INDICATIONS emerged on Thursday that this year’s Easter might be far from celebration as usual.
Phobic of the violent occurrences that characterised last Christmas, foreign governments and security agencies have sent out warnings asking the people to beware of possible attacks by the terrorist Islamic sect, Boko Haram.
The United States on Thursday issued an alert and warned their residents living or visiting Nigeria to be cautious and expect bombings by Boko Haram. The United Kingdom also released a travel advisory, warning its citizens to keep off Borno, Niger, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto and Yobe states.
Boko Haram had bombed the Saint Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, in Niger State, on December 25, last year, just as bombs had exploded twice during worship in Jos, Plateau State, last month.
But the Presidency in a statement said there was no cause for alarm and that the country was safe.
“The (UK) travel warning is not anything that should elicit any panic because Nigeria remains safe. This Easter will be peaceful for all. That is what we look forward to,” the statement issued by Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, says.
The UK Foreign Office in its updated travel warning claimed that the violent sect might carry out a wide range of attacks on Christians and churches during the Easter holiday.
“There is a high threat of terrorist attack during religious festivals,” the U.K. warning reads.
The U.S. warning notes deadly daily attacks in the country and “continued threats,” including many that mentioned the “U.S. interests.”
The warning also notes that personnel from the U.S. Embassy no longer travel to northern Nigeria, a rule put in place after a Boko Haram attack on Kano in January that killed at least 185 people.
“The U.S. Embassy continues to monitor closely the ongoing threats posed by Nigerian extremist and criminal groups, and their stated intentions to carry out attacks against the Nigerian government and western interests and targets in Nigeria,” the message adds.
The Australian government has issued a similar warning.
It says, “Coordinated attacks against a number of churches in central and northern Nigeria occurred during the Christmas periods in 2010 and 2011. Similar attacks may occur again in future holiday periods. Due to the very high threat of terrorist attack, you should exercise particular vigilance in all parts of Nigeria during the Easter period in 2012.”
But security agents confided in The PUNCH that security around places of worship and other flashpoints has been tightened as Easter festivities begin on Friday (today) throughout the country as Intelligence suggests threat to lives and property.
Consequently, the Acting Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Abubakar, on Thursday directed all Zonal Assistant Inspectors-General of Police and Commissioners of Police to deploy policemen in churches.
Today is marked as Good Friday by Christians throughout the world. The day is symbolic of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The IG order was contained in a statement signed by the Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Olusola Amore.
The statement reads, “IGP has directed all Zonal AIGs and Command Commissioners of Police to provide adequate security to all worshippers and places of worship.
“They are to ensure that all vulnerable points, KPs (key points) and the highways are properly manned with police visibility during the period.”
In Plateau State, the Joint Task Force in operation and the state police command have placed their men on the alert as Christians commence the celebration of Easter. As a first measure, the police have banned the use of motorcycles from 7pm on Thursday (yesterday) till 6am Tuesday next week.
Our correspondent in the state learnt that the state command had also issued operational orders to its men to mount 24-hour surveillance on all parts of the state. A meeting of all security agencies in the state has also directed a tight security around places of worship, especially churches and the roads leading to their locations.
The Joint Task Force had on Wednesday warned that Boko Haram was planning another major attack on Kano during the Easter holiday, similar to the deadly strike that occurred in January.
The JTF had asked people to stay indoors during the period unless they have very important places to go.
The JTF spokesman in Kano, Lt. Ikedichi Iweoha, had said that intelligence reports indicated that the sect was planning to launch a large-scale attack soon.
“Residents should be security conscious and be mindful of their movements because we have intelligence report that the terrorists are planning to take advantage of the oncoming Easter holiday to launch a large scale attack on Kano city just like they had done earlier this year,” Iweoha had reportedly said.
Amore added that the IG used the period to seek the cooperation of the public in information gathering so that the Police would be effective in tracking “undesirable elements in the society and to expose persons with questionable character.”
While appreciating police officers for their sacrifices, the IG also enjoined Christians to imbibe the virtues of forgiveness and love, which Jesus Christ embodied.
Abati, in the Presidency statement, said the Nigerian government had done and achieved a lot to manage the nation’s security situation.
The statement notes, “If you take a look at the travel advice that has purportedly been released by the UK authorities, the statement seems to be saying that because there was a bomb blast during the last Christmas period, that there may also be bomb blast during the Easter celebration in Nigeria.
“What that means is that this is a statement that is informed simply by commonsense. But the truth of the matter is that the Nigerian government has done a lot, is doing a lot and has achieved a lot to inspire confidence in its ability to manage the security situation in the country and to assure everyone, both Nigerians and foreigners alike living in this country that the country is safe for lives and property of everyone.
“You will notice that in the last three months, since December when the incident referred to happened, high profile arrests have been made. The security agencies have been able to show that they are getting close to resolving the problem. They have shown that they have the capacity to deal with the situation. They have shown that a lot of knowledge has been acquired about the operation of Boko Haram.
“It is also important to note that when people outside Nigeria talk about Boko Haram, they give impression that the entire country is under a siege but that is not the reality on the ground. Nigeria remains an attractive destination for investors, visitors and Nigerians.”