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The visit of Idriss Deby to Nigeria

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President Muhammadu Buhari (right), welcoming President Idriss Deby Itno of Chad to the Presidential Villa in Abuja… PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

Sir: The visit of Idriss Deby of Chad to President Muhammadu Buhari could not have come at a better time. We may recall that it was him that personally led Chadian troops sometime last year to pursue Boko Haram insurgents out of his territory to the fringes of Lake Chad basin bordering our Northeast region, which our then COAS had promised but failed to root them out of the region. This same man has come this time, with suggestions on invigorating the joint operations task force of the embattled four countries as well as recharging Lake Chad.

This is evidence of a serious-minded leader with intent on ending this lingering mindless insurgency. Due to Sahara Desert encroachment and the devastating drought of the 1970s/80s which turned the hitherto most fertile Sahelian region and Lake Chad basin into arid land, the continuous shrinking of Lake Chad from a 22000sq km water mass to a tiny 1500sq km oasis has given rise to all sorts of criminality by its displaced over 30 million population that depend on the basin for their livelihood. The nomadic herdsmen from the entire Sahel region and fishermen from Chad, Central African Republic, Cameroun and Nigeria that operated flourishing businesses began to migrate to other regions to try to eke out a living.

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However, the painful aspect of this disaster is that various governments watched the Lake shrink over a period of five decades while continuing to dwell on rhetoric. The only remarkable effort was a feasibility study carried out in 1984 with only Nigeria providing insignificant $5 million for a project that was estimated to cost over $40 million then to pump water from the River Ubangi tributary of the Congo River to recharge the lake. It was expected to also resuscitate the irrigation schemes within the basin and replenish the water channels for adequate water supply for the citizens/farmers.

Furthermore, here lies the real solution to the herder/farmer crisis that has turned the hitherto peaceful Fulani herdsmen to bandits in their bid to grab lands for grazing and residence. Rather than address this issue head on, government had tried to establish Rugas, cattle colony, grazing reserves, only to raise suspicion that its main intention was a surreptitious attempt to alter existing demographics and relocate the displaced Fulani to fertile lands in the Middle Belt and Southern regions, where it is believed that having been rendered homeless by these natural disasters, their invasion of farmlands is no longer only about greener pasture but homelands to reside in.

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Most importantly, therefore, this visit by Deby is very welcome and a call to action. The four most affected countries must re-strategise to commence the immediate recharging of Lake Chad. It is a project that requires massive funding. Apart from coordinated provision of own resources, donor agencies, the UN and international communities should be approached to assist.

Boko Haram and ISIS having turned a natural disaster to a religious war and intent on establishing Islamic state in the region must be flushed out to allow the ancestral occupants of the basin to return to their homes.
Patrick Onwochei lives in Asaba, Delta State.

Getting the Lake Chad recharged for commerce to flourish again and enable herders graze their cattle within their natural habitat is part of the needed strategy to defeat the insurgents and restore peace to the region and Nigeria. Buhari should now take up the initiative to accomplish what Deby has started.

Patrick Onwochei lives in Asaba, Delta State.

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