The Boko Haram threat at our ports

While the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) has proclaimed its “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, the world is paying too little attention to Boko Haram, its deadly imitator in northeast Nigeria. Late in August, the terrorist group’s leader declared the establishment of his own Islamic caliphate in Africa, and in past weeks, he has seized a significant amount of territory in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States.

Although Boko Haram soared to international notoriety with the kidnapping of about 300 girls in northeast Nigeria earlier this year, its continuing campaign of kidnappings, brutality and now seizure of towns and territory are unrelenting. Boko Haram has evolved and grown stronger, and is now able to seize and hold territory as opposed to launching one-off attacks.

Where Boko Haram has claimed control, it has ruled brutally and punished those who fail to follow its version of Islamist rule. The militants have reportedly beheaded men who refused to convert to Islam. They executed people for smoking cigarettes. They targeted Muslims who spoke out against them, killing a senior Muslim cleric in September.

The militants have severely crippled social and economic life in Borno State with series of attacks on Maiduguri, a city of approximately two million people that serves as the state capital, which is also the birthplace of Boko Haram.

In the past few weeks, the group has seized Bama, Gowza, Gamboru Ngala, Michika and Banki – all towns near the Cameroonian border. While the Nigerian military recently recaptured Bama, it has a long way to go in countering Boko Haram’s gains.

While a terrorist group in the northeast may seem far from the nation’s seaports, its recent threat to attack the nation’s gateway, as revealed by the Western Ports Police Command, cannot be taken for granted.

Our seaports are the gateways to the economy and no resources must be spared in protecting these critical national infrastructures.

It would be recalled that less than six months ago, a twin explosion rocked the Folawiyo jetty on Creek Road, Apapa. While the authorities tried to cover up the explosion as a petroleum tanker accident, experts believed otherwise.

“This was definitely an incident involving the use of high explosives,” Bob Seddon, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and a specialist in improvised explosive devices (IEDs), told AFP in an email exchange after reviewing the images of the blast.

Indeed, a few days later, Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, claimed responsibility for the explosions.

It is therefore imperative that urgent and immediate measures are instituted to guarantee the safety of lives and property. The heavy human traffic in and around the ports must immediately be trimmed down while sniffer dogs, metal detectors and the Police anti-bomb squad must immediately be deployed at the facilities.

The Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Port Police and other security agencies must also create a forum to meet and regularly review the security situation at the ports.

A stitch in time saves nine.

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