Emptying the Sahel of transnational terrorists and insurgents

Ogunsakin Mustapha
9 Min Read
Owei Lakemfa

By Owei Lakemfa

Martin Luther Agwai, retired General, walked briskly on the grounds of the Nigeria Defence College, NDC, like a man with a spring under his heels. At 74, he seemed ready for call up to do battle with enemies of the people. Indeed, on this Thursday, October 20, 2022 morning, he stood before a packed audience that ranged from young undergraduates to the elderly, including 83-year-old Emeritus Professor Anthony I. Asiwaju, to address insecurity in the Sahel region.

As the Chairman of the Society for International Relations Awareness, SIRA, 2022 Lecture on “Transnational Terrorism And Insurgency In The Sahel: Implications For National Security And Democratic Governance In The Region”, he asked Nigeria to first be conscious of itself and its needs because not every nation is pleased to see it progress.

General Agwai pointed out that despite the country’s internationally acclaimed contributions to global peace, it still has problems accessing its military needs and requirements and getting the needed international support to speedily defeat terrorism and insurgency.

The general who is a former Chief of Defence Staff, past Chief of Army Staff and ex-United Nations Deputy Military Chief leading missions in Sierra Leone and Darfur, warned: “If we allow rogues to take over our security and human activity and rule us, we would be in deep trouble.”

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Zubairu Dada, who was Special Guest of Honour, made a six-point submission. First is that transnational terrorism and insurgency have had a negative impact on democratic governance. Secondly, that the terrorists are spreading down the Atlantic Ocean necessitating an urgent need to mobilise citizens and resources to stop them. Thirdly, that it is in the best interest of not just Nigerians but all humanity to stop the terrorists.

Fourthly, he warned that there is no country in Africa that can contain the Nigerian population, if, God forbid, the terrorism challenge gets out of hand. Fifthly, he pointed out that the country is having to expend valuable resources on security rather than development. In his sixth submission, the Minister said that separatist groups also constitute a threat to the country’s existence and urged all to rally behind the Muhammadu Buhari administration to defeat terrorism, insurgency and separatism.

Rear Admiral Murtala Mormoni Bashir, Commandant, National Defence College, delivered the lecture before a rapt audience that included Senator Babafemi Ojudu, the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters; Mr Francis Nwosu, who represented Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture; Babajimi Adegoke Benson, Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Defence, and an array of Ambassadors, diplomats and Defence Attaches accredited to the country.

Owei Lakemfa

“He traced increased insecurity in the Sahel to the global war on terrorism launched by the West following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in the United States. He said insecurity has resulted in significant loss of lives and destruction of properties in the region. It has also led to increased defence spending which from 2011 to 2020, saw the defence expenditure of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger increase by 238 per cent, 339 per cent and 288 per cent respectively. In the same period, Nigeria spent about $9 billion.

The Commandant pointed out that these increases undermine the capacities of the Sahel countries to invest in development, and that the continued deployment of the military in anti-terrorist operations in the Sahel “has provided opportunities for a new wave of coups due to alleged poor support to the defence and security forces among other things”. He gave the example of Burkina Faso which witnessed two coup d’états in 2022. Such interferences in governance, he warned, contravene the 2001 ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance and the 2022 Accra Declaration of the African Union.

“The Rear Admiral’s suggested solutions include the Sahel countries eliminating the conditions conducive for the emergence and spread of terrorism and insurgency ,and, the mobilisation of all in “the implementation of a whole-of-government and whole-of-society response to the challenge of terrorism and insurgency in the Sahel”.“He also suggested that the countries should “further enhance the capacities of border management agencies and include border communities in management of borders”, while also dominating the under/ungoverned spaces in their territories.

He also suggested the re-appraisal of extant regional protocols in order to strengthen their provisions, re-intensification of engagements with regional and sub-regional organisations and strategic partners within and outside Africa to “mobilise resources and assets needed in the joint fight against terrorism and insurgency in the region”.

Dr. Bayo Asala, an African indigenous conflict management expert, in discussing the lecture, argued that Rear Admiral Bashir’s recommendations, if transformed into the country’s foreign policy, will “serve as a tool to reduce, to the lowest level, the issue of terrorism, insurgency and other crimes”. To make the recommendations more robust, he suggested the inclusion of traditional and religious rulers and women groups. He argued that: “When these classes of individuals are not recognised, the solution and resolution to the menace in the region cannot be abated.”

Dr Wilson Ijide, a retired Colonel, industrial organisation psychologist and military strategist posited that: “Terrorism assumes a transnational dimension when an incident in one country affects citizens and targets institutions of another country. This has been the case of many terrorist activities such as the bombing of the WTC in the US and the UN building in Abuja Nigeria.”

He concluded his discussion of the Lecture by positing that: “Following from a strong theory linking insurgency and terrorism, we would be in a position to evolve policies that can address the root of transnational terrorism and insurgency through establishing principles for enhancing synergies within the Sahel.”

The 2022 SIRA Book titled “Continuity And Change In Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Under President Muhammadu Buhari”, was also presented at the Lecture. Dr Daniel Mann, the Resident Representative of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung which partnered SIRA to present the lecture and produce the book, recommended it for understanding foreign relations.

Aminu Ahmed Yusuf, an independent researcher on social movements and state building, reviewed the 185-page book. Yusuf’s conclusion, from the gamut of papers, is that foreign policy must take into cognisance how it serves the people and promotes fair and just relations with neighbours.

Nigeria’s Foreign Policy, he also submitted, must “defend and promote policies and actions that contribute to tackling the underdevelopment of Africa and other third world countries; and defend and promote the wealth and development of nations, as well as regional, continental and international peace and security…”

I came away with the idea that SIRA, the think-tank I am privileged to lead, offered the audiences in the hall and internet, a bountiful buffet of analysis, suggestions and ideas which we all have a duty to make actionable.

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