Buhari: Taking Sambisa, Rescuing Chibok Girls Our Last Major Task

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EU pledges €50m to multinational security outfit, as US spends $250m in 2 years

UN hails holistic fight against terrorism in W’African sub-region

Abimbola Akosile in Lagos and Senator Iroegbu in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari stated at the Second Regional Security Summit yesterday in Abuja that the Nigerian armed forces had considerably degraded the Boko Haram terrorist sect. Buhari, however, stressed that dislodging the group from the Sambisa forest in Borno State, where its fighters are currently holed up following heavy bombardment by the military, and freeing the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls were the major tasks still left.

This was as the European Union pledged to support the Multinational Joint Taskforce, a sub-regional security outfit, with 50 million Euros. Vice President and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Federica Mogherini, disclosed this at the Abuja summit. The MNJTF was reactivated in the wake of the Boko Haram insurgency to coordinate the fight against the sect and other acts of terrorism within the West African sub-region.

The United States Deputy Secretary of State, Mr. Anthony Blinken, told the conference that his country had contributed over $250 million to the on-going fight against terrorism, in addition to other resources.

In a related development, the United Nations Security Council, in a statement yesterday in New York, hailed the Second Regional Security Summit and the efforts of the regional leaders to present a united front against terrorism. The Security Council condemned the abuses and atrocities being perpetrated by Boko Haram, warning that the culprits may be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Second Regional Security Summit in Abuja was attended by President of France, Francois Hollande, and seven regional leaders, including the presidents of Chad, Cameroun, Niger, Benin, Senegal and Gabon. Though, other Western countries and institutions were represented at the summit, Hollande was the only Western leader present, underscoring France’s crucial involvement in the fight against terrorism in the continent. Hollande had hosted the First Regional Security Summit in Paris on May 17, 2014.

Speaking at the summit yesterday, Buhari said he had significantly fulfilled his promise to rout Boko Haram, which has wreaked havoc in the Nigeria’s North-east since 2009, and spread its activities to countries within the Lake Chad Basin.

He said, “When I started, our first task was to improve our security infrastructure and strengthen our regional and international alliances. We have degraded Boko Haram and squeezed them into a small enclave in Sambisa forest. What remains is the dislodgement of terrorists from their hideouts from the Sambisa forest and liberate the Chibok girls and others. Boko Haram now resorts to hit and run tactics.”

Buhari stated that the country’s military operations against terrorists had followed acceptable international standards. “We have not only observed human rights and international humanitarian law in our military operations, we have also diligently implemented several proactive programmes. Today, we have achieved significant outcomes. Boko Haram is no longer a cohesive force, but a group of self-seeking individuals pursuing personal glory,” he said.

The president listed some of the feats recorded at both bilateral and multilateral levels since the Paris summit in 2014 to include recovery of all the territories occupied by the terrorist group; establishment of special military units by Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon to prosecute the war on terror; admission of Benin Republic to the group to strengthen the regional coalition; establishment of the Regional Intelligence Fusion in Abuja and its operation; and strengthening border security among member states.

Buhari said the regional alliance had also set up the Inter-Regional Coordination Centre (ICC), based in Yaounde, Cameroon, under the aegis of the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC), to coordinate and disseminate intelligence and security information to all member states. It has reactivated the MNJTF with 8,500 officers and men, drawn from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Benin, with headquarters in Ndjamena, Chad, he said.

He stressed, “These achievements would not have been possible without the steadfast support, invaluable contributions and sacrifices of my brothers, the Presidents of Cameroun, Chad, Niger as well as the Republic of Benin. I am convinced that the great solidarity and good neighbourliness that have been displayed by all countries in the region would be a model for other regions faced with similar challenges.

“Our hope, therefore, is that this meeting would be a turning-point for our collective efforts to achieve a conflict free, peaceful and stable region, where development and good governance thrive.”

Buhari vowed to ensure that the Chibok girls and others held by Boko Haram were rescued. The girls had been kidnapped from their hotel in April 2014 while they were preparing to write the Senior School Certificate Examination.

“Let me reiterate our firm commitment to safely rescue and re-unite the abducted Chibok girls with their families. Our government will not spare any effort to achieve this important mission,” he vowed.

He said the MNJTF would be strengthened to rid the region of the last vestiges of Boko Haram.

On the need to address the root causes of terrorism and articulate a post-conflict development plan, Buhari said, “Only by bringing development to the areas affected by the insurgency and by protecting the victims and the IDPs and refugees, can we assure genuine recovery for conflict devastated areas.”

According to the president, the long-term development of the Lake Chad Region is crucial to reducing the high poverty rate in the basin, a major factor in the recruitment of terrorists. “Implementing the Lake Chad Development Resilience Action Plan (LCDCRAP), which was submitted to donor countries and organisations at the Conference of Parties (COP 21) side event on the Lake Chad, therefore, remains a vital challenge. The total cost of the short and medium term development of the Lake Chad Region is estimated to be in the region of €916 million,” he disclosed.

Fielding questions from journalists during the post-even press conference, Buhari spoke on the Civilian JTF, a vigilante group helping in the fight against Boko Haram, and the link between the terrorist group and ISIS. He stated, “Civilian JTF is an initiative of the states where Boko Haram is prevalent. So they have volunteered to assist in stabilising the security situation. Disarming them will not be a problem and for some of them that meet the criteria we can be trained and absorbed in some sort of formal security set up.”

The president added, “Up till now we don’t have intelligence if ISIS has been able to send weapons and even money to the Boko Haram.”

Hollande, during the press conference, pledged full cooperation with Nigeria and other countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, especially, in the area of intelligence sharing and resources.

“We acknowledged that Boko Haram has been significantly defeated. However, we must be wary as they will increasingly resort to suicide bombing, which will require a lot of intelligence to tackle,” the French president said.

In a similar vein, the president of Gabon, Omar Bongo, called for closer cooperation among the African countries and world leaders in dealing with the terrorism.

“Africa has to close ranks and work together if we are to achieve a conflict free region. Also violent extremism, especially, amongst youths usually found expression in the place of unemployment and social instability,” Bongo said.

The United States Deputy Secretary of State, Blinken, said, “The fight against Boko Haram is a fight for the future and stability of the region,” advising that the summit should develop a comprehensive strategy to defeat the terrorists not only in the country but also across the region.

He added, “Liberating the communities from Boko Haram is not enough, we have to stabilise and rebuild them and as well as reviving their economic activities. None of us can afford a lost generation and that is why we have given over $250 million to the region in the last two years.”

Blinken said, “US is also committed to the rescue and return of Chibok girls and others kidnapped by group. Boko Haram can be defeated through the people, by investing in young girls as well as boys.”

The British Minister of Foreign Affairs and Common Wealth Office, Phil Hammon, said combating terrorism was a global challenge that required cautious optimism because of its complex nature. Hammon also expressed worry over increasing links and cooperation between Boko Haram and ISIS, noting that both groups do not represent the true teachings of Islam.

He said, “Boko Haram claims that they propagate and proclaim Islam. They do not. It’s an alarming of the growing cooperation between Daesh and Boko Haram. This presents a dangerous alliance. We are however, dedicated to cooperate with you to defeat these terrorists that have posed.

“We must be prepared for a long war because defeating Boko Haram extremism could be a complex and long one as we have experienced with Daesh in Iraq. We have trained 1,500 personnels for deployment for the counter-insurgency operations in the North Eats. The UK personnels are also on ground to assist with our experience in dealing with IEDS.”

Mogherini said the EU would contribute €50 million to the MNJTF to assist in defeating Boko Haram in the North-east and the Lake Chad region.

She stated, “The national contingents operate bilaterally and as part of the MNJTF have since been deployed and are conducting operations. The force however, needs the necessary infrastructure and transport and communication assets to allow it effectively coordinate and command operations.

“In the context of the EU-AU partnership, as reconfirmed during the donor conference organised by the African Union Commission early February 2016, the European Commission adopted in April 2016, a financing decision setting aside €50 million from the African Peace Facility in support of the MNJTF against Boko Haram.”​