Is Boko Haram planning a major attack on Lagos or any other South-West city or state? This is one puzzling question that has dominated the headlines and the minds of residents of Lagos, its government, the media and law enforcement agents since the sect began its terror campaign. The terrifying suicide attacks by Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria often sound like tales from distant lands. But an echo of the terror the sect is capable of and its capacity to infiltrate its targets was brought close home recently.
Last week, the riddle of a possible attack came close to being resolved with the discovery of the sect’s cell in Lagos-at Ijora Badia to be precise. The news of the arrest of some suspected Boko Haram agents has since filled Lagosians with horror. The publicised arrest and the discovery of explosives also further confirm long-held speculations that an attack on Lagos by the Islamist terrorist organisation may be imminent. As Boko Haram bombs continue to claim lots of innocent lives in the North, one cannot but spare a thought or imagine the possibility of these horrors playing out in Lagos.
In recent days, since the news of the arrest broke, I have been gripped with the thought of potential suicide attacks in this bustling city. Now, I am daily haunted by the delusions of horrifying scenes of bombed-out cars, mangled flesh and the cries of innocent victims that would be unlucky to be caught in this madness. It is sad that the terror campaign of Boko Haram and the spate of senseless killings have earned our country the tag of one of the most dangerous countries in the world according to Forbes Magazine.
A successful attack on Lagos will further cement our place in the global hall of infamy. However, the threat to Lagos is real. To ignore its possibility will be foolhardy. There are several reasons why the Boko Haram threat must be taken seriously. The news of the arrest is one obvious reason. Like most terrorist organisations, Boko Haram has recently been attracted to the idea of the big hit. In the last three years, it has demonstrated its capacity to take on big targets. Without mincing words, Lagos will be a choice target.
There are several reasons for this.
For those who have followed the bloody trail of bloodletting by the group, nothing can, or must be ruled out. Its alleged links with the Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb and the Al Shabab in Somalia has added sophistication to its campaign. One strategic motivation for an attack on Lagos is in furtherance of their jihadist manifesto. Let us not forget that at the inception of Boko Haram insurgency, the sect had announced their intention to islamise the country. The ultimate aim of which is to impose strict Sharia law. Most Nigerians have often dismissed the sect’s agenda as a figment of their fanaticism. But if we remember what the jihadist ambition of the Al Shabab and the Taliban have done to Somalia and Afghanistan, we might not be too quick to dismiss the sect’s intention. Lagos, being the political and economic epicentre of the entire South-West is strategic to the actualisation of Boko Haram jihadist campaign. The city presents a chilling launch pad for the second leg of the sect’s terror campaign. To underscore its resolve to make the entire country the hotbed of radical Islam, Boko Haram has gradually gained ground and expanded beyond its areas of operation in recent years. In 2011, the sect’s violent activities were largely confined to Nigeria’s northeast; by the end of 2012, its operation had covered all of Northern Nigeria. Since 2011, Boko Haram-related attacks have occurred in 14 out of the country’s 36 states, including all the 12 states that have already adopted Islamic law, and in the Federal Capital Territory. Boko Haram has also claimed responsibility for attacks in central Plateau State, which has been torn apart by ongoing communal violence. Up until now, Boko Haram has been largely confined to the North rather than Western targets of the international jihad.
But that has also already changed.
In a video released in 2012, Abubakar Shekau, the late Muhammed Yusuf protégé, made hostile references to the United States and Britain. Even the US is increasingly worried that Boko Haram is collaborating with the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist regime in northern Mali which was recently routed by a combined French and African forces. The sect has also been associated with the kidnap and murder of foreign nationals in the North. While victims of Boko Haram’s terror campaign continue to be almost exclusively Nigerians, the sect has expanded its focus within the country. In 2011, a large percentage of the victims were Muslims, who were closely associated with the government. However, since Christmas 2011, Christians have been a growing percentage of victims.
Boko Haram method has also evolved.
Since 2012, the sect has targeted churches and mosques. The use of suicide bombers which had been previously unknown in Nigeria has been the preferred method by the sect. The two high-profile attacks in Abuja — the June 2011 Police Headquarters bombing and the August 2011 United Nations headquarters bombing — were carried out by suicide bombers. Since then, suicide bombings have taken place with regularity, leaving thousands of people dead.
The scope and method of attack by Boko Haram; their resolve to entrench their jihadist ideology should make the threat on Lagos a real concern for the state government. The probability of terrorists targeting Lagos is high. Indeed, Lagos will be a prime target for any radical organisations which want to give a voice to their ideology. This city is home to important foreign missions and several international organisations. The sect has proved this already with the attack on the UN building in Abuja. I was quick to remind some doubters who thought Lagos was immune to terror attacks recently about how easy it was for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta to attack the Atlas Cove. That MEND attack in 2009 caught the Police unawares and left Lagosians in shock. The attack also jolted the authorities to the risk this city faces in the hands of radical organisations.
An ideological group like Boko Haram, for example, will find Lagos attractive and, make no mistake, it is coming here. This has become evident in the Ijora arrest. Its intention is to destabilise and destroy the thriving economic base of the South. It has achieved that already in the North. It wants to strike at the root of its targets’ economic, social and religious institutions. Is Lagos ready? Do the authorities anticipate an attack on this city? What is the present state of security in Lagos especially preemptive intelligence gathering that would detect and ward off dangerous extremists?
The recent killings by terrorists in some cities in the North should keep the state government on its toes. There is a possibility of this happening here soon and that is why the police must take preemptive measures to safeguard the lives of residents. Emphasis must be placed on intelligence gathering that will neutralise potential attacks. Of greater concern is the threat posed to the security of Lagos by undocumented immigrants. It is instructive to note that one of the suspected terrorists arrested in Ijora was a Chadian.
This poses a real threat. While it makes sense to round up and deport foreigners as panicky immigration officials have been doing since the Ijora discovery, it will also be appropriate to question how our borders have become so porous that dangerous elements can just stroll in and out as they wish. The arrest of suspected Boko Haram elements is commendable, but I am still apprehensive of the capacity of our law enforcement agencies to contain an all-out attack on Lagos. This city cannot afford to fall into the hands of murderous extremist groups.
This article was first published in the Punch newspapers