Nigeria Army troops of all ranks numbering 900 were yesterday deployed to Mali as part of the Africa-led international Mission in Support of Mali (AFISMA) in the search of global peace and security.
Already, the Senate yesterday approved the participation of Nigerian troops in the war, while President Goodluck Jonathan leaves for Cote d'Ivoire today in furtherance of the situation in Mali.
The officers and soldiers were drawn from the 333 battalion (NIBATT 1 AFISMA) who went through pre-deployment training on peace enforcement and counter -insurgency training.
The officers and soldiers were trained in patrolling, cordon and search, anti-ambush drills, base camp security, VIP protection, convoy movements, and refresher training in weapons handling, and support weapons such as mortar, RPG and BMG.
In his charge to the troops, the chief of army staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirika, urged them to comport themselves properly and show commitment and loyalty to all, applying utmost discipline in the discharge of their responsibilities.
He further charged them to remain committed and courageous at all times, while assuring them of the federal government's readiness to give them the necessary support in their assignment "be it operational, logistics or administrative".
He added: "Remain steadfast throughout and at all times, and exhibit high standard of discipline which is the bedrock of the army profession.
"You must show exemplary leadership in your operational area as you have always done, as you prepare to deploy to Mali, I must let you know that your battalion was specifically selected following a careful assessment of your capabilities, training, discipline and commitment, amongst other factors, I am convinced that you would accomplish tasks that would be assigned to you and that you would make the nation proud."
Earlier in his address, the commandant of the Nigeria Army Peace Keeping Centre (NAPKC), Major General John Zaruwa, assured that the training of the 333 Battalion was specifically tailored to suit the operational environment and therefore expressed optimism that the battalion would be capable of conducting operations and accomplishing their tasks.
The commandant however reiterated that peace enforcement is much more difficult than peacekeeping, and urged the troops to put into practice the commitment and dedication displayed while undergoing the pre-deployment training to make Nigeria proud.
Meanwhile, the first batch of seven officers and 155 soldiers were set to leave for Mali yesterday.
Some officers from the Air Force that would take part in the operation against the Islamic terrorists that have taken over northern Mali would also depart Abuja for Mali.
LEADERSHIP checks show that the officers that would be part of the troops going for the operation were drawn from various brigades nationwide.
'A battalion is made of about 776 soldiers while nine battalions make a brigade, which means a battalion could be taken from a brigade.
"But the Nigerian Army does not act that way. Instead it would ask every brigade to contribute in order to allow every one of them to gather the experience and the exposure such an operation would make available to those that take part," a military source said.
According to him, since the force commander is a major-general, the officers going would be from the rank of colonel down.
Army chief Ihejirika disclosed that, aside from the ECOWAS factor, Nigeria's participation has to do with the security of the country especially since Boko Haram is one of the terrorist groups that are being trained in Mali. To the Western world, the Islamic terrorists in northern Mali wanted to carve out a country of their own, hence the reason French troops have been dropping bombs on the area conquered in the last 72 hours.
Jonathan to meet ECOWAS leaders in Cote d'Ivoire
President Jonathan was said to have told the Security Committee of his government that keeping watch over Niger and Mali must be thorough in order to tame the menace of terrorism in the country.
Also yesterday, he appealed to the international community to commence what he described as more robust global response to the scourge of terrorism.
According to Jonathan, the whole world clearly needed to unite and do much more than was presently being done to contain terrorism with its very negative impact on global peace and security.
The president made the appeal while reviewing recent terrorism-related events in Algeria and northern Mali with the new British high commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Andrew John Pocock, at the presidential villa.
Jonathan will leave the country for Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire, today for an Extraordinary Session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government ahead of the full deployment of the community's troops to Mali.
He condemned yesterday's kidnapping of British, French and other foreign workers at a gas facility in eastern Algeria by terrorists who claimed to be responding to France's intervention in Mali. He assured that Nigeria would continue to work hard with its partners in the international community to ensure that terrorism is vigorously rolled back across the world.
He told Pocock that, in furtherance of Nigeria's commitment to the war against terrorism in West Africa, Nigerian troops were currently deploying to Mali to join up with the multinational force assembling there to restore northern Mali to the control of the Malian government.
He told the British high commissioner that the full support and cooperation of the federal government in his endeavour to further strengthen the existing cordial relations between Nigeria and Great Britain was guaranteed.
President Jonathan had earlier received the letters of credence of the first ambassador of South Sudan to Nigeria, Mr. Parmena Mankuet Mangar.
He assured Mr. Mangar that Nigeria would remain a strong advocate for peace between South Sudan and Sudan, and that the federal government would also give all possible developmental assistance to the new country.
On his trip to Cote D'voire today, President Jonathan will be accompanied by the minister of state for defence, Erelu Olusola Obada, and the chief of defence staff, Admiral Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim. The meeting is also expected to discuss the situation in Guinea-Bissau. President Jonathan is due back in Abuja on Saturday.
Senate okays 1,200 troops to Mali
The Senate yesterday approved President Jonathan's request to deploy 1,200 Nigerian soldiers to Mali as part of the African-led force (AFISMA) to combat the rising insurgency in that country.
However, the Senate mandated its Committee on Defence and National Security to visit and monitor the troops and ensure that they are well equipped and prepared to effectively carry out the roles they have been assigned.
The endorsement of the Senate was sequel to a letter by Jonathan, which was read by Senate president David Mark and deliberated upon, first in an executive session and later in an open plenary.
The deployment of the troops, he said, is in line with Security Council resolution 2085 (2012) and is necessitated by the need to combat armed and terrorist groups including Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and their activities, as well as the proliferation of weapons from within and outside the region with grave consequences on the security and stability in the northern parts of Mali and beyond, including Nigeria.
The letter entitled "Notification of the Senate on the deployment of members of the armed forces on a limited combat duty to Mali and request for consent", read in part: "May I draw the attention of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 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.
"Senate is invited to note Security Council concerns on the continuing deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in the north of Mali, which is further complicated by the presence and entrenchment of armed and terrorist groups including Al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) and their activities; the proliferation of weapons from within and outside the region; the consequences of instability in the northern parts of Mali on the region and beyond; and the need to respond swiftly in order to preserve stability across Sahel region."
Jonathan further underscored that "Nigeria is currently facing daunting security challenges and given its proximity to the Sahel region, the crisis in Mali, 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 developmental efforts. As a responsible member of the international community and given our recent experiences with the insurgency and terrorist activities especially in the northern parts of the country, I felt compelled to urgently approve the deployment of Nigerian troops".