Boko Haram: The Frenemies In Chad

Idriss Deby accused of being behind Boko Haram

Nation states have no permanent allies, only interests

by Fulan Nasrullah

This is a oft repeated statement which may be necessary for Nigeria to take to heart as it seeks collaboration in the war to end the Boko Haram insurgency plaguing it’s north eastern territories.
Among the countries which have lined up to support Nigeria in this war are two of Nigeria’s past (or present) enemies: Chad and Cameroon. While Cameroon has been more open in its activities in this campaign, it has gone a step further beyond and has not allowed its troops to launch incursions into Nigerian territory without authorization from the Nigerian government, unless if the operation is a Multinational Joint Task Force tasking.

Chad-ppty-boko haramChad on the other is a different kettle of fish. It is implicated in the growth of the Boko Haram factions especially the faction led by Abubakar Shekau, and only decided to cut off support from the insurgents and stop them from using its territory as a rear base area only after the Khalid Al-Barnawi led faction of Boko Haram known as Haraktul-Muhajiriin, and its sister organizations Ansarul-Muslimiin and the Bukar Faction of Jamaa’atu Ahlis-Sunnah overran much of Northern Cameroon and threatened to cut off Chad’s logistics route from the Cameroonian port of Douala.

Initially Chad’s President tried to avoid going to war against the Shekau led faction of Boko Haram (which now uses the name Islamic State West Africa Province) by seeking to broker a cease fire agreement with Nigeria, but his intelligence service botched it up and as months ran by, Chad realizing that it had to prevent an existential nightmare if the insurgents kept overrunning Northern Cameroon, stepped in and went to war against the Boko Haram.

Here a bit of history comes in. Chad and Nigeria have contested the ownership of several islands in the Lake Chad in the past. At one point Chadian soldiers overran islands under Nigerian control and claimed them for Chad. The man who is Nigeria’s current president  was serving in the Nigerian Army, and he led a night operation that saw Nigerian soldiers ejecting the Chadians with force, pushing them back to the Chadian shore of the lake.

The dispute became dormant and relations afterwards went back to normal as both countries were busy with internal upheavals.

Lakechad_mapCurrently, the Lake Chad region has become oil producing with Chad extracting as much as a two hundred thousand barrels of crude a day  from its part. The Republic of Niger which also shares the lake shore extracts around 100,000-150,000 barrels of crude of oil from the Lake Chad region each day. Nigeria’s territory has been under explored because of the security situation, but it holds the potential to also add a similar amount of crude to the world market. This amount of crude (100,000-200,000 barrels per day) is negligible compared to Nigeria’s current production of 2million barrels per day but it is a doubling of whatever Chad is currently producing, and what is more some of it probably a significant part may lie under the islands Chad disputed with Nigeria over. The mere thought of such amount of crude and dollars probably just lying there is enough to warrant the area a closer look from  N’djadmena and Idriss Deby.

This may be the reason why starting from late 2010, Chad began allegedly supplying weapons and cash to the Shekau led faction of Boko Haram. Several officials of Nigeria’s Directorate of State Security, the DSS also known as the SSS, have in private alleged that Chadian weapons and support was flowing across the border, but the Chadians did not have control over what they were going to be used for, whether to kill Nigerian soldiers or to one day invade Chad. I have also spoken to alleged current and former members of the Shekau led faction of Boko Haram who say that from 2010 Chad supplied weapons and cash to their group,and in some cases Chadian intelligence services provided them with planning and mission logistics including information. This support would later reduce after Chad realized that it had no control over the insurgents, and instead of being seen as an ally or a patron, the insurgents saw it as a disposable donor nothing more no less.

modu sheriff arrestedThe same sources told me that before Chad launched its operation against Boko Haram in Nigeria, it sent a message to Abubakar Shekau through a prominent politician from Borno State in Nigeria who also happens to be an ex governor, informing him that Chad was going to have to fight Shekau so as to create the necessary cover to go after insurgent factions threatening its transportation link to the sea through Northern Cameroon.

This information if true, and I have no reason to doubt its authenticity, produces even more questions as to what Chad is doing in Nigerian territory while Nigerian soldiers are not watching.

Chad invaded Nigeria to supposedly destroy Boko Haram, taking no permission from the Nigerian Government and not even informing the Nigerians until BBC and other news media broadcasted reports of its invasion.

False cease fire: President Jonathan and Idriss Deby, linked to Boko Haram
False cease fire: President Jonathan and Idriss Deby, linked to Boko Haram

Chad so far has not accounted to the Nigerians its activities inside our territory prior to when the new anti-Boko Haram coalition was announced. It has been described as skillfully manipulating whatever outreach the Nigerians have tried to make to the insurgents, and on the one occasion on which the Nigerians began negotiating with a faction of the insurgents without Chadian help or involvement, Chad quickly ran to the media to sow discord between both parties. Sources tell me that following President Deby’s television stunt, Muhammad Daud’s splinter group has indicated through the usual emissaries to the Nigerians that it will suspend contact for the meanwhile.

On several occasions I was told that after Chadian soldiers supposedly liberated Nigerian territory formerly held by Shekau’s group, they prevented agents of the Nigerian State from entering into these areas until they had finished cleaning out the local headquarters of the insurgents and taken away all prisoners, thus preventing the Nigerians from gaining access to these prisoners. Asked where these captured prisoners who probably include some lower level commanders are, the Chadians have been unable to produce them for the Nigerians to interrogate, rather they have used excuses and sleights of hand to keep the Nigerians from knowing the real locations and states of these captured fighters.

Right now the Chadians are playing a game that is at odds with the spirit of regional cooperation they portend to embrace, an action which should warn Nigeria to be wary in its dealings with N’djadmena in the war against Boko Haram.