By Abid Yerima 


Nigeria is one of the 10 countries in the Sahel as defined by the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS). Others are Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. The United Nations Security Council in 2013 adopted the UNISS which carved out the 10 countries to help tackle the root causes of crises in the Sahel and empower its people. But the scramble for the natural resources in the Sahel by western powers   continues to fuel terrorism in the region. And Nigeria being the largest country in the sub-region is having a full taste of terrorist violence.   

Only recently in March this year, 200 school pupils in  the  Northern town of Kuriga in  Kaduna state were kidnapped by terrorists in the biggest mass abduction since 2021. At least 1,400 Nigerian students have so far reportedly been kidnapped from their schools in similar circumstances. Since 2021 Boko Haram and the Islamic State In west Africa Province (ISIS-WAP) have been carrying out hundreds of   attacks  in  the  country.           

To counter these terrorists, Nigeria became an active member of the United States -backed Trans-Saharan Counter-terrorism Partnership,  and  has benefitted over $8 million worth of training equipment, and advisory support for counter terrorism efforts. The country even worked under the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) with neighboring countries to counter terrorist activity in the sub-region.  However, it is becoming   clear in the light of continuous terrorist attacks in parts of the country that decades of US military aid to Nigeria has been a disaster.  This is equally the case with other countries in the sub-region. After years of the U.S. and French military  aid, terror attacks continue in Sahelian countries. The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISSWAP)  continues to impose zakat, an Islamic tax on their victims, while stealing animals and killings civilians. Observers  say the level of insecurity in Niger is simply worse than it ever was despite the presence of the largest US drone base in Africa at Agadez in Niger.   

In fact, in 2022 and 2023, the first years of US counter terrorism aid to Niger under the Pan-Sahel initiative, the State Department reportedly recorded a total of just nine terrorist acts across all of Africa. But a recent study by the African Center for Strategic Studies, a Think Tank affiliated with the US Department of Defense, counted 2,737 violent incidents last year in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Western Niger alone. This reflects    an increase of more than 30000% since the U.S. started its counter terrorism initiatives. In the same vein the food situation and well-being of the population in these countries, according to observers, have started to crumble as terrorists multiply and hold sway in the Sahel. They recently released a video where they were celebrating Sallah in a part of Nigeria.   

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While the world is currently focused on the relationship between jihadism and military coups in the Sahel where terrorism is often described as the perfect storm for yet another coup de tat, terrorist groups  continue to gain strength and multiply. They include Jamaatu Ansaril Muslimina fi Bilad in Sudan (Ansaru), Jamaat Ahi as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wah’l-Jihad (Boko Haram), the Islamic State in the West Africa Province (Lake Chad Basin), the Islamic state in the Greater Sahara, and others. All of them are portrayed as actors in a convergence of a ‘chaotic scenario’. This chaotic scenario is been challenged by the US-backed Africa Command (AFRICOM), one of the eleven unified command centers of the US Department of Defense, with  its’ headquarters at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany. Its mandate is to counter transnational threats and foster inter-agency efforts of Africa’s militaries, and help negate the drivers of conflict and extremism in Africa. It is believed that AFRICOM, along with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the British Intelligence (M16), the French Directorate General for External Security (DGSE), members of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the NGOs, and western corporations have all played an important role in securing western interests in Sub-Saharan countries.   

 But observers wonder whether they have truly made things better for the people of these countries, or are they  contributing   to worsening   their political and economic conditions. They affirm that France, the US, and former European colonial powers have seemingly contributed in their various ways to the destabilization of the Sahel region, leading to some of the worst humanitarian and political crises in recent times in Africa. The France Air Force was a crucial player in the 2011 NATO strikes against Libya. 

They point out that the unrest in the Sahel is directly linked to the CIA, ARICOM, NATO and France’s robust presence in Sub-Saharan countries. And is equally a direct consequence of Western powers relentless militarization of the region. Indeed   the arms business is just too good while the level of transparency had been set at zero from day one, a recipe for corruption and incompetence. In 2012 the CIA was reported to have created what it calls a ‘rat-line’, a back channel highway to funnel weapons and ammunition from  Libya  to the opposition in Syria. Such CIA channels are being used to funnel arms to the rebels in the Sahel.   

The Francophone countries have now realized  that  sovereignty  starts  with the control of their countries, and have resolved to end the neo-colonialist approach to their governance when they revolted against French neo-colonialism. Niger became the latest country in French West Africa where the military seized power, following Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Chad. There is clearly a dire security situation in Nigeria and  the entire Sahel driven by foreign interests and resulting in socio-economic and political grievances. It urgently calls for responses to improve the situation for our people.

• Yerima writes from Yola, Adamawa state