On the evening of 2 February 2020, a fully loaded Toyota Previa bus was forced off the Piri-Kwali road in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital by gunmen who shot at the vehicle. The spokesman for the FCT Command of Nigeria’s Police, DSP Anjuguri Manzah said that four suspected kidnappers were arrested and “some of the passengers were rescued by a joint effort of the police and some youths of the nearby community, while others were still with the kidnappers.”

Mr Manzah’s statement did not give an exact number of rescued victims. A fully loaded Previa typically seats seven people. Contrary to the claims of the authorities, sources confirmed to SBM that the vehicle was fully loaded with seven people and that none of the kidnap victims has been rescued.

While in the grand scheme of things, the Federal Capital Territory has been spared Nigeria’s increasing security concerns, that is beginning to change. There have been a rising number of abductions and robberies in recent weeks. Commuters particularly face a growing risk of being robbed in taxis operated by criminal elements commonly known as one chance”. On an almost daily basis, reports of a kidnap make the news. In October 2019, gunmen abducted a policeman identified as Nengba Mundi at Rubochi community in the Kuje district of the FCT. His rifle was taken away from him, and it is unclear if his abductors were ever found. This incident happened in the same week where the younger brother of a former chairman of Kuje Area Council, Mohammed Galadima, was kidnapped in the same community. In both incidents, their abductors stormed the community, shooting sporadically into the air as they whisked the men away without any challenge.

Asides Kuje and Kwali, Abaji is another area that has come under increasing attacks by kidnappers. On 24 January 2020, gunmen abducted two sons of the Chief Imam of Abaji central mosque and one other person. Umar Bala and Hamza Bala, sons of the chief Imam, Alhaji Bala, were kidnapped with another resident, Sagir Isah, in the area. It is important to note that these areas are outlying towns that lead into the main city, where security is poor, and residents lack electricity and other basic amenities, which gives kidnappers the latitude to carry out their activities.

In the city centre, however, there is another menace that is worth mentioning. The almost weekly protests by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria over the continued detention of their ailing leader, Ibrahim El Zakzakky, has led to frequent clashes with state security agents. Wuse and Central Area are the epicentres of these clashes, one of which claimed the life of a Channels Television reporter, Precious Owolabi in July 2019. On 21 January 2020, a passerby was killed when the police fired gunshots and tear gas canisters to disperse a protest by members of the IMN at the Berger area of Wuse.

Recreation centres including open-air gardens and parks in the city which were created to aid social interaction and relaxation are no longer safe zones for residents as these places have been turned into operating areas for bandits and armed robbers.

The Abuja-Kaduna road is the major highway which links the North West with the FCT. This road has come under sustained attacks from bandits who have abducted many and demanded millions as ransom. This has led many commuters to abandon the road, making use of rail travel instead. Following this, the communities around the train station in Rigasa, Kaduna, have witnessed and reported incidents of kidnap by bandits as they exit the train station.

The spike in the crime rate in the Federal Capital Territory may not be unconnected to the rising level of youth unemployment in the country. Abuja is located in Central Nigeria and borders four states, all of which are experiencing varying degrees of conflict. As people escape violence from the Pastoral Conflict in their villages in the troubled regions, the strain is felt on the city’s resources. Young people—mostly unskilled and uneducated—get trapped in the prevailing unemployment fix and resort to crime for survival.

Migration to the city has no doubt fuelled the instability that is being witnessed today. Despite that, in September 2019, the minister of the FCT, Muhammad Bello said in a statement that Abuja is safe, as he called on residents not to leave security matters to law enforcement agencies alone.

This appeal, however, has proven to be just not enough to placate residents. Andikara Honourable, a resident of Kuje, lamented about the security situation. “It has been very bad in Kuje. Even a supposed safe zone such as Pegi which hosts a navy barrack is not spared the constant onslaught of armed robbery and kidnap. In December alone, 12 people were kidnapped.”

On 1 February 2020, the minister directed that three syndicate teams be set up to critically review existing security strategies in the city, with a view to enhancing them in the light of present and emerging challenges. This directive was issued following the first monthly FCT Security Committee meeting for the year 2020. As part of the growing clamour for community policing, the minister added that it would be considered as an aid to police duties.

The incidents of the past six months suggest that the federal capital is not exempt from the wider factors influencing and driving insecurity across the wider region. For the past half-decade, security fissures in such places as Kaduna, Nasarawa and even far-off states such as Benue and Plateau have fuelled a significant influx of people into the borders of the Federal Capital Territory. With most of these people either farmers or blue-collar workers, they cannot afford the high living costs of settling in the capital’s core districts, hence the growth in the satellite towns and more rural parts of the FCT. With the worsening picture in the central parts of the country, in the absence of more effective policing as well as an improvement in overall economic conditions, it is highly unlikely that the near-term security prognosis for Abuja is a positive one.

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