Nigeria does not want any foreign troops on its soil to fight Boko Haram.
It is also not expecting much to emanate from discussions by the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa this week on new regional initiatives to tackle the Islamist group that is wreaking havoc in northeastern Nigeria and threatening the stability of neighbouring countries.
This emerged in the run-up to the biannual AU assembly of heads of state that starts in the Ethiopian capital on Friday.
The escalating attacks by Boko Haram on thousands of innocent civilians, who have been chased from their homes, killed or kidnapped, is one of the main themes of the summit, but Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan is not expected to attend.
Officially this is because Jonathan is campaigning for elections to be held on February 14.
But the Mail & Guardian has learned reliably that Nigeria is unhappy about the way its neighbours in the Lake Chad Basin Commission (Niger, Chad and Cameroon) are convening meetings and developing new strategies to fight Boko Haram without allowing Nigeria to take the lead.
This means, at best, the continental efforts for military intervention against Boko Haram will be limited to joint patrols on the borders of northern Nigeria.
This is also in sharp contrast with military operations co-ordinated by the AU and its regional economic communities in places such as Somalia, Darfur, Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR). South Africa and Tanzania are also involved in offensive military action against rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
They are all based on the principle of protecting civilians against armed insurrections, wherever they occur on the continent.
During her opening speech to AU ministers of foreign affairs on Monday, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the AU commission chairperson, said she was “deeply horrified by the tragedy Boko Haram continues to inflict on our people” and that the commission was consulting member states, regional economic communities and “other partners” on how to deal collectively with Boko Haram.
“I thank the government of Chad for its readiness to assist Cameroon in this fight,” Dlamini-Zuma said.
Earlier this month Chad sent 2 000 troops to Cameroon following repeated attacks by Boko Haram on Cameroonian soil.
South African Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told the media at the summit that the threat of Boko Haram, which “started in Nigeria but has also now crossed borders”, will be considered by the heads of state of the 15-member AU peace and security council.
Nigeria prefers bilateral agreements
Sources at the summit say Nigeria is not only opposed to the AU’s plans but is also “uncomfortable” with the French initiative to co-ordinate a joint operation against Boko Haram, made up of troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon and based in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena.
Nigeria says it prefers to stick to its current bilateral agreements with its neighbours and with existing arrangements within the Lake Chad commission, which dates back to the 1960s.
Attempts were made to beef up this regional co-operation last year in the wake of the worldwide outcry following the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in Chibok on April 14.
An intelligence-sharing unit was set up and an existing multinational joint task force, based in the northern Nigerian town of Baga, was to be strengthened.
Only Niger had deployed a small contingent of troops to it, but they had been withdrawn on January 3 before Boko Haram’s attack on Baga that drove out the remaining Nigerian troops.
On January 7, Boko Haram returned to carry out one of the most bloody massacres of civilians in the history of the insurgency.
Human Rights Watch estimates that hundreds of innocent civilians were killed in the attack.
Many others fled to islands in Lake Chad, and some reached a refugee camp near the town of Diffa in Niger, but many are said to have died on the way.
In reaction to the spillover of the conflict, Niger, which is chairing the Lake Chad commission, hosted a high-level meeting on Boko Haram in the capital Niamey on January 20.
At the meeting, a new plan was proposed, which includes the “operationalisation” of the joint task force, which consists of about 700 troops per country, that would be responsible for patrolling the border regions where Boko Haram operates, largely in the border areas between Nigeria and Niger, and Nigeria and Cameroon.
In a proposal to the heads of state at this week’s AU summit, Niger has suggested that the United Nations should fund the force and to provide it with logistics. Niger has asked member states to agree on “specific measures to boost their efforts at addressing the current security situation and at systematically destroying Boko Haram”.
The UN is unlikely to be asked to send troops because it is already overstretched by several peacekeeping operations in Africa, including those in the CAR, Mali and the DRC.
In the past, it has said that it is not geared up for aggressive military action, but rather for peacekeeping operations.
But, without the help of Nigeria, it is unlikely that the initiative by Niger will even get off the ground.
In addition, elections in Nigeria are seriously hampering any effort to act against the sect, which has killed more than 10 500 people over the past three years.
The hotly contested polls start on February 14, and the governors’ elections take place on February 28.
Commentators agree that it is highly unlikely any real change in the fight against Boko Haram will happen before the inauguration of a new government in Nigeria on May 29.
If Jonathan wins the election, it is likely that his opponent, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, and his All Progressive Congress will take the result to court before the cut-off date at the end of May.
If there is a change of regime and Buhari wins the election, it will be some time before it formulates a new strategy to tackle the group.
One option discussed internally in Nigeria is to withdraw its troops serving in peace missions elsewhere in Africa so that it can take on Boko Haram without outside help.
Money solutions continue to elude the African Union
Three years after Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was elected as the chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, she is still battling to find the money for the AU to run its own affairs.
The rallying cry of her election in 2012 was to make Africa more independent of outside help and to find “African solutions for African problems”.
But more than half of the AU’s budget of $522-million for 2015 is still being paid for by foreign donors. The AU’s increasing number of peace operations is almost entirely funded by “partners”, such as the European Union.
A report on “alternative sources of financing”, drawn up by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, will be discussed by heads of state at their biannual summit of the assembly of the AU that starts on Friday. The budget for 2016 has been reduced to slightly more than $400-million, with the AU hoping that “alternative sources” will fill the gap.
Obasanjo’s report recommends levies on flight tickets and hotel bills as one solution to the funding crisis.
But small countries that depend on tourism, such as Cape Verde, are opposed to this suggestion and have said it will drive away tourists, and that big economies, such as Nigeria, who do not receive many tourists, would not be affected by it.
At a press briefing in Addis Ababa this week, Dlamini-Zuma said it was one of a number of possible solutions to the AU’s funding crisis.
Ministers of finance are meeting to thrash out mechanisms to facilitate the payment of contributions by member states.
“The bottom line is countries must pay. We’re not prescribing to them how to do it,” she said.
Currently South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt and Libya each pay 15% of the total contribution that comes from member states. But, because of the crisis in Libya, insiders in the AU say its contribution hasn’t been coming in.
“Egypt has also indicated they are not happy with the arrangement,” said an AU official.
Some believe the payment structure should be revised and that other rich countries, such as Angola, should also be made to pay higher contributions.
Critics of Dlamini-Zuma within the AU say that the funding crisis is tied up with her deliberate favouring of African solutions for funding.
But a European diplomat at the AU said international partners welcomed her position. “We agree with Dlamini-Zuma that we must find alternatives.”
Missions such as Amisom, the African-led mission for Somalia, largely funded by Europe, costs $25-million a month. Most of this is paid for by the EU’s African Peace Facility, which provides the AU with a predictable source of funding.
“The Gulf states, for example, that are geographically very close to Somalia could also contribute,” said the diplomat. – Liesl Louw-Vaudran