The federal government yesterday said that Nigeria was the main target of the terrorist groups presently holding northern Mali hostage, and that the deployment of Nigerian troops to the West African country was to ensure the stability of Nigeria.
Yesterday also, it was learnt that the rank of the Malian rebels has split into two factions with one favouring a truce with the troops of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The minister of foreign affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, who made this made government's position known in an interview at the sidelines of the ongoing African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, declared that government was prepared to do everything within its power to contain the insurgency by the terrorists in Mali.
Ambassador Ashiru said that Nigerian troops already in Mali would soon advance from the central part of the country to curtail the terrorists in the northern part of the country, even as he warned that the events in Mali, if we not quickly stopped, "will have effect on the whole of West Africa, and Nigeria is there prime target."
The minister added that Nigeria was grateful to France for seizing the initiative to intervene in the matter, but stated that Africans must now take charge henceforth to "ensure that we safeguard the territorial integrity of Mali, and to make sure that we are able to stop the terrorists from advancing further because they are a threat, not just to Mali but to Nigeria and all countries in the sub region."
Warning criminals, armed gangs and terrorists that they will not be allowed any breathing space for them to exploit in the West African sub region, Ashiru said, "So, we need to act quickly and forcefully in Mali to stop them, to contain them, to destroy their capability to be able to launch any counter-offensive within the sub region."
On the financial implication of the Mali intervention to Nigeria, Ashiru noted that even though a number of countries and international organizations were involved, Nigeria would be expected to commit its own funds initially into the operation, maintaining that such financial commitments was necessary to ensure the nation's security.
The minister clarified the difference between the country's earlier military intervention in the sub region and this one.According to him, "The intervention in Mali today is to ensure the survival of Nigeria; the intervention in Sierra Leone and Liberia was to enthrone democracy, rule of law and good order.
"In those two places, the campaign there did not have any security impact directly on Nigeria, as such: it was just that we wanted peace in the sub region, to ensure refugees did not flood Nigeria. Even with that, they still came to Nigeria because we had lots of them that still came to Nigeria.
"But for Mali, our intervention is borne out of our own national interest, the survival of our own country because terrorists know no boundaries; they move anywhere, and once they are able to cause instability in that area, they move there and the ultimate prize is to destabilize the country. So, our intervention in Mali must be seen in that context; it is to ensure that we contain the terrorists from spreading from northern Mali to come southwards."
Ashiru also explained the funding model of the Mali campaign: "As regards financial implication, that is why Nigeria did not act alone. It was not a unilateral action by Nigeria; it is an ECOWAS-led intervention, supported by the African Union (AU), and the United Nations (UN).
"There will be funding from all these organizations," he said. "Initially, Nigeria will have to throw in all sorts of funding, but we have to do that in the context of our own national security. So, I don't think you should bother yourself too much about that; you should bother yourself about the survival of our country."
The minister also spoke on the proposed African Standby Force and noted that its establishment was necessary to ensure quick military action in troubled places on the continent.
He said: "I think it has dawned on most countries today that the creation of a standby force must be accelerated. Events in Mali, in Central African Republic and in Congo will show you the need for the standby force to be in place today."
Meanwhile, reports from Mali indicate that the Ansar Dine Islamic group that dominated the northern part of Mali is now split into two.
According to BBC Hausa service, the newly splinter group, which announced its name as the Islamic group of Azawad, said that it was no longer comfortable with the extremism of the other section and that it was willing to hold dialogue for lasting peace following the proper channels.
LEADESHIP recalls that France had sent soldiers to Mali earlier this month in order to stop the rebels from capturing some parts of the country. It said that the rebels were connected to the foremost terrorist group, Al-Qaeda, and that they wanted make Mali a base for terrorists.
About 10 months ago, three Islamic groups were in control of the northern parts of Mali where it forced Islamic law on the populace.