opinionBy B.M. Sani
Kano — Instinctively, one cannot help wondering the rationale behind the agreement on drones base signed between the United States and the Republic of Niger for the fear that the latter, by design or default becomes a country of military occupation which will adversely affect its sovereignty and independence.
The armed drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan readily come to mind considering the number of innocent people inadvertently killed when the targets were missed eliciting resentment worldwide.
Niger Republic might have been scared by the probable incursion of terrorists and insurgents into her territory to inflict serious damage on her security apparatus. The ongoing battle in Mali which is her neighbour from the southwest accentuates the security concern. She strongly feels vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Her willingness therefore to enter into such military alliance with the United States is understandable. It is within her competence as a sovereign state to do so.
However this preservation of Niger's enlightened self interest carries diplomatic obligation. There is a duty of care not to harm her neighbours. America, for example, has not been happy with Cuba for providing the Soviets a stronghold. The Cuban missile crisis in the cold war era is not forgotten. Afghanistan under Hafizullah Amin maintained very close ties with the Americans to the serious objection of the Soviets who suspected that a base was to be provided in Kabul. President Leonid Brezhnev swiftly attacked Afghanistan, toppled Amin and replaced him with Barbara Kamal to ward off the perceived threats.
The purpose of the drone base is most probably to track the movements of terrorists, insurgents and militants of all shades, be it Al-Qaida clients or other similar organizations. The base is to conduct surveillance under the direction of military experts and personnel numbering about 500 including some civilians. Unlike the U.S. Africa Command, which has so far failed to secure a base in African, its projected military strength is put at 2000, as reported by newspapers. Africa Command has its headquarters now in Stuttgart, Germany. The command too is intended to offer military training, conduct manoeuvres, surveillance and, in the event of deepening security threats from insurgents and terrorists, it will in joint operations with other troops from selected African countries contain, if not suppress, the threats. Host state's police and legal experts will then arrest and prosecute the terrorists identified. To all intents and purposes, the drone base is Africa Command in disguise. Apart from Niger, there is another drone base in Djibouti to take care of that part of Africa.
Under the auspices of the AU, ECOWAS or other regional group, military cooperation with the US or indeed other developed countries can be arranged in an attempt to contain possible threats from militant groups, which can make life difficult for the people. The super powers technological development, tactics and military strategy can be taken advantage of in concerted efforts to counter terrorism. Indeed, even through satellites useful data are always being collected. It is time to share openly such information to the mutual benefit of those concerned. The symbiotic relationship subsisting in the exploitation and utilization of hydrocarbon and other mineral resources should be extended for more coverage in areas of security. Cognisance should be taken as part of desired cooperation of the armoured vehicles, communication gadgets, tear gas and other equipment for crowd control which are effectively being used by security agents throughout Africa. Otherwise, it will be a herculean task for African countries to monitor the hideouts of terrorists without sophisticated surveillance equipment.
In formalizing such cooperation arrangements, interference in the internal affairs of the countries hosting the bases no matter how slight should not be allowed. Likewise the tenure of the base operators should clearly be stated and adhered to. All other loopholes touching on the sovereignty and independence of the host states must be jealously guarded. But there is real and urgent need to learn and adopt innovative methods for security vigilance, apprehension of terrorists in good time and the application of pre-emptive measures that will sustain peace and stability necessary for the well being of the people, particularly their lives and property.
Ambassador Sani, mni, wrote from Sharada, Kano