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Déby’s death deals huge blow to fighting insurgency, says Buhari

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The late President Idris Déby of Chad (left) with President Muhammadu Buhari in a recent visit to the State House in Abuja. FILE PHOTO


• ‘Chadian leader’s exit will expose army to more B’Haram attacks’
• Ezekwesili, NIIA DG want strict monitoring of situation in Chad

Barely a month after the death of Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, from a heart-related ailment, Africa yesterday lost another of its leaders, Chad’s President Idriss Déby, who died of injuries following clashes with rebels in the north of the country.

Déby “breathed his last defending the sovereign nation on the battlefield”, an army general said on state TV yesterday. He had gone to the front line, several hundred kilometres north of the capital N’Djamena, at the weekend to visit troops battling rebels belonging to a group calling itself Fact (the Front for Change and Concord in Chad).

He had battled for control of the country against rebels who have been advancing on N’Djamena. The Chadian military had on Monday said troops killed over 300 members of the FACT rebel group. The movement of rebels towards N’Djamena led the United Kingdom to advise its citizens to leave the country. The United States government also asked all non-essential diplomats to leave.

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The announcement by the country’s army came a day after provisional results of the April 11 presidential election projected Déby would win a sixth term in office. The government and parliament have immediately been dissolved, a curfew has also been imposed and the borders have been shut.

Déby, 68, spent more than three decades in power and was one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders. An army officer by training, he came to power in 1990 through an armed uprising.

A military council led by Déby’s son, 37-year-old four star general, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itmo will govern for the next 18 months. He now becomes Africa’s youngest head of state. He will lead the council but “free and democratic” elections will be held once the transition period is over, the army said in its statement.

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari, in his reaction yesterday, said the death of Chadian leader Déby will create a vacuum in the efforts to eliminate terrorism. Expressing sadness over his sudden and tragic death on the frontline fighting against rebel soldiers, Buhari said: “The late Deby had played a very active role in our regional joint collaboration in the military campaign against the Boko Haram terrorists.”

He noted that the death of the Chadian leader would “create a big vacuum in the efforts to jointly confront the Boko Haram terrorists and the Islamic State West Africa Province.” He said: “I’m deeply shocked and devastated by the sudden death of Idriss Déby on the battlefront to defend the sovereignty of his country.”

Buhari described the late leader “as a friend of Nigeria who had enthusiastically lent his hand in our efforts to defeat the murderous Boko Haram terrorists that have posed grave security challenges not only for Nigeria, but also our African neighbours, particularly Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic.”

While condoling with the people of Chad and their new leader, Buhari, in a statement issued by Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, called for greater collaboration to defeat the terrorists.

The president had only on Monday expressed shock and sadness at the latest unrest in Chad, where at least 55 people were killed and more than 40 got injured when ethnic groups in the South Eastern Region of Salamat clashed last week.

Also, the slain Chadian leader had visited Nigeria on March 27, days before his country’s presidential election. During the one-day visit, he was received by Buhari at the State House House in Abuja, where both leaders discussed bilateral issues, including the security challenges of the insurgency around their nations’ borders and the threat posed to about 30 million people by the shrunken Lake Chad.

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THE death of Deby is bad for the Nigerian Army in the Lake Chad area, as the Boko Haram insurgents now have a larger stronghold to launch more violent attacks on military troops and bases, a report by SB Morgen Intelligence, has stated.

The SB Intel report released yesterday added that the security situation already in Damasak and Dikwa, two Borno towns close to the Chadian border, is dangerous at the moment and has forced humanitarian agencies and workers to flee the towns, making them more vulnerable.

The African-focused research firm, in its April 2021 report, stated that the Nigerian military now has a lot more work to do in the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) headquartered in Baga, Kukawa Local Government Area of Borno, monitoring the Lake Chad region, because despite consisting of four countries, only Nigeria and Chad are the only active combatants.

The SB Intel report said: “Geographically, Chad is at the heart of a number of conflicts in West and Central Africa. To its west, Déby had been a key ally for Nigeria in its fight against Boko Haram. The MNJTF operation, which was supposed to include cooperation with Niger, Cameroon and Chad, ended up being a largely Nigerian operation with input from only the Chadian army.

“Chadian forces were largely restricted within the country’s borders, with the bulk of the fighting in Lake Chad done by the Nigerian military. For Nigeria, Déby’s death is not good news as the battle-hardened Chadian Army has been the only effective check on Boko Haram. While his son, Mahamat Déby Itno is at the moment the de-facto head of the military council, there is no clear successor to Déby as he was effectively the state.

“The 37-year old Mahamat Déby has been a military brat all his life and has limited administrative or political experience. A succession battle, which is almost certain, would mean that the insurgents will have no worries about their flanks and can attack the Nigerian Army at will.

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“This will likely mean the consolidation of the Lake Chad Basin as a staging area for the insurgents from where to launch attacks on towns and military bases. Already, the security situation in Damasak and Dikwa, Nigerian towns close to the Chadian border, has become untenable, forcing UN staff to suspend humanitarian operations.”

The report said the passing away of Deby leaves a “big gap” in Nigeria, that is likely to have a profound impact on its security. “This opens a brand new challenge – Nigeria either steps up in the region and ensures peace both within its borders and in this huge arc of instability, or the strip of relative stability in Southern Nigeria will be engulfed by the collapse of Chad.

“The growing external instability around Nigeria will soon become existential, and based on precedents, Deby’s passing would be blamed (by the Nigerian government) on any reversal of progress in the fight against Boko Haram in the Northeast,” it added.

Just as the vote counting continued in Chad before yesterday’s development, a report had earlier said the results of the ballots would have substantial economic and security implications on Nigeria. The report, published by SB Morgan, titled ‘Shrinking Spaces: What elections in Benin and Chad could mean for the region,’ stated that the elections in Benin and Chad hold potential implications for Nigeria.

According to the report, for Chad, the results of its presidential election will have an influence on the fight against insurgency in Chad, while for Benin, it is trade with Nigeria.

“Like Nigeria, Chad is also battling insurgency unleashed by the Boko Haram terrorist group. There have also been concerted efforts to fight the terrorists, but not much has been achieved as the sect continues to invade the porous boundaries of both nations.

Already, Nigeria’s military has raised its alert level following the death of Déby. Violence had erupted in Chad following the conduct of presidential elections on April 11 with the incursion of rebel forces based in Libya.  

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The rebels were headed in the direction of Chad’s capital, N’Djamena. According to military intelligence sources, Nigerian Army has raised its alert level in preparation for a possible escalation of crisis in the region.  

Also, Prof Eghosa Osaghae, former Vice Chancellor of Igbinedion University who was last week appointed Director-General of Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), said Deby’s death will open a new chapter in Chad-implicated terrorism across the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin and Central Africa.

“With the death of the president, troops might be withdrawn from border line down to the capital to ensure tight security reducing the guards on duty in border. There may be large influx of rebels/insurgents from Chad to Nigeria or large influx of rebels/insurgents from Nigeria to Chad as a result of the relaxed border. It is really a complex situation. His death calls for maximum alertness,” he said.

Speaking in same vein, former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, has advised President Buhari and security operatives in the country to monitor the situation in Chad, stressing that the country is one of the weakest links of vulnerability to Nigeria’s security.

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