Five days after a presidential aide assured Nigerians that there was no cause for concern over the withdrawal of 1, 200 Chadian troops from North East, the Defence Headquarters insists that Chad has not pulled out of the counter-terrorism operations of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF), but only withdrew its troops deployed to the country.
That notwithstanding, foreign and security experts are of the view that the withdrawal has dire implications on the fight against insurgency as it reduces the size of the multinational force, hence a reduction in the firepower, while the insurgents would be on standby to exploit gaps created if the country fails to act fast.
They also stressed that the Nigerian military would be psychologically weakened by the withdrawal of their Chadian counterparts, calling for an immediate beef up of personnel to close gaps created.
French newswire, AFP, penultimate Saturday quoted a Chadian military spokesperson, Azem Bermandoa as saying: “It’s our troops who went to aid Nigerian soldiers months ago returning home. They have finished their mission, none of our soldiers remains in Nigeria.”
Forty-eight hours after the withdrawal a spokesperson to President Muhammadu Buhari, Garba Shehu, on Tuesday morning, said the withdrawal was due to a change in the concept and the mandate of the MNJTF.
He also disclosed that: ”Indications from the Defence Headquarters suggest that, “soon, Nigeria will be sending troops to that country (Chad) as part of yet another concept.”
Shehu asked Nigerians not to have any doubt in the ability of the Nigerian armed forces to defeat the Boko Haram terrorists, stressing that they are capable and have proven to be so.
In an interview with The Guardian, yesterday, the acting Director of Defence Information, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, stressed that the MNJTF is currently reviewing the situation, adding that the vaccum created by the withdrawal of troops by the Chadian authorities will soon be addressed.
He said: “The Chadian troops are in the counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency military operations under the auspices of the Multinational Joint Terrorism Forces, it is not as if they have pulled out of that arrangement, but what they have done is the withdrawal of troops from the Nigerian side.
“The Multinational Joint Task Force has done a review of what the situation is like, and the vacuum would be taken care of,” Nwachukwu said, urging residents of the area where the Chadian troops were stationed not to panic as the military is working assiduously to deploy troops to the area.
“We are urging them not to panic because the MNJTF Command has taken a review of an assessment of the situation of the general deployment in that area and appropriate steps are being taken to address whatever vaccum would be created by the withdrawal of the Chadian troops,” the spokesperson said.
News of the pullout, coupled with a local report of Nigerian troops also leaving the vicinity, sparked concern among local people in the small towns of Gajiganna and Monguno, where the Chadians were based.
A Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) source told AFP that, “as soon as they left, most residents of Gajiganna fled to Maiduguri for fear of attacks by the terrorists. They left because Nigerian troops working alongside the Chadians also left the base soon after the Chadians moved out.”
One Gajiganna resident who fled said, “I left Gajiganna and moved to Maiduguri on Wednesday when I realised that Nigerian soldiers had left their base soon after the withdrawal of Chadian soldiers.”
Boko Haram began the insurrection in Nigeria a decade ago, leading to at least 35,000 deaths with violence spilling over into Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
The four countries banded together in the MNJTF to fight the insurgency, with support from civilian defence committees. The MNJTF launched Operation Yancin Tafki in February 2019 with Chad contributing 1,200 troops.
However, commenting on the withdrawal of Chadian soldiers, former Director General, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs and at present, President and Director General of the Bolytag Centre for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies (BOCIDASS), Lagos, Prof. Bola A. Akinterinwa, said the withdrawal of troops has dire implications.
“The withdrawal of Chadian troops, about 1, 200 of them, necessarily reduces the size of the multinational force. The number of arms is reduced, and Boko Haram would be strengthened to the detriment of the Nigerian military. The implications of this development cannot be far-fetched.
“First, the Chadian withdrawal from a multinational task force set up to suppress terrorism in Africa, beginning with the Nigerian case, clearly shows the bleak future of continental integration and cooperation, especially when it is believed that such withdrawal is linked to French connection. You may wish to recall here the politics of the recent position of Francophone West Africa on the adoption of a regional currency, the Eco, at the level of ECOWAS efforts at monetary union.
“Secondly, the hope in the signing of the African Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement also has the potential to be dashed if the member states of the African Union will be dilly-dallying in matters relating to their survival at the militaro-industrial, socio-political, and economico-cultural levels…”
“Third, the withdrawal of Chadian troops creates more burden for the Nigerian military… Chad allegedly withdrew in the belief that the tenure of the guiding agreement of the MNJTF has expired, and that it is waiting for a fresh accord to define the conditionality of future involvement. What if the Boko Haram decides to carry the battle into the doorsteps of the people of Chad? How will the Chadian government cope with the situation?
“There was the time of internal strife in Chad and Nigeria had to play host to the negotiations aimed at peaceful resolution of the civil war. In fact, the peace accords, Kano I, Kano II, etc., were all done in Nigeria. It therefore cannot, but be very myopic for the government of Chad to quickly forget that it does not have any means to choose its neighbour. France may be a neighbour of Chad by the principle of geo-political propinquity. The truth remains that Nigeria is a territorial neighbour by the rule of geo-political contiguity, meaning that if Chad is required to make a choice, Nigeria has to be the first choice,” Akinterinwa stated.
He added: “Without any shadow of doubt, there is no disputing the fact that the Nigerian military will be psychologically weakened by the Chadian withdrawal. The withdrawal raises more risks to be contended with. It is generally argued that the insurgents appear to have better weapons than the Nigerian soldiers. The Nigerian military will therefore require more and greater encouragement for it to be able to meaningfully accept the challenges ahead as patriots.”
In the view of the Managing Director (MD)/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Hakes Security, Col. Hassan Stan-Labo (rtd), “the implication of Chadian troops withdrawal from Nigeria is that it calls for an immediate beef up of troops to cater for the gaps along the defence line hitherto occupied by the Chadians.
“Can we muster that required strength? How effective has our force generation efforts in meeting manpower needs been? Also, gaps created by the pullout will definitely be exploited by the insurgents if we don’t act fast.”
On whether there were sinister motives for the troop withdrawal, Stan-Labo said; “The actual reason for the pull out is yet to be established. If it were a routine troops rotation exercise, they would have been replaced with fresh boots on ground. Also, if it were to be a final pullout from the MNJTF arrangement, there would have been some diplomatic interface among the troops’ contributing member countries. Given France’s firm grip, control and dominance over her West African francophone affiliates, it becomes easy to factor in international politics at play. Nigeria’s size, population and economic influence within the sub region has never gone down well with France. She has always sought every available means to undermine Nigeria’s dominance. While ECOWAS adopted the Eco as it’s currency, France hurriedly mobilised its affiliates to adopt it as their currency and tied it to the Euro, which France is a member far ahead of ECOWAS timeline. Since French speaking countries are of majority in ECOWAS, they are likely to have their way. As part of the game plan to bring Nigeria to her kneels, this hurried and unexpected pull out is being effected. So, we must opt out of the ECOWAS monetary policy arrangement as it is not in our national interest.”