This Day (Lagos)

18 May 2014

Nigeria, Cameroon Cooperation Boost War Against Boko Haram

Photo: Présidence de la République
West African presidents meet at the invitation of President Francois Hollande of France.

After several attempts, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and Cameroonian President Paul Biya finally met Saturday at a regional summit hosted by French President Francois Hollande in Paris at the request of President Jonathan.

At the meeting, Nigeria and its neighbours vowed to work together to combat Boko Haram. President Jonathan and his counterparts - President Biya of Cameroon, President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger Republic, President Boni Yayi of Benin and President Idriss Deby of Chad also approved an action plan designed to counter the terrorist organization blamed for 2,000 deaths this year alone and which has caused global outrage with its abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls.

"This latest attack is a wake up call for all of us. A line has been drawn in the sand; a test is put to each one of us. Nigeria will rise up to this challenge and will prevail. I call upon each one of you to stand up and be counted with us in this fight," President Jonathan said, while also disclosing that the campaign of terror by the sect had claimed over twelve thousand lives.

"We have seen what this organisation is capable of," French President Francois Hollande said at the close of the summit. "They have threatened civilians, they have attacked schools and they have kidnapped citizens of many countries. France in particular has been a victim of it. "When more than 200 young girls are being held in barbaric conditions with the prospect of being sold into slavery, there are no questions to be asked, only actions to be taken," Hollande added.

The action plan would involve coordination of surveillance efforts, the sharing of intelligence and joint efforts to secure the porous borders in the region against the deadly group that had forged links with terrorist groups all over Africa, Hollande said.

"Religious intolerance has no place in Africa," said Benin President Boni Yayi, while his Cameroonian counterpart President Paul Biya said, "We are here to declare war on Boko Haram."

Chad's Idriss Deby warned: "Terrorists have already done enough damage. Letting them continue would run the risk of allowing the whole region to fall into chaos."

A statement issued by the office of the French President at the end of the meeting tagged 'Paris Summit for Security in Nigeria', said the summit had "helped intensify regional and international mobilization to combat the terrorism of the Boko Haram group"

It noted that the summit came up with several decisions that would strengthen cooperation between regional states, both to enable the liberation of the abducted school girls and more generally to combat Boko Haram.

"The partners present (the European Union, France, the United States and the United Kingdom) are committed to supporting this regional cooperation and strengthening the international means to combat Boko Haram and protect victims. All these states reaffirm their commitment to human rights and particularly the protection of girls who are victims of violence and forced marriage or threatened with slavery," the statement said of the summit which was also attended by representatives of the United States, United Kingdom and European Union.

On regional cooperation, the statement said, "Nigeria and its neighbours will build analysis and response capabilities that will contribute to enhancing the security of all populations and the rule of law in the areas affected by Boko Haram's terrorist acts."

To combat the Boko Haram threat, particularly as recently manifested through several murderous attacks and the abduction of more than 270 school girls, it said Nigeria and its neighbours had decided to immediately take certain bilateral and multilateral steps.

On a bilateral basis, it said the summit decided to: Implement coordinated patrols with the aim of combating Boko Haram and locating the missing school girls; establish a system to pool intelligence in order to support this operation, establish mechanisms for information exchange on trafficking of weapons and bolster measures to secure weapons stockpiles; and establish mechanisms for border.surveillance;

On a multilateral basis, it said the summit resolved to: Establish an intelligence pooling unit; and create a dedicated team to identify means of implementation and draw up, during a second phase, a regional counter-terrorism strategy in the framework of the Lake Chad Basin Commission. "The United States, the United Kingdom, France and the European Union will coordinate their support for this regional cooperation through technical expertise, training programmes and support for border-area management programmes," it said, "the participants commit to accelerating the implementation of international sanctions against Boko Haram, Ansaru and their main leaders, within the United Nations framework as a priority."

It said the EU would dedicate a certain number of its programmes to these aspects and would strengthen its efforts to combat radicalization, adding that a follow-up meeting would be hosted by the United Kingdom next month at ministerial level to review progress on the Paris action plan. President Jonathan, while speaking at the event, defended his decision to cancel a visit to the town of Chibok from where more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamist militants more than a month ago.

"What is of interest now is to locate the girls. The girls are not in Chibok," he said. The last-minute cancellation of a visit to the town, ostensibly for security reasons, was widely criticised. "I will visit Chibok," he said, but did not give a date.

Jonathan also dismissed criticism that the Nigerian response had been slow, saying the terror "only started in 2009 and we didn't have the architecture to deal with that."

"As we progress you will see that the Nigerian military will cope. Definitely we will overcome it," he said, referring to the Boko Haram group.

"We are totally committed to finding the girls, wherever they are," Jonathan said, adding, "The major challenge that we have faced in our search and rescue operation so far has been the deluge of misinformation about the whereabouts of the girls and the circumstances of their disappearance.

"We have deployed about 20,000 troops to the area, intensified aerial surveillance, and strengthened local intelligence resources. We shall spare no effort, we shall explore every avenue; we shall turn every stone, to ensure the return of the girls to their families and that the terrorists are defeated."

President Jonathan said, "We will not succumb to terrorists and their dangerous tactics. Terrorists will not be allowed to define who we are or instil fear in our people and cause destruction and mayhem. The time has therefore come for all peace-loving peoples of the world to unite against this new threat to global peace and stability.

Jonathan called for United Nations sanctions on the terror group and their leaders, adding, "the Boko Haram that said no to Western education in 2002 is not the same Boko Haram operating today."

"At the international level, we should take concrete steps to designate the Al Qaeda in West Africa, alias Boko Haram, as a Terrorist Organisation on the basis of the Proscription Order that my government has already imposed on the organisation" the president averred.

He canvassed for acceleration in the implementation of other international sanctions, particularly under the auspices of the United Nations, on Boko Haram, Ansaru and their principal leaders. The president informed the summit that already, his government was making thorough intelligence efforts to identify their sponsors and their sources of funding and arms supply.

Jonathan noted that with the cooperation of Nigeria's neighbours, it would be possible to rein in these organisations until this scourge is ultimately eliminated and defeated.

On reports that Cameroon was not co-operating with Nigeria, Jonathan noted that "Cameroon has in the past helped to intercept arms meant for terror operations in Nigeria." He said though international laws bars Nigerian troops from crossing Cameroon border to engage the terror group, but stressed that "that does not mean Cameroon is not co-operating with us".

Going down memory lane, he said, "But let me state clearly from the outset that what started as a local insurgency in North Eastern Nigeria has now evolved into the new frontier of the global war of terrorism against our civilization, our way of life, and against the many prospects of stability in our region. This is not anymore a challenge to Nigeria alone; it is a threat to each and every one of us in this room.

"The group is hostile to democracy; it uses every means to indoctrinate its members; its ultimate objective is to destabilize the country, and take over Nigeria in order to turn it into a base of operation in West Africa and the entire continent.

"Since 2009, we have had to contend with many attacks and killings, which have now developed into a full-scale war targeting the stability and integrity of our nation. Boko Haram has launched a vicious guerrilla-style campaign against the government and the people of Nigeria. It has attacked schools, slaughtered students in their dormitories, destroyed villages, communities and government infrastructure and has wreaked havoc on the economic and social life of our people.

"This unconventional war has so far claimed over twelve thousand lives, with more than 8, 000 persons injured or maimed, not to mention the displacement of thousands of innocent Nigerians. "We have developed intelligence, which indicates that global terrorist networks are deeply involved in the recent activities of Boko Haram, which has now turned into an integral part of the Al Qaeda network as the West African Branch. More tellingly, the group runs an international network of training and incubation centres in such places as Gao and Kidal areas of Mali, the Diffa, Maradi and Maina Soro areas of Niger Republic, Maroua and Garoua areas of Republic of Cameroun, the Zango and Ridina quarters in Ndjamena, Chad, the Ranky-Kotsy area of Sudan, and also some cells in the Central African Republic" the president noted.

He said, "We believe that it is the success of our administration's Transformation Agenda, evident in the growth of our economy and increasing opportunities for our people, that has prompted the terrorists to intensify the war against Nigeria, because our success is their failure. "The activities of the terrorists have also been felt across Nigerian borders particularly in Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Border and cross-border attacks have taken place with Boko Haram terrorists seeking refuge in our neighbouring countries. So many Nigerians, fleeing from terror attacks, have also become refugees in our neighbouring countries creating additional burden (security and financial) in those countries.

Meanwhile, just hours ahead of the summit, the Islamist group carried out another brazen attack, this time killing one Chinese worker and kidnapping 10 others in Cameroon - underlining the regional threat posed by the group.

There were however other reports that said the location where the attack took place was Nigerian territory - Kusuri village in Gwoza local government area of the troubled Borno State. Militants were said to havestormed an encampment used by Chinese road workers late on Friday in a region of northern Cameroon just across the border from the town where they abducted the girls a month ago.

"The Boko Haram militants were heavily armed, they came in five vehicles," an official in Waza, a town near the site of the attack, said on condition of anonymity.

He said the camp where the Chinese road workers stayed was usually guarded by soldiers from Cameroon's elite Rapid Intervention Battalion, but many of the troops were in Yaounde for a military parade.

"Cameroonian soldiers retaliated and the fighting lasted until 3:00 am (0200 GMT)," said a local police chief. He said one Chinese worker was killed and 10 others had been missing since the attack and were believed kidnapped by the Boko Haram gunmen.

A source close to the Chinese embassy in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde spoke of 10 missing and one wounded but would not confirm or deny whether one had been killed.

In another deadly incident, about 29 persons were feared killed in an attack on a market in Ngurosoye village in Bama local government area of Borno State, residents of the area have claimed.

It was gathered on Saturday that the insurgents came on several motorcycles and six Hilux Pick-up vehicles and immediately went about shooting indiscriminately and firing rockets at the market which caused the death of some traders.

A security source who spoke to journalists on condition of anonymity said, 29 lifeless bodies were counted moments after the attack, which also caused injuries to several other people. He lamented: "The attacks of the insurgents on the state rather than decreasing is seriously increasing and the killings these days are in greater number," urging that: "I think it is time government allow us to cordon this Sambisa and destroy all these evil people."

It would be recalled that this makes it the third time insurgents are attacking the same market since the Boko Haram crisis began in 2009.

Ngurosoye village is about 56 kilometers from Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, which is also a gateway into the dreaded Sambisa forests.

A resident of Bama town who spoke anonymously with journalists said, the people had heard rumour of possible attack on the area by the insurgents about two weeks ago.

It would be recalled that gunmen marauders few days ago attacked some villages around Gwoza town where 17 people were reported to have been killed and properties worth millions of naira were destroy by the attackers.

Commissioner for Tourism in the state, Dr. Vilita Bashir, who visited the area to commiserate with the people told them that, the governor, Kashim Shettima was touched by their lost. She also presented some relief materials to the victims of the attack on behalf of the Borno state government and urged the people to continue to pray for the return of peace in the northeast region.

The attackers also destroyed a bridge linking the various villages in the area, where the Chinese construction workers were working, it was gathered.

Attempts made to get the Borno State Police Commissioner Lawal Tanko and the spokesman of the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, Col. Muhammad Dole, yielded no result as at time of filing this report.

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