From ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI, Abuja, ABDULGAFAR ALABELEWE, Kaduna and TONY JOHN, Port-Harcourt
Nigeria yesterday commenced deployment of troops as part of its contribution to the Africa-led International Support to Mali codenamed AFISMA to enforce peace in the West African country which had almost fallen to the rebels. The rebels are mainly Al Qaeda and Islamist jihadist groups which had seized almost half of the country. Last week, President Dionconda Traore had cried to the United Nations (UN) to help save the nation.
France, Mali’s colonial master, responded with the deployment of ground troops, armoured tanks and fighter jets as they bombarded rebel strongholds. Other countries including the European Union (EU) are pledging men and material support. Yesterday, Nigeria joined the international community to stop the march of terrorists in the region by supplying 906 soldiers.
In fact, President Goodluck Jonathan said yesterday that Nigeria is facing daunting security challenges and given its proximity to the Sahel region, the Mali crisis, if not brought under control, may spill over to Nigeria and other West African countries with negative consequences on our collective security, political stability and development efforts. He said: “ As a responsible member of the international community and given my recent experiences with insurgency and terrorist activities especially in the northern part of the country, I felt compelled to urgently approve the deployment of Nigerian troops.”
The Senate, also yesterday supported the President’s deployment of soldiers which also include 66 Air Force officers, who departed from Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-General Azubuike Ihejirika yesterday charged the troops to show exemplary leadership at the mission area. Addressing them at the Nigerian Army Peace Keeping Centre (NAPKC), Jaji near Kaduna before their departure, Gen. Ihejirika told the officers and men to comport themselves properly and show commitment and loyalty to all, as well as apply utmost discipline in the discharge of their responsibilities.
He told the NIBATT 1 AFISMA officers and soldiers drawn from the 333 Battalion, who went through pre-deployment training at the NAPKC, that their welfare will be treated with utmost priority. According to the Army chief, “I want to assure you of the government’s support while carrying out your assignment, be it operational, logistics or administrative, remain steadfast throughout and at all times, and exhibit high standard of discipline which is the bedrock of the Army profession.
Earlier in his address, the Commandant of the NAPKC, Major-General John Samuel Zaruwa, assured that the training of the 333 Battalion was specifically tailored to suit the operational environment and therefore, expressed optimism that the battalion was capable of conducting the operation and accomplish their assigned tasks. The commandant, however, reiterates that peace enforcement was much more difficult than peace-keeping, and urged the troops to practise the commitment and dedication displayed while undergoing the pre-deployment training to make Nigeria proud.
Rising from executive session, Senate yesterday backed President Jonathan in the deployment just as it also directed its Committees on Defence and National Security and Intelligence to proceed to Mali. Senate based its support on Section 5 (5) of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulates that only the consent of the Senate is needed in limited combat operation.
This position is contrary to section 4 (5) of the Constitution which President Jonathan cited in a correspondence to the Upper Legislative Chamber. In the January 16 letter to Senate President David Mark, Jonathan urged the Senate to exercise its powers under section 4 (5) of the Constitution and consent to the deployment of 1,200 soldiers to service in AFISMA on limited combat duties. Similarly, the two standing committees have also been mandated by the Senate to “ensure that Nigerian troops are well-equipped to carry out the roles they are to undertake in Mali.”
Earlier, Mark read a letter from the President where he hinged the deployment of troops to the “political and security crisis in Mali and its grave consequences on the security situation and stability in the Sahel and the entire West African sub-region.” Supporting Jonathan’s request, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, noted that Nigeria cannot afford to stand aloof as events in Mali have grave repercussions for Nigeria. “What’s happening in Mali has great security implication for Nigeria. Like America, we have to take the war to their homes.
Nigeria should do this; in the best interest of Nigeria, take the war to the home of the terrorists. I commend the action taken by France because the insurgents were 400 kilometres away from Bamako when France intervened.” Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), urged the Presidency to go beyond sending troops, noting that Nigeria should learn from super-powers who utilise such missions for national economic gains. Said Ndoma-Egba: “This is the time when adventurous military men should know that their days are long gone. Nigeria made a lot of sacrifices for our neighbours but what have we got in return?
There’s a gap in our foreign policy; we can’t continue to be big brother when it comes to sacrifice. We must have benefits in return.” Chairman of the Navy Committee, Chris Anyanwu, however, lent her support to Nigeria looking beyond the peace-keeping mission and ensure that Nigeria gets more in return from its support to that country. “I support the President’s request. What he wants to do is absolutely necessary and inevitable on two sides: one, we are a member of ECOWAS and secondly, we are feeling the heat of the insurgents.
“We don’t want Nigeria to be the centre of war. As we go to Mali, we should know what we are going to do there. We should not repeat the mistake we made in other countries in Mali. Nigeria should stop playing Father-Xmas; we should get strategic thinkers and re-think our foreign policy.” Senate President Mark said approval of Jonathan’s request is predicated on section 5 (5) of the Constitution which supersedes section 5 (4) which only mandates the President to notify both houses of the National Assembly when he wants to deploy Nigerian troops for war. “The request is on limited combat operation in Mali.
We are big brother in Africa (and) whatever happens in Africa, we will definitely be concerned… “I believe that the request is in order. One important thing is this: because of the nature of the crisis in Mali and the characters involved, if we don’t intervene, European countries and African countries will definitely ask us to intervene. “The insurgents do not only want to take over Bamako, they want to spread their tentacles beyond Mali…
The Committees on Defence and National Security and Intelligence should ensure that our troops are well-equipped to carry out the roles they are to undertake…” Mark said. Meanwhile, 66 Nigerian Air Force contingents yesterday departed for Mali. They were air-lifted from the Port Harcourt International Airport by an Air Force aircraft marked NAF 952 at about 10am. Addressing the troops including two women, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badey, urged them to be focused, maintain professionalism and make Nigeria proud.
He reminded them that the assignment was one of the President’s mandate to provide troops for peace keeping. He urged them to represent the nation well and maintain the virtues Nigerian soldiers, who were known for their track records in several peace missions. Addressing newsmen, Air Marshal Badey said the operation was the initial movement of the 1,200 troops pledged by the President. Badey said that Nigeria had two-fold targets which were to eliminate the Islamist rebels and to ensure that they did not enter the country.