Abuja 2016: Turning point for Lake Chad region?
The tone and tenor of speeches of Heads of State and government at the Regional Security Summit hosted on Saturday by President Muhammadu Buhari suggest that the countries in the Lake Chad region are looking beyond the Boko Haram terrorism.
Smart leaders they are, they didn’t present themselves back-slapping each other in a congratulatory mood over the enormous feat they have accomplished in the last ten or so months, substantially reducing the terrorist threats in the region to the point of being described as a mopping up operation.
They were conscious of the fact the Chibok Girls have not been found. No success can be declared in this war without the girls being found and reunited with their families.
In addition, the world has come a long way since Gorge W. Bush stood there atop the ship “Abraham Lincoln” being saluted by the flight deck crew to read a speech announcing an end to the Iraq war. “The 2003 Mission Accomplished” banner dominated the background as he spoke. But with hindsight, the world knows that the war against Iraq is still work in progress.
The then American President, George Bush was to say to a CNN interviewer a few years later that he regretted the outlandish display. In November 2008 specifically, Bush indicated that he regretted the use of the banner, stating that it conveyed the wrong message.
There are many who believe that the United States is still paying a price for that massive public relations failure.In all probability, the world would have benefited more from the leaders if the summiteers in Abuja had to say everything on the war situation as it enters its end in their territories but they, instead, chose to dwell on the promise of the future and what can be done to steer the economy and humanitarian situation into better times.
While acknowledging the progress so far made, the summiteers who included French President Francois Hollande, Nigeria’s Buhammadu Buhari and ten other African Presidents, prime ministers and delegates concluded that defeating Boko Haram Terrorist Group will require a sustained comprehensive approach based on clear and coordinated plans of engagement at the regional level. Such an approach, they said, must confront challenges relating to effective security operations, providing civilian security and civil administration, restoring stability, and promoting economic development and job creation to break the cycle of violence in all countries where Boko Haram is active.
Among other things, they recommended the enlistment of local community and religious leaders as constantly hammered on by President Buhari; increased intelligence sharing; the prioritization of the public education system and sparing no effort in the continuing search for the Chibok schoolgirls and all those abducted by Boko Haram by pooling intelligence resources.
The leaders also agreed to support the victims of sexual violence or forced marriage by Boko Haram, and the need to provide them with appropriate support including reintegration to communities; that defeating the insurgency requires more than a Military solution but that it also requires government-led development action to tackle the root causes of insurgency in the Lake Chad Basin through the development of education and economic opportunities.
The summit agreed to address the humanitarian situation affecting millions of IDPs, refugees and host communities in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The critical situation of the inhabitants of the newly liberated towns and villages was also adjudged to be very pathetic. The summit agreed to provide and rehabilitate facilities in the devastated towns and villages with a view to creating conditions for citizens to live without fear of violence and return to conventional life and called for additional support from the international community. They, in addition, took special note of the 20,000 unaccompanied children (below the age of 18 years) displaced by the conflict and over 6000 minors, under the age of five years, and agreed to work together with international organisations to reunite those children with their families.
One other major step toward a lasting solution towards permanent peace in the region is identified as coming through the acceleration, specifically within three (3) years, of the implementation of the Lake Chad Development and Climate Resilience Action Plan as presented on the margins of COP21 in Paris in consultation with communities of the Lake Chad. It is hoped that the accelerated implementation of the Action Plan would go along way in bringing development to the Lake Chad Basin.
As a matter of fact, the summit blamed the impact of climate change for the unemployment and crime in the region and urged the LCBC and other willing partners to pursue the goal of inter-basin water transfer project with a view to restoring its normal level, mitigating drought, re-establishing fishery, irrigation and navigation.
For Nigeria in particular, the period of the summit was used to receive an important visitor described as a friend of Africa, Francois Hollande who, in a literal sense killed two birds one stone. He engaged his host, President Buhari in a bilateral meeting in the early part of the day and in the afternoon, joined the other leaders at the summit. The two presidents reviewed the activities of the Multinational Joint Task Force, MNJTF and the progress made since the Climate Change agreement, COP 21 in Paris. President Hollande gave commitment to Nigeria on the resettlement of IDPs as well as his continuing support towards the reestablishment of full security in the Lake Chad region. Five agreements were signed between the Nigerian parties and their French partners.
A cultural agreement and a scientific and technical agreement were signed by government ministers. Dangote Group’s Dansa Foods Limited signed an agreement with the French company Nutriset for the production of nutritional foods in the North East. The state development commission, AFD of France signed two credit agreements with the Ministry of Finance and one with Zenith Bank for amounts that were not disclosed.
In the margins of the security summit, the President also received in audience and at their request, Presidents Macky Sall of Senegal, Patrice Talon of Benin and Idris Deby Itno of Chad.
The President also had audiences with the British Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Rt. Hon. Phillip Hammond, the U.S Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the Deputy President of the European Union Ms Federica Moghereni.
President Macky Sall raised concerns about the need for the emergence of a good candidate for the Chairmanship of the soon-to-be vacant African Union Commission in view of the decision of Mrs. Zuma not to run for a second term. He told President Buhari that his country has such a capable candidate.
He also raised an issue concerning the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.President Patrice Talon seemed very keen to strengthen the very warm and friendly relations he met on the ground between his country and Nigeria. He intends to pay a State visit to this country in the shortest possible time.
President Deby Itno gave important news about some Boko Haram hideouts on the border between our countries against which Chadian troops will soon to be tackling.
He was also interested in promoting a railway line linking Nigeria and Chad.
Right Hon. Philip Hammond had a lengthy time with President Buhari, their discussions spanning a wide range of issues including, of course Boko Haram, the reconstruction of the damaged infrastructure, the insecurity in the Niger Delta, corruption and the issue of population growth in the country.
Although this summit also discussed a yet-to-be fixed donors conference on the rebuilding of the LBCD areas, the EU brought the good news of the plan to spend 140 million Euros in that regards in the next five years.
The EU also announced a plan to spend 40 million Euros in the reconstruction of the Northeast. The US promised an immediate return of Nigeria’s stolen350 million Dollars held up their country. China, the African Development Bank,ADB, the Islamic Development Bank, IDB, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, IMF have all pledged various contributions they will be making.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s just-concluded Regional Security Summit, which was the second after the initial one by President Hollande in Paris two years ago, has produced a communiqué unprecedented in terms of the strong words used and the space devoted to fighting terrorism, post-conflict resettlement and rehabilitation as well as ways of bringing social and economic justice, growth and development to a battered part of Africa.
It also unveiled an expansive security cooperation agenda that binds the West and Central African states to their U.S., European and Asian partners towards a lasting peace, itself a prerequisite for progress and development in the region and the continent. In spite of the foot dragging by some participants, President Buhari’s key takeaways will include a benign consent to a partnership of the willing to recharge the Lake Chad with waters from rivers in Central Africa.
On account of these milestones, the leaders had no hesitation is agreeing to make the Regional Security Summit a regular one.
•Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media and Publicity)