— President Jonathan is safe, says Abati
Abdullahi M. Gulloma
At least 21 persons were killed yesterday at the headquarters of the Department of State Security (SSS) located close to the Aso Rock presidential villa in Abuja when suspected Boko Haram detainees allegedly attempted to break out of the facility.
Residents of the Asokoro district of the city were thrown into panic and confusion when the gun shoots were heard coming from the SSS headquarters.
Sources said an armed group of Boko Haram men stormed the headquarters in order to free their members detained there, while another source said the insurgents even tried to breach the presidential villa and take it over.
The shootout, which was said to have lasted for over an hour, resulted in traffic diversion while residents stayed indoors.
The SSS said that 18 casualties were recorded during the gun battle while three other detainees who sustained gun shot injuries also died later.
Spokesperson of the SSS, Ms Marilyn Ogar, gave an official version of what happened in a press release, saying: “At 07:15 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.”
According to her, “The gun shots attracted the attention of the military with whom we have an understanding of mutual assistance in the event of any threat. The Army immediately deployed a team to reinforce our perimeter guards to forestall any external collaborators.
“The situation has since been brought under control as normalcy has returned to the area as the roads have been opened for free movement of persons and vehicles.”
Ogar explained that the roads leading to the DSS headquarters were cordoned off to prevent possible assistance from external collaborators, adding that during this period, the precinct of the office and adjoining neighbourhoods were thoroughly searched.
Assuring of the SSS’ commitment to the safety of the people and the nation, Ogar urged residents to go about their lawful duties, adding that further details would be communicated to the media.
Residents of the FCT are yet to come terms with the event as some expressed doubt over the explanation provided by the SSS given increased security presence around the city after the alleged attempted jail break.
Our correspondent’s checks revealed that at the Louis Edet House, the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, the lane on the side of the police office was blocked on both ends with armoured personnel carriers (APCs), while more armed mobile policemen were noticed.
The situation was not much different at the Abuja office of the DSS in Asokoro, as armed masked operatives of the Service were seen patrolling the perimeter fencing of the office.
However, at the FCT police command, the situation was calm as there was nothing to show of any new security measures.
At the popular AYA Junction, a lorry load of fully armed Air Force personnel were sighted keeping watch, as well as a police Hilux van parked across that of the Air Force.
But at the ever busy Mogadishu Barracks, there was no inkling of the huge security scare earlier in the day as Sunday revellers trooped to the Mammy market for an evening outing while the security level remained intact.
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan was not affected by the heavy shootings at the SSS headquarters, the president’s spokesman, Dr Reuben Abati, said.
In his Twitter handle, Abati said what happened at the headquarters had nothing to do with the Presidential Villa.
“President Jonathan is safe and well. Thank you for your concern and support,” he said.
Abati attributed the shootings to an unsuccessful jailbreak attempt by some inmates which did not affect the State House.
He said: “What happened at the SSS HQ this morning was an attempted jailbreak which has been effectively foiled. There is no cause for alarm.”
Nevertheless, security situation was beefed up around the Presidential Villa immediately the shootings started.
As part of the security measures, the Fire Service gate of the State House was quickly shut and people were directed to follow the Supreme Court gate where heavily armed and stern-looking soldiers were deployed while military helicopters were seen hovering in the sky.