External puzzles in anti-Boko Haram war
As the Boko Haram conflict escalates in some parts of the North, Regional Editor (News), Olawale Rasheed, assesses the new international dimension to the insurgency, concluding that Nigeria has finally entered the global jihadist map.
THE unrelenting terrorist challenges facing the country have finally assumed an international dimension with Nigeria eventually facing the prospect of a reluctant engagement in counter terrorism operations beyond its borders. In the last few weeks, the initially blurred line between domestic and external terrorism has given way to a new reality, the inexplicable connection between Islamic terror groups in the Sahel and northern Nigeria.
For the first time in the nation‘s history, terrorism has emerged as the greatest threat to national unity and survival. In the same vein, the current threat has defied the usual ingenuity of Nigerian power elite, leading to an increasing sense of frustration and elite despondency about project Nigeria. That reality manifested even more openly this week as more personalities considered insiders in the power equation took to public media to counsel the government.
If Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjo could offer sensitive national security viewpoints on the pages of newspapers, then the elite consensus in the governance of the nation, as some analysts tend to suggest, may have truly broken down. What is more, a particular sentence in the statement raises more questions and puzzles as it calls for inclusiveness in programme designed to fight the terror war.
The national situation as at today presents two scenarios to the ruling establishment and the citizenry in general.
The first is that internally, the nation remains as divided as ever, with old power brokers distancing themselves from the new power wielders, leading to deep imbalance in the power equation. The division affects both the ruling party and even the opposition, such that the power elite are split into various blocs with differing agendas.
Keen watchers of political happenings are also quick to note that the insurgency has graduated beyond the political motivators and is threatening to consume known and unknown instigators. Concerned leaders within and without the power caucus are expressing worries on a daily basis. Now that the president is ready to fight back with the establishment of a public affairs office under veteran Doyin Okupe, the external dimension now stares the nation in the face.
Those analysts who doubt the fuelling of the insurgency by an extant international Islamic movement may have woken to the reality by the Islamists’ seizure of northern Mali and the confirmed link among global Islamic movements across the African continent. More telling for those unbelievers in such connectivity within the establishment and security watchers is the latest decision of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) to deploy the military to flush out the Malian Islamists and the reaction of those jihadists to attack Nigeria and other West African nation in return.
As Nigeria battles jihadists internally, the war is set to be internationalised. And as the nation is mobilising the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for armed intervention in Mali, reports indicated that global jihadist movements across the continent are also mobilising to support the Malian Islamists. Magharebia, a Sahel news organ, recently reported that armed groups are bringing youths from Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Ivory Coast and beyond to join the fight in Mali. According to the report, hundreds of West African children are now being transformed into armed fighters.
“They were assembled at an Islamic police building in Gao until their peers from some West African countries, such as Nigeria, Senegal and Ivory Coast, could join them. They were given heavy weapons and khaki military uniforms.” Senegalese daily, Rewmi also reported on Monday
“Here, there are Nigerians, Malians, Somalis, Ivorians, Senegalese, Ghanaians, Gambians, Mauritanians, Algerians, Guineans, Nigeriens, all the Muslims are here,” a top Islamic leader was quoted by the newspaper as saying in Mali. The implication of that development for Nigeria is that many new tested and trained jihadists are being groomed in the Sahel and if the Islamists are flushed out, the nation may reap another influx of Afghanistan-like fighters. Northern Mali is threatening to become an Afghanistan for jihadists across Africa.
The most worrisome of it all is the renewed threats from the Malian Al-qaeda which has openly threatened Nigeria and Senegal over the planned deployment of troops to Mali. While Nigeria is already targeted going by discovery of Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb cells in northern Nigeria, the new ECOWAS plan has raised the stake.
Dakar daily, Le Quotidian, was quoted as having reported recently that “intelligence services have learned of specific threats of attacks on Senegal by this armed Islamist organisation which claims to represent Al-Qaeda. It now regards Senegal as a hostile country as the latter has decided to send troops to Mali as part of the ECOWAS mission in Mali (MICEMA),” the paper added.
“Senegal and Nigeria are the two countries that will provide the largest numbers of men for MICEMA and that’s because they form the backbone of the ECOWAS Standby Force,” Senegalese journalist, Mamadou Diallo, was quoted as having noted.
“MICEMA is made up of 3,270 men and the rules governing its deployment in Mali were decided in Abidjan on Saturday, June 16th by Standby Force officials during an emergency meeting of the Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff of the armies of the member states of ECOWAS to discuss the situation in Mali,” Diallo said.
Here in Nigeria, opinions differ on the Mali mission. Since the Federal Government confirmed its readiness to deploy for the Mali mission, critics have cried aloud as to how a government incapable of taming Islamists at home could venture into such mission abroad. The feeling was that the government should concentrate on taming the insurgency at home before taking on additional responsibility abroad.
As rational as the above appears, it may not have taken into account the complex inter-relationship and inter-connectivity of the trans-national terrorists or jihadists network.Within the security establishment, the Mali mission cannot be avoided as Nigeria remains the main military power within the ECOWAS sub-region. Nigeria boycotting the mission will spell its failure before its commencement. In any case, backing out may signal capitulation to threats from the Malian Islamists, a prospect no government would want to contemplate.
1. Sambo Dasuki, National Security Adviser 2.Lamine Cisse, former Senegalese Chief of Army Staff 3. Macky Sall, Senegalese President 4. Acting President Dioncounda Traore, Mali
The second reason some security experts cited is the short and long term danger of allowing an Islamic fundamentalist country to emerge from northern Mali. Such a possibility is seen as likely to strengthen insurgency in Nigeria as the Sahel would provide a base for resources and spiritual motivation. If jihadists are already collaborating from Nigeria across the Sahel, then the collaboration cannot but blossom if an Islamic government is to emerge in Northern Mali. Nigeria‘s participating in the ECOWAS mission is thus seen from the domestic point of view as a strategic move to cut off supply lines to domestic jihadists in Nigeria.
Findings, however, showed that Nigeria‘s involvement in Mali may throw up some diplomatic challenges. For some time, Nigeria is reported to be without a Sahel policy as the nation largely focuses on West Africa as its backyard to be secured at all cost. In the same way Nigeria coveted West Africa, so does Algeria also regards the Sahel as its zone of influence.
It is for this reason that Algeria has always opposed the deployment of foreign forces and the same reason why the North African nation has spearheaded the formation of a Sahel Military Command involving Niger, Mauritania, Mali and Algeria itself. That command, with headquarters in Algeria, has, however, not resolved on a military action against the Malian rebels. How Algeria will take the coming of an ECOWAS force at her backyard is still a matter of conjecture.
Nigeria‘ terrorists challenge has thus moved beyond its borders and has graduated to be part of a larger global anti-terror movement. This therefore places Nigeria inside possible terror targets not just from Boko Haram but from other affiliated groups. That new status also complicates the drive to tackle the domestic conflict as it has assumed an international dimension.
Security experts, however, believe that Nigeria has done the right thing and is living up to expectations. ECOWAS intervention “should not be put off any longer” in the opinion of the former Chief of Staff of the Senegalese Army and former UN Special Envoy for West Africa, General Lamine Cisse, who was reported by Dakar daily Le Quotidian as also stressing the importance of “the quality of the necessary intelligence before troops are sent to northern Mali.
As Nigeria is likely to be a top contributor to the mission, the Senegalese General‘s advice also appear very apt:”When it comes to combat, it’s not just numbers that matter. The enemy’s capacities and resources also matter. For this reason, an accurate assessment of the situation on ground is vital before troops are sent in, especially because there are MNLA rebels who are claiming land and jihadists who have a completely different agenda. That complicates matters,” the former general said.
General Cisse also gave the following advice: “These armed groups must be cut off from the population by fostering economic development in the region and meeting people’s basic needs. This can stop them coming into contact with the enemy, who will be seeking local assistance, if only to hide. This brings the risk of urban guerrilla warfare. If that is to be avoided, intelligence is essential.
“The secret services must gather as much intelligence as they can: numbers of men, the type of weapons they have, the number of vehicles, arms caches, and their relationship with local communities. We need to know what’s out there on the other side“, Cisse concluded.
If Cisse‘s advice serves the mission‘s interest, anti-terrorism experts locally and internationally are also proposing certain measures that may lessen the severity of the nation‘s new status on the global jihadist map. Such include deliberate efforts to rebuild elite consensus, renewed focus on addressing national economic imbalance, concerted move to engender good governance, extensive retraining and expansion of security forces and opening of the political process to IslamistS as was done in Egypt and other North African nations.
For now, Algeria and other veterans of counter –terror war may welcome Nigeria to this new discomforting club.Tribune