Nigeria’s Tragic Territorial Losses: The Chad Dimension

Chad will require a lot more work to do in convincing Nigerians that it is not behind the Boko Haram insurgency and terrorist acts in Nigeria. Talking tough or putting up strong denials by the Chadian Ambassador to Nigeria will make little or no difference, as history, geographical factors, demographics and recent developments all point to Chad as the big suspect behind the charade of peace moves to end the intractable terrorist gangsterism in the sovereign shores of Northeastern Nigeria.

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Idriss Deby is the Chadian President, who claimed to have the ace in his hands to compel the group to a ceasefire. In the middle of repeated successes by the Nigerian military over the terrorist group in September, signals for peace talks were suddenly issued and frantic calls were made through between the Chadian authorities and alleged terrorist leaders and series of meetings were held in N’Djamena at the instance of the Chadian leader. At the end of the day, the ceasefire talks turned out to be a scam, and the Nigerian State was to be worse off for it. While the military high command took and swallowed the bait foolishly, the officers and men went to deep slumber, drinking away and returning to their concubines, while also abandoning their posts in the belief that the war was finally won and over. But the three weeks of “peace talks” were actually exploited by the group to recoup from serial losses, regroup, restrategize and reposition themselves more fiercely for territorial gains and unleashing of more bombs on the civilian settlements in the whole of the Northeastern region. By the time the peace deals were eventually busted as fraud, concocted by significant actors in the matter, Boko Haram had wrought more destruction and dealt huge and embarrassing blows on the military and territorial integrity of the state.

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Chad had thus aided the Boko Haram group to gain mileage, and in very recent times, reports have not been in Chad’s favour: Deby’s very close aide and friend was caught in Sudan bearing nineteen missiles he had allegedly purchased for Boko Haram; the Chadian leader had refused to make any further comments about the botched or fraudulent ceasefire deals and had reportedly even avoided to receive Nigerian emissaries in recent times; Boko Haram now makes deadlier bids to take state capitals, including Damaturu and Maiduguri, in an apparent desperation to make territorial gains and control the Chad basin, which has been an object of international dispute between Nigeria and Chad for decades.

Nigeria and Chad may be geographic neighbours and share a lot culturally and historically, but these factors have also been responsible for the ironic twists and deep-seated disaffection between the two countries. First, the massive Kanem-Bornu Empire that began in Njimi and later Ngarzagamo as capitals was a great heritage of the Kanuri ethnic group, who spread across old Borno State (that now includes Yobe), some parts of Southern Niger Republic and a large part of Southern Chad. The great empire established lots of diplomatic and political contacts more with the Islamic and Arab world than the Western Sudan (or West Africa). The Zaghawa ethnic group of Chad, Sudan and Egypt were Kanem-Bornu’s main allies. By the Berlin Treaty of 1885 centuries later however, and as a result of the losses of France in the wars against Rabeh, king of Borno, the old Kanuri empire, like the fertile Lake Chad, came under British control and totally out of what Chad could call its landmark heritage.

The Kanuri in Chad are more war-mongering and militarily suave than their Nigerian counterparts. This has underlined their many conflicts and wars since independence of Chad in 1960. The entire Chadian State had battled Libya, Sudan and Cameroon, in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The feud with Nigeria from 1983 was purely a combination of economic and socio-cultural and political factors. The Lake Chad and environs were supposed to be “demilitarized” for any of the parties, but remained essentially Nigerian. Chad lived with this until 1983 when the global climate change began to bite harder on the Lake Chad, that it began to shrink. This development reduced Chad’s use of the lake for fishing and passage for commercial purposes. Nigeria became overly possessive of its territory, which led to flashes of attacks and counterattacks by both countries.

As this conflict raged, the political development in Chad that culminated in the rise and fall of several presidents and heads of state within a short space of four years, had climaxed with the emergence of a very radical Islamic group within the military that sought to establish itself at the centre. Nigeria meddled in the political situation, influencing the emergence of the Mahmat Shawa Lol, who was regarded as a Nigerian stooge, as interim president of Chad. A military outburst however changed the entire process with Hissene Habre, through the help of Deby, his rebel-friend, becoming the Head of State from 1982-1990. Habre was toppled by his former friend, Deby, earlier banished out of Chad, who, with the support and training of Ghaddafi’s forces in Libya, returned to rule with the Patriotic Salvation Movement.

Deby was the rebel leader in the 1980’s whose group tormented Nigeria’s Borno State, seeking territorial gains. The rebels, in the face of the shrinking Lake Chad and general land hunger in the Republic of Chad, and under the guise of Kanuri or Nigerians, practically seized lands in the massive Borno State, killing and dislodging the helpless Nigerians in their towns and villages. Chadian flag was hoisted all around and troops of Chadian civilians and rebel leaders began to move in with the belief that Chad had finally expanded to the Kanem-Borno area, which was originally considered theirs before the Berlin Treaty and colonialism. Nigeria suffered territorial losses under Deby’s rebel group. It was not surprising that radical ideologies soon spread in Northern Nigeria and not long after, there were the Maitasine, Bulumkutu and other Islamic riots in that hitherto peaceful part of Nigeria. It took General Buhari’s military detachment to flush out over 30, 000 Chadian rebels and civilians. Many years after, with an overwhelming Afrocentric policy, Nigerian leadership preferred to live in peace with its immediate neighbours no matter the provocation. This might have, over the years, led to massive but quiet movement and settlement, unchallenged and unsuspectingly, of enemies from Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

Fast-forward, the discovery of oil in the Lake Chad area has changed the approach of Chad towards land grabbing. The people no longer move in quietly; the government, gleaning from the military and imperial pedigree of Deby, might have also nursed an aggressive takeover of the Nigerian territories, for oil and for settlement. Buoyed by the success of Cameroon over Nigeria on Bakassi, just as speculated, African neighbours, including Chad might have seen an impotent giant from whom to grab territories. Quietly watching Nigeria as it grappled with internal political and civil crises over the years, and watching how the military steadily grew rusty out of corruption, poor management and carelessness, Chad, with the help of Nigeria’s greatest rival in West Africa, France, developed its military to a capacity that probably has outmatched Nigeria’s, as demonstrated in recent times in Mali and Central African Republic (CAR). It is even posited that Deby destabilized CAR with the view to establishing an Islamic leadership. The Seleka group, like Boko Haram, enjoys mysterious interminable supplies of heavy arms, food, water, wine, medicare and telecommunication platform, which are traceable to Chad. Obviously, Boko Haram’s arms and other supplies enjoy a very safe and secure passage between Chad and Niger, but Niger does not have a history or capacity to undercut Nigeria. It cannot afford to. History points at Chad, whose allies Sudan and Qatar have been fingered as partners in this crime against Nigeria. Sudanese President Omar Bashir has not forgiven Nigeria for setting him up years back under Yar’Adua for arrest in Abuja on the order of the International Criminal Court. Some big groups in Qatar are known for sponsoring militant Islamic groups to secure African republics for Islam. The Chadian President is apparently enjoying collaboration from certain Nigerian businessmen who are also politicians (most certainly Kanuris) who control business empires in Chad. Head or tail, Nigeria or Chad, these saboteurs win as long as their interests are secure. This probably explains the alleged complicity of Ali Modu Sheriff with Boko Haram and Idriss Deby. The fact remains that those weapons and other supplies do not appear in the forests around Nigeria-Chad borders by magic. Some neighbours help them to secure these supplies and also help them to keep or move the loots, including the Nigerian school girls and more, “looted” from our shores.

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These are overwhelming and convincing facts that can compel the conclusion that Chad officially works with and helps Boko Haram, to achieve an age-long national objective of securing territories and oil-rich Lake Chad. It is also clear that Nigerian politician-businessmen of Kanuri stock and some more inordinately ambitious politicians have joined the fray. National interest or patriotism is lost in their handbook of conscience. The end justifies the means. Senator Iyorchia Ayu and others are therefore not far from the truth about the conspiracy theory. France cannot be exonerated too. Why the US refuses to sell arms to Nigeria at these critical times might just be fallout of certain other complex situations. But clearly and historically, the US and France are allies.

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