First, it was our American ‘friends’ (today, they are not, according to our ambassador Washington Dc, Mr. Ade Adefuye) who refused to sell to us the lethal weapons we believed would deal a fatal blow on Boko Haram terrorists. America’s reason for turning down our desperate request was that our military could not maintain the sophisticated fighter aircraft we requested for but also it feared we would use it against unarmed civilians on the ground. In anger and out of frustration, our government last month cancelled the training the Americans are providing our army a gratis. No official reason came from the government, but it could be assumed to be that since the Americans have proved to be such unreliable partners they could not be trusted to give the quality of training that our army required.
Now, the French too have told us we are on our own. France, together with the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom (UK) and Israel last June offered to support us defeat the Boko Haram terrorists who earlier in April abducted over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno State. It has been 247 days since the girls’ disappearance. As the Nigerian government appears to have reached its wit’s end, Boko Haram, on the other hand, is looking more and more invincible, taking territory here and there.
The French added to Nigeria’s woes at a meeting on Africa’s security challenges that held in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, on Monday. Defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, told African leaders, security analysts and businessmen who were in attendance that they should create a regular forum to exchange ideas and “help Africa take charge of Africa’s security…A strictly national management of security is now an illusion. The terrorist threat knows no frontiers,” he said, pointing to the spread of attacks by Boko Haram militants from Nigeria into northern Cameroon. The most striking example of militants exploiting a lack of border security was in southern Libya, Le Drian said, where fighters expelled from Mali by a French operation in 2013 have regrouped and threatened to destabilize the whole Sahel.
The new French attitude to Africa is as much due to fatigue as it is to budgetary pressure. A report said, “amid budgetary pressures at home, France is looking to reduce security commitments in Africa. It is scaling back the 2,000 troops it deployed a year ago to curb Christian-Muslim violence in Central African Republic, a former colony. It is also pressing African nations to improve counterterrorism cooperation in the Sahel, where it has deployed a 3,200 strong mission to battle Islamist militants.”
Incidentally, the bad news from America and Europe has come at a time the regional economic bloc, ECOWAS, is meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. The 38th summit of heads of state and government began here on Monday. Not surprisingly, their focus is on security. They may be disappointed that their traditional partners, one by one, are deserting Africa in its hour of need. But they should have known that the time would come when Africa would be left alone to solve its own problems.
They left it too late and now they have to rue the missed opportunity to take matters in their hands. For instance, it is inexcusable that for over a decade African leaders were unable to raise an African Standby Force (ASF), the main reason why the French in Mali and Central African Republic. Officials at the 54-nation African Union said the 5,000-strong force should be ready by the end of next year, but will it? How quickly ECOWAS responds to the French and American setbacks will provide a road map for the rest of the continent. Host President Goodluck Jonathan exhorted his colleagues to take regional security seriously. “(This) requires urgent and concerted actions from all of us. Nigeria calls for stronger and more effective regional, continental and global alliance to rid our region of terrorism, piracy and violent extremism”.
Late as it is in coming, we are encouraged by this realization that the region, indeed, the whole of Africa, must stand together to fight a common enemy.