"For us in Nigeria, the situation in northern Mali is a national security matter as the link between Boko Haram and the terrorist insurgents in northern Mali has been established beyond all doubts and as stated by President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria and its partners can no longer surrender any part of the globe to extremism because it does not pay as we do not know the next victim."
In these words, Foreign Affairs Minister, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, cast more light on the role of Nigerian soldiers in the international military operations against anti-government insurgents in Mali who are linked to the Al-Qaeda global terrorist network and have seized the northern half of the Sahelian country.
In an interview, the minister stated that although Nigeria’s security was seriously challenged by the terrorist activities of the militant Islamist Boko Haram, Abuja had to send troops to Mali in the overall interest of West Africa’s most populous country and its sub-regional allies to ensure peace, unity and economic stability.
He pointed out that Federal Government had taken firm measures to contain the security challenge within the rule of law while engaging friendly countries in the sub-region and beyond to partner with Nigeria through the provision of intelligence, capacity building and resources.
He debunked insinuations that Nigeria merely sent the troops to assist Mali’s colonial master, France’s armed intervention to flush out the rebels.
He noted that prior to the drive by Paris, Nigeria and its sub-regional allies under the auspices of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had taken the decision to intervene as unanimously approved by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2085 of December 20, 2012 in order to restore the territorial integrity of Mali which is being undermined by terrorists and insurgents.
He added that the endangered Bamako administration also sought French military intervention and global help to safeguard Mali’s stability.
His words: "We are committed to sending 1200 troops to Mali. Already, 190 Nigerian troops are on ground in Mali. As you know, this is part of the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA). This was authorised by the UN Security Council in its Resolution 2085 upon the request of the Malian Government as endorsed by the Authority of Heads of Government of ECOWAS.
"The justification for Nigeria’s military engagement is simple. The primary objection of the intervention is to restore the territorial integrity of Mali, which is being undermined by terrorists and insurgents in northern Mali that are threatening to overrun the south. You can imagine the humanitarian catastrophe that would have ensued if this had been allowed to happen.
"Nigerian troops are therefore not in Mali to assist the French in fighting the terrorists, but assist in restoring Mali’s territorial integrity, to root out terrorists and other criminals, and to prevent Mali becoming a safe haven and training base for terrorists, who would come and join forces with extremists in Nigeria to cause more havoc on our people. It is therefore the collective endeavour of the international community."
Ashiru, who also spoke on other issues in Nigeria’s foreign policy, noted that the ministry was re-orientating and retooling its missions abroad towards trade and investment drives by giving them targets in terms of new performance contracts in line with the mandate of the Jonathan administration.
"We have revived joint commissions and pursued bi-national commissions with key countries such as the United States, Germany and Canada with a view to creating more business opportunities for Nigeria’s private sector," he said.
Meanwhile, the member representing Jos South/Jos East in the House of Representatives, Hon. Bitrus Kaze, has lauded the Federal Government for sending troops to Mali.
Kaze, who spoke in a chat in Jos, was reacting to comments in some quarters that President Jonathan was wrong to have approved the deployment of Nigerian troops to Mali, said the move was constitutional and good news to those who have suffered terrorist attacks.
The lawmaker remarked: "What is happening in Mali is dangerous. Mali is close enough to Nigeria. And you cannot rule out the fact that some of the arms that are being used in Mali, even as far as Libya, will eventually find their way into the hands of terrorists in Nigeria. And you can see their reaction in the attacks on the military in Kogi State and the Emir of Kano.
"To my mind, it is a resentment by terrorists who feel threatened by the military action in Mali."