Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Guests flee hotels in Abuja due to Boko Haram bomb threat

Guests yesterday deserted the three major hotels in Abuja which were listed on the security alert issued by the United States government.

The security alert had indicated that members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect might launch an attack on Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Sheraton Hotel and Towers as well as Nicon Luxury Hotel.

Investigations by LEADERSHIP showed that guests virtually deserted the three hotels during the day, even when extra security measures were put in place to forestall attack on the facilities.

One of our correspondents who visited Transcorp Hilton reported that soldiers guarded the main gates to the hotel while vehicles going into the premises were carefully checked before being allowed in.

Bags and other personal effects of guests, seeking entry into the hotel were also subjected to thorough searches before tallies were issued by the gatemen.

The back gates of the hotel were locked and a Volkswagen Passat car was packed directly behind a stone hedge apparently built by the hotel management.

Our correspondent reported that virtually all the parking bays in the hotel were empty while a few foreign guests were spotted discussing in front of the main lobby of the hotel complex.

He said the Piano Lounge, the Bukka, the Capital Bar and other facilities which enjoy immense patronage in the past were empty.

A guest, who gave his name simply as Dr. John noted that the security alert issued by the US Government has scared a lot of guests, especially foreigners, forcing them to relocate from the hotel.

He said, "I am still here because I can't run away from my country. I know that a lot of foreigners have fled and even Nigerians too. But we will be making these criminals (Boko Haram members) happy that they have caused people to panic and run.

"There is no basis whatsoever for them to attack innocent people. I don't understand why the federal government should allow these people to terrorise the country and get away with it.

At Sheraton, our correspondent reported that soldiers and riot policemen mounted sentry at the main gates and personally checked every vehicle going into the hotel.

The security operatives, who showed high level of professionalism politely, asked visitors to the hotel to open the boots of their cars and their luggage for checks.

After searching a vehicle, the security operatives thanked the driver for being patient with them and waved him to drive on.

However, our correspondent said the parking areas within the complex were almost empty while a few persons where found inside the reception hall.

Fresh security screening was carried out on guests before they were allowed into the swimming pool area.

The main bar, the Obudu Grill and other exclusive areas of the hotel were patronized by a handful of guests while the hitherto busy walkways were deserted.

A guest who pleaded anonymity told our correspondent that the security concern in the capital city was responsible for the low patronage of the hotel.

He said soon after the security situation in Abuja deteriorated, a lot of people who patronised major hotels in the city have moved into smaller and more secure hotels.

He said, "The situation is scary. In fact, nobody would want to experience what happened at the UN House or the Police Headquarters. But we pray that God would help us restore sanity in the country. We cannot go far as a nation with these threats.

At Nicon Luxury, our correspondent reported that operatives of the State Security Service watched over the main gates of the complex from a reasonable distance.

The SSS men who spotted black T-shirts watched the hotel gates from two jeeps they parked slightly behind the security house.

While they were not involved in checking vehicles coming in to the premises, they however, watched as the hotel security men and women frisked cars and passengers before being allowed in.

Apart from the swimming pool area where a few guests were found bathing and dancing to music played by an in-house Disc Jockey, the other facilities were deserted.

Our correspondent reported that the reception area, the Oxygen Bar and the restaurants were empty while a few guests including foreigners were seen moving in and out of the hotel.

However, a staff who pleaded anonymity told LEADERSHIP that a lot of guests checked out of the hotel due to what he described as a false security alert.

He said unlike last years, the level of patronage has drastically reduced and blamed the situation on the activities of the Boko Haram sect in some parts of the country, including Abuja.

When contacted, Sheraton's general manager, Mr. Morten Ebbesen said he has no opinion to give on the matter but, however, referred LEADERSHIP to a news item on Reuters web site.

The development came just as the federal government yesterday stepped up security in and around the three hotels, Sheraton, Transcorp Hilton and Nicon Luxury. LEADERSHIP investigations reveal that large numbers of US citizens yesterday heeded the warning by their home government to abstain from the targeted hotels.

But our correspondents observed that some foreign nationals, some of whom were US citizens still went about their normal businesses in the listed hotels despite warnings about their safety. A British businessman who spoke with LEADERSHIP on condition of anonymity, explained that the reason he maintains his residency in one of the luxury hotels was because he had nowhere else to go.

He said: "It's true we heard in the news that there was an alert about a bomb attack, but my reason of being here is to transact my business. We only heard it yesterday in the news. Where else do I go, anyway?" He said.

But the federal government has said that it has taken adequate counter security measures to secure lives and property in the country despite multiple attacks by Boko Haram that left more than 100 persons dead in Yobe and Borno States, with threats to bomb parts of Abuja.

This was disclosed by the national security adviser, General Owoye Andrew Azazi (retd) in a press release made available to LEADERSHIP yesterday in Abuja.

"The current threat of attack on the three hotels [Nicon Hilton, Sheraton and Nicon Luxury] in Abuja is not news. For over three months, the security services have taken pro-active measures to protect the designated critical facilities and others," the Federal Government said.

It also called on Nigerians "to go about their normal business without fear or hindrance".

When asked if the United States Security Service share information with its Nigeria counterpart, the spokesperson of the State Security Service (SSS), Marilyn Ogar, agreed that Nigeria is having security challenges just like other nations but its security system is not overwhelmed.

Ogar said, "We all know that we have internal security challenges and it is nothing new. And of course we all know that the Internet is raw because if you ask 'where did this information come from' they will say it came from the Internet, a tweet, which was something that somebody sent as an email. And we hoped that has been addressed.

"I don't think there is anything that is beyond Nigeria's security agencies because we have deployed men and we have beefed up security everywhere. So whether information was shared or not, I know this very well and I can say very well whether information was shared or not."


Related stories: Nigerian government dismisses U.S. bomb warning

Video - Nigeria's fight against Boko Haram

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