Boko Haram: Buhari in right direction

boko haram 23IT is immensely delightful to see how President Buhari’s dramatic refocusing on the insurgency in the Northeast as a regional and not merely a national challenge has so perfectly matched a volunteered policy opinion in circulation since late November 2013.

Initially drafted as ‘Boko Haram: Interrogating African Border Governance’ and canvassed with the Presidency through the National Boundary Commission, the policy advisory note was circulated to the media, including The Sahara Reporters, in February 2014, when no response seemed to be forthcoming from the Government.

It was eventually enlarged as ‘Terrorism and African Border Governance’ and delivered as the third annual lecture of the young but upswinging Society for International Relations Awareness (SIRA) in Abuja on October 23, 2014.

By arrangement and at the special request of the national boundary commission, the SIRA lecture was re-cycled as a lead working paper for the Commission’s Nigeria-Cameroon Transborder Cooperation Workshop on ‘Insurgency and the Challenges of Transborder Management’, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, January 16-17, 2015.

Informed by knowledge and practical acquaintance with the subject and the terrain, the argument was simply to get the Federal Government to retract from an observed perception of the insurgency in the Northeast and its palpably failed handling as a national and unilateral problem, and refocus it as a regional challenge requiring the active and systematic engagement with limitrophe foreign jurisdictions of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, all of them fortunately, with Nigeria itself, being sister member states of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LBCB).

Indeed, the specific recommendation in November 2013 was for Nigeria to invoke provisions in the instrument and operational modalities of the LCBC, with an impressive Secretariat in N’Djamena, to initiate a special summit of the Authority of the Commission (i.e. Heads of the Member States) to work out the strategy for a joint regional approach for dealing more effectively with the menace which, by the date of the draft policy opinion, was already manifesting worrisome cross-border spill-overs, not just in massive refugee outflows into and grave incidents in the overlapping border regions of the other LBCB countries; but also in notorious interlinks with Al-Queda secessionist operations in Northern Mali.

Accordingly, the suggestion was for the regional diplomacy in the LCBC to be set within wider contexts of ECOWAS, ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States) and the African Union, with particular reference to the innovative AUBP (African Union Border Programme) now operating in the Peace and Security Department of the AU Commission in Addis Ababa.

While recognising the priority of military action at this stage, the emphasis of the policy opinion was on the imperative, ultimately, for a special development focus on this and other border areas in Nigeria where, as elsewhere in Africa and the wider so-called Third World, structural neglect and marginalisation have tended to predispose national peripheries as ‘locators of vice’ or crimes, notably terrorism. So far, then, so good.

To be sure, President Buhari’s positioning on the right track has been rather belatedly charted by his predecessor in office, thanks to the initiative taken by France on May 17, 2014, while Nigeria vacillated, to host a meeting of the Heads of State of the Lake Chad Basin Commission in Paris, with Nigeria’s former President in attendance.

Hopefully, President Buhari would hold on firmly to the regional approach, beyond the recent summit of the LCBC in Abuja, and pay serious attention, simultaneously, to the utter necessity of a special development agenda for the Northeastern and, indeed, other border regions of the nation.

It might, then, be time, to review and reinvigorate such specialised national organs as the National Boundary Commission in operation since 1989 and, especially, the needlessly parallel multi-billion-naira-budget Border Communities Development Agency created in late 2009.

The new Administration should also get into active engagement with relevant regional and international border-empathic structures, notably the African Union Border Programme in Addis Ababa, the European Union Commission in Brussels and the highly influential Association of European Border Regions with head office in Bonn and a powerful liaison office in Strasbourg.

The change and good governance Nigerians have voted for must begin at their nation’s borders and be boldly advertised in the infrastructural deprived, if not virtually and miserably abandoned, security-sensitive borderlands and cross-border areas vis-à-vis limitrophe countries in ECOWAS and ECCAS. • Asiwaju, MFR is Emeritus Professor at University of Lagos and Former Commissioner (International Boundaries), African Regional Institute, Imeko.

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