The recent allegation by the Presidency that some sub-regional forces were responsible for the upsurge in kidnap incidents and other terrorist acts in Nigeria is weighty and should not be taken lightly. It is an extension of what has gone wrong security-wise in the country and it is quite disheartening. The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, said these sub-regional geopolitical forces were actively conspiring against the stability of Nigeria. He, however, noted that the Nigerian government was responding to it in a concerted way with its neighbours and that the United States government had also pledged its assistance to ensure the full return of the recently kidnapped Kaduna schoolchildren.

Recall that terrorists invaded Government Secondary School and LEA Primary School at Kuriga in Chikun Local Government Area (LGA) of Kaduna State recently and abducted over 280 pupils and teachers. Just as Nigerians were still lamenting this incident, another band of terrorists kidnapped some Tsangaya students at Gidan Bakuso in Gada LGA of Sokoto State. A day before the Kuriga incident, the dreaded terrorists had kidnapped over 200 persons, including women, boys and girls, from the internally displaced persons’ camp in Ngala LGA of Borno State. The abductees were captured while fetching firewood. Another set of 16 people from Gonin Gora area of Kaduna were also abducted. The terrorists who abducted the 16 citizens in Kaduna demanded 11 Hilux trucks, 150 motorcycles and N40 trillion, an amount that is higher than Nigeria’s 2024 budget. The abductors of the schoolchildren threatened to kill them if their demand of N1 billion was not met by March 27, 2024.

There has been persistent spread of violent extremism in the Sahel region. Such organisations as Islamic State in the West African Province (ISWAP), Boko Haram, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), and the Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) have at various times, launched attacks on soldiers and civilians in some countries in the region. Between 2015 and 2016, there were attacks targeting the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali, and the Splendid Hotel in Burkina Faso among others.

The problem is worsened by poor, illegitimate governance and economic downturn in the region. The collapse of the Libyan state in 2011 also contributed to the exacerbation of the problem, as proliferation of weapons and fighters in the region festered. The Lake Chad Basin and Liptako-Gourma sub-regions are the worst hit.

In 2014, Benin Republic, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria activated the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to deal with the threat of Boko Haram and other criminal elements in the Lake Chad Basin. This effort has not significantly curbed the menace of terrorists in the region. In July 2023, there was a military coup in Niger which soured the relationship between that country and some of its neighbours, especially Nigeria.

Related News

Nigeria later galvanised the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to impose sanctions against Niger. ECOWAS also threatened military action against the military junta, but it later back-pedalled following criticisms that trailed the intended action. This did not stop the pullout of the three countries from the regional body. These countries – Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger Republic – are under military rule. They considered the sanctions against military intervention in their countries as a slap on their sovereignty. This affected the counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel.

It is good that Nigeria has lifted the sanctions it imposed on Niger and opened the land and air borders with the country. Nigeria’s action was in compliance with the decisions of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government at its extraordinary summit in Abuja on February 24, 2024. At the summit, ECOWAS leaders agreed to lift economic sanctions against Niger Republic, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.

Be that as it may, it is important to state that the sovereignty of Nigeria cannot be compromised. Anything that should undermine the security of this country should raise the alarm bell. Any attempt by sub-regional forces to destabilise our country is a threat to our democracy. It is a call for military action. Government should identify those forces alleged to be plotting to destabilise the country and mete out appropriate action against them.

The primary duty of any government is security and welfare of the citizens. Government should not abdicate this duty. It should strengthen the intelligence network of the security agencies and seek foreign help if need be.

Besides, ECOWAS should remain vigilant and watchful. There should be regional action and collaboration against this creeping insurgency in the sub-region. One major action the organisation should pursue is to block the channels and routes or networks these terrorists use to move funds that fuel their activities within the sub-region. This will greatly cripple them as they depend majorly on these funds to cause havoc in some member countries.