Regional and Western powers gathered in Abuja Nigeria today to discuss their war with Boko Haram, as the United Nations said the group posed a major threat to security in West Africa.
“The United States, Britain, Equatorial Guinea, the European Union, ECOWAS, the Economic Community of Central African States and the Gulf of Guinea Commission will be represented at the summit which will have the successful conclusion of ongoing military operations against Boko Haram at the top of its agenda,” said a statement by presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina.
The speedy resolution of the humanitarian crises caused by the barbaric activities of the terrorist group will also feature prominently on the summit’s agenda. Nigeria is seeking closer military cooperation to bring an end to nearly seven years of violence in the northeast, which has left at least 20,000 dead and forced more than 2.6 million people from their homes.
The UN Security Council on Friday said the talks should help develop “a comprehensive strategy to address the governance, security, development, socio-economic and humanitarian dimensions of the crisis”. Nigeria’s military has maintained its fight-back since early 2015 and has the Islamists in disarray and recently announced the launch of operations inside the rebels’ Sambisa Forest stronghold.
“The idea is to be able to announce (at the summit)… that this sanctuary no longer exists,” a source close to Chadian President Idriss Deby told AFP earlier this month. Since the election of former military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari, as Nigeria’s president has given fresh impetus to the military counter-insurgency. Buhari, whose government last December said the militants were “technically” defeated despite repeated suicide attacks, has pushed hard for a new regional force, which was supposed to have deployed last July.
The status of the African Union-backed force, comprising some 8,500 troops from Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, is likely to figure prominently in Saturday’s talks. Plugging gaps and improving coordination between armies operating largely independently is seen as vital, with Boko Haram now thought to be in remote border areas on and around Lake Chad. The Multi-National Joint Task Force commander, General Lamidi Adeosun, has requested flat-bottomed boats to help soldiers fight on the lake where Nigeria borders Chad, Cameroon, and Niger.
The International Crisis Group has warned about premature declarations of victory and suggested Boko Haram could yet transform into a “terror group with a longer reach.” The summit, two years after the first one in Paris, should go beyond closer military support to address causes of the conflict, its effects and prevent similar, future threats, it added.
Recent weeks have seen indications of greater Western support for Nigeria and a flurry of diplomatic visits. US officials said last week Washington was considering selling Nigeria a dozen A-29 Super Tucano ground attack planes of the type supplied to Afghanistan to fight Taliban guerrillas. These drones are already being flown over northeast Nigeria from a US base in northern Cameroon while President Barack Obama has promised specialist troops to assist training and Britain has sent special forces trainers to northeast Nigeria.France, which has a military base in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena for anti-Islamist operations in the Sahel, has promised more intelligence sharing.