•Santa Claus, Xmas carnivals disappear as tense security situation keeps residents indoors
From PAUL ORUDE, Bauchi
As Nigerians join the rest of the world to mark Christmas today, the celebration would be low-keyed in Bauchi. For long, the security situation in the Northern part of the country, particularly Bauchi, has been dicey. For residents, the suicide bomb blast that was targeted at the Living Faith Church, Bauchi in Yelwa, Bauchi Metropolis in June which killed at least 12 worshippers and injured 46 others remains very fresh in the mind.
The devastating impact which destroyed the nearby Harvest Field Church as well as shattered the windows and ceiling of the Winners Chapel church is still fresh in their memories. Neither will they forget another suicide attempt at St John Catholic Church in September which dispatched two worshippers to their early graves and injured several others. As a result of the insecurity following the church bombings, worshipers now undergo rigorous security checks during church service.
Those going in or out of churches have to be seriously searched while most churches have introduced extreme security measures to prevent recurrence of bombings. This has led to a low turnout of worshippers at some churches. Many Christians told our correspondent that they are afraid to go to church because of the insecurity. Every Sunday service, heavily armed soldiers on armoured tanks are seen guiding churches as worship are conducted. “The situation is scary.
I have stopped going to church since they started targeting churches,” a resident who declined to be named said. Indications that the Christmas in Bauchi this year will be celebrated in a tense atmosphere began to emerge on the December 15 when some major roads in the state capital were barricaded by security agencies. Stern looking mobile police personnel and soldiers were seen patrolling the major streets such as Yandoka, Gidan Mai and Maiduguri Road, among others.
A source who didn’t want his name in print told Daily Sun that there were security reports that ten states in the north would be attacked this Christmas. Meanwhile, as the security operatives take over virtually all parts of the state capital to pre-empt any attack, travellers to the north-east are not finding it easy when they get to Bauchi.
They have to divert from the Yandoka Road which they normally take and go round the city before proceeding on their journey. “In fact, I had to take permission from the policemen patrolling the area to go to Oasis in Yandoka to buy bread because there is no free passage. And I don’t eat any other bread apart from Oasis,” Michael Segun, a resident, explains. The 33 Artillery Brigade and the Police Headquarters along Yandoka Road have been heavily secured by armed security operatives even as blocks, drums and other heavy items are used to cordoned the areas.
This development has been more pronounced as the festive periods arrive. The heavy presence of security agencies has brought relief to some residents who plan to spend the Christmas in Bauchi. “It is a good thing. When you see them like that you are reassured that some people are not sleeping,” Terverr Tyav, of the Africa Independent Television told Daily Sun in Bauchi.
Apart from the commercial banks which witness influx of customers because of late payment, Daily Sun investigation revealed that a large number of residents have travelled out of the state for the Christmasto other places they consider safer. “My brother, it is not that Bauchi is not peaceful, but I just won’t enjoy the Christmas there with this uncertainty surrounding the situation in the state,” a resident who pleaded anonymity said. For most men from the Southern states who planned to spend the Christmas in Bauchi, said they have sent their wives and children home. “It is not about insecurity because Bauchi is okay compared to other places in the North-East but it is the usual thing my family does every Christmas and New Year. We spend it at home,” Chinedu Onyewkachi, who trades in glasses near Hospital told Daily Sun.
However, Daily Sun investigation revealed that most of the hotels and recreational centres, particularly in the state capital which usually organised Christmas funfair where Santa Claus would thrill kids with gifts and other goodies have been cancelled. Sati Ayuba, manager of Larema Hotel, a popular Hotel in the state capital, told our correspondent that the management of the hotel was not planning to host any Christmas Fanfare this year. Sati who spoke to our correspondent on phone said they had to shelve this year’s party in view of the security situation in the state. In the same vein, the popular Christmas Carnival hosted by the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Bauchi was cancelled owing to the dicey security situation.
“We used to hold it at the Unity Park, Bauchi or the NTA office along Maiduguri Road. But this year, we are not holding it,” a reliable NTA senior staff told Daily Sun. Indeed most residents confided in our correspondents that they will spend the Christmas at home in the company of their family.
“I have paid for my satellite channel. I have serviced my generator. After church service on Christmas, I will drive my family home straight and spend the Xmas at home,” a resident, Joshua Ibrahim said. Meanwhile, to ensure a hitchfree Christmas, the police in Bauchi say they have beefed up security in all parts of the state ahead of Christmas and New Year celebrations. Daily Sun correspondent who went round the state observed that the police and the army blocked the busy Jos Road leading to their headquarters and put their men at strategic locations to stop the movement of unauthorized people near the premises.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Abbas Abdullahi, a deputy superintendent of police said: “It’s a normal routine security measure that the state police commissioner took to protect the command and their arms and personnel. We also have tight security measures across the state to ensure hitch free Christmas and New Year celebration,” he said. A senior security source also said: “The measures taken by the army and the police was a cautionary measure to protect their commands. They are doing what they are supposed to do because barracks and security offices are supposed to be under tight security. From anywhere a visitor is coming from, they will see him. It’s only in Nigeria that our security formations are porous.
Our army barracks and police stations are not fenced, you can see many people hawking near prison premises. To me, they are doing what they are supposed to do.” A senior police officer also told our correspondent: “The measures became necessary because of the intelligence report they received, and whenever you receive intelligence report, you have to take new security measures. But after the New Year, we will re-open the road.” Joint patrol teams have intensified in the town and along all federal highways leading to the state. Stop and search operations have also continued. In his Christmas message, Governor Isa Yuguda said: “Jesus Christ lived a peaceful and exemplary life, preached peaceful co-existence among and between his followers and adherents of other beliefs. We should emulate these virtues of Jesus Christ.”