The 1,200 Nigerian soldiers on peace mission to Mali would not leave until they restore democracy to the crisis-torn neighbouring country, Reuters quoted President Goodluck Jonathan as saying on Tuesday.
Jonathan said the soldiers would stay in Mali till the end of the crisis in the northern part of the neighbouring African country.
The Nigerian troops arrived in Mali on Sunday as part of ECOWAS military intervention in Mali.
“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 we remain committed until the crisis is resolved.
“Until democratically elected people take over the government of Mali, we will not pull back,” Jonathan told Reuters in an interview in Geneva, Switzerland.
Jonathan said Nigeria had a direct interest in intervening in Mali, pointing out links between Boko Haram and al-Qaeda’s northern African wing.
“We believe that if we stabilise Northern Mali, not just Nigeria but other countries that are facing threats will be stabilised,” he said.
Asked if there was a possibility that the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, was fighting in Mali, Jonathan said it was possible. “They have no boundaries. They don’t respect international boundaries,” he said.The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Azubike Ihejirika, last Thursday, said Mali-trained terrorists had entered the country.
Boko Haram terrorists, like the Malian Islamist rebels, have for years held the Northern part of Nigeria by the jugular, killing and maiming people, especially Christians in their quest to Islamise Nigeria.
Ihejirika, who spoke when the first batch of the Nigerian troops was leaving for Mali, however, told journalists at the Nigerian Army Peacekeeping Centre, Jaji, Kaduna State that internal security was being intensified to track them down.
“We are aware that most of the terrorists in this country today were trained in Mali.
“We are also aware that as of yesterday, there was still an influx of some chaps trained in Mali into the country,” he had said.
Ihejirika added that Nigeria and its immediate neighbours were already enhancing their internal security strategies as their troops began participating in the peace- keeping operation in Mali.
He said, “Nigeria will not only be supporting the resolution of the international community, but also enhancing its own security and that of its immediate neighbours by undertaking this operation.“What we are going into could be described as peace enforcement; that is to bring peace with the use of force. And as to whether the operation will be conventional or insurgent, the troops should have a mixture of both because of the characters of the rebels.”
Mali, a neighbouring West African country, has been in the throes of Islamic insurgency since March 2012 when mutinous soldiers in Bamako, the capital, rose up in a coup, overthrowing the elected government of President Amadou Toumani Touré.
The soldiers said they were angry over the government’s alleged mishandling of a rebellion by nomadic Tuareg rebels in the country’s vast northern desert.Following on the heels of the coup, the Tuareg rebels first seized much of the north and then were themselves pushed out by Islamist extremists.
The ECOWAS intervention, codenamed Africa International Support Mission to Mali, is aimed at running the rebels, believed to have links with al-Qeada, out of town.
Curiously, the Nigerian troops were ambushed on their way to Mali on Saturday. Gunmen threw Improvised Explosive Devices at their convoy along Okene-Lokoja Road and went ahead to engage the soldiers in a gunfight, leading to the death of two soldiers.
Many others were said to be injured during the attack.
A breakaway faction of the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram, on Sunday claimed responsibility for the attack.
The new terrorist group, Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis-Sudan in a statement by its leader, Abu usamatal Ansary, said the attack on the soldiers was to warn the government against joining Western powers in their “aim to demolish the Islamic empire of Mali.”
The deployment of the Nigerian troops in Mali has the approval of the National Assembly but analysts have been criticising the propriety of Nigeria’s intervention in Mali when the government has yet to find a solution to the Boko Haram challenge at home.