Kaduna, Jos, Sokoto, Abuja, Awka — Based on the suspected terrorists attack on a Kenyan shopping mall, which killed scores of people, Nigerians have intensified security around some shopping malls in major cities, as examined by Weekly Trust.
After suspected terrorists attacked a Westgate Shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya about two weeks ago, security has been beefed up around shopping centers and malls across Nigeria.
Weekly Trust has gathered that shopping malls in the country have enlisted the combined forces of the Nigerian Army and Police with private security guards to keep vigil around their premises and environs.
Security personnel are at strategic points and vicinity of the malls and plazas.
At some shopping malls in Abuja, more security personnel than usual as well as increased surveillance of the surroundings have become their routine job. Managers of the shopping malls in Abuja say the believe the security measures are in the best interest of the general public and their customers.
In Abuja, Shoprite, Sahad Stores, Ceddi Plaza, NEXT, Grand Square, Exclusive and some malls around Utako and central business districts have increased security personnel at strategic places to search customers before entry for shopping.
Some of them have more than 10 armed soldiers at the various entrances of the shopping malls. And no one is spared the search.
Abdullah Ahmed, a shopper at the Sahad Stores said "it would be unfortunate to be caught unawares if such a scenario should play out here in Nigeria. So, for me I welcome the idea of intensifying security around these malls. It has just happened in Kenya and we shouldn't just merely hope or pray that it can't happen to us in Nigeria, and Lagos.
"I believe we all need proactive measures and means on how to protect our lives, malls and other large-scale points-of-convergence in the city from the possibility of attack, both at the level of the government and citizens. It does not make sense to just provide security to just government areas and property but also to the citizens and foreigners in our country. So, I think it is a good step which we all welcome," he said.
"No one wants to be stripped or interrogated when going for shopping, but with the security situation on ground we cannot help but co-operate with the security agents in helping them to do their work diligently, if we must be safe in the society. There is no doubt that it is inconveniencing and time wasting, but it is surely the best thing to do. We must not be caught napping whatsoever. So, if it is for our safety, I am okay with it," said Nkem Azu an undergraduate at one of the malls in Abuja.
In Sokoto, there are no standard shopping malls. However shopping plazas are available with the largest noted to be the Zabira Mall. It is strategically placed, close to a popular round about, 'Gawon Nama Round' which leads to many parts of the state capital.
The shopping centre which has over 40 stalls and offices attracts different people in the society as various products are sold there. Clothing, drugs, household items, children items, cosmetics among others are marketed at the mall.
Again, there is presence of private security guards, which is a 24- hour affair. The barely 10-month-old mall has not recorded any violent incident. According to the shop owners and security agents, there has been no cause to arrest people around them on suspicion of criminal or terrorists' related activities. That notwithstanding, nothing is left to chances generally, as security of lives and property is top priority for the managers of the mall.
In Kaduna, the case is slightly different as Vigilantes are also complementing the efforts of security agents.
Many of the shopping malls in Kaduna metroplis employ the services of Vigilante groups for their internal security. Weekly Trust learnt that in many of the big malls, tickets are issued to customers after a thorough check before they are allowed entry into the malls.
Though there is no physical presence of conventional security men such as the military and other paramilitary at the shopping malls, operators have been conscious of security since last year's bombings in the state.
Same scenario plays out at HMH Memorial Plaza popularly called Makarfi Plaza which has about 150 shops with a lot of customers trooping in on a daily basis.
But speaking to Weekly Trust at the Makarfi Plaza, a customer, Bala Usman said he has not heard any security breach at the Plaza and will continue to patronize his customers there.
At Mangal, Doka and Ramat Plaza, security is intense and managed by the vigilante groups. Ramat Plaza, which is the biggest plaza in Kaduna State, had tight security with customers moving freely to purchase their goods.
"We have been doing businesses here for several years and we've not observed any foul play. Our security men here are doing a good job and anyone you see here is security conscious. We are always alert and don't have fears of attacks or whatever. We the shop owners meet regularly to address issues that affect us," a shop owner said.
Kaduna Police spokesman, Aminu Lawan said Kaduna unlike before has secret security services that keep watch on public places.
"We are following the instruction of the Inspector General of Police for perfect security handling in our state. Conscious efforts are being made every day in keeping watch of public places. Our efforts are not only for public Mall or Plaza but it's for the entire state," Lawan said.
For major stores in Jos, providing security has always been a necessity. The presence of uniformed security officers at the gates and main entrances of major stores and eateries such as Flourish, Onigbinde Stores, LG shops are not uncommon. But many other smaller shops as well as shopping complexes on Bauchi Road and other residential areas have no presence of security agents.
Though the security situation in Jos has improved, the General Manager of Flourish explained that "we have 24-hour security in this place, we have police patrolling this area and a call line that we can easily dial to get reinforcement of security agents. Other than shoplifting which is usually common with supermarkets, we have not had any security breach or challenge of criminalities."
Auwal Ibrahim who has a shop at one of the shopping complexes on Bauchi Road explained that "we are our own security here, we try to be vigilant and observe the kind of people who come in and out of our environment and we pray to God. That is the only way we can secure our lives and property."
However, some customers deferred from Ibrahim's position. Fiona Nzeribe insisted that "we know it is God who protects, but some of these shopping centers should be properly secured with security agents as well as cameras (CCTV) to capture the activities of suspicious people."
Most of the highly placed supermarkets in Jos city are located around Ahmadu Bello Way, one of the busiest commercial areas in Jos city, housing supermarkets such as Onigbinde, La Mirage as well as popular eateries like the Net Café and Juice and Grilled. Supermarkets like Ognibinde Stores and Flourish Supermarket which are some of the biggest stores and mainly patronized by the average and highly placed members of the society.
Though the management of Onigbinde Stores declined comment on security, describing it as a sensitive matter, Auta Bitrus, General Manager of Flourish Supermarket said the supermarket has better security advantage than others on Ahmadu Bello Way because it is in an enclosed environment which is fenced with a gate.
In Anambra State, the security around shopping malls isn't really a priority. There are few known shopping malls in Anambra State located in the commercial city of Onitsha and Awka. However these are not magnificent centers and may not attract much attention. They are not even government establishments, but mainly run privately.
Also, security arrangement is not very visible and they rely on private guards. There are no uniformed personnel stationed at shopping buildings. However each centre relies on its private security arrangement based on local vigilantes who are not armed.
Mr. Chukwuma Ike said the absence of big shopping malls in Onitsha will not encourage terrorists attack, though he canvassed for tight security around such places.
Mrs. Angela Nwafor who condemned the increasing wave of armed banditries and bombings in some parts of the country, charged all the three tiers of government and individuals to tighten up security in public places especially around the shopping malls.
"The Kenya experience is devastating and should not be allowed to take place in Nigeria," she noted, even as she denounced terrorist attacks in northern Nigeria.
Andrew Stephen who is a vigilante stationed in Onitsha, said his men protect lives and property of citizens even as he advised members of the public to be security conscious.
"If such dastardly act can take place in Kenya close to Nigeria, what can be said about Nigeria where the security situation has been questionable for such a long time?," he asked.
Amina Alhassan, Rakiya A. Muhammad, Sunday Isuwa, Lami Sadiq and Beatrice Onuchukwu