Nigeria has not solicited enough help from willing nations to curb insurgency
• Withdrawal Of Chadian Troops, A Manifestation Of French-driven International Politics
• Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Under Buhari Has No Strategy, Focus
Former Director-General, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, and President/Director General, Bolytag Centre for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies (BOCIDASS), Lagos, Prof Bola A. Akinterinwa, in this interview with GBENGA SALAU, provided perspectives to the fight against in the North East pointing out that the country has not solicited enough help from willing nations to defeat Boko Haram and their affiliates. The former special assistant to the ministers of interior and foreign affairs also claimed that the withdrawal of Chadian soldiers was a manifestation of French-driven international politics.
Is the international community committed enough to help Nigeria tackle Boko Haram?
YOUR question is a bit difficult to answer, because of the difficulty in measuring commitment. In other words, when is commitment considered adequate or inadequate, enough or not enough? The words, ‘committed enough’ necessarily implies that there is an implicit commitment. The issue to address is the determination of the extent of such commitment in ultimately deciding whether or not the commitment is enough.
In this regard, one possible determinant of the extent of the commitment is to investigate the actions or inaction of the international community in its multilateral sense (the United Nations), international community in its plurilateral sense, that is, ECOWAS, ECCAS, EU etc), as well as the international community in its bilateral sense (Nigeria-Niger, Nigeria-Cameroon, etc). In whichever sense we may want to espy the extent of commitment, it can be rightly posited that a commitment can be considered to be enough if the objective of a given commitment is achieved. Commitment is always to an objective. If the objective is attained, it can be assumed that the attainment is a resultant of commitment, and for that matter, enough commitment. It is important to note that factors of accident and luck can also explain success. The Boko Haram can make a serious strategic miscalculation, leading to its defeat and not necessarily from attacks by the Nigerian military.
With this background, the commitment of the international community can either be argued to be enough or not enough, depending on how it is looked at. It is enough from the perspective that it requires all its member-states to nip terrorism in all its ramifications in the bud, hence a holistic approach. The implication of a comprehensive approach is at the level of an individual member state. Is any of Nigeria’s limitrophe countries showing enough commitment? Is the ECOWAS showing enough commitment? Thus, if the international community is not showing enough commitment, it is not the United Nations as a body corporate that should be held responsible for the inadequacy of such commitment.
This observation cannot but be so because it is on record that the United Nations has adopted several resolutions on the need to combat extremism in whatever manifestation it takes. It condemns violence and use of terror in inter and intrastate relations. The case of the Boko Haram cannot, therefore, be an exception.
For instance, the United Nations has encouraged the documentation of all Boko Haram affected areas with the ultimate objective of giving assistance. The United Nations Office of Central Africa (UNOCA) is made to collaborate with the United Nations Office of West Africa and Sahel (UNOWAS) in seeking solutions to the problem of Boko Haram insurgency.
In fact, on June 15, 2014, the President of the United Nations Security Council, urged the Council to find an enduring solution to the terrorists’ threats, a call that led to the adoption of a regional strategy at the 41st Ministerial Session of the UN Standing Advisory Committee, on November 26, 2015. The regional strategy is to combat not only terrorism but also the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. If we do consider these factors, it can be rightly posited that the United Nations has shown enough commitment.
On the contrary, if we consider some critical challenges with which the United Nations has been faced, it will also be compelling to admit that enough has not really been enough. For instance, there is the question of what constitutes terrorism, as distinct from the use of violence to resist foreign domination. Saudi Arabia is on record to have submitted that terrorism is in conflict with the principles of Islam while admitting that there is still the need to differentiate between people resisting foreign occupation and oppression from criminal terrorists.
Additionally, Brazil once argued that racism, xenophobia, and homophobia can also lead to the expression of violent extremism. Therefore, the problem, in this case, is that the ambiguity in the conception of terrorism does, and cannot really allow for full commitment to the battle against the use of terror.
My view, speaking generally, is that the UN can be rightly seen to have shown enough commitment by the mere fact that it shows readiness to fight terror, and not enough commitment in light of UN systemic impediments. In other words, the maintenance of peace and security in the world is basically the responsibility of the United Nations Security Council. Besides, when there is the need for any international operation, the applicable principle is always that of ‘free willing states,’ that is, countries that are willing to be involved and that have the capacity. Consequently, when talking about enough commitment of the international community, we are, in actual fact, talking about the commitment of the great powers, the P-5 of the UNSC. This is my view.
But has Nigeria done enough soliciting for external help to tackle the insurgency?
As noted earlier in my response to your first question, the notion of the international community can have a multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral connotation. Plurilaterally and multilaterally, Nigeria can be seen to have solicited enough external help, not necessarily on the basis of Nigeria’s own self-efforts, but because other countries have common interests in also fighting an insurgency. The truth is that Nigeria’s foreign policy, under President Muhammadu Buhari, is at best, good for nothing, because it has no strategic focus. It only reacts to the foreign policy of others. Perhaps, most disturbingly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of today is no longer that of foreign service officers, but that of public service officers, who generally are not trained in the art of diplomatic negotiation that would have prompted the consideration of soliciting external help.
This is why Nigeria does not appear to have engaged internationally on the basis of one-on-one, or bilateralism to seek external help in combating Boko Haram insurgency. Perhaps, we should ask at this juncture what constitutes external help. Is the African Union external to Nigeria? Is the ECOWAS external to Nigeria? By virtue of Nigeria’s membership of both organisations, if the regional and continental organisations support Nigeria in the struggle against terrorism, what type of external help should Nigeria be seeking again?
The truth of the matter, simply put, is that Nigeria cannot be rightly said to have solicited enough help if we go by how many countries of the world are free willing to assist Nigeria beyond the expression of moral support. When the United States expressed willingness to support Nigeria and Nigeria expressed the wish to buy and acquire some US relevant weapons, the United States refused to sell the required arms, arguing that it did not want the terrorists to have access to the technology of such weapons.
In other words, it is believed that the Nigerian military might be careless, or that if the holder of the weapon is killed and his weapon is taken away, what happens? More interesting, when Nigeria turned towards South Africa to acquire the same weapons under US licence, the Washingtonian authority again blocked it. The critical point of observation is that the quest for external help becomes meaningless and unnecessary when the government of Nigeria is asking for a particular help, but what the helper wants to give is not consistent with what is wanted.
And perhaps, more interestingly, there is nothing to suggest that, even if Nigeria has made considerable efforts to garner support against the Boko Haram, such request for help would be truly granted. First, why should anyone expect arms manufacturers to seek peace or support anti-Boko Haram?
Second, why should anyone expect that state terrorism stakeholders would want to provide external help? Third, we should also ask the extent to which the government of Nigeria is not helping itself enough in the war against Boko Haram terror?
I believe, and strongly too, that the government is the only one fighting the insurgents. The generality of the people is not carried along, and therefore, external help cannot be forthcoming when Nigeria is not on record to be helping itself. In fact, which country will want to offer help when the Buhari-led administration is not only believed to be aiding and abetting the use of terror by the herdsmen in the acquisition of grazing land but also is not seen to be doing enough in the face of the alleged killing of Christians by Muslims.
Nigerians believe, rightly or wrongly that Buhari is very clannish in the political governance of Nigeria. People complain, but Buhari does not bother. It is against this background that external help, enough or not, should be explained and understood. The common saying is that heaven helps those who help themselves.
Could you shed more light on the implications of the withdrawal of Chadian troops?
The coming of the Chadian troops to Nigeria, in the first instance, as a result of international politics. It should be recalled that for the purposes of containing the insurgents in the North East, a Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) was set up. The MNJTF comprises Nigeria and all her immediate neighbours; Benin Republic, Niger Republic, Chad, and Cameroon. Its origin dates back to 1994. The official headquarters of the MNJTF was located in Chad, and its main mandate is to put an end to the existence of the Boko Haram. A Nigerian, Major General C.O. Ude has been the commander of the multi-national force.
Thus, the MNJTF is necessarily an instrument of international politics.
Secondly, two reasons also appear to suggest that international politics was responsible for Chad’s withdrawal of its 1, 200 troops. The first is that the government of Nigeria is always claiming that it is winning the war against the Boko Haram, while the Chadians and other stakeholders believe that the resistance of the Boko Haram is toughening. Besides, in the eyes of Chadians, their participation in the joint exercise of containment is tenured and that their withdrawal is as a result of the expiration of the agreement that brought them into it.
It should also not be forgotten that Nigeria and the limitrophe countries have a cooperation framework within the context of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and that it is within this same framework that the countries came together to assist in the fight against Boko Haram, in North East of Nigeria.
The other reason is that the MNJTF started in 1994 exclusively as a Nigerian force. The mandate was then limited to the containment of banditry and facilitation of free movement of both goods and people. When insecurity became critical in 1998, with many common cross-border problems being raised, troops from Niger and Chad were included to address cross-border problems in the Lake Chad and the operational capital was located at Baga, in Borno State. It was when the activities of the Boko Haram and other jihadists became more problematic that, in 2012, the mandate of the MNJTF was redefined to include anti-terrorism. Indisputably, therefore, the joining of, and the withdrawing from the multinational force cannot, but be an exercise within the framework of international politics.
The withdrawal of the Chadian troops might have been also informed by international politics when considering the French connection as a factor. It should be remembered here that the Africa Liberation Vanguard, a civil society organisation, a group of war veterans of Nigerian origin and with membership in more than 50 countries in Africa, went to demonstrate in front of the Consulate of France, in Lagos on December 9, 2019.
The objective of the public demonstration was to protest against alleged French support for Boko Haram. France was accused by the Chairman of the Africa Liberation Vanguard, Mr. David Samuel, and the Publicity Secretary to the group, Mr. Ayodeji Oladogun, of meddling in the domestic affairs of Nigeria, and also aiding Boko Haram insurgency. In fact, the protesters gave a 21-day ultimatum to France to stop meddling in the domestic questions of Nigeria. Rather than aiding and abetting the insurgency, the protesters wanted France to assist in the stoppage of resources to the insurgents.
It is a truism to suggest here that Chad was a former colony of France and that the ties between the Republic of Chad and France are very warm. Chad belongs geo-politically to the Central Africa region, where there are more Francophone countries, and where the French influence is quite strong. All the other members of the MNJTF are in the West African region, where French influence is also not only strong, but is also competing with Nigeria’s influence.
If France was accused of sponsoring terrorism in Africa with the ultimate objective of economic exploitation, and if France is given an ultimatum, by the Africa Liberation Vanguard, supporters of France in Africa, like Chad, are, by so doing, also given the same ultimatum. The withdrawal of Chadian troops is not only that of solidarity but also that of international politics. The withdrawal of Chadian troops cannot but be a direct manifestation of a French-driven international politics.
Some Nigerians reportedly fled some of the areas that the Chadian soldiers withdrew from. Is it as a result of the loss of faith in the Nigerian military strength; how do you see and view the fret?
It is normal for any normal person, or body corporate to fret when there is evidence of a weakening factor. It is generally believed that unity is strength, while disunity weakens. The withdrawal of Chadian troops, about 1, 200 of them, necessarily reduces the size of the multinational force. The number of arms is reduced. The territorial scope of attacks by the Boko haram insurgents is also necessarily reduced, implying that Boko Haram will be strengthened to the detriment of the Nigerian military. The implications of this development cannot be far-fetched.
First, the Chadian withdrawal from a multinational task force set up to suppress terrorism in Africa, beginning with the Nigerian case, clearly shows the bleak future of continental integration and cooperation, especially when it is believed that such withdrawal is linked to French connection. You may wish to recall here the politics of the recent position of Francophone West Africa on the adoption of a regional currency, the Eco, at the level of ECOWAS efforts at the monetary union.
Secondly, the hope in the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement also has the potential to be dashed if member-states of the African Union will be dilly-dallying in matters relating to their survival at the militaro-industrial, socio-political, and economic-cultural levels. The truth here is that the Boko Haram has been factionalised and is also operating in the neighbouring countries of Nigeria. When cases of hot pursuit by the Nigerian military arise, the insurgents do escape to the neighbouring countries and vice versa. Consequently, it is in the self-enlightened interest of the neighbouring countries to collectively have the Boko Haram completely neutralised. If Nigeria wants an African environment that is free from insecurity and the people of Chad cannot quickly see the beauty in it, Nigeria cannot but be right to fret.
Third, the withdrawal of Chadian troops creates more burden for the Nigerian military. The situation can be likened to the life of a married couple. When married, the family burden is shared. When one spouse is lost, the burden is left to be carried by the only surviving spouse. This is precisely the situation with Chad and the rest of the MNJTF. In this regard, for instance, Chad allegedly withdrew in the belief that the tenure of the guiding agreement of the MNJTF has expired, and that it is waiting for a fresh accord to define the conditionality of future involvement. What if the Boko Haram decides to carry the battle into the doorsteps of the people of Chad? How will the Chadian government cope with the situation?
There was the time of internal strife in Chad and Nigeria had to play host to the negotiations aimed at the peaceful resolution of the civil war. In fact, the peace accords, Kano I, Kano II, etc., were all done in Nigeria. It, therefore, cannot but be very myopic for the government of Chad to quickly forget that it does not have any means to choose its neighbour. France may be a neighbour of Chad by the principle of geopolitical propinquity. The truth remains that Nigeria is a territorial neighbour by the rule of geopolitical continuity, meaning that if Chad is required to make a choice, Nigeria has to be the first choice. This is where Prof. Ibrahim Gambari’s theory of foreign policy concentricism is relevant.
He argued that the innermost circle should always comprise Nigeria and all its immediate neighbours simply because the security of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is necessarily intertwined with that of its immediate neighbours. Any situation of insecurity in Nigeria can generate internal displacement, as well as the movement of refugees into the neighbouring countries. Consequently, the circumstances of the Chadian withdrawal are still shrouded in secrecy, but cannot but, be most unfortunate.
In terms of implications for the strength of the Nigerian military, the withdrawal can only compel it to re-strategise, but not affect the strength of the military. In fact, the withdrawal only gives room for the Nigerian military to be given the best training and make the Nigerian military second to none in Africa, as indicated by Buhari, in his 2020 New Year message, which was entitled, ‘Nigeria’s Decade.’
Without any shadow of a doubt, there is no disputing the fact that the Nigerian military will be psychologically weakened by the Chadian withdrawal. The withdrawal raises more risks to be contended with. It is generally argued that the insurgents appear to have better weapons than the Nigerian soldiers. The Nigerian military will, therefore, require more and greater encouragement for it to be able to meaningfully accept the challenges ahead as patriots.
The Centre for Africa Liberation and Socio-economic Rights claimed that the UN is doing little or nothing to check insurgency, by not sanctioning countries that promote and watch Boko Haram spread its ideology of senseless killings across Africa. Do you share this view, and why sir?
Sanctioning countries that promote and see the Boko Haram grow and spread its tentacles does not mean much to me. Sanctions can be meaningful if the sanctioning authority is more powerful and has more means to subdue the country affected. We may want to look at the specific cases of US sanctions against North Korea and Iran. The sanctions against North Korea are meant to frustrate the country and prevent it from developing nuclear arms, deploying them and discouraging nuclear tests. The sanctionary measures have not achieved their aims.
The same is true of sanctions against Iran. The United States, with its allies, do not want Iran to acquire any nuclear capability, especially because of Israel. They do not want a situation whereby the Arab world is able to have the capacity to subject the state of Israel to their whims and caprices. As a matter of fact, the foreign policy calculations of the United States are to curtail the regional influence of Iran in the Middle East. As a result, various US governments have been sanctioning Iran, but all have been to no avail.
You may wish to recall the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, ordinarily referred to as the Iran Nuclear Deal. It was done on July 14, 2015, adopted on October 18, 2015, and implemented on January 16, 2016. It was signed by Iran, the Five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council, Germany and the European Union. The cardinal objective was to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons by particularly preventing its non-development.
When this observation is viewed against the background of whether the United Nations is doing little, or nothing in checkmating insurgency cannot but, being a mute question. The United Nations depends largely on its member states to implement its resolutions and decisions. In fact, whenever the major funding powers of the United Nations withhold the required assessed dues to the organisation, operational activities in the area of maintenance of global peace and security are always adversely affected.
In other words, the United Nations does not always have the means to effectively sanction any erring member state without the concurrent support of the powerful willing states. If the Centre for Africa Liberation and Socio-economic Rights, claimed that the United Nations has done little or nothing in dealing with those aiding insurgency, the answer should not be simply located at the level of ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It should be explicated against the background of many questions: Which country or organisation wants to sanction a country like the United States when it engages in state terrorism that is justified within the framework of legitimate self-defence because this is what the US airstrike that killed the Iranian military strategist, Major General Qassem Soleimani amounts to?
Who sanctions Iran or Israel for their excesses? And who has the capacity to sanction any of the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council, and particularly Russia? The best that had always been done is to condemn. Sanctions are taken, but member states still come out to covertly undermine the policy sanctioning their economic or development partners.
So, for me, for as long as many countries of the world derive pleasure in the illegal activities of some other states, sanctionary measures cannot but, have limitations. And perhaps most interestingly, the effectiveness of any sanction is defined by many factors including the non-application of the rule of reciprocity; the incapacity of the country being sanctioned to respond; whether or not the sanctionary measures have a multilateral character, etc.
Consequently, in saying that the United Nations has not shown enough commitment or taken enough sanctionary measures against countries aiding and abetting insurgency, there is the need to first establish the scientific determinants so that the observation is not simply limited to the commentary level, but also taken to a more constructive analytical level. This is the way I see the issue.
What, in your view is responsible, from international politics perspective, for the United Nations sending troops to Libya, instead of Nigeria to take care of the situation in the North East?
The deployment of troops by the United Nations to any conflict spot is largely defined by the perception of the extent to which the conflict threatens the maintenance of international peace and security. Without any jot of doubt, the crisis in Libya is troubling, so is that of the Boko Haram in the context of Nigeria. In understanding the rationale behind the preferential treatment and deployment of troops to Libya and not to Nigeria, should be located in the nature of the conflicts in the two countries.
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