Before now, some Nigerians had castigated the Federal Government for sending 1,200 soldiers to Mali to help in kicking out terrorists from the West African country when the “Giant of Africa”, as Nigeria is otherwise called, has not been able to fix its security challenges.
But recent revelation by President Goodluck Jonathan that 50 per cent of members of the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, receive their training in Mali could assuage such critics.
The President had, while addressing Nigerians living in Geneva, Switzerland, explained that his administration decided to stop the activities of terrorists in Mali because of the dangers they posed to Nigeria and the West African sub-region.
He added that Mali and some other West African nations had become training grounds for terrorists, including the Boko Haram members. But could the president revelation be true? Experts say yes. According to them, at least four cross-border flows facilitate terrorism in West Africa. This means that Jonathan’s assertion may not be far from the truth.
From North Africa, experts say, terrorism is imported to the sub Saharan Africa through the trade routes to West Africa.
With the Al-Queda influence among some groups of terrorists in North Africa, and some Nigerian neighbours, importing terrorism into Nigeria will not be difficult. The nation’s leaky borders provide an easy access to such venture. At least, drug couriers, smugglers, child traffickers and illegal aliens have for years been coming in and out of the country with little or no challenge.
Also, AQIM, experts say, has secured operational and training support bases in the Sahel and immediate surrounding countries such as Libya and Mali. It has also built local and tactical alliances with Tuareg in Niger, Mali as well as in Mauritania, one of the experts, Jacques Roussellier, an instructor at American Military University and international political consultant, says.
He notes that Mauritania is increasingly being used as AQIM’s rear base in the region — and in the northern Mali’s safe haven to train members of terrorist groups, including Mali-based Ansar Eddin and Nigeria’s Boko Haram.
Experts add that terrorism thrives in the region because of the availability of tools of violent extremism. Explosives, they note, can be purchased and as many as 15,000 of Muammar Gadhafi’s stock of man-portable air-defence systems are unaccounted for. Perhaps millions of Kalashnikovs flooded gun markets after the Libyan war. Boko Haram has become yet another group to use them during its deadly attacks since 2010.
But while President Jonathan could be commended for being proactive in joining forces with France and the rest of the world to wrest Northern Mali from terrorists, the Federal Government should remove all factors that promote terrorism in the country.
Youth restiveness, unemployment, corruption and religious extremism should be eliminated while illegal weapons should be mopped up.
Criminality should be separated from reasonable agitation and Nigerians should hold their leaders accountable for their action or inaction. Nigerians also should join hands to defend the nation’s unity and peaceful coexistence.
Besides, the Nigerian soldiers sent to Mali should not be denied all their entitlements – both while on the battlefields there and when they return. For one, theirs should not be like the case of their colleagues who, a few years ago, were pushed into fierce agitation as they struggled to get their due upon return from a similar foreign mission.