By John Campbell
According to the Nigerian media, there was heavy gunfire that may have lasted some hours very close to Aso Rock, the presidential villa, starting at about 7:15 a.m. Sunday morning. The gunfire appears to have been centered at Yellow House, the headquarters of the State Security Services (SSS).
An SSS spokeswoman said that there was an attempted jailbreak by suspected Boko Haram prisoners from the headquarters compound that resulted from failure to follow security procedures. The SSS stated that eighteen prisoners were killed initially and three later died of their injuries. Presidential press spokesman Dr. Reuben Abati reported to the media that there was no cause for alarm, and he denied reports that President Jonathan had to flee his residence. He also said that the president has ordered an investigation into the incident.
There is skepticism about the official narrative, which seeks to minimize the episode. Further, the area around the presidential villa and the SSS headquarters is cordoned off and journalists are unable to visit and make their own assessment as to what happened and how extensive the damage is.
Former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nasir El-Rufai, who lives close by is quoted in the media as saying, “Whatever this is, it appears more serious than the attempted jailbreak claimed by the SSS.” Former minister of aviation Femi Fani-Kayode, also a neighbor, is quoted as saying, “I live fifty meters away from the SSS headquarters and the [presidential] villa and what I witnessed with my eyes and heard this morning was a full scale battle.” Another, unidentified source quoted in the Nigerian media, referred to “a sustained gun battled for about three hours.” That source also said that the security services deployed helicopter gunships, three truckloads of fully armed soldiers, and deployed armored personnel carriers, rocket propelled grenades, and “other sophisticated weapons.”
Escape from the SSS headquarters’ compound is implausible. As one press source said, “The truth is that a jailbreak is impossible in the SSS headquarters. It has two fences and is highly fortified.” The neighborhood of the SSS headquarters and the presidential villa is where many ministers, former ministers, and other members of the Nigerian elite live. Access is restricted. It has some resemblance to a “green zone.” As the Nigeria Security Tracker shows, Boko Haram violence has been concentrated in the north-east. However, in his latest video, Abubakar Shekau called on his Boko Haram brethren to carry the fight against the government throughout Nigeria. He makes specific reference to Abuja. The question must be asked, was this a “Tet Offensive;” a large-scale attack on the heart of the Nigerian government by Boko Haram?
Mr. John Campbell is a former US ambassador to Nigeria.