From Molly Kilete, Abuja
The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Lucky Irabor, said the security challenges bedevilling the African continent requires a national, regional and international approach to contain.
Irabor said most of the security challenges confronting Nigeria, in one way or the other, share similarities with the challenges in other parts of Africa.
The CDS said this at the opening of a two-day conference titled “Africa’s ungoverned spaces and regional security: Building resilience in democratic institutions”, organised by the National Defence College through the Centre for Strategic Research and Studies.
Represented by the Chief of Transformation, Air Vice Marshal Charles Ohwo, at the occasion, Irabor said triggers and enablers of the conflicts in Africa, such as ethno-religious intolerance, political instability and corruption, among others, create a conducive atmosphere for insecurity.
“Thus, in terms of content, these destabilisation agents find safe haven in Africa’s land and maritime domains that have little or no governance presence. It is based on this that many scholars have come to use the term “ungoverned spaces” to refer to these areas.
He, however, assured that the armed forces would continue to work with national and international partners, to ensure that Nigeria and the Africa continent is safe for legitimate business and coexistence.
The CDS, while noting that criminal elements operate freely because the environment allows them to do so, said “whether insecurity emanates from Sambisa forest in the Borno axis or forest areas in Kaduna, Asaba, Enugu, Ibadan and/or borders of Cameroon, there is usually a confluence of environmental and human factors which insecurity needs to survive.
“Hence, the need to build resilience in democratic institutions. In doing this, one may be tempted to ask if those areas have always been “ungoverned” or did they suddenly become so. The answer to this lies in the willingness of the political elite to muster sufficient political will to deal with the problem of insecurity, and this will include building and strengthening institutions that would respond to the demand of the people for the people and by the people.”
Irabor, who said African countries have been struggling to attain an appreciable level of economic development from the early years of independence to date, said this has been impeded by a mirage of security challenges coming from different fronts which have made it possible for criminals to have a place to hide and operate from.
“Today, you hear about drug trafficking, sea piracy, terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, ritual killings and so on, just because there is a place to operate from.
“If you move away from Nigeria to the entire Sahel region, for example, you will see a large expanse of territories, where the constitutional authorities there lack the capacity to effectively control and dominate the entire region. Predominance of different terrorist groups as well as other transnational criminal gangs in these areas, is an indication that there are spaces to occupy with little or no resistance from authorities. These gangs operate within and across borders.
“This only means that such security challenges require, not just national, but regional and international approaches to contain. While the primacy of politics in a democratic setting is acknowledged, in providing answers to insecurity, there must be a concerted effort at both the regional and international arena, to address the challenges of “ungoverned spaces” in Africa. Hence, the imperative of this international conference,” he said.
He commended the organisers of the conference and expressed the hope that the outcome and recommendations of the conference would go a long way to find a lasting solution to the security challenges in the country and the African continent.
Earlier in his address, the Commandant, National Defence College, Rear Admiral Bashir, while noting that, indeed, ungoverned spaces have made it possible for undocumented migrants to cross between countries in the sub-region, said large expanses of these spaces are contested by various terrorist and militant groups.
He said: “Some are even under the control of trans-border criminal networks and international or transnational terrorist groups. These include Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, Ansar Al-Din, Ansaru, the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and the Islamic State in West Africa Province.
“We have also found that the insurgency along the Malian borderlands and Sahara Desert was worsened by the fact that most of the border is ungoverned. This has resulted in an increasing number of undocumented migrants and irregular migration. In addition, there has been the case of a proliferation of small arms and light weapons. These are easily moved across the borders without restriction and are sold cheaply. This poses a major security challenge and increasingly undermines peace and security in the region. As things stand, it is estimated that there are about eight million small arms circulating in West Africa alone.
“This means that militant and criminal groups have easy access to them. This contributes to higher incidents of armed robbery, banditry, maritime piracy, natural resource smuggling, kidnapping, terrorism, militancy and communal conflicts.”
He said the conference was put together on how to overcome these challenges and influence the reduction of our ungoverned spaces.