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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Why Nigeria Should Also Think of Itself as a Central African State

This article was first published on 'African Arguments Online' on 21 July 2015

President Muhammadu Buhari with the President of Chad, Idris Deby, during a Press Conference at the State House in N’djamena, Chad. 4 June 2015. Photo Credit:
The ‘concentric circle‘ model which frames how Nigeria’s foreign policy thinkers view our region places the country exclusively in West Africa. Consequently West Africa has traditionally been the main focus of the country’s regional diplomacy.

West Africa also remains the arena of Nigeria’s boldest and most celebrated diplomatic initiatives to date – the establishment of ECOWAS in 1975 and the ECOMOG interventions of the 1990s.

I think this view of our broader region which situates Nigeria on the eastern edges of West Africa is incomplete. Instead our strategic thinkers should embrace the country’s natural identity as a potential pivotal power situated at a crossroad between multiple regions, and an anchor state linking West and Central Africa together.

Nigeria’s broader region also encompasses Central Africa. Therefore we should also join Central Africa’s principal regional organisation – the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) – as an observer.

A Potential Pivotal Power and an Anchor State

Geographically, Nigeria shares land and sea boundaries with six countries: Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Niger, and Sao Tome and Principe. Of these, only Benin and Niger are West African states and members of ECOWAS. Our other four neighbours are Central African states and members of ECCAS. Our longest land boundary is with a Central African and ECCAS state: Cameroon.

Map of West Africa and ECOWAS States (Blue) and Central Africa and ECCAS States (Red). Angola, DRC, and Burundi are stripped because they are members of both ECCAS and SADC (Angola and DRC), and ECCAS and EAC (Burundi).
Similarly, Nigeria’s most pressing security challenge – Boko Haram’s terrorist insurgency – is concentrated along our borders with our Central African neighbours, Cameroon and Chad. To all intents and purposes, given the serious security threat posed by Boko Haram, Nigeria’s defence diplomacy will be oriented towards our Central African border for the next few years.

Central Africa has a special place in Nigeria’s diplomatic and military history. Independent Nigeria’s first troop deployment abroad was to the Democratic Republic of Congo. A month after gaining independence, Nigeria volunteered an army contingent to join UN forces trying to quell the post-independence crisis that gripped that Central African country.

Similarly Nigeria’s first major military intervention abroad under its own initiative occurred in one of our Central African neighbours: Chad. Alarmed at the chaos on its north-eastern border as a result of Chad’s civil war, Nigeria deployed an 800-man peacekeeping force into the country in March 1979.

Its objective was to maintain order and provide breathing room for the rebels to hammer out a political settlement to the conflict. The mission failed. Nigeria, lacking the “political, economic and military leverage needed to impose peace on the factions in Chad”, withdrew its troops three months later.

Undeterred Nigeria again deployed troops in December 1981, but this time as part of a wider Nigerian-led multilateral effort under the auspices of the Organisation of African Unity. The initiative was driven from Lagos, the force was commanded by a Nigerian, and Nigeria provided the bulk of the troops, 2000 out of 3500.

This was Nigeria’s largest force deployment abroad, until the ECOMOG operations in West Africa of the 1990s. Hampered by acute logistical weaknesses and financial difficulties – and after Hissène Habré, backed by France and the US, seized power in June 1982 – Nigeria and the OAU force withdrew.

A year later Nigeria again resorted to military force – this time unilaterally – to dislodge occupying Chadian forces from a disputed Island in Lake Chad and protect Nigerian fishermen from the spill-over of Chad’s raging civil war. This sparked a three month-long crisis and intermittent border clashes from April-July 1983, killing an “estimated seventy-five Chadian soldiers and nine Nigerians”, until an agreement was signed on 11 July resolving the crisis.

Unfortunately these important interventions – especially the abortive peacekeeping attempts in March 1979 and December 1981-June 1982 – and the rich lessons that can be gleaned from them are largely absent from public discourse, due to the West Africa-centric prism through which we view Nigeria’s regional environment.

Economic, Historical and Cultural Ties

Nigeria’s economic linkages further reinforce the point that the country is as much a Central African as it is a West African country. UNCTAD’s recent report on intra-African trade show that all thirteen countries that count Nigeria as among their top five export partners are West and Central African states (pg. 22-27).

Five of these – CAR, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, and Sao Tome and Principe – are Central African and ECCAS countries. Similarly, of the eleven countries that count Nigeria as among their top five import partners, three – Cameroon, Chad, and Equatorial Guinea – are in Central Africa and ECCAS.

Nigeria’s own trade with the two regions however is heavily West Africa-centric. This is because West Africa is generally more developed than Central Africa, and because of the decades-long foreign and trade policy focus on West Africa.

The historical and cultural bonds between parts of Nigeria and some Central African states complete the linkages binding our country to the fate of its ECCAS neighbours. Fulanis make up about 9% of Nigeria’s population and about 10% of Cameroon’s. Kanuris constitute about 4% of Nigeria’s population and about 9% of Chad’s.

The Sokoto Caliphate, which sprouted from modern day north-western Nigeria in the early 19th century and grew to become the most powerful state in West Africa, at its height stretched eastwards covering virtually all of northern Cameroon, and small parts of Chad and the Central African Republic. Similarly the Kanem-Borno Empire, which originated in modern day north-eastern Nigeria in the 9th century, at its furthest extent in the 14th century encompassed almost all of Chad, northern Cameroon and small parts of the Central African Republic.

With African integration seemingly gathering pace – the agreement to establish the Tripartite Free Trade Area between the 26 member states of COMESA, EAC, and SADC, was signed on June 10 in Cairo, and the deadline for establishing a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) has been set for 2017 – joining ECCAS will leave Nigeria best placed to take the lead and advocate for harmonizing the integration agendas of West and Central Africa in preparation for the establishment of the CFTA.

In sum, joining ECCAS will broaden Nigeria’s strategic horizon and give our foreign policy planners a more accurate perspective of our regional location. It will also incentivise Nigeria to participate in shaping the economic and security environment of a long neglected part of our wider neighbourhood: Central Africa.

Discarding the old paradigm that sees Nigeria as lodged on the eastern edges of West Africa, and instead embracing the country’s natural identity as a pivotal power, an anchor state, a geostrategic gateway, and a connecting node linking West and Central Africa will widen our regional opportunities. It will also enrich our economic and cultural diplomacy.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Nigeria and France: Geopolitical Rivals No More

How accurate is the widespread perception that Nigeria and France remain locked in an adversarial rivalry in West Africa?

President Muhammadu Buhari and President Francois Hollande meet on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, Germany. Photo Credit: Getty Images/AFP.
Reading Bassey and Dokubo’s monumental tome, Defence Policy of Nigeria: Capability and Context, one gets the impression that for Nigeria’s foreign policy elites France remains a formidable obstacle to the country’s regional ambition and an enduring threat to national security. As the authors observe: 

The pervasive and tenacious involvement of France in West-Central Africa has been widely seen by Nigerian defence planners as constituting a direct affront to its national security and also impeding the growth of the country’s political, economic and cultural interests in the region.
France’s politico-military presence all across West-Central Africa, the authors unequivocally conclude, means the “antagonistic relationship between Nigeria and France [will] arguably … continue in the foreseeable future”. This view is widely shared by most Nigerians and is rooted in the mutual distrust and adversarial rivalry which once marked bilateral relations between Nigeria and France. 

Geopolitical Rivalry

France looms large in Nigeria’s foreign policy thinking and the country has traditionally been seen as a rival for hegemonic influence in West Africa. France for its part has traditionally sought to retain control over the affairs of its former colonies and Nigeria’s size immediately marked it out as a threat to its hegemony in francophone West Africa. 

Diplomatic relations were established on October 1st 1960, following Nigeria’s independence. Relations however got off to a bad start.  In January 1961, in protest at France’s third atomic test in the Sahara desert, Nigeria broke relations with France, sent the French ambassador packing, “placed [an] embargo on French shipping and aircraft, [and] froze French assets in the country”. 

Franco-Nigerian relations reached their lowest ebb during Nigeria’s civil war when France played a leading role in sustaining the rebellion. A January 1969 memo sent by the-then US National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, to President Nixon underscores the decisive impact of France’s material support to the rebel cause:

The Feds [Federal Government] out-number the Biafrans 2:1 ... but French arms and higher morale give the Biafrans parity for the present [time]... The French are behind the arms flights from neighbouring Gabon that save the rebels. They think the Feds will break up first and they will have a dynamic new client amid the wreckage of an Anglo-American dream in Africa.
Michael Anda, in his interesting comparative study on the International Relations in Contemporary Africa, notes that:

De Gaulle’s policy of support for Biafra in 1968-1969 was largely motivated by geopolitical considerations and was intended to dismantle the Nigerian state, which was considered as a pole of attraction (and thus a potential threat) to the preservation of French influence in the neighbouring Francophone states.
As a result of this, reducing France’s politico-military presence in West Africa became one of the cardinal objectives of Nigeria’s foreign policy. France came to be seen as not only a geopolitical rival, but a national security threat. 

Immediately after the civil war Nigerian officials set about building an economic community that would encompass the entire region. They reasoned that through economic interdependence, francophone West Africa will gradually be pulled under the country’s wings. France, fearing loss of influence, tried to scupper the initiative. When that proved futile – ECOWAS was eventually established in May 1975 – France encouraged its West African clients to pre-empt Nigeria’s initiative by forming their own organisation – West African Economic Community (CEAO), established in April 1973 – so they can “coordinate their efforts to counterbalance against the heavyweight of Nigeria” within the soon to be established ECOWAS. 

French policy during the Chadian civil war in the early 1980s frustrated Nigeria’s diplomatic initiatives to end the conflict. France’s and the US’ support for Hissene Habre were primarily aimed at installing an anti-Ghaddafi client in N’Djamena to forestall a feared “gradual political union” between Chad and Libya which the previous Head of State had signed up to. This meddling nevertheless undermined the Nigerian-led AU peacekeeping mission in Chad. It also further reinforced feelings in Lagos that Paris was resolutely determined to thwart Nigeria’s regional ambitions at every turn. 

In the 1980s the view within the foreign ministry was that “in order to be credible, Nigeria’s defence policy must … be determined by the need to deter the most entrenched European power in West Africa, France”. ‘Deter’ in this context meaning to reduce France’s free hand in the region by building a military capable of both challenging its interventionist policies and eventually replacing it as an order provider in francophone West Africa.

General Babangida’s State visit to France in February 1990, the first by a Nigerian leader, seemed to herald a new era in bilateral relations. But relations sharply nosedived in 1994 when the Nigerian government accused France of deploying troops into the Bakassi peninsula to take command of Cameroonian forces during a period of heightened tension between Nigeria and Cameroon. A claim French authorities vehemently denied. 

Geopolitical Rivals No More

Franco-Nigerian relations have however significantly improved in the past decade and a half. Bilateral relations are now marked by pragmatic cooperation. Both countries have slowly accepted that each other’s roles in West Africa are “complementary rather than competitive”. Nigeria and France are geopolitical rivals no more. Bassey’s and Dokubo’s characterisation of an “antagonistic relationship” is therefore simply not reflective of current realities.

France’s military presence that once posed a formidable national security threat, has now become crucial both for Nigeria’s security and for broader regional stability. The 3000 French troops spread across five countries in the Sahel – as part of operation Barkhane – are what stand between Nigeria and the chaos in Libya. They are also what keeps Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb at bay. French intervention in the Central African Republic in December 2013 saved that country from collapsing into genocidal bloodshed. 

The humanitarian and security crisis that would have spawned from uncontrolled chaos in CAR would have undoubtedly strained Cameroonian and Chadian resources to breaking point, and inevitably impacted on their ability to meaningfully take on Boko Haram.

France’s previous penchant for stymieing Nigeria on the regional stage has appreciably reduced, if not disappeared altogether. The past few years has witnessed a remarkable rapprochement and an unprecedented alignment of views on regional security. In many cases France has actively encouraged Nigeria, either bilaterally or through ECOWAS, to take a greater leadership role in crisis management – even in francophone West Africa.

When political crisis and civil war erupted in Cote d’Ivoire following Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down after losing the 2010 Presidential election, Nigeria and France coordinated their response to the crisis – culminating in a jointly sponsored UN resolution calling on Gbagbo to hand over power. 

Similarly in the Mali crisis, from all indications the strong preference in Paris was for the AU and the Nigerian-led ECOWAS to take the lead, with France playing a supporting role. France was eventually thrust into intervention by the rapidly deteriorating situation. Jean-Christophe Belliard, a senior French diplomat, at a Chatham House presentation discussing French policy in Africa described how as the crisis unfolded, France’s Foreign and Defence Ministers consulted with the AU, ECOWAS, and African presidents, including Nigeria’s, “to exchange ideas on the situation in Mali”. This is a far cry from the adversarial relationship of the past. 

More recently, the security summit hosted by France in May 2014 facilitated the rapprochement between Nigeria and its two Central African neighbours, Cameroon and Chad, and laid the foundation for the soon to be established anti-Boko Haram regional coalition. 

The French Development Agency (AFD) recently contributed $130 million to the establishment of the Development Bank of Nigeria. Since the opening of its Nigerian branch in 2008, AFD has so far committed about $694 million to various project in the country. 

President Chirac’s State Visit to Nigeria in July 1999 was the first by a foreign Head of State to the country after its return to democratic rule in May of the same year. And President Sarkozy was the only major world leader to attend Nigeria’s Centenary celebration in 2014.

These are all indications of the more positive and cooperative atmosphere that currently prevails in Franco-Nigerian bilateral relations. French economic interests in Nigeria has also served to reinforce the positive trajectory in bilateral relations. Trade between the two countries and French investment in Nigeria has grown in leaps and bounds. 

In sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria is France’s largest trading partner (5.1 billion Euros in 2012) and the second largest export destination for its goods (value of exports was 1.3 billion Euros in 2012). French investments in Nigeria dwarf those in francophone West and Central Africa. Its major multinational corporations – such as Elf, Lafarge, Peugeot, and “over a hundred” other subsidiaries and joint ventures – have significant presence in Nigeria. 

This is not to suggest Nigeria and France have identical regional interests or that geopolitical competition has permanently disappeared as an organising principle of Franco-Nigerian relations. It is merely to point out that the current overlap and convergence of interests between the two countries makes the notion of an ongoing geopolitical rivalry unreflective of contemporary Franco-Nigerian relations.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Change of Defence and Security Chiefs: Some Thoughts

From Left: Chief Of Air Staff, Avm Sadique Abubakar; Chief Of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Iba; Chief Of Defence Staff, Maj.-Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin; Chief Of Defence Intelligence, Avm Morgan Riku And The National Security Adviser (NSA), Retired Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno. During their meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on Monday 13 July 2015. Image and caption: Premium Times.
On Monday, President Buhari sacked his Service Chiefs, Chief of Defence Intelligence and National Security Adviser. A widely expected and long overdue decision. The new individuals are:

National Security Adviser (NSA): Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd.). He is from Borno state. He was the Commandant, Nigerian Army Training and Doctrine Command, before his retirement from active service in September 2013. Major General Monguno (rtd.) replaces Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd.).

Chief of Defence Staff (CDS): Major General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin. He is from Ekiti state. Until this appointment he headed the Nigerian Army Training and Doctrine Command. Major General Olonishakin replaces Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh.

Chief of Army Staff (CoAS): Major General Tukur Y. Buratai. He is from Borno state. Until this appointment he had recently been appointed to head the soon to be established Multi National Joint Task Force; the five-nation anti-Boko Haram regional coalition. Major General Buratai replaces Lieutenant General Kenneth Minimah.

Chief of Air Staff (CAS): Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar. He is from Bauchi state. Until this appointment he was the Chief of Administration, NAF Headquarters. AVM Abubakar replaces AVM Adeola Amosun.

Chief of Naval Staff (CNS): Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe. He is from Cross River state. Until this appointment he was Chief Executive Officer of Navy Holdings Limited. Rear Admiral Ekwe replaces rear Admiral Usman Jibrin.

Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI): Air Vice Marshal Monday Riku Morgan. He is from Benue state. Until this appointment he was the Air Officer Commanding, NAF Logistics Command. AVM Morgan replaces Rear Admiral Gabriel Okoi.

According to the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, “the new Service Chiefs will hold their appointments in an acting capacity until confirmed by the Senate” which will return from adjournment on July 21. Appointments of the NSA and CDI however are the exclusive prerogative of the President and so do not require Senatorial assent.

Some Thoughts


One major surprise is the emergence of Babagana Monguno as NSA. Lieutenant General Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd.) had been widely tipped to get the post. Premium Times, citing “Presidency insiders”, says Dambazau had long lost the race to become NSA because President Buhari’s preference was for an individual with an intelligence background. Dambazau was in the military police. 

Furthermore, says the Premium Times report, Dambazau’s record as Army Chief from 2008-2010 cast a shadow on his ambition to become NSA as it was tainted by financial scandals and allegations of corruption. His tenure as Army Chief was also reportedly marred by allegations of ethnic bias, says Nnamdi Anekwe-Chive, a security analyst. If reports are to be believed however, Dambazau may yet still emerge as Minister of Defence.

Another major surprise, at least for me, was why a Minister of Defence was also not announced. The appointments were billed as a clean sweep of the country’s defence and security leadership. Given this, and given Boko Haram’s seeming resurgence, it is odd that such a vital post as Minister of Defence will still be kept vacant. And if the allegations of corruption and ethnic bias are true, then it will be surprising to see Dambazau emerge as Minister of Defence.


An interesting observation that has now been widely commented on is the fact that the NSA and CoAS are both from Borno state – the epicentre of the insurgency. As the CAS is from Bauchi state, this means three of the pivotal institutions at the heart of the counterinsurgency campaign are now headed by individuals from the northeast – the most badly affected region. 

By appointing individuals from the restive northeast to spearhead the counterinsurgency, this will hopefully inject a greater degree of seriousness and urgency to the war effort. It should also hopefully bring greater sensitivity about the plight of the civilian population in the warzone to the defence and security establishments.

One other observation is the timing of the appointments, particularly those of the Service Chiefs. The appointments could not have come a day sooner of course. But it seems to me the upcoming state visit to the US on July 20 possibly played a role in speeding up the filling of these important posts. Security assistance is expected to dominate President Buhari’s discussions with President Obama. 

The recent Amnesty International report which accused the Nigerian military of war crimes in the northeast recommended that the former CDS and CoAS, Alex Badeh and Kenneth Minimah respectively, be “investigated for their potential command responsibility”, as they either knew or should have known of the war crimes but “failed to take adequate action”. 

Given that the Nigerian military’s poor human rights record had badly strained security cooperation between Nigeria and the US in the past, it is reasonable to assume President Buhari wanted to clear any major stumbling blocks from negatively affecting discussions on closer security cooperation before his upcoming state visit. 

Why the Sackings

So far as I am concerned the CDS, CoAS, CAS, CDI, and NSA should have long been fired, even before the coming to power of President Buhari. Boko Haram mushroomed into an existential threat under their watch, and their tenure was filled with gaffes and disasters that would have sent security chiefs in other countries packing. 

Boko Haram’s seizure of vast swathes of territory, which required the hiring of mercenaries and the intervention of our small neighbours to reverse; the kidnapping of the Chibok girls and the many thousands of other nameless and unknown Nigerians; the “ceasefire” fiasco; the unforgivable denial of Wing Commander Chimda Hedima; the amateurish attempt to smuggle $9.3 million into South Africa to allegedly procure arms; the recurrent claims that frontline soldiers are frequently short-paid, under equipped, and poorly supplied; the comic Ali-esque easily verifiable lies that military spokesmen shamelessly tell or tweet. Any of these debacles should have been sufficient to sink the careers of our (in)security chiefs.

CDI Rear Admiral Gabriel Okoi’s disingenuous and thoroughly unconvincing response to a question put to him about corruption in the military at a March 11 presentation both he and Ambassador Ayodele Oke (Director-General, National Intelligence Agency) were invited to give at the Atlantic Council highlights one of the major problems with the military and security leadership thus far: ‘head in the sand’ syndrome. He basically blamed the entrenched corruption that has crippled the military’s combat power on the fact that the government had to buy weapons at inflated costs on the black market because the US refused to sell Nigeria weapons.

Competence of the New Men

So far the new appointments have been widely praised. The NSA and CoAS especially have been described as professional, competent, perfectionists etc. There is little I can add here except to say that for me the proof of the pudding is in the eating. For now, I will hold back on giving a firm opinion until I see what their reform agendas are for the military and security services. I remember the gallons of praise that were showered on Kenneth Minimah and Sambo Dasuki upon their appointments to the posts of CoAS and NSA respectively. Dasuki was widely described as urbane, suave, and Minimah’s background as an infantry paratrooper was glowingly referred to. Yet their performance turned out to be supremely disappointing. 

Good luck to the new men in their new appointments. Their success is Nigeria’s success.