Places of worship such as Churches and Mosques are traditionally regarded as places of peace. They are safe heavens and sanctuaries for worshiping and experiencing God’s love, mercy and grace. They are hallowed places and somewhat immune from the troubles, conflicts and violence of the world, including wars.
However, recent events in Nigeria and other parts of the world, particularly, the serial attacks on churches in some parts of the country appear to have fundamentally altered this age-long view.
The choice of places of worship as attractive targets of attack by terror groups is obvious. Firstly, places of worship typically have limited protection measures. They are seen as venues for spiritual/religious enterprise and thus depend largely on spiritual protection. There are usually little or no forms of access controls, thus members are not required to produce any form of identification before entering the church or mosque. Physical security gadgets such as CCTV cameras are virtually non-existing. They are thus considered as soft targets by criminal elements.
Secondly, churches and mosques provide a pool of large crowd. Consequently, the possibility of mass casualty in the event of an attack is high. This is a big attraction for terror groups.
Thirdly, any attack on a place of worship is considered sacrilegious. It will therefore elicit mass condemnation and extensive media coverage. Terror groups savour such free and elaborate coverage.
Fourthly, because of the sensitive nature of religion, an attack on a church or mosque can easily provoke hatred, suspicion and reprisals amongst the various religious groups. This can easily lead to a breakdown of law and order. Such state of lawlessness (even if temporary) fits squarely into the desire of terrorist organizations.
In view of the above, conscious efforts must be made to reduce the risks of terrorist’s attacks on our churches and mosques and limit the damage usually associated with such attacks. Officials of our churches and mosques, particularly those in high risk areas must be encouraged to work closely with the Police and other security agencies in formulating pro-active measures that could help in preventing and managing incidences of attack on our places of worship.
Below are some of our recommended security tips:
– Officials of churches and mosques are advised to carry out risk assessment and vulnerability surveys. This will enable them determine the level of risk they are exposed to. Factors to be considered in carrying out such assessments include: location of the church/mosque, analysis of its neighbourhood demography, size and architectural design of the church/mosque, population of the members, nature of access roads to the place, etc.
– Churches and Mosques should establish Standard Security and Safety Committee. Members should be volunteers with impeccable background and a passion for safety and security. Proper vetting and background checks must be carried out on all prospective members to avoid infiltration by enemies.
– The Committee members should work closely with the local Police authority and other relevant security agencies in formulating appropriate security measures.
– The Churches/mosques may consider the options of organizing constant trainings, workshops and seminars for committee members.
– Ushers in Churches should be encouraged to perform additional security duties. Ushers should be given extra trainings and briefings on security. Competency and individual pedigree, rather than mere looks should be the yardstick for appointing ushers.
– Churches and Mosques may consider erecting barriers to keep human and vehicular traffic away from designated areas. One of the most effective ways of preventing suicide bombing is to isolate the suicide bomber to himself and prevent him from reaching his targeted audience.
– Churches and Mosques officials are advised to make conscious efforts to know their members. This will make it easier for them to spot and identify strangers and intruders.
– Churches and Mosques in restive areas must avoid the temptation of isolating themselves from the public or their host community. They must avoid the “fortress mentality”. They are encouraged to go into the society and play positive roles in solving the problems of the community and changing the society for good. They must build bridges and build bonds.
– They should strive to build strong relationship with local security agencies (Police, Military, Fire Service etc) and encourage seamless flow of information between themselves and the agencies.
– Worshippers should park their vehicles at designated distances away from the places of worship. Worshippers who reside close to the places of worship are encouraged to walk rather than drive to the worship centres. This will reduce the number of cars around the worship centres.
– Worshippers should be discouraged from entering the worship centres with handbags, briefcases and other similar items.
– There is need for perimeter fencing of all places of worships to prevent invaders from gaining cheap access, especially during Prayers/Services.
– There is need for training of Churches/Mosques guards by the law enforcement agents to meet up with their responsibilities at their duty posts.
– Churches/Mosques are advised to invest on modern security gadgets such as CCTV Cameras, Scanners, etc.
– The officials and worshippers at Churches and Mosques should be ready to partner and cooperate with the security agencies deployed to their places of worship on Sundays and Fridays.
– People should avoid rushing to the scene of incidents especially explosions to avoid distorting the scene of crime and exposing themselves to further danger.
– The youths and other members of the congregation must be sufficiently sensitized on the need to always allow the security agencies unrestricted access to scenes of incidents in all emergency situations.
– Worshippers should be advised to return to their various homes rather than clustering/loitering around the worship centres after Sunday services or Jummat prayers.
– Worshippers should be security conscious and report all suspicious characters and observations to the Police.
Finally, we wish to state clearly here that our decision to issue the above safety and security tips should not be seen as an attempt to abdicate our responsibility of protecting lives and property. The periodic release of security tips and other advisory notes is clearly in line with the concept of community and democratic policing which demands constant engagement and interaction with relevant stakeholders in our society.
Although, we concede that the concept of absolute security is almost impossible, nonetheless, we believe that with adequate advance planning and systematic synergy amongst the officials of the various places of worship, the worshippers, the host community and the law enforcement agencies, the risks of criminal attacks on our places of worship could be reduced almost to a zero level.
It is our hope that the officials and members of the various churches and mosques in our community will continue to cooperate and partner with the Police authority in our efforts towards providing our citizens a safe and secure environment to express their faith and carry out their day-to-day business without fear or intimidation.
CSP FRANK E. MBA
DEPUTY FORCE PUBLIC RELATIONS OFFICER
FOR: FORCE PUBLIC RELATIONS OFFICER
FORCE HEADQUARTERS, ABUJA