Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

01 Apr Written by  Kimberly Ward

No Photos Please, We’re in Abuja

The fear of Boko Haram is the beginning of wisdom. Or so someone said once. But the fear of Boko Haram is also the root of some unnecessary paranoia and ridiculous safety measures that impede on citizens’ freedoms to enjoy Abuja in all its glory.

Take last week for example, when we hit upon the idea to take guests around Abuja to show them some of the beautiful structures in the city. Of course the taking of pictures also came into play, especially as our guests wanted to show people back in England that there was more to Africa than mud-huts, and there was more to Nigeria than Boko Haram killings.

 Well, the irony was that Boko Haram ended up spoiling our plans. We had parked outside the ECOWAS headquarters in Asokoro, and there were very few cars and pedestrians around as we walked up to the front of the building to take some pictures, when somebody on the opposite side of the road shouted out “Hey, what are you doing there? Stop taking photos there!”

We looked to see who it was that was giving us an order to stop doing what we thought was completely harmless. In fact, we were engaged in enjoying the city and promoting it to outsiders, surely activities that should be encouraged not thwarted. The man on the other side of the road refused to stop warning us, so we put out camera away and cross the street to face this party pooper intent on spoiling our fun.

The gawky man, wearing a white T-shirt and sandals and carrying a duffel bag, did not look like an official; in fact he looked like a general bystander trying to make trouble. But he said he was a security man and he was ordering us to stop taking photos for security reasons. We were angry, and demanded to see his ID or any other form of identification that will give him the authority to stop us doing something so benign. But he refused to comply and instead grew nervous and frightened as we raged against his rudeness and threatened to have him detained.

It was then that we spotted some soldiers parked some distance away, so we held him by his shirt and marched him towards them so he could either ascertain his identity or be taken away for questioning. But after some heated exchange of words between ourselves, the man and the soldiers, I understood what had happened.

The man we thought was a nuisance was actually a security guard posted to a nearby building who, despite being off duty, was looking out for the capital in light of threats by Boko Haram against major landmarks, especially during the occasion of the on-going National Conference, which had been moved from its original venue of the International Conference Centre to the National Judicial Institute because of such threats.

With security on high alert, we had been confused for Boko Haram supporters taking pictures to aid in terrorism and the man wanted to conduct a citizen’s arrest, but whilst he had the initial confidence to begin, he lacked the conviction to conclude it.

Vigilance over Boko Haram attacks had interrupted our site seeing, and it was both saddening and maddening. From then on, we drove around the city less carefree and more morose, suddenly fully aware that Abuja was a city under threat, and that not too far away, enemies of the state were killing, maiming and razing whole villages to the ground.

Abuja didn’t seem so modern and safe and wholesome anymore, and we didn’t take any more pictures outside.