The Goodluck Jonathan administration has finally succumbed to pressure to allow the United States of America (USA) and its western allies move into Nigeria to help it rescue the abducted Chibok girls, and possibly contain Boko Haram. However, given the experiences of country’s like Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan with America’s military interventions, Ahmed I. Shekarau analyses the fears expressed in many official and unofficial circles about the ‘intrusion’ and examines the possibility of whether or not the US will make a difference here in Nigeria.
The statement put out on Tuesday from Nigeria’s seat of power, that President Jonathan has accepted a definite offer from the US government to locate and rescue the abducted schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno state, has caused more fears than respite to many anxious citizens about the desperate bid to end the ongoing insurgency by Boko Haram. According to a statement issued by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, America’s intervention offer was conveyed to Jonathan by the US Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, in a telephone conversation which began at 15.30 hours on Tuesday. “Mr. Kerry assured President Jonathan that the United States is wholly committed to giving Nigeria all required support and assistance to save the abducted girls and bring the reign of terror unleashed on parts of the country by Boko Haram to an end,” the statement said.
But instead of cheer, Jonathan, many citizens, including top government personnel are, for very good reasons, discomfited by this piece of news. To begin with, Nigeria has earned an enviable reputation in the international community through its significant contributions to various peace missions across the world. Its virtual single-handed interventions in war-torn Liberia, Sierra-Leone, as well as numerous other countries of the world where it joined global peacekeeping operations not only won it accolades but also made its military interventions as case studies in strategic martial institutions worldwide. To date, Nigeria is the sixth largest contributor to United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations across the world. This fact, no doubt, largely contributed to its swift victory in the contest for the rotational UN Security Council chairmanship, which tenure it served out last month.
The question on the lips of many citizens, therefore, is: at what point did the country degenerate to this sorry state that it has to seek help to rout out criminal elements within its own territorial boundaries? Is it a result of the decades of leadership failures that left the nation with a dysfunctional system, thereby making its globally respected military unable to cope with, and checkmate these “riff raffs” called Boko Haram fighters? Is it the corruption that is alleged to have permeated its top military hierarchy leading to interagency rivalries over who should take what from the “spoils” meant for the anti-Boko Haram war? Is it the glaring cluelessness of the current leadership that is alleged to have made its top hierarchy hostage of a few corrupt-minded elements within the government?
While concerned Nigerians ponder over the above, and several other related unanswered questions, many respected citizens still strongly object to the “incursion” of the Americans and their allies into Nigeria’s “sovereign” and “sacred” territory for some wild goose chase. It is quite obvious that many top officials of this government are also wary of this suspicious offer of “assistance” by the US and its allies. It seems too obvious that a reluctant President Jonathan succumbed to the ‘seek-foreign-help’ campaign after he was stampeded by calls from certain quarters, including some prominent opposition figures.
But immediately after Aso Rock announced its acceptance of the US offer to “help”, eminent citizens and several other voices of reason began to reflect over America’s military misadventures in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan over the past few decades, as well as the attendant damage the sullied martial actions have done to those countries. Rather than stabilising the three countries, US’s counter-insurgency left Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan even more fractured. Where it recorded relative success during the first Gulf war of 1990, America left Saddam Husseini in power resulting in his murderous campaigns on his own people. And though it went for a second time in Iraq in 2003 believing its campaign was a big armoured assault, it soon discovered that it had stumbled into a seemingly endless insurgency like the one it ultimately ventured into in Afghanistan. But as indicated above, America has left these countries much worse off than when it stepped in. And that is the primary cause of concern for many Nigerian citizens.
Are we not likely to go down the same slippery slope of a seeming endless insurgency like we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan when these Americans move into our territory? Is there any formal deal spelling out which part of the country they would be limited to, and for how long? More specifically, will the Americans voluntarily quit after the rescue of the Chibok schoolgirls? Will they truly bring in the high-tech equipment they pledged? Are they going to train our personnel on how to handle such high-tech equipment and leave them behind for our military? Another pertinent question that many are asking is: at what cost to the Nigerian economy-in terms of our oil and other resources-will this intervention be made? How much oil and other natural resources would these foreign powers demand to recompense for their human and material “sacrifices” for peace in our land?
For sure, our armed forces-army, air force and navy, as well as the police and the Department of State Services (DSS) lark the requisite technical capacity to contain Boko Haram’s atrocious acts. But, is it not possible for the US, Britain, France and China to simply empower our own personnel and allow them to deal with the problem, since the local troops are more conversant with the terrain in the North-east?
Besides the huge economic costs of this planned intervention, it is bound to compromise on Nigeria’s sovereignty as well as international esteem, no matter the spirited efforts to deny this fact. This is because, such interventions are usually provided to countries that exhibit clear signs of failed states. And many Nigerians, while not unmindful of the nation’s precarious state today, reasonably belief Nigeria is not yet a failed state. Speaking in an interview on the Hausa service of the BBC, President of the Civic Rights Congress of Nigeria, Malam Shehu Sani, joined many citizens to buttress this point, while decrying the potential compromise of the nation’s sovereignty and esteem. He also pointed at the obvious potential for the US to dawdle and possibly sully the counter-insurgency in much the same manner it had done in Iraq and Afghanistan. Shehu Sani specifically recalled how the US-led forces on numerous occasions killed innocent Afghans and Iraqis who were engaged in lawful ventures, using the so-called high-tech drone and other warfare equipment.
It is heartening though that unlike the US which indicated its plan to send some of its military personnel alongside the technical knowhow, the United Kingdom, France and China, in their separate pledges of assistance, emphasised more of the surveillance and intelligence gathering equipment. While hoping for a better and more purposeful intervention in Nigeria by these world powers, millions of Nigerians expect their leaders to shine their eyes very well in entering into any agreements with those countries on their military incursions in the country. We must be quick to caution the intervening forces against the silly “mistakes” they did in Afghanistan and Iraq, of killing hundreds of innocents purporting to be suspicious of their gatherings. It must be made clear to them that teeming Nigerians hoping for a mission that will be markedly different from the experiences of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan with such world powers. Nigerians are no doubt anxious for a speedy end to the Boko Haram insurgency, but quite apprehensive of “foreign aids” that would turn them into second rate citizens in their homeland, or even any tendency to subtly perpetuate the insurgency for other obscure motives for interventionists.