West Africa must fight Nigeria's Boko Haram with international support, interview UN Special Representative
UN Special Representative for West Africa Mohammed Ibn Chambas has urged Lake Chad basin countries to “aggressively” tackle Nigerian militant group Boko Haram themselves. The envoy told RFI on Sunday that the international community should provide equipment, intelligence and financial support in the fight against the hardline Islamist group who are waging a campaign in northeast Nigeria which has spilled over into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
Why hasn’t the Nigerian military done more? Why haven’t they been as robust against Boko Haram as they have been in peacekeeping operations?
I think the approach now in fighting Boko Haram is for all the countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission to work together and to tackle Boko Haram as a threat to the region. Boko Haram has ceased to be a threat just to Nigeria, we’re seeing their activities now in Cameroon, in Niger and even more recently in Chad. They clearly pose a threat and a danger to these countries and we are pleased that all these countries now agreed to create a multinational joint taskforce to deal with Boko Haram. I believe that within this context Nigeria will step up, it has agreed to provide a significant part of the 8,700 troops who constitute this multinational joint taskforce and that’s the way it should be. Boko Haram needs to be dealt with aggressively and all the troops including Nigerian have to demonstrate robustness in dealing with Boko Haram so that we need nip this threat in the bud and so that it doesn’t become a bigger problem for west Africa, not just for the Lake Chad basin countries, but indeed for west Africa and central Africa.
Should the UN fund a regional taskforce against Boko Haram?
There was a meeting in Yaoundé 5-7 February sponsored by the African Union, to which it invited the UN and other partners. At this meeting under the auspices of the Lake Chad Basin Commission it was decided firmly that this multinational taskforce to be established will work in the framework or on the platform of the Lake Chad basin countries with the technical support of the African Union and certainly the UN and other partners. We will work to define the concept of operations, but also the financing of the multinational taskforce. This work is in progress and as soon as it is determined it will also decide the mode of financing, the mode of funding for the multinational taskforce. So we’re not quite there yet, but I suspect we’ll be there very soon with the work that is in progress.
Do you think there's a need for Western troops on the ground as we saw in northern Mali and French intervention?
The countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission are determined to take up this fight in the first instance and they have agreed to contribute 8,700 troops in engage in this battle. I believe that with the resolve and determination on their part - but also with materials, technical, intelligence and, of course, financial support of the international community – these countries will be up to the task. So in the first instance what is required is a firm and full support of the international community to this initiative of the Lake Chad basin countries to take up the fight with Boko Haram by themselves.
You said the elections in Nigeria might be a bit of a distraction - did you agree with postponement?
The Nigerian elections are an issue for Nigerians and after deep and wide consultation among stakeholders the elections have been postponed until 28 March. What is to be done now is to take advantage of this extension to make sure that the preparations for these elections are more thorough. In other words between now and 28 March it should be possible to address any shortcomings that may have been there. One can always improve and I think that is the determination of the Nigerian Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to improve on its performance especially visa vis-à-vis the last elections in Nigeria in 2011. We remain supportive, we’re fully behind this process here and we want to see an inclusive, credible and transparent election on 28 March of this year.
Do you expect Boko Haram to disrupt the elections?
I expect the Nigerian authorities, the security agencies in particular, between now and when the elections are due to put in place appropriate measures which will prevent Boko Haram from being the spoilers that they are, from being able to disrupt these elections, which they don’t believe in anyway, as a movement which is undemocratic, as a terrorist organisation. We hope that all appropriate measures will be put in place to ensure credible and inclusive elections, meaning that those displaced from the northeast from their homes, should be able to exercise their franchise come the election date.
If you were a Nigerian voter would you re-elect Goodluck Jonathan in the fight against Boko Haram.
I am not a Nigerian and I do not have a vote, it is not my business to decide for Nigerians who they will vote for. It is for Nigerians to make their choice. The only important thing is that the conditions are there for them to exercise their franchise in a free and un-intimidated manner.
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