from Africa in Transition

Nigeria Accelerates Involvement in Mali

January 18, 2013

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What a difference a fortnight can make.

On January 7, 2013, the eve of the Islamist feint south, the Jonathan government announced that it was reducing its troop pledge for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Mali intervention force that was to be deployed in September 2013. Nigeria would contribute 450 troops, not 600. It also signaled that it would be unable to bear the lion’s share of the costs, as it had in previous ECOWAS interventions in African states to restore or maintain security. But, in the aftermath of the French intervention, the Jonathan government reversed its course to significantly increase that contribution. On January 17, the Nigerian Senate approved deployment of 1,200 troops. Some Nigerian troops have been on the ground in Mali for a few days already, according to the Abuja government.

Press comments by the Nigerian Chief of Army Staff Lt. General Azubuike Ihejirika may provide some insight into Abuja’s thinking on the crisis in Mali, and its relationship to the grass-roots insurrection in northern Nigeria labeled Boko Haram.

Ihejirika on January 18, commented that “we have evidence” that terrorists operating in northern Nigeria were trained in Mali. Further, “as of yesterday, we are aware of the influx of some chaps trained in Mali into the country.” Hence, his perspective is that Nigerian participation in the ECOWAS Mali intervention force will promote security in northern Nigeria.

Ihejirika’s position reflects that of the Jonathan government which has long claimed the Boko Haram insurrection is linked to the international al-Qaeda movement.

Given the widespread deployment of the Nigerian army within Nigeria, it remains to be seen where the Jonathan government will find the troops and equipment necessary to fulfill its new pledges.