8 January 2013
By Damilola Oyedele
Security challenges which have prompted the Federal Government to
deploy troops to many parts of the
federation, have forced Nigeria to scale
down the number of men of the armed
forces it will contribute to a sub-regional military contingent for peacekeeping in Mali.
THISDAY learnt yesterday that Nigeria
would now contribute 450 soldiers to the contingent put together by the Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS), down from the original 600 soldiers it had intended to contribute to the 3,300-strong troops. West African leaders on November 11,
2012 had agreed to send some 3,300
troops to Mali in order to assist
government-controlled troops regain
control of the northern part of the
country from a band of terrorists suspected to have links with al-Qaida. The terrorists have been in control of that section of Mali for about eight months.
The ECOWAS leaders at an emergency
summit in Abuja, attended by military
experts from the United Nations and
Europe, reached a consensus that the
crisis in Mali could only be resolved
through military intervention. About a week after the summit, the Minister of State for Defence, Mrs. Olusola Obada, had told the British Prime Minister’s Special Representative to the Sahel Region, Mr. Stephen O’Brien,that Nigeria would contribute 600 soldiers to the ECOWAS contingent meant for Mali. The United Nations Security Council(UNSC) last December had also approved the planned military intervention by ECOWAS to restore normalcy in Mali.
The coalition, which also enjoys the
support of non-African states, has been
termed African-led Support Mission in
Mali (AFISMA) and is expected to help
train Mali’s army. Nigeria was expected to contribute the highest number of troops to the contingent owing to its reputation as a global peacekeeper, and has led similar missions in the past when it intervened in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Besides, Nigeria’s military, which gets a big defence budget relative to other West African countries, is considered more advanced and experienced in military warfare than its neighbours in the sub-region.
However, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs
source informed THISDAY that for the
first time in its history, Nigeria would not be able to meet the original target on the number of soldiers it would
contribute to AFISMA, as its officers and soldiers are engaged in one operation or the other in several parts of the country. According to him, because of the security challenges in the North and insecurity in other parts of the country that have necessitated troops deployment to the affected states, Nigeria will not be able to send more than 450 soldiers to the international military contingent.
He said the latest military report showed that the military is currently actively engaged in 34 states of the federation,excluding the troops that are still stationed in Liberia and Guinea Bissau.
“We cannot dissipate our energy; we
have to secure our own country first. So
we cannot do more than 450, other
countries would have to step up (their
contributions) and the good thing is that
the mission involves ECOWAS and the AU, so they would prevail on other countries
to step up,” the source said.
On the financial implication of Nigeria’s
involvement in AFISMA, the source
explained that it would not be a repeat
of the Liberian and Sierra Leonean
interventions when Nigeria bore almost
all of the cost of the operations in both countries. “Our financial contribution would be proportional to what we are contributing and to what others are contributing; it would be shared out. Of course, there would be assistance from the AU, the UN and other countries, even from the EU which has pledged support,” the source added.
France is one of the countries that has pledged support for the mission. The UNSC resolution approving the intervention noted that certain political
and military benchmarks must be met
before the commencement of the
onslaught against the rebels and terrorist networks in the Maghreb.