2020 And The Challenges Of Regional Security

Shuaib Shuaib looks at the various security challenges Nigeria and indeed, Africa must contend with in the new year and beyond.

Ahmed Abubakar is the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency/ /Photo credit: PRNigeria.com
Ahmed Abubakar is the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency/ /Photo credit: PRNigeria.com

He has been arrested and detained in Burkina Faso, expelled from Ivory Coast and heavily monitored by France. Still, he has caught the attention of the world speaking in the UK and traveling around Africa.

Since 2017, Kemi Seba has been campaigning against the use of the CFA Franc by 14 African countries. The countries, eight of them in West Africa, and the remaining in Central Africa collectively deposit hundreds of billions of dollars with the French treasury.

But it was Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, then a deputy prime minister, who made it a global issue early last year when he accused France of impoverishing Africans by feeding off the poorest of countries, fueling economic migration and further exacerbating development challenges on the continent.

Di Maio even went as far as suggesting that if it wasn’t for Africa, France would be ranked 15th among world economies and not 6th. Italy’s grouse is that it has had to bear brunt of most of the illegal migration fueled by poverty in Africa.

Right from Nigeria’s independence, its interest and that of France have always clashed, mostly because of trade and the structure and purpose of regional institution.

Both countries were competing in the same space. And economic integration in the region has mostly been on France’s terms.

That grip has however been slightly loosened with the creation of the Eco to replace the CFA Franc, which was introduced in 1945.

The new currency, unlike the CFA Franc doesn’t require the countries using it to keep 50 per cent of their reserves with the French Treasury.

This is a sign change is being forced on Emmanuel Macron and how his country relates with Africa. But countries in the region are also being forced to take their own trade decisions and security into their own hands.

Ever since Britain granted independence to its African colonies, it also let go of all financial and state institutions and it never looked back.

But it didn’t do so willingly. It had to be pushed, with the US president in the mid 1940s, Franklin Roosevelt telling Winston Churchill, the then British Prime Minister, there could be no enduring peace without equality and freedom for the people in Africa, India and other colonies.

The French had a different approach. For forty years, Ivory Coast, the pillar of France’s strength, served as a counterweight to Nigeria’s influence in West Africa.

Even when there was a total break down of law and order in West Africa it was always an Anglophone, like Liberia or Sierra Leone never a Francophone.

When Nigeria refuses to open its border crossing with Benin Republic in the name of fair trade, it is also squeezing France. But the backing of France is exactly why Benin feels it doesn’t need to capitulate to Nigeria’s demands

In that sense, France has always been a stabilizing force in the region. But where there was conflict, Nigeria was left to pick up the pieces.

There was no way it could be safe as long as its neighbours’ houses were on fire. There are French soldiers present all over Africa, 4,500 in Mali alone.

Cooperation on regional security cannot be possible with France. The problem is that France has always looked to protect a narrow interest, even if that leads to poverty and insecurity in other parts of the sub-region.

That political stability the French were able to maintain started to change in 2000 with civil war in Ivory Coast and the eventual toppling of Laurent Gbagbo as president in 2010.

Since then, French influence in Africa has been waning. It didn’t take very long for the insecurity and armed conflict to spread to Burkina Faso, which is today, the epicenter of jihadist violence.

On the other hand, virtually all of 16 West African countries, have over the last three decades, become increasingly dependent on Nigeria, for trade and regional security.

So, when Nigeria refuses to open its border crossing with Benin Republic in the name of fair trade, it is also squeezing France. But the backing of France is exactly why Benin feels it doesn’t need to capitulate to Nigeria’s demands.

Egypt and Turkey are on a collision course over the civil war in Libya. The vote last December by the Turkish parliament to approve the deployment of troops to Libya is evidence the Turks are looking to expand their influence in Africa.

The deployment is meant to be in support of the UN recognized Government of National Accord. Only Egypt, a powerful neighboring state, doesn’t recognize that government, backing instead, the Libyan National Army.

The Egyptian parliament has declared the Turkish move as a threat to its national security and the stability of the Mediterranean region. A threat the parliament has said it will take all necessary measures to confront.

Bringing up the stability of the Mediterranean is to sound a warning to the European Union who are already struggling with the influx of migrants from Africa.

The Egyptian parliament even went as far as accusing Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, of trying reestablish the Sultanate of the Ottoman Empire.

In part, Turkey is trying to fill a vacuum left by western nations, particularly the United States of America who have washed their hands of the Libyan conflict.

After aiding the removal of Muammar Gaddafi from power in 2011 and igniting a civil war that refuses to end, the only interest Europe now has in Libya is stopping the flow of illegal migrants coming out of the Libyan coast.

But while migrants fleeing conflict head north, arms and battle hardened jihadists mostly head southwards, toward Mali, Niger and even Nigeria.

2020 is the year Nigeria starts to implement its recently developed policy of issuing visas at the point of entry to anyone carrying an African passport.

The benefits will be unquantifiable. The government couldn’t have taken a better step to encourage the exchange of ideas on the African continent. It will give Nigeria better access to not only ideas, but also skills and expertise from other African countries.

But not all ideas are good. Some are criminal in nature, which could make the country a breeding ground for international crime.

2020 is also meant to be the year when the final touches will be put to rules ushering in an era of continental free trade, with all the accompanying customs and financial institutions.

Fighting criminal operations and ideas may not be a real problem when those behind it move around the continent through official channels.

The challenge is those that move in the shadows, travel without passports or any kind of identification.

Thousands of communities in Nigeria live in dread of Fulani attacks. But it is a problem that is not limited to the borders of Nigeria.

Two separate militias are fighting each other in Mali, one Fulani, and the other Dogon. And there are thousands of bandits, herdsmen and drug barons that know their way around the desert, forests and even rivers of West Africa.

Added to that are separatists and militants from countries like Niger, Mali and Chad in constant search of weapons and finances. Nigeria is a good source for both.

In some respect, and because of the ever growing threat from non-state actors, espionage has been taking a central role in how Nigeria manages its security. It has also thrust Ahmed Abubakar, the Director General of the National
Intelligence Agency right in the middle of driving foreign policy objectives

They simply walk across borders, raid isolated military formation or kidnap civilians for ransom.

In July 2019, it wasn’t accidental that President Muhammadu Buhari hosted the meeting of the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa in Abuja and deliberately focused on the illegal financial outflow from Africa and its impact on national security and development.

In the end, the money and resources, just as much as ideology, are the primary source of insecurity. Boko Haram changed the nature of insecurity in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region.

But as far back to the early 2000s, way before Boko Haram appeared on anybody’s lips, the Nigerian Army regularly stationed troop at border communities in Borno to keep out bandits from neighbouring Chad, a country that is not lacking in one kilometre after another in ungoverned space.

The result is that Nigeria is increasingly being forced to not only police its borders, but also improve its ability to gather intelligence and assess events in all of West Africa.

In some respect, and because of the ever growing threat from non-state actors, espionage has been taking a central role in how Nigeria manages its security.

It has also thrust Ahmed Abubakar, the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency right in the middle of driving foreign policy objectives.

The challenges are forcing engagements, both open and clandestine with countries seeking to spread their tentacles and influence across Africa and fueling unrest in the process. International law limits the ability of the Nigeria military to operate across its own borders.

Yet, most of the security challenges emanate from beyond the borders and are spread wide across the continent. And that puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of those heading the country’s intelligence agency.

Written by Shuaib Shuaib

Shuaibu, a former Editor of the LEADERSHIP Newspapers, is based in Abuja.

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