By: Philip Agbese
The United Nations (UN) Security Council Visiting Mission to the Lake Chad Basin Region is ground breaking in that this is the first time such mission is being undertaken, not just since Boko Haram unleashed terrorism in the region but even after it was globally designated an international terrorist organization. Incidentally, the mission is not visiting only Nigeria, which has been at the receiving end of attacks by the (Islamic State, ISIS) Daesh-affiliated terror group, but it also visited or would visit Nigeria’s neigbours around the Lake Chad Basin – Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
Matt Moody, Spokesperson and Head of Communications, UK Mission to the UN outlined the visiting team’s schedule to include interactions with stakeholders in the affected areas while also taking on the ground tours of some of these places, at least the areas that have been liberated by the Nigerian military and are therefore safe for expats to visit.
The itinerary offers some hope. Before now the world, the UN as an organization inclusive, has been assessing Boko Haram’s terrorist activities on the strength of news reports provided by international correspondents, many of whom have never set foot in Nigeria much less visit the country’s northeast (It was not unusual to see correspondents of some notable networks analyzing Nigeria’s security situation from Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire or Kenya based on the disparaging notion that Africa is a country and Nigeria a district, which makes it okay to report or analyze happenings in its northeast region from three thousand kilometers away.) The other alternative to remote correspondents was taking the report of NGOs at face value even though they mostly rely on stories of these same correspondents, which is then made worse by speaking over the phone on web video chat with unverified persons.
The visit of the UN Security Council Mission and its plan to hear from local officials and civil society organizations could be a game changer if handled correctly. The move offers only possibilities because while it could provide insight it is also fraught with risks, and this is not in terms of risk to the persons making the contact. It is the risk of getting misled if the team does not do due diligence on the civil society groups it interacts with. There are legitimate and genuine groups on ground and there are those that would provide information meant to corral the visiting team into the mindset they have been propagating about the entire Boko Haram crisis.
The team must be brave in tasking Nigeria’s neighours – Cameroon, Chad and Niger on their role in the persistence of Boko Haram even when there is a multinatinational security mission. They should for instance be able to shed light on how their relationship with former colonial power, France has shaped their response to the insurgency particularly in view of the several allegations that the terrorists find safe haven in these countries after staging attacks in Nigeria and that French aircraft have been seen dropping supplies for Boko Haram in their territories.
Much of the strength that Boko Haram gathered to commit its heinous crimes came in the aftermath of the so called “Arab Spring”, the destabilization of several Middle Eastern and North African countries that is believed in some quarters to have been largely teleguided by western countries with vested interests. That is one of the pivotal factors in the birth of ISIS to which Boko Haram later became a franchise. Sadly, there is no indication that the world learn any lessons. The NGOs that advocated inaction on the part of national security forces to make way for the rapid growth of ISIS are active in the Lake Chad Basin region today and advocating the same thing so that Boko Haram will grow into a monster.
The UN Security Council Mission must therefore pull all stops to exploit the resources at its disposal to identify the foreign component to Boko Haram’s activities as a terrorist organization. It must also not just publish the names of the countries found to be aiding these terrorists but must also show courage to call them to order, at least order them to stop supporting the terrorist group. Since these international dimension manifests as NGOs that use the cover of humanitarian intervention to market their chosen version of the truth, they too must be cautioned to not implement further destabilization plots in Nigeria or any other place in the world in view of the fiasco of the so called “Arab Spring”.
Addressing the current humanitarian crisis, stopping further Boko Haram carnage and rebuilding lives, local economies and communities that have been destroyed in the insurgency are important issues that rightly deserves the visiting team’s attention. But more important is the need to turn off the tap for these interventions to make any meaningful impacts; support for Boko Haram under any guise – inaction, airdropping supplies, propaganda boost, criminalizing Nigeria’s military with threats of war crimes, fraudulent rights abuse reports and a host of other dubious activities in favor of terrorists – must stop forthwith.
Not to be overlooked, as Moody indicated, are the other seemingly unconnected security breaches that Nigeria is grappling with. What several experts have said is that the same people driving the Boko Haram crisis and preventing it from ending have a hand in these other security challenges. So sending a strong message out that the UN will not condone the export of terrorism on the scale it has been done to Nigeria offers the one hope that these people with evil intentions can be made to stop.
Finally, equally of importance is to not leave any component of stakeholders out in the course of this visit. It is good that the team is speaking with local officials but it should diversify this to give priority to engaging the Nigerian military. In fact, the mission should create a permanet interace with the Nigerian Army for as long as it takes to apprehend the last terrorist in the country.
These are some of the issues that the UN Security Council Mission must consider so that this auspicious visit is not reduced to a tourists’ visit to a terrorism ravage address in the world or just taking a joyride to the Lake Chad Basin region to lounge in the Presidential Palaces of the visited countries.
Agbese is the President, Global Amnesty Watch and writes from London, United Kingdom.