Okechukwu Uwaezuoke and Olawale Olaleye in Abidjan
A 25-year-old Nigerian, Adekunle Sikiru, from Ejigbo Local Government Area of Osun State has been identified as the only casualty Nigeria might have recorded in the last Sunday terrorists attack in Grand Bassam, a beach town in Ivory Coast.
Speaking exclusively to THISDAY at her office in Abidjan, the capital city, Nigeria’s Ambassador to the country, Mrs. Ifeoma Akabogu-Chinwuba, who hinted at the development, also said with the recent attacks in neighbouring countries, they knew an attack would be launched on the country too, more so that the French intelligence had earlier issued a warning to the country and Dakar over imminent threat of attacks.
Akabogu-Chinwuba, who described Grand Bassam, the nation’s first capital city and UNESCO’s heritage site as a popular weekend spot, where tourists usually find attractive, said she did not know at first that any Nigerian was lost in the attack as her initial spot check did not reveal any such thing.
“Last Monday, I was told that a Nigerian, Adekunle Sikiru, was killed in the attack. On that first day, it was not clear and we did not know who was who. Even when we went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last Monday, we were told that there were four white-skinned and eight black-skinned but they did not tag their identities.
“But already, we had been told that the consular was able to find out that a Nigerian lost his life in the attack and his body is still in the mortuary. He was a victim – a 25-year-old. His brother had to be led to the police station to identify his car too because he wasn’t staying at Grand Basaam but Abobo, somewhere in Abidjan.
“I think he went to Grand Bassam to relax. That’s the only casualty we have from Nigeria – a 25-year-old man from Ejigbo Local Government Area in Osun State,” she reiterated, adding that further checks from other sources including the Nigerian community did not reveal any more Nigerian casualty.
The ambassador however claimed it was a complete feeling of distraught when the news of the attack first filtered in because even though they had expected that the terrorists might someday look in the direction of the country, no one had expected it would be that soon.
She reckoned one of the reasons they might have struck in Ivory Coast, like the terrorists too had explained, was because of the support and cooperation the country and its neighbours might have accorded France, a disposition she believed could have upset the terrorists, especially France’s recent invasion of the Sahel.
“We had expected it and we had beefed up security at our level and we’d also asked the host authority to help us beef up security in terms of diplomatic police patrol. We also know that Burkina Faso was recently attacked; Mali too was attacked and already, the government here had also expected that such thing might happen here too.
“This is due largely to the high number of French people and high number of Lebanese too and the cooperation that exists between France and Cote d’Ivoire and in fact, in certain quarters, they say Abidjan is a new Paris – the African Paris. So, if an attempt had been made in French Paris, so you could expect that it would happen here too.
“We have always felt that Nigeria has been at the receiving end of a lot of these terrorists attacks and people used to ask us in form of jokes that ‘have you caught Boko Haram’s Shekau’ and I used to tell them, ‘you are laughing; it is not a laughing matter’. Terrorists, what do they want? Can you negotiate with them? At least, if they tell you what they want and if you cannot supply, maybe then you can react, but, hey, nobody knows what they want.
“It has happened here now ,because from nowhere, they just appeared and started shooting indiscriminately – blacks, white – it is now clear to everyone that it is not by national boundaries and every country has to team-up with the other and fight collectively,” she said.
On regional cooperation and the need for a review of strategy, Akabogu-Chinwuba said: “There is the need to widen the dragnet because more countries are being affected. Initially, it was concentrated in northern Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger and so, it is normal for a nucleus of that multi-national force to be composed of.
“As the attacks are now widening and consuming the whole region, we have to also widen the dragnet. I read recently that Benin was willing to send some troops, of course, what does that tell you? It’s a collective and concerted effort that we need,” She noted claiming Nigeria has shown support and solidarity with the country since the attack.
Apart from the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari had put a call through to his Ivorian counterpart, President Alassane Ouattara, to commiserate with him, the ambassador claimed to have also visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to share in their grief as well as called other government functionaries. She also claimed to have since maintained a close observation on the Nigerian community, whilst at the same time, pushing for more security from the host authority in all critical areas.