By Ikechukwu Okaforadi with agency report
Ministers of Foreign Affairs from Nigeria and neighbouring countries yesterday met to discuss Boko Haram insurgency, as the terrorists take over towns in the North-East, raising fears for regional security.
The one-day meeting of representatives from Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, also includes officials from the United States, Britain, France, Canada and the African Union and United Nations.
Nigeria’s ministry of foreign affairs said the talks were aimed at reviewing progress of earlier meetings in Paris and London, as well as the Africa summit held in the US in August.
In particular, it would examine “the extent of foreign assistance, including efforts by the Nigerian government, in the continued fight against the Boko Haram insurgency,” the UK Guardian newspaper reported.
Regional powers vowed to play a greater role against the Islamists after the mass kidnapping of more than 200 girls from their school in north-east Nigeria in April, which caused global outrage.
International powers sent intelligence and surveillance specialists and equipment to Abuja to help trace the missing teenagers, 217 of whom are still being held captive.
But nearly five months on from the abduction, western diplomats indicated that there had been little progress, despite a claim from Nigeria’s military that they had located the girls.
Recent weeks have seen Boko Haram take and hold territories in north-east Nigeria.
On Monday, residents said the insurgents had captured the town of Bama, 70km from Maiduguri in Borno state, sending hundreds of soldiers fleeing.
Co-ordinator of the Nigeria Security Network of Analysts, Andrew Noakes, warned that the government was losing control of vast parts of the North-East and a looming humanitarian crisis.
“Unless swift action is taken, Nigeria could be facing a rapid takeover of a large area of its territory reminiscent of Isis’s lightning advances in Iraq,” he said.
“If Borno falls to Boko Haram, parts of Yobe and Adamawa can be expected to follow. Parts of Cameroon along the border area would also probably be overrun.”
Nigeria and its regional allies yesterday called for greater international support to shut down Boko Haram’s weapons and funding supply as concern mounted at the group’s rapid recent land grab.
The call came after conflicting reports that the militants had seized another town, prompting warnings that Nigeria was losing control of the northeast and violence could spill across borders.
Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, Aminu Wali said his counterparts from Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger recognised the need for a more joined-up approach to curb arms trafficking and spiralling violence during a day of talks on the security crisis.
“(The meeting) called for greater co-operation of the international community to assist in tracking these sources with a view to putting an end to these practices and all forms of illegal transfer of arms and ammunition,” he told reporters in Abuja.
The United Nations earlier this year designated Boko Haram an Al-Qaeda-linked group in a move designed to shut down any overseas funding and support.
Analysts believe the sanctions are largely symbolic, with little or no proven operational links with overseas extremists, despite Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau praising jihadi leaders.