As foreign missions rushed their citizens out of Abuja on the warning of possible terrorist attacks, Nigerians, who had nowhere to go, could only hope for the best.
When the US and UK prepared for the worst, Nigeria went about business as usual in a most disturbing way.
Abuja is the capital city, the seat of government, the residence of the president, legislators, home to foreign embassies and international organisations and supposedly the safest place in Nigeria.
The continuing exposure of Abuja to Islamic insurgents, who have often operated in the remote parts of Nigeria, is worrisome.
Signaling a collapse of the security system around the national capital, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advice to American citizens to leave, as it ordered family members of U.S. government staff to stay anywhere but in Abuja.
“The U.S. Embassy will offer reduced services until further notice,” the embassy stated in its alert, while the UK government warned its citizens in Nigeria to stay alert due to an “increased threat of terrorist attack in Abuja.
It was a moment reminiscent of the siege of Sarajevo in 1992 or the reoccupation of Kabul by the Taliban in 2021.
During the Bosnian War, there was a prolonged blockade of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
After the declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, the Bosnian Serbs laid siege on the territory by encircling Sarajevo with a force of 13,000 stationed in the surrounding hills.
The moment before the genocide initiated massive human flight after a series of warnings.
And last year, as the American forces fled Kabul when the Taliban swept through Afghanistan, Afghans and foreigners rushed out or hid in fear.
While the Abuja flight did not reach the heights of Bosnia or Afghanistan, the security situation in Abuja is sobering and calls for a deep reflection over the degeneration into chaos and anarchy in Nigeria.
The US warning of terrorism was quickly followed by notices from Australian and Canadian embassies, which along with the Americans and the British, told their citizens to avoid crowds not only in Abuja, but anywhere in Nigeria.
The security issue in Abuja remains the most internationalized security scare in Nigeria and it is still being processed to understand what is happening or may still happen.
It put a dent on Nigeria’s international profile.
National security under President Mohammadu Buhari has continued to degenerate, and his administration has never been more disconnected, although it would be wrong to heap the blame on him alone.
While shops were being closed as a precaution, the President chose the moment to travel for a prescheduled business tour of South Korea.
The dust far over from settling, the President further displayed to Nigerians his own well-being is more important than theirs, by travelling to the UK for his usual medical check-up where hospitals are better run and doctors rarely go on strike.
Meanwhile, possible targets of terrorists, such as schools, shopping malls, marketplaces, hotels, drinking joints, places of worship, are still keeping a low profile.
At Abuja’s Jabi district, business had been shut down due to security threats. Although officials claim there were no cause for alarm, they behaved as those who are not just alarmed but scared.
There are reasons to be worried.
National security under President Mohammadu Buhari has continued to degenerate, and his administration has never been more disconnected, although it would be wrong to heap the blame on him alone
Terrorists have grown increasingly bold in Northern Nigeria, matching law enforcement and military officials bullet-for-bullet.
They have attacked churches, mosques, government offices an even the President’s security detail in Katsina.
In the past, terrorism had visited Abuja. The most memorable year is 2011.
On June 2011, a suicide bomber drove a bomb-laden car onto the Nigeria Police Force headquarters premises, killing the bomber and a traffic policeman, among other causalities of the attack claimed by Boko Haram.
Two months later, in another Boko Haram attack, a car bomb explosion at the United Nations building killed at least 21. The suicide bombing immediately put Nigeria on the international terrorism map. It was during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.
A decade later, precisely in July 5 this year, terrorists attacked the Kuje Medium Security Correctional Centre in the Federal Capital with sophisticated weapons, killing four security agents and setting free 64 jailed terrorists.
The brazen attack to free terrorists from prison kilometers away from the seat of power was the clearest indication yet that terrorism was gaining an upper hand and Abuja could no longer be considered a safe haven.
Many Nigerian analysts who claim the travel advice by Western countries was a false alarm or an exaggeration are missing the big picture.
Abuja is gradually succumbing to illiterate miscreants whose incursions are becoming brazen.
The government, 11 years after the UN building attack, is less prepared. And the likelihood of a successful attack on Abuja is high.
An attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train system early this year has shut down that railroad.
The government negotiated the release of abductees over several months, in spite of ample opportunities to locate and neutralize the terrorists.
In BBC Africa Eye documentary, “Bandit Warlords of Zamfara,” it was revealed how the Nigerian military, government officials, community and religious leaders are intricately involved in the kidnapping and terrorism business, leaving little in doubt that Nigeria is screwed.
Not surprisingly, the government fined media houses for the broadcast of that investigative reporting, as a deterrent to other stations which may be encouraged to report on terrorism in Nigeria.
The fact is that the Nigerian media have been encouraged to ignore, or discouraged from exposing, acts of terrorism and banditry.
Failure to expose has given many Nigerians a false sense of relaxation when foreigners scampered off Abuja.
It is true that the foreign media makes too much noise about security events across the globe. But such reports are important to the safety of life and cannot be ignored. Over-emphasis is always better than under-coverage.
One of the lessons I learned during the September 11, 2001, Osama Bin Laden-inspired attacks on the World Trade Center in New York was that you cannot take a security warning with levity.
My office was by the Hudson River, within sights of Ground Zero. From the windows of my office in Hoboken, New Jersey, my colleagues watched terrorists crash two planes into the twin towers.
I came to the office later that day to see the remnants of the buildings. I smelled the burning ashes for many weeks after.
While concern is growing that the nation may be overrun by terrorists, as witnessed in some northern states, the government is behaving as if it has resigned itself to fate and prayers
There is a seriousness with which any terrorist warning must be received and processed. The fact that foreign governments were moving their citizens should be enough to unfold a security and disaster plan. There was no planning.
The report that US military men set foot on Nigerian soil and helped Nigerian security agencies make arrests means the situation in Abuja is getting out of hand.
The people should be cautious, not carefree. The government should not be allowed to continue to play down the possibility of losing lives.
While concern is growing that the nation may be overrun by terrorists, as witnessed in some northern states, the government is behaving as if it has resigned itself to fate and prayers.
Following the cold-blooded murder of worshippers at a church in Owo, Ondo State, this year, the government could only ask for prayers, ignoring the fact that the victims were killed in a house of prayer.
Security of life and property is the raison d’être for any government. Prayers are great, but managing it is not the purpose of government. The government acts and builds the infrastructure to keep its citizens safe.
If the people believe that prayer is the only solution to every problem, they would probably not also believe in democracy and governance, the rule of law and law enforcement.
Buhari will leave power in seven months with the label of a man who never understood why he was elected president.
He is a president who was never there.
America, UK, Australia and Canada have vast intelligence assets to know when to warn and spend money to evacuate their staff and warn their citizens.
These are not just empty warnings.
I am worried by the attitude of our people to security alerts. Ignoring warnings is a recipe for disaster.
On 911, some New Yorkers evacuated the Twin Towers while it was on fire, but walked back in to their death within minutes because they felt there was nothing to worry about.
Then the building crashed. And they perished.
In Western countries, the new rule is to train all citizens on the active shooter. Everyone should be prepared like the Boys Scouts for the bad guys.
If I had a choice, I would go to anywhere but Abuja right now.
And if I lived in Abuja, I will go anywhere but a place of interest to a terrorist. If possible, I will stay at home.
There is no security plan for Nigeria. And the government has codified and conveyed that message multiple times. Listen.