The Nigeria Police have scaled up security arrangements around churches and public locations across the country to forestall attacks by insurgents and other criminal elements during the Christmas celebration, Saturday PUNCHhas learnt.
Similarly, the police commands across the country have banned the use of fireworks, especially around churches.
Findings show that police formations across the country are deploying thousands of men in churches, and locations like major markets and motor parks, an arrangement that is expected to continue till the New Year’s Day celebration.
The Nigeria Police’s spokesman, Donald Awunah, said on Friday that the nationwide operation would involve specialised units like the Police Mobile Force, Counter-terrorism Unit, Special Protection Unit, Federal Highway Patrol, Explosive Ordinance Department, the Armament Unit, Marine Police, helicopters and sniffer dogs.
“Motorists, commuters and other road users are enjoined to cooperate with police detachments and personnel deployed in the highways and major roads across the country,” Awunah said.
He said that the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, had directed the Assistant Inspectors-General of Police and Commissioners of Police in all the zones and commands in the country to personally supervise the operation.
In Nigeria’s North-East, which is battling Boko Haram insurgency, the security arrangements are more extensive. It was learnt that churches in the zone were training private security guards to complement the efforts of the police.
The Catholic Church in Yola, Adamawa State, for instance, said it had learnt from past attacks and had taken measures to secure worshippers.
Head, Justice, Peace and Development Commission and Director of Communications for the church in Yola, Maurice Kwairanga, said threats of attacks are usually heightened during festivities.
According to him, youths trained in identifying suspicious faces will be deployed in churches to screen incoming worshippers.
He said the efforts of the military and the police would be complemented by the vigilance of youths and volunteers, who have been trained to detect any suspicious person.
He said, “We are aware of that and have put in place measures of detection and prevention. We have Catholic youth volunteers, who although not armed, can easily identify any new face or suspicious persons.”
However, the Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria in Adamawa State, Bishop Mike Moses, said there were complaints by some churches that they were not being covered by security agents. He said such churches had been advised to make use of their internal security systems.
To show the scale of police deployment, Niger State for instance, deployed 4,000 personnel in churches, while the Nasarawa State Police Command deployed 5,000 in churches and trouble spots across the state’s 13 local government areas on Friday. The Commissioner of Police in the state, Abubakar Bello, said his men would be at junctions, places of worship, recreation centres and other public places to prevent any attack.
According to the Police Public Relations Officer in Niger State, Mr. Bala Elkana, the men would also cover all the recreational centres and parks in the state, as mobile police and an anti-bomb squad would be actively in place.
The Katsina Police Command has deployed an equally large number of personnel in the state. It was learnt that regular and plain-clothes policemen would be stationed at churches in the state to augment the security put in place by the religious houses.
The command’s spokesman, Salisu Agaisa, said the command had met with religious leaders in the state to ensure peace during the festive period.
A similar arrangement is being made in Ondo State, where the police command said it had “mapped out strategies to re-detail the duties of every policeman working in the state during the Yuletide.”
The Spokesperson for the Ondo State Police Command, Femi Joseph, said undercover police officers were already in place across the state to gather intelligence.
“We have also intensified our visibility patrols, especially along the highways and around banks and financial institutions,” he said.
Hand in hand with the deployment of policemen is the ban on fireworks and firecrackers in the country.
The police headquarters in Abuja said violators of the ban would be arrested and prosecuted, while the CAN said “bangers and other explosives” would not be allowed within church premises in the country.
The Sokoto State Police Command said its men would promptly arrest anybody caught with firecrackers during the festive season.
Also, the Public Relations Officer, Adamawa State Police Command, Othman Abubakar, expressed confidence that the ban on the use of firecrackers would be adhered to in the state.
He said because of the peculiar security situation in the state, many plain-clothes security operatives would be utilised to assist the force fish out suspicious elements, who may have infiltrated the population.
The Ondo, Ogun and Ekiti state police commands also said anyone engaged in the sale and use of firecrackers would be dealt with according to the law, which stipulates a 14-year jail term for such offence upon conviction. The same warning has been issued in Nasarawa State.
However, churches and the CAN are not leaving security around their religious houses to the police alone.
For instance, in Katsina and some other states, Saturday PUNCH learnt that in the past week, churches have trained private security guards to work on their premises during programmes. The security guards are expected to frisk people entering the churches.
Also, CAN in Katsina State has banned ladies from taking their bags inside churches but are expected to drop them in designated spots outside the church to prevent insurgents disguising as women to smuggle bombs in.
The CAN Secretary in Sokoto State, Adedeji Tade, said even though Boko Haram attacks were alien to the state, security measures like metal detectors were still being put in place around churches.
It was learnt that many churches in the state have also employed private security outfits to mount surveillance and patrol their premises.
In Kwara State, the Chairman of CAN, Prof. Timothy Opoola, said pastors in the state had undergone special security training to prevent security breaches in their churches during the Yuletide and the New Year’s Day celebration.
The Special Assistant to the President of CAN, Bayo Oladeji, told one of our correspondents in Abuja that screening of worshippers before church services would be necessary “to forestall attacks by insurgents.”
“Ordinarily, Christmas is a time of celebrations. But the satanic agents in the garments of extremists and terrorists are making it difficult for the people of God to rejoice. The CAN President, Rev. Olasupo Ayokunle, has advised churches to be vigilant and security conscious before, during and after the Yuletide season,” he said.
Report by: Adelani Adepegba, Friday Olokor, Kamarudeen Ogundele, Ihuoma Chiedozie, Samuel Awoyinfa, Femi Makinde, Success Nwogu, Etim Ekpimah, Simon Utebor, Gbenro Adeoye, Kunle Falayi, Hindi Livinus, Alexander Okere, Ted Odogwu, Peter Dada, Ovie Okpare, Enyioha Opara, Olaide Oyelude, Adeniyi Olugbemi and Gibson Achonu.
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