President Goodluck Jonathan
By Onwuka Nzeshi, with agency reports
The Federal Government has increased security at its borders in a pre-emptive step to check attacks on the country by Islamic militants aggrieved by Nigeria’s participation in a military expedition to dislodge insurgents from Mali.
Two batches of the Nigerian contingent departed from Port Harcourt and Kaduna last Thursday to join French troops and soldiers from other West African countries in Mali to recapture territory lost to Islamist militants and ethnic Touareg separatists.
The military expedition is being executed under the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), spearheaded by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
As a result, defence authorities believe that Nigeria’s participation in the international effort to wrest the northern part of Mali from Islamic militants could make the local insurgent group, Boko Haram, step up attacks on various targets in Nigeria.
As a mark of Nigeria's commitment to restoring peace to Mali, President Goodluck Jonathan said Tuesday in Geneva that the troops would remain in the Sahelian country until the crisis is resolved.
He told Reuters that "we cannot pull out until we have solved the problem. I cannot tell you when we will solve the problem, but Nigeria is totally committed and will remain committed until the crisis is resolved.
"Until democratically elected people take over the government of Mali, we will not pull back."
When asked if the alleged leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, was fighting from Mali, the president said that it was possible, adding "They (terrorists) have no boundaries, they don't respect international boundaries. Today they are in Mali and in Niger tomorrow, then Cameroun and Mali."
The House of Representatives, however, urged the Federal Government to explore dialogue in resolving the security challenges facing the country, which could be aggravated should Boko Haram add Nigeria’s participation in Mali to its list of grievances.
The House also mandated its Committees on Police Affairs and Special Duties to investigate the dumping of corpses in Ezzu River in Anambra State.
An Islamic group last week seized a gas plant in Algeria during which it held many locals and foreigners hostage, explaining that the raid was carried out in retaliation against Algeria, which had allowed France to use its airspace to carry out military attacks on the Islamic groups in Mali.
Director of Information, Defence Headquarters, Colonel Mohammed Yerima, Tuesday told Bloomberg that Boko Haram could join the fray, as they are part of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb that support the Islamic dissidents in Mali.
“If they’re part of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb; if they’re in support of the northern Mali crisis, there’s every possibility that they will heighten their attacks. On our own side, we’re strategising on how to counter them,” he said.
Jonathan in a letter to the Senate last week seeking approval for the deployment of troops to Mali, had said that the Federal Government decided to participate in the mission because the country’s national security was under imminent threat or danger as a result of the crises in Northern Mali.
Jonathan said Nigeria was currently facing daunting security challenges, noting that given the nation’s nearness to the Sahel region, the crisis in Mali, if not brought under control, may spill over to Nigeria and other West African countries with negative consequences for the country’s security, political stability and development efforts.
Chief of Army Staff (CAS), Lt-Gen. Azubike Ihejirika, while fielding questions from reporters in Jaji, near Kaduna last Thursday after the departure ceremony, had said that the Federal Government had beefed up internal security to check possible reprisals by Islamic insurgents in Mali and their collaborators.
He explained that the Federal Government was aware of the risks involved in Nigeria’s participation in the military expedition in Mali and was doing all it could to check any reprisal.
The chief of army staff also said the army was “aware of the influx of some chaps trained in Mali into the country” and assured the people that internal security measures were being stepped up in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the House called on the government to embrace dialogue as a way of resolving the security challenges posed by Boko Haram’s insurgency.
The House, which also ordered a probe into the dumping of corpses in Ezzu River in Anambra State, passed both resolutions at Tuesday’s plenary where lawmakers commiserated with the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, and the families of those who lost their lives in last Saturday's attack on the convoy of the monarch.
Hon. Mohammed Galandanchi, who sponsored the first motion seeking an end to insecurity in the country, expressed worry over the incessant killings and kidnappings in different parts of the country.
Galandanchi said whereas the welfare and security of the people ought to be the primary responsibility of government as stipulated in Section 14(2b) of the constitution, Nigerians were confronted daily with reports of violence in different parts of the country.
He expressed concern at the trend and faulted the current approach of the government at resolving the rising wave of insecurity in the land.
He said that government had been laying emphasis on military action, random arrests and imprisonment rather than seeking avenues for dialogue with insurgent groups such as the Boko Haram.
He argued that the use of force was a short-term solution, which has not only had limited effectiveness, but has escalated insecurity across the country.
“We are worried that if this approach is not reversed and more long term solutions deployed, the incessant incidents of violence will pose a serious threat to our security, democracy, rights and freedom of innocent citizens and ultimately destroy the nation's fragile stability and unity,” Galandanchi said.
His motion came shortly before reports that suspected Islamist gunmen Tuesday carried out one of the deadliest attacks in several weeks, killing 18 residents of Dambao in Borno State.
Journalists were told the attackers were believed to be angered by hunters selling bush meat from animals such as monkeys and pigs, food forbidden under Islam, said Reuters.