Reversing the trend of terror attacks on football viewing centres
There is no argument that Nigerians are coming to terms with the realities of terrorism, but what many do not know is that their seemingly safest haven may be the softest target of terrorists. This ignorance can be understood; after all, one is still puzzled at what terrorists intend to achieve by killing religious worshippers, football fans or viewers or even ordinary citizens in their lawful businesses. These unprovoked attacks are the symbolic signs of radicalized terrorists, now gaining repulsive notoriety in Nigeria.
Since the history of Boko Haram insurgency, there has been a sustained shift in its modus operandi and target selection. Most often, they delight in soft targets that can give them maximum reach in the number of fatalities. Evidently, attacks that can result in a large number of civilian casualties are now top on the agenda of terrorists. This type of attack, which is the bait that catches the attention of the media, earns the terrorists maximum publicity and cheap media coverage which has become the very oxygen that sustains their nefarious activities. Terrorists have the penchant to induce fears and doubts in people about their personal and collective security. The attacks are most times intended to make the citizens lose confidence in government as well as all symbols of authority of the state, including the Military, the Police and other security forces.
Today, leisure facilities such as football stadiums and viewing centres, which attract large crowd, are now making the list of terrorist targets. Terrorists see these places as easy killing fields where they can record mass deaths. The recent attack at a viewing centre in Damaturu, Yobe state is a good example of the kind of war terrorists are waging against our national unity. A similar attack as this had taken place in Jos, Plateau state, though unsuccessfully. Nigeria is not alone in this kind of terrorist enterprise. In October 2002, tens of heavily armed members of Islamist militant separatist movement from Chechnya, laid siege on the crowded Dubrovka theatre in Moscow, Russia with grenades and improvised explosive devices strapped on their bodies as they threatened to shoot hostages and blow up the auditorium should Russian authorities refuse to meet their demands. That three-day siege led to the death of about 133 hostages and 40 militants. Also in April, 2013, two terrorist bombs killed three people and injured 260 others at the Boston marathon in the United States. The case is not different in Kenya where it was reported in June, 2014 that not less than 48 people were killed by Somali’s Al-Shabab terrorists in the town of Mpeketoni, near a tourist resort in Kenya. Among the dead were people watching a World Cup football match at a hotel.
The reasons for targeting these places are very clear. Football and other sporting activities are unifying factors which keep the adherents of all religions and political divides in Nigeria together- Boko Haram does not want this. Football is also associated with Western Culture which Boko Haram claims to detest. Sports are tools for projecting national creativity, pride and the Olympian spirit of friendship, love, tolerance, competitiveness, inclusivity and togetherness which are clearly repugnant to the terrorists’ ideologies of extremism and hatred. Like other terrorist agenda, Boko Haram wants to shift attention from the electrifying atmosphere of sports to their condemnable acts of terror. For instance, as far back as 1972, during the Munich Olympic Games, the Palestinian terrorists struck and kidnapped Israeli athletes and in this way shifted and monopolized the attention of the global audience. Now instead of discussing sports, the attention of the world shifted to that singular act of terror.
This piece therefore intends to conscientise citizens on terrorist attacks with tips that can help improve their safety in these places, and in this way build natural resilience against terrorism. Much as this educative guide has not set out to cow citizens into the closet, it is strongly advised that Nigerians opt for safer places in viewing or watching football. Doing this at home is more preferable as this will even create opportunities to bond with family members as entrenched in our culture. It is also cost effective and health-friendly as it saves the cost of alcohol and protects one from being exposed to passive smoking and other unhealthy circumstances. Where viewing Centres are the only option, there must be individual and collective effort to improve and strengthen security and safety around the Centres. In other words, operators of these Centres and managers of football stadiums and other sporting facilities must employ the services of security guards who will properly screen patrons or customers to these places before allowing them into the facilities. Having this security measures will reduce the vulnerability of these leisure Centres to terrorist attacks.
Similarly, operators of viewing Centres and managers of stadiums should not allow vehicles to be parked close to these areas; vehicles should be parked within the range of 50metres to 100metres to avoid fatal impacts in an unforeseen circumstance. In doing this, operators of these Centres should advise their patrons and habitués to dress light to the Centres, while handbags and other items that can be used to conceal improvised explosive devices (IEDs) should be disallowed into these places.
In order to ensure compliance to safety standards, government must put measures in place to regulate the operation of Viewing Centres. Much as the indiscriminate banning of the Centres is far from the position of this piece, the states or local governments in regions where these attacks are prevalent may consider this option in the interest of public safety, particularly where the operators of such Viewing Centres fail to take basic safety and security precautions necessary for safeguarding the lives of the patrons.
Finally, it is no longer necessary restating the fact that efforts should be made to look out for strange faces and suspicious movements, whenever one visits such places as this. Ignoring this important observation may leave room for a devastating terrorist attack. The message therefore is for all to be security conscious, as this is the surest way to prevent terrorists from achieving their aim.
•Mba, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, is the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Nigeria Police Force.
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