Residents of the vicinity of Nigeria’s seat of power, the Aso Rock Villa in Abuja, were yesterday thrown into panic as gunshots were heard for hours in the neighbourhood.
This created tension resulting in widespread rumours that the Presidential Villa was under attack and that President Goodluck Jonathan had to be whisked away out of his official residence through an underground exit.
But the Presidency was quick to deny the rumours, saying that at no point was the Presidential Villa under siege.
In its reaction on the security breach, the Directorate of State Services, popularly referred to as SSS said the incident resulted from an attempted jailbreak by suspected insurgents.
When the dust of the gun battle between operatives of the SSS and the insurgents settled, no fewer than 21 of the suspects were said to have been killed with three officers of the service severely wounded.
The DSS, in a statement by its Deputy Director, Public Relations, Marilyn Ogar, said it thwarted an attempted jailbreak by one of the inmates in the head office who hit the Service Suspect Handler with his handcuff on the head, with intent to disarm the officer.
Ogar, in the statement said: “At 0715 hours, the Service Suspect Handler went to the detention facility within the headquarters to feed the suspects. One of the suspects attempted to disarm him by hitting him at the back of his head with his handcuff.
“His attempt to escape drew the attention of other guards at the facility who fired some shots to warn and deter others”, the statement said.
The statement further said the gunshots attracted the attention of the military with which the service has an understanding of mutual assistance in the event of any threat.
She also said the Army immediately deployed a team to reinforce perimeter of the service guards to forestall any external collaborators. “The situation has since been brought under control”, the statement concluded.
But Ogar’s explanation has been faulted by those living close to the Yellow House, the scene of the gun battle as some of them consider the claims in the statement as “untrue and misleading”.
An eyewitness told one of our reporters that while the gunshots were being heard, he saw a man dash out of the SSS building with his shoes in his hand, but could not ascertain whether the man was an officer or a suspect.
Others argued that the level of the offensive and the sophistication of the weapons deployed by the military could not just be to foil a jailbreak attempt by just one of the insurgents.
Others even argued that jailbreak was impossible considering the fortification of the DSS headquarters.
“The prolonged gun battle and the deployment of helicopter gunships to hover around the Villa and the DSS headquarters suggested that the attack was much more than the service was willing to disclose”, said a resident.
According to a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Malam Nasir el-Rufai, who lives few metres away from the Yellow House, the barrage of gunshots was greater than attempting to foil a jailbreak by a solo insurgent as claimed by the service.
“Whatever this is, it appears more serious than an attempted jailbreak claimed by the SSS. May God protect the innocent and destroy the murderers, kidnappers and planners of genocide, Amen.” Another former minister, Femi Fani-Kayode said: “I live 50 metres away from the SSS headquarters and the Villa and what I witnessed with my eyes and heard this morning was a full scale battle”.
The entire vicinity of the presidential palace and the SSS headquarters has been cordoned off, making it impossible for journalists to go to the area to assess the incident and ascertain what actually happened.
Those living on Aso Drive, who had to drive beside the Yellow House were said to be thoroughly frisked while some were advised to use alternative routes to their homes as at the time of filing this report yesterday.
Similarly, movements into and out of the Federal Capital city became very frustrating as soldiers intensified checks on incoming and outgoing passengers in vehicles on designated military checkpoints along the Abuja-Kaduna expressway, the Abuja-Lokoja highway and the Abuja-Keffi road.
Similarly, security has been beefed up in the city including around the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Maitama, Abuja, venue of a meeting of African ministers of finance and economy.
Additional armed men deployed to the vicinity of the hotel, including soldiers, police and officers of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), were seen with sniffer dogs.
The Nigeria Police Force headquarters along Shehu Shagari Way was also barricaded with Armoured Personnel Carrier; same for the Ministry of Defence, Area 10, Garki, Abuja, as at the time of this report.
Meanwhile, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, in a swift reaction denied that Jonathan had to be rushed out of the seat of power due to the security breach.
Abati, in a statement posted on his twitter handle, said Jonathan was not in any way threatened by the shoot-out between the army and the insurgents at the SSS headquarters.
“What happened at the SSS HQs has nothing to do with the Villa. President Jonathan is safe and well. Thank you for your concern & support,” Mr. Abati posted.
He added that: “What happened at the SSS HQ this morning was an attempted jailbreak which has been effectively foiled. There is no cause for alarm.”
In the meantime, the United Kingdom (UK) Foreign Office has advised British citizens in Abuja to maintain “heightened vigilance” following the foiled jailbreak at the Abuja headquarters of the SSS.
The revised travel alert on Nigeria was posted on the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) website yesterday.
It was updated few hours after the DSS confirmed that it had foiled an attempted jailbreak by insurgents detained at the Asokoro headquarters of the security outfit.
The travel alert advised British citizens to be especially vigilant “should they need to go to Asokoro or The Three Arms Zone” in Abuja.