President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, used the opportunity of a virtual meeting with the United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, to seek foreign assistance for Nigeria’s multiple battles with terrorists and bandits. The call for international help is long overdue, considering the fact that 11 years into the fight against Boko Haram and nine years into the military’s efforts to flush out bandits and kidnappers, these non-state actors have continued to wax stronger instead of diminishing. Nigeria should have solicited foreign assistance since a decade ago.
However, asking the US to relocate its Africa High Command (AFRICOM) from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa revealed that Buhari did not do his homework before putting the request across to Blinken. Buhari had said, “… considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel, it underscores the need for the United States to consider re-locating AFRICOM Headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa and near the theatre of operations.”
If the president’s speech writers had done thorough research, they would have realized that the US has a location in Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier, and that AFRICOM’s war-fighting activities are ongoing in Mauritania, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Niger Republic, and even neighbouring Chad. It is difficult to place the significance of moving AFRICOM’s headquarters to Africa. The call by the president was also a major foreign policy shift, as previous presidents had kicked against similar moves to bring foreign troops into Nigeria. What Nigeria needs is help, not the active participation of any American force in our territory.
As it were, every country fighting the kind of war facing Nigeria needs multilateral and multidimensional support. Europe, for instance, has a multinational force under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to combat threats to member countries. Chad also received support from France to clip the wings of Tuareg militia, known for their extraordinary fighting force. Boko Haram and other bandits engage the services of Tuareg militia to invade Nigeria and wreak havoc from North to South. Apart from the activities of AFRICOM, several Francophone countries like Burkina Faso, Mali, Cameroon, and Niger Republic receive help from France to battle terrorists. But, in a show of national pride, Nigeria has not deliberately sought foreign support to deal with the current existential challenges. Even the Multi-National Joint Task Force, a supposed West African fighting force, has been mismanaged.
The first step Nigeria must take in seeking foreign assistance is to clearly define, examine, categorize, and forecast the ramifications of the current wars and come up with what is needed to deal a deadly blow to it. Apart from fighting them headlong, many strategies by government and the military to deal with terrorists have failed to tame these non-state actors, not even amnesty, negotiation, rehabilitation, and suspected ransom payments have quenched their fire.
We call on government to seek support in several areas. First is modern technology that would help in intelligence information gathering. It beats the imagination that in this era that technology has reduced the world to a global village, bandits or terrorists could occupy Lake Chad region or some forest within Nigeria and keep students for over a month, negotiating ransom with parents and cruelly shedding the blood of some of them. Yet, Nigeria has no technological know-how to track them down. Nigeria should seek foreign help from its other strategic partners to acquire such technology needed primarily to uncover those who hide in Nigeria’s geographical space to terrorize the people.
Another support that Nigeria could ask for include that of training Nigerian soldiers to fight this much-talked-about asymmetrical warfare. There are countries that have fought terrorists to a standstill, like Algeria, who could help with such training. Also, Nigeria needs logistical support with vehicles that could help troops move through sandy routes or minefields. The country needs a lot of weapons, and many of the country’s strategic partners – US, UK, Russia, Turkey, China, etc – have them in surplus. It is not a hidden fact that in dealing with these partners their interests must be taken care of, but such interests could be accommodated through deft negotiations and lobbying. Nigeria cannot defeat Boko Haram and bandits on the crest of national pride by fighting the battle alone.