French foreign minister Alain Juppe has pledged to help Nigeria combat its extremist Boko Haram militia, which has killed hundreds of people this year in terror attacks.
“We shall fight against this phenomenon. We are ready to share any information. We are ready to coordinate our intelligence services. We are ready also to give our help in training cooperation,” Juppe told reporters after talks with his Nigerian counterpart Olugbenga Ashiru in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Saturday.
“France is directly concerned with the question of terrorism,” Juppe said. “It goes against our interest in the region and so we are in complete solidarity with the countries of the region around the sub Sahara and around the Sahel…we are ready to share our information. We are ready to coordinate our intelligence services. We are ready to give our help in training.”
“Nigeria is France’s number one partner in the Sub-Sahara. Nigeria is a member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and it is also a member of the African Union Peace and Security Council. Our two countries have believed in responsibilities regarding peace and security in Africa and the World.”
Juppe also discussed economic and commercial relations with Nigeria, saying that economic ties are growing and that the volume of Franco-Nigerian trade has reached 4.5 billion Euros. French oil giant Total is one of the main energy producers in Africa’s largest oil producer.
“France is Nigeria’s fourth largest supplier and our exports are growing by 20% yearly. In addition, France invests 2 billion Euros per year in Nigeria. I am going to encourage trade, businessmen and investors to come over to Nigeria.”
Juppe’s Nigerian counterpart Olugbenga Ashira said that, ” as in all situations of terrorism, it would require the co-operation of the international community, especially friendly countries like France, to effectively address this challenge. This is why the Federal Government is particularly delighted with France’s expression of solidarity and condemnation of recent acts in some our cities, which resulted in the loss of innocent lives.
“With the French Minister of Foreign Affairs here in Abuja, you can see that Nigeria is safe for investors to come.”
The Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirika, said that other nations are also willing to assist Nigeria, notably the United States. “Countries like Pakistan, United States of America and Britain, will be offering anti-terrorist training to Nigerian security officers,” Ihejirika said.
“It is wrong to conclude that the terrorist attacks by the Islamic fundamentalist sect, the Boko Haram, in parts of the country, which claimed so many lives in Yobe and Borno States, was a proof that the country’s intelligence machinery has failed”, Ihejirika said.
Last week it emerged that the US Army is giving Nigerian soldiers counterinsurgency training to deal with Boko Haram.
The UK’s Guardian newspaper reports a Nigerian military spokesman as saying that some battalions had received training in the United States and that the Nigerian army “is in the process of setting up a division that is effectively looking at warfare tactics.” The spokesman added that, “Various battalions were in the United States earlier this year for training to that end.”
The US embassy in Abuja told the Guardian that, “We have had a mil-mil relationship with the Nigerians for decades, principally supporting their peacekeeping efforts in Africa (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Darfur) and around the globe. In recent years, and at their request, we have also worked with them on their nascent counter-force. We do not know if any of these elements have been deployed in the north.”
The United States has supported the Nigerian military in other ways. Nigerian Air Force pilots have trained in America and in May the Nigerian Navy took delivery of the ex-US Coast Guard cutter Chase (WHEC-718).
Nigeria’s Sunday Punch yesterday reported that US-trained commandos have deployed to the North of Nigeria to combat militants. An anonymous government source said that 300 personnel had been sent to the US for counterinsurgency training.
The Sunday Punch said that 6 000 police officers have received counterterrorism training from Israeli experts in Israel and at the Anti-Terrorism and Insurgency Centre of the Nigerian Army School of Infantry in Jaji, as well as in military facilities in Lagos, Makurdi and Port Harcourt.
“The counter-terrorism training commenced in January this year and about 6 000 policemen have graduated from the programme so far. We have also trained 105 trainers in Israel who will train others at various local facilities. We have 100 trained dog handlers with specially sniffer dogs on undercover operations and many more would be trained in the course of the programme which will fully equip our men to manage any security crisis,” said Deputy Force Public Relations Officer Yemi Ajayi.
Boko Haram is becoming a major headache for President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration as it grows in sophistication and deadliness. It has twice struck the capital this year.
Efforts to make war on Boko Haram in the past have done little to quell the insurgency and heavy-handed police tactics in the northeast have radicalised youths against the state – creating a fertile breeding ground for more militancy.
Ultimately, Nigeria may have to address the poverty and sense of alienation in the remote, semi-arid north, which feels increasingly left out of the economic growth enjoyed by the oil-rich south.
A state-sponsored committee in September urged establishing a dialogue with Boko Haram, an idea reiterated Sunday by the governor of Borno, the worst affected state, Kashim Shettima.
Nigeria, a country of 150 million people split nearly evenly between Christians and Muslims, is mostly peaceful, but growing militancy in the north and violence in the ethnically and religiously mixed “Middle Belt” are an increasing worry.
Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language spoken in northern Nigeria means “Western education is sinful”, is loosely modelled on the Taliban. The group became active in about 2003 and is concentrated mainly in the northern Nigerian states of Yobe, Kano, Bauchi, Borno and Kaduna.
The group considers all who do not follow its strict ideology as infidels, whether they are Christian or Muslim. It demands the adoption of sharia, Islamic law, in all of Nigeria.
In July 2009, Boko Haram staged attacks in the northeastern city of Bauchi after the arrest of some of its members, and clashed with police and the army in the northern city of Maiduguri. Some 800 people were killed in five days of fighting in the two cities. Later that month, sect leader Mohammed Yusuf was captured by Nigerian security forces and shot dead in police detention some hours later.
In December 2010 the group said it was behind bombings in central Nigeria and attacks on churches in the northeast that led to the deaths of at least 86 people.
On June 16, 2011, a car bomb tore through a car park outside Nigeria’s police headquarters in Abuja. The next day Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the blast, which officials said may have been the first suicide bombing in Africa’s most populous country.
Rights groups say more than 250 people have been killed by Boko Haram since July 2010. On August 26 a suicide bomber struck the U.N. building in Abuja. At least 23 people were killed and 76 wounded by the bombing which gutted the ground floor and smashed almost all the windows. Boko Haram claimed responsibility on August 29, demanding the release of prisoners and an end to a security crackdown aimed at preventing more bombings.
The blast was the first known suicide bombing in Nigeria. It marked an escalation in the group’s tactics and revealed an increase in the sophistication of explosives it uses.
At least 65 people were killed in the city of Damaturu and the village of Potiskum on November 4. The attacks, which included a spate of bombings in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, were some of the worst on record by the group. Nigeria’s police said on Tuesday they had arrested suspected Boko Haram members behind the attacks last week.