Since Boko Haram began major operations about 6 years ago, the group has restricted its attacks to Northern Nigeria. However, the recent arrests of twenty suspected Boko Haram members by the Department of Security Services (DSS) in Lagos and other states suggest the group’s intention to spread its nefarious activities around the country. Residents of these states are expressing alarm as the relative safety they have enjoyed in the past is being threatened.

The suspects, who were arrested between July 8 and August 25 at various points in Plateau, Gombe, Ogun, Lagos, and Enugu states, were said to be notable commanders and frontline members of the notorious group from different parts of the country. The DSS claimed that the suspects took responsibility for various attacks in the past. A Boko Haram commander, Usman Shuaibu revealed that he coordinated the suicide attacks in Potiskum, Kano, Zaria and Jos. Another suspect, a Boko Haram Improvised Explosive Device expert, Ahmed Mohammed, admitted to making the IEDs used in the various suicide bombings and strapping the suicide bombers with the vests. Usman Shuaibu and his group were arrested on their way to Bauchi State where they had planned to execute another bomb attack, but this was impeded by the arrest.

Just a few months ago, Nigeria celebrated a major victory against Boko Haram. The military, supported by the Republics of Chad, Niger and Cameroon, launched six weeks of aggressive offense against the insurgency. They successfully recaptured a large percentage of Nigerian territories under Boko Haram’s control at the time, putting an end to their reign of terror. The insurgency then went from being “a Caliphate, to a network of sleeper cells” which was predicted to be more difficult for Nigeria to handle.

Since their defeat in April, there is no doubt the terrorist group has been severely weakened. However, the DSS was quick to point out that Boko Haram operatives have spread throughout the country, and might be hiding in plain sight. The DSS released a statement which noted that “the group’s new pattern of movement and spread was caused by the pressure being put on it by security forces in its core areas of strength in the North-East”.

The DSS’ main fear now is that there are more terrorists living among regular people than Nigerians can ever determine. In view of this, the Police are stepping up security by deploying surveillance teams to monitor motor parks and other public places. The Lagos State Police Commissioner, Fatai Owoseni, also stated that residents are allowed to arrest anyone suspected to be a suicide bomber and hand him over to the police. However, for a country notorious for jungle justice, it remains to be seen if innocent people will not lose their lives as a result of this directive.

To reduce the risk of terrorist attacks in the country, the Police established the need for residents to be aware of their surroundings. In an interview, Owoseni added that suicide bombers would be recognized first by their unusual movements and inquisitive behaviour. “One of the signs to look out for is the behaviour. A suicide bomber behaves unusually. He also moves in a suspicious manner. Such people are too inquisitive about the areas where they find themselves … They are lone rangers.” He also advised that cars parked should be investigated.

This situation is resuscitating other questions, starting with the old debate on the banning of the burqa – the full-face veil. Although unlikely to happen due to fears of starting a religious war, Nigeria might need to consider banning the veil in the interest of peace, security and public policy. In the meantime, it is hoped that Nigeria will go the way of Chad, taking prompt action to flush and neutralize this terrorist group without fear.

Source: Hannah Onifade, Ventures Africa

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