by Nicholas Ibekwe
In what has raised concerns over possible violation of Nigeria’s sovereignty, the Chadian government in collaboration with its Cameroonian counterpart, has sent troops to recapture Nigeria’s border town of Baga from Boko Haram insurgents, without the knowledge or approval of the Nigerian government.
The Nigerian military confirmed Monday it had no knowledge of an order by President Idriss Deby of Chad, deploying that country’s armed forces in pursuit of Boko Haram in Nigerian territory.
Regardless, defence spokesperson, Chris Olukolade, said the order makes little difference since Chad already belongs to a Multinational force alongside Nigeria, Cameroun and Niger, set up to tackle the terrorist group.
Boko Haram militants captured the town on January 3 after it sacked a base of the Multi-National Joint Task Force, MNJTF, there and unleashed terror on the civilian population in the town.
Amnesty International said over 2,000 people were killed in the attack, while the Nigerian military said the casualty figure was not more than 150.
Nigerien and Chadian troops who were part of the MNJTF had withdrawn from the town prior to the attack.
On Saturday, thousands of people marched some kilometres waving the Chadian flag in support of Chadian troops dispatched to fight Boko Haram troops in Nigerian and Cameroon.
The Chadian president, Mr. Deby, said in a speech read by the country’s head of parliament that the aim of the troops was to capture Baga.
“We answered the call of (Cameroon’s) President Paul Biya. We cannot remain indifferent to what happens to our neighbours. Cameroon must not be left alone to face this threat that has so hurt innocent people in Cameroon and in Nigeria,” said Mr. Deby.
Apparently left in the dark, the Nigerian military, however, seems confused over the development.
The Defence Spokesperson, Chris Olukolade, confirmed that the government was unaware of the deployments but said that he would need to “verify”.
“I’ll need to verify what you are saying but it is not as if everything is out of order, there is Multinational Joint Task Force which allows us to interact with forces of neighbouring countries among which they are,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
“But even with that being the case, there cannot be solo operations in that area that will ignore the existing Nigeria’s arrangement for that area,” he added.
Security experts say the response of the Nigerian government to the development is worrying.
“The Nigerian government saying through the army spokesperson, General Olukolade that they are ‘lukewarm’ to Chad’s mission to Nigeria is very troubling to say the least. If Chad’s intentions and mission is good intended then why should the Nigerian government be kept out of the loop and be unenthusiastic? This questions the trust we as a people have in both governments. Would the Nigerian government not wish Chad assist them in rescuing occupied territories? Is there intelligence with the Nigerian administration that makes them suspicious of Chad; or are they uninterested in Nigeria’s liberation?” Peregrino Brimah, of the civil society group, Every Nigerian Do Something (ENDS).
Mr. Brimah said the announcement of Mr. Deby to his people that his troops were on a mission to re-capture Baga without informing President Goodluck Jonathan is similar to Mexico announcing it was going to rescue a troubled Texas with the knowledge of the United State government.
“Chad setting out to assist Cameroon at their request is appropriate, however for the Chadian president, Idriss Deby to announce formally to his people and to the international press that his troops will be invading Nigeria to “re-capture” Baga, without express permission and willful authorization by the Goodluck Jonathan administration is absurd. It is like Mexico deciding it will invade the United States to rescue a “plagued Texas” without the explicit approval of the United States government.”
This development is even more worrying with the allegation that elements in the Chadian and Nigerien armies are complicit in providing support for the terrorist group.
Last September PREMIUM TIMES exclusively reported that credible intelligence obtained by sources within the Chadian army linked former Governor of Borno State, Ali Sheriff and Mr. Deby to Boko Haram sponsorship. Messrs Sheriff and Deby are close friends.
“…members of Boko Haram sect are sometimes kept in Abeche region in Chad and trained before being dispersed. This happens usually when Mr. Sheriff visits Abeche,” a 2011 intelligence memo from field officers in N’djamena, the capital of Chad, read.
The report said Mr. Deby provided “ready army and possible refuge” to Boko Haram insurgents and his support for the insurgents is linked with his friendship with Mr Sheriff, a known gunrunner.
“Military reports from Biu pointed to Chadians being a major force in Boko Haram. Boko Haram courts ruling occupied parts of the northeast have been reported to be presided over by Boko Haram Chadian nationals and not even Nigerians. There are serious questions of Chad’s complicity to say the least in Boko Haram’s proliferation, the harbouring of Boko Haram terror training camps, Boko Haram’s sourcing of weapons, its trade in abducted persons and even allowing the nation be a place of retreat for wounded and fleeing terrorists and a dock where stolen properties from Nigeria are transferred,” said Mr. Brimah.
While suggesting better cooperation and trust between Nigeria and Chad, Mr. Brimah said Nigeria should not compromise on the issue of the violation of its national integrity and pride.
“Nigerians should not be forced to choose between Boko Haram terror and foreign violations of our national pride, sovereignty and international boundary laws. In the event of Chad “re-capturing” Baga; what are the terms of its returning this and other Nigerian territories to Nigeria? Such modalities should have been worked out before a Chadian proposition of a mission into Nigeria.”