By Charles Ibekwe
In spite of the gravity of any dilemma, certain actions are incompatible with national interest. And it must be stated in black and white or plainly too. A few days ago, Borno state Governor, Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum paid an official visit to the Republic of Chad, Nigeria’s conspicuously harsh neighbours.
Media reports quoted Gov. Zulum as visiting the headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena and other places in Chad. He was also at the headquarters of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, also in N’Djamena. The Governor held a closed- door parley with the MNJTF Commander over the fight against Boko Haram in Borno State.
Gov. Zulum’s visit to Chad is coming less than two months after the country pulled out its soldiers deployed to Nigeria under the auspices of MNJTF to complement Nigerian troops in fighting Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists. This clearly subversive action by Chad simultaneously upped the tempo of resurgent terrorism in the area.
Chad claimed its forces in Nigeria had completed the months of its mission in Nigeria and will not return. Colonel Azem Bermandoa of the Chadian forces said, “They have finished their mission…None of our soldiers remains in Nigeria. Those who have come back will return to their sector at Lake Chad.”
Many faulted the decision and claims by Chad on pulling out its forces from Nigeria. And the reality contradicts the claims of the Chadian Republic as evident in the resurgent Boko Haram/ISWAP attacks in Northeast. Its quite a delicate and sensitive security issue, which the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) itself is approaching with calculated steps for many reasons.
First, analysts of the Boko Haram insurgency and ISWAP terrorism posit that though MNJTF is collaborative security task force involving Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroun to checkmate Boko Haram insurgency, and that the countries agreed on terms of funding and operational creeds, only Nigeria is consistent in meeting its obligations. Niger and Chad are hesitant especially on the issue of funding of the MNJTF.
Also, while Nigeria is under the intense Boko Haram insurgency and its variant of ISWAP terrorism, Niger and Chad experience relative peace and security. Virtually all the terrorists which infiltrate Nigeria’s Northeast gain ingress into the country from Niger and Chad principally.
And since the Nigerian Army destroyed Boko Haram’s safest sanctuary- Sambisa forest, Niger and Chad have allegedly willy-nilly offered terrorists who torment Nigeria abodes of respite and recuperation. Its where they gather momentum to launch fresh attacks on Nigeria. Meanwhile, despite the existence of MNJTF, very often terrorists chased by Nigerian troops, escape unmolested once they step into Chad or Niger territories.
There are several other conspiracy theories alleging unfaithfulness of some French colonies like Chad and Niger as supporting the terrorism in Nigeria covertly or overtly because of France’s dubious interest in the crude oil reserves of the Lake Chad Basin. It is open secret that these countries are not genuinely concerned about assisting Nigeria blight the fire of terrorism. The plot of these countries to annihilate the Nigerian side of the oil-rich Lake Chad Basin, actively backed by foreign countries is very potent.
In fact, France is figured in this deal and it is alleged that with the connivance of these countries, crude oil in Nigeria’s Lake Chad territory is stealthily being explored and stolen. Part of the plans is to cause permanent insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin area, to make it impossible for Nigeria to establish structures for the exploration of her crude oil.
It explains why Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists’ atrocious acts are not only heightened, but perpetually domiciled in this area. Several Nigerian oil workers on official assignments have either been killed or abducted in the Lake Chad Basin at different times.
Added to this burden is the nightmare of trans-border trade, through the direct road linkage between Nigeria and Chad. The route has remained a main transit path for movement of illicit arms and ammunitions which service the weaponry needs of Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists. The same thing largely applies to Niger. Both countries have made very pretentious or at best, feeble attempts to curb arms smuggling into Nigeria, with adverse effects on the country.
However, much as everyone desires peace and security in Borno and other parts of the Northeast, the aforementioned issues are international in nature and involves Nigeria’s neighbours. It is beyond the official jurisdiction of a State Governor, as conveyed by Gov. Zulum’s interference and visit to Chad. A lot of Nigerians who forget experiences of history or yesterday’s lessons and its impact would impulsively dismiss those interrogating the Borno Governor’s overstretch of his duties.
But it has dire consequences for Nigeria. Gov. Zulum held a closed-door meeting with the Commander of the MNJTF, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Yusuf in N’Djamena. And speculations are rife that it is connected with the recent pullout of Chadian troops from Nigeria and the subsequent rise of insurgency attacks in the Borno State.
Despite his advertised good intentions, Gov. Zulum must realize that foreign affairs relation is an exclusive purview of the FGN. More so, when it concerns hostile neighbours whose aims and objectives in Nigeria’s war against terrorism is not defined and held suspect.
Only President Muhammadu Buhari at this material time can anchor such international discussions with another country or authorize any person to do so on his behest for Nigeria. Its not the case with Gov. Zulum’s visit to Chad. It is his personal initiative.
An official statement by the Borno state Governor’s spokesman Mallam Isa Gusau elucidated that leaders who met in Chad affirmed their resoluteness in finding peace against Boko Haram. In other words, it implies, a deal has been struck with Chadian forces in battling Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists.
The reality of the implications of Gov. Zulum’s negotiations with the Republic of Chad to come and help Nigeria fight Boko Haram will not dawn on him fully now. And most Nigerians may also blindly toe his line. Given that both Chad and Niger have criminal interest in the crude oil in the Lake Chad Basin, the case is potentially explosive and leaves loopholes for possible exploitation of Nigeria.
Zulum’s actions reminds of the Bakassi Peninsula in Cross River state, Nigeria and the Republic of Cameroun. During the Scramble for Africa, Queen Victoria signed a Treaty of Protection with the King and Chiefs of Akwa Akpa, known to Europeans as Old Calabar, on September 10, 1884. This enabled the British Empire to exercise jurisdiction over the whole territory around Calabar, including Bakassi.
The simple action was the foundation of the long-drawn dispute between Nigeria and Cameroun, which almost plunged the two countries into war and the resort to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ passed a judgement on the disputed territory on October 10, 2002 in favor of Cameroun, which ceded Bakassi to the Southern part of Cameroun. The case is popular and the rest has become history.
Gov. Zulum’s recent visit to Chad to negotiate assistance over fighting Boko Haram/ISWAP elements smacks of courting such trouble in the future. Much as terrorism is a reality in Nigeria and its force potent, it is not yet beyond the capacity of Nigerian soldiers to quench its torments.
The COAS and leader of the counter-insurgency operations, Lt. Gen. TY Buratai reechoed a few days ago that the Nigerian Army is capable and competent to defeat Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorism. They have done it before and can repeat same gallantry. There could be some operational grey areas in troops campaigns against terrorists in Nigeria, but they are being sorted out. Gov. Zulum’s action has gone beyond the threshold of his permissible official duties.
It is not belated for Gov. Zulum to retrace his steps. The Republic of Chad is also tethered by her own crippling internal security problems which it is still struggling to surmount. A drowning man cannot call another drowning man for assistance. Zulum should not provide the plank for Chad and its foreign allies to walk in actualizing their age-long ambition of cornering the Nigerian part of the oil-rich Lake Chad Basin.
It still baffles how Gov. Zulum thinks he can use fire to quench fire. Straightforwardly, Gov. Zulum, that meeting and negotiation with Chad to assist fighting Boko Haram is like a forbidden fruit and incompatible with Nigeria’s interest. Do not tempt the gods boldly.
Ibekwe is a public affairs analyst and wrote from NIJ, Lagos.