of Nigeria Economic Summit Group, Frank Nweke, said all efforts had been made towards ensuring successful meeting. He however, hinted that only diplomats whose heads of states would be in attendance had been invited to attend the forum.

As the nation hosts the world next week therefore, all eyes are on Nigeria to provide a safe environment for its guests. The prayer on the lips of many therefore is for the security agents to live up to their promises of providing absolute security before, during and after the event.