Nigeria’s northern neighbours – Chad, Niger and Cameroon – have tightened security at their borders with the country to prevent members of the Boko Haram sect from fleeing an ongoing military campaign.
President Goodluck Jonathan had on Monday ordered a full-scale military operation and a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, in response to the growing state of insecurity in these states and some other parts of the North.
His nationwide broadcast confirmed Saturday PUNCH’s May 11, 2013 lead story titled, ‘FG may declare state of emergency in Borno, Yobe, others’.
A top security source who confided in our correspondent because he was not authorised to do so said the decision to close down the borders followed an appeal by President Goodluck Jonathan to the neighbouring countries for their cooperation in the emergency broadcast.
The military source said, “It is true that the nation’s borders with Niger, Cameroon and Chad have been closed. It is expected. You remember that the President included it in his broadcast.
“He said that government would reach out to those countries along the borders to get their cooperation in this issue.”
The President had said while declaring a state of emergency in the three states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, on Tuesday that he had commenced effective networking with Nigeria’s neighbours to the North for support in the ongoing operation against the militants.
Jonathan said he had approached the leadership of the border nations to help apprehend terrorists escaping from Nigeria into their territories.
“I am again approaching our neighbouring countries, through diplomatic channels, as done in the recent past, for their co-operation in apprehending any terrorist elements that may escape across the border.
“Nigerians are peace-loving people; these sad events perpetrated by those who do not wish our nation well have not changed the essential character of our people.’
Prior to the presidential broadcast, Chadian and Nigerien security forces had been collaborating with their Nigerian counterparts under the Multinational Joint Task Force to check the growing incidents of violent crimes along the nation’s border with her neighbours.
Attempts to obtain comments from the diplomatic missions of Chad, Niger and Cameroon were unsuccessful as calls made to their officials were not answered.
The MJTF was established in 1998 by the armed forces of the three countries in response to the growing insecurity in the Lake Chad region.
The mandate of the task force was extended in April 2012, to cover the fight against terrorism in that part of the country, with the increase in the activities of Islamic militants along the borders. Meanwhile, there are indications of anger in the military over the Northern elite’s persistent opposition to its operations against the militant Islamic sect.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the military was concerned that comments of the elite were demoralising.
Saturday PUNCH also learnt that the military expressed its concern in its report on the fact finding mission to Baga, Borno State, where 185 people were alleged to have been killed.
It said in the report, which was submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan two weeks ago, that the northern elite were against the MJTF.
It blamed the elite for reports which claimed that hundreds of people died in Baga, where Boko Haram and the military clashed recently.
The report stated, “The hostile and antagonic perception of the MNJTF, the demand for its withdrawal, the deliberate fabrication of stories are calculated to soil the image of the military.
“This is really demoralising to the Nigerian military, which has remained a veritable pillar for the nation’s unity and national security.
“What the nation needs at this time is the nation’s unity and security. What the nation needs at this time is national cohesion through guided comments by the elite and not the mischievous support for a terrorist organisation, whose ideology is nothing more than seeking the destruction of the country.”
But speaking on the state of the nation, the Convener of the Northern Political Leaders, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, said, “I do not support the declaration of the state of emergency in the three states of the north because firstly, what is provided for in the constitution is not as declared by the President.
“Asking these corrupt office-holders to remain in place is, in my view, unconstitutional as is also clearly it presents a picture of the President and a presidency that are frankly confused and fully devoid of any ideas that will move the country forward.
“They have run out of ideas, even bad ideas. I speak with authority on this. Secondly, the conduct of the Nigerian Army Nigerian armed forces has demonstrated that they have been run as an army of occupation based on a sectarian, ethnic, religious and other considerations this is not an army that can protect Nigerians.
“If the army had behaved like an army of occupation, one can only imagine what they will do now giving the dubious mandate given by the President.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government is considering how best to secure the country’s borders with the Republic of Benin in the face of strong suspicion that some foreigners may have hands in the security challenges in parts of the country.
Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, stated this on Friday while speaking with State House correspondents after attending a stakeholders’ meeting on Nigeria’s international boundaries presided over by Vice-President Namadi Sambo and attended by governors of the border states, relevant ministries and agencies of government.
Moro said the meeting was also convened to address issues that arose from recent skirmishes between Nigerians and citizens of Benin Republic in order to prevent escalation of the crisis.
He said, “In recent times, we have been having some security challenges and it is only instructive that we continue to take all measures to ensure that we do not open ourselves to become vulnerable to external incursion.
“What informed this meeting is the fact that we have been trying to define the level of involvement of foreign elements in these incessant bomb blasts and suicide bombings in Nigeria.
“And only recently, we have had some skirmishes between citizens of our country around the borders and those of the Republic of Benin, and it becomes necessary to fast-track the ongoing process of border demarcation between both countries.
“And a measure of progress has been made along this line and also, we have an unfinished business of finally demarcating and agreeing on international boundaries between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin.”
The minister said stakeholders had agreed on the need to continue to maintain peace at the borders and to maintain the cordial relationship between the citizens of the two countries.
He gave an assurance to Nigerians living in those border communities that the government was aware of their presence and that the country was ready to protect their welfare and wellbeing wherever they find themselves.
Moro said it was expected that as two brotherly countries that have bilateral agreements on border patrol and control, the government of the Republic of Benin would reciprocate Nigeria’s gesture of extending a hand of fellowship to them.