Nigeria’s Interest in the Malian war – By Odimegwu Onwumere



What made the Nigerian Government to be the first from Africa to send in its soldiers to combat the Malian rebels in a war that started early 2012 when there was insubordination in the Malian government which spurred rebels to come-to-light among the Toareg ethnic group in the north and they began a crusade for self-government, has been an issue of many questions. The military junta in Mali, headed by Captain Amadou Sanogo had seized power on March 22, accusing the democratic government of President Amadou Toumani Toure of failing to deal effectively with a Tuareg rebellion that had started in January. Former parliament speaker, Diouncounda Traore later emerged as interim president, following international heaviness s on the military junta to relinquish power.

The Federal Government of Nigeria took a decision of sending 1, 200 Nigerian soldiers to Mali this year, what it could not even do during the crises that ravaged some countries of Africa like Libya, Cote d’Ivoire and Egypt in the recent past, being the second to France, which had earlier initiated ground battles with its 1, 400 troops. I60 Nigerian soldiers had so far arrived Bamako, the Malian capital, and were happy to help in combating the uprising in that country. Apart from the contingent of Nigerian soldiers’ present in Mali, the Nigerian Government had also made its pledge of warplanes known to the Malian Government. This was coming after President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria had directed a review of Nigeria’s foreign policy on Monday May 16, 2011, to reflect what he called current realities, after 50 years of independence. It was at a breakfast meeting with the Presidential Advisory Council on International Relations at the State House, Abuja that Jonathan gave the dictate.

Chief Emeka Anyaoku who was the Chairman of the Advisory Council, had earlier congratulated President Jonathan in the April 2011 presidential elections. He termed the elections as “successful, transparent and credible’’, saying that the elections have made-higher the country’s democratic credentials in the international community, a statement which President Jonathan gave a very conspicuous nod to. In a related development, suggestions were offered by the Council on many areas of national and international interest to Nigeria. What was amiss is if the Malian war is part of the “national and international interest to Nigeria”, having President Jonathan said that what was paramount to his administration would be to pay special attention to intensifying the economic relations with the international community.

With the role of Nigeria in the Malian crisis, has Jonathan got it wrong by that statement when he received the letters of credence of five new ambassadors at the State House on that very faithful day of Monday May 16, 2011? The ambassadors were: Alvaro Aguilar of Spain, Ali Suleiman of Ethiopia, Alain Nyamitwe of Burundi, Issa Ibrahim of Chad and Nyahuma Obika, the High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago. Being a crusader of transforming Nigeria like never before, the song on President Jonathan’s mouth had been to give a special attention to the improvement and strengthening of economic ties with Nigerian partners in the international community as a foundation for stability and growth of our country. Not war! It is on record that he distinctively told Obika that Nigeria was interested in cooperating with Trinidad and Tobago in the oil and gas sector, while he welcomed the proposal for energy cooperation by Aguilar of Spain.

Nigeria’s Role In Cote d’Ivoire:

The role that the Nigerian government could not play in the Ivorien crisis that followed the difference-of-opinion in the country’s election of November 28, 2010, is what it is playing in Mali, even though that the ECOWAS, which resolved to renew President Jonathan’s tenure as Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government till December 31, 2011, resolved in its meeting of December 7 to accord formal recognition to Alassane Ouattara as President-elect of Cote d’Ivoire, while urging his rival, Gbagbo, to make a peaceful exit from power in the best interest of the Ivorien people.

Nigeria being then the chair state of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, the only solution to the Ivorien crisis Jonathan could offer in its Resolution A/RES.1/03/11 signed by him, was to tell Gbagbo, as armed supporters of the two men continue to fight one another, that: “The time has come to enforce Decision of 7 and 24 December 2010 in order to protect life and ensure that transfer of the reins of power to Alassane Ouattara without further delay.”

In its extraordinary session in Abuja on December 24, following Gbagbo’s refusal to yield power to his successor, the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government under President Jonathan said, it regretted that its previous resolutions were ignored by Gbagbo, and warned him against this. President Jonathan later requested the UN Security Council to authorize the immediate implementation of these decisions to stem the tide of the rapidly deteriorating political, security and humanitarian situation in Cote d’Ivoire. And the resolutions had since been endorsed by the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN.

While President Jonathan condemned the widespread violence against civilians in the Ivorien country, he did not sue for war as thus Mali, but said: “The crisis in Cote d’Ivoire has now become a regional humanitarian emergency. We request the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to strengthen the mandate of the United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) to enable it use all necessary means to protect life and property and to facilitate the immediate transfer of power to Mr. Alassane Ouattara.” President Jonathan was urging the UN Security Council to adopt more stringent targeted sanctions against Gbagbo and his collaborators, and not war. So, why Mali!

Federal Government’s Interest In Mali:

Unlike Egypt and Libya where the Federal Government of Nigeria did not give a hoot of sending its soldiers to during their crises, and what it could not do in Cote d’Ivoire, it was doing in Mali. This has gone a long way to put the statement which says that there is no smoke without fire right. It was, though, annoying that insurgent groups started fighting the Malian government for the independence of Northern Mali (Azawad). An Islamist group wanted Azawad as independent homeland for the Toaregs, having the support of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), backed by the Ansar Dine. They chased the Malian army far away from Azawad, and took control of the place in April 2012. There was a conception that the dreaded Al-Qaeda terrorist group in North Africa made the situation got worse by giving its support to a group of Islamists: Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA).

Earlier, the Federal Government of Nigeria had been looking for solution to curb the recurrent campaign of violence by the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, in Nigeria, but especially in the northern part. This took President Jonathan and his National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd) to Bamako, the capital of Mali. The two-day working tour which was announced by the presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, on Wednesday, October 17, 2012, was for a secret meeting with the civilian and military authorities in the troubled Mali and also consult on efforts by ECOWAS and the UN Security Council, to restore normalcy to that country. But before the tour, investigations revealed that a tough intelligence report showed that Mali’s northern region was the depot that was used as the operational base of Boko Haram. The leader of the sect, Sheik Mohammed Shekau, was also believed to be hiding in Mali and coordinating attacks on Nigeria.

According to sources, it was noted that one of the meetings in a place like Niamey was a measly lure. A source said: “The meeting in Niamey was a mere decoy for President Jonathan to seek collaboration and cooperation of both the military and civilian authorities in Mali on how best the operational base of Nigeria’s Boko Haram in the north of Mali, which is under the firm control of Islamist groups and Tuareg rebels, who took control of the region following a coup in March… the Nigerian president actually left Niamey, Niger Republic on Thursday, October 18 and went straight for the main goal of his trip, which is to hold talks with the Malian authorities, as part of efforts to dismantle the main structure of Boko Haram in the North of the country (Mali).”

Sources confirmed that in different discussions, part of the discussions between President Jonathan and Mali’s interim President Traore and Captain Sanogo were: To stabilise the civilian regime of Traore, mobilise African and ECOWAS forces to Mali, with a view to flushing out all Islamist groups and rebels, including Boko Haram leaders that had taken control of North of Mali; and offered Sanogo a political asylum in Nigeria to pave the way for Traore’s full control of Mali’s armed forces, which were still loyal to Sanogo. What was certain to President Jonathan was the success of the war against Boko Haram. The sources unraveled that the success of the war against Boko Haram depended largely on the stability in Mali and the knack of the African and the complete international community to dislocate all rebels and Islamist groups in service in northern Mali.


While the Nigerian soldiers had been deployed to Mali, it was not certain why it took the Federal Government this long to do so, having been notified that the incessant killings by the Boko Haram in the country were hatched in Mali. And whether the Federal Government would still reiterate its offer of asylum to anybody or group in Mali since the war has intensified, was not clear. It was obvious that Captain Sanogo was only power drunk, but could not control his arsenal of mutineers. However, it was not certain why Nigeria did not depend on UN and other world military allies before she deployed her soldiers to the troubled Mali, as she could not do to countries like Egypt, Libya and Cote d’Ivoire. In spite of these, President Jonathan could be advised not to receive any alternative in Mali, when it concerned the security of Nigeria.

Odimegwu Onwumere, Poet/Author, Media/Writing Consultant and Motivator, is the Coordinator, Concerned Non-Indigenes In Rivers State (CONIRIV); and Founder, Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), Rivers State, Nigeria

Phone: +2348032552855 (OR) +2348057778358



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