President Muhammadu Buhari often laments over the inflow of trafficked Libyan arms, which contributes hugely to the persistence of terror attacks in Nigeria. His recent lamentation was at a sideline meeting with President Alhassan Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire during the recent Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) summit in Abuja.
The overwhelming chaos that ensued in Libya following the brutal killing of its leader, Mu’ammar Ghaddafi and the overthrow of his regime along with the country’s military and other security institutions had precipitated free-for-all looting of military arsenals across the country by warring armed factions fighting for the control of oil fields, cities and other strategic locations in the country.
Also as the chaos escalated, foreign arms flooded Libya as more and more armed groups with conflicting agendas continued to emerge, which also attracted organized international arms traffickers who have since then continued to supply arms to armed groups in West Africa, North Africa and other parts of the continent.
Nigeria is a major destination of such arms. A lack of effective border control and corruption facilitate their inflow via Chad and the Republic of Niger, both of which share common borders with Libya. Boko Haram terror group, bandits, armed robbers, kidnappers and other crime gangs acquire such arms to perpetrate terror attacks, banditry, armed robbery and kidnapping in the country.
Now, as usual in such a crisis, many countries from different parts of the world with legitimate and illegitimate interests are locked in a protracted struggle on Libyan soil to pursue and/or protect their respective interests. Countries like France, Turkey, Algeria, Russia, Qatar, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Egypt, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates are particularly involved at various levels of intelligence, military and diplomatic involvement. They are rightly or wrongly supporting their respective factions in the conflict to serve their respective justifiable and unjustifiable interests in the country.
However, Nigeria that has legitimate interests in Libya i.e. to tackle the sources of the inflow of trafficked arms, is conspicuously and indeed inexcusably absent. Egypt is equally grappling with the inflow of trafficked arms from there, yet it has hugely curtailed it thereby curtailing the activities of terror groups on its Sinai Peninsula. This is thanks to its proactive intelligence and diplomatic approaches.
It’s indeed disappointing that Nigeria doesn’t seem to have a substantive diplomatic policy, let alone a substantive intelligence strategy to tackle the inflow of trafficked arms from Libya. President Buhari only laments helplessly in an apparent but futile attempt to draw the pity of the international community to do it for us. He sounds as though he is clueless about the underlying politics of interests that always determine countries’ actions, inactions and reactions to issues, regardless of any moral considerations.
After all, if the Libyan arms trafficking into Nigeria were in any way a direct threat to the security, economic or other strategic interests of any of the major players in international politics, it would have been tackled and stopped by now.
Somalia, for instance, has been locked in a vicious civil war for decades; and was effectively abandoned by the international community obviously because the chaos poses neither a major direct security threat nor a major economic threat to any of the world powers. However, when a decade ago Somali pirates began to escalate their piracy activities targeting and hijacking international cargo ships passing off the Somali coast thereby posing a serious threat to global trade and, by implication, the economies of the major world powers, they promptly took all necessary measures including the introduction of regular maritime patrols until they secured the shipping routes.
To Nigeria’s disadvantage also, though it’s oil-rich, its security challenges neither pose any major threat to crude oil lifting in the country, which is the main concern of those major world powers, nor jeopardize their strategic economic interests. Besides, alternative sources of crude oil are increasingly abundant around the world.
Therefore, until the situation gets that worse, God forbid, none of those countries would be committed to helping Nigeria to tackle the inflow of trafficked arms from Libya or from anywhere for that matter.
In the face of this dilemma; and inasmuch as it cannot afford to keep expecting those major world powers to live up to their moral responsibilities towards it with regard to the inflow of trafficked arms from Libya and indeed its other security challenges, it should take matters into its own hands not only in this regard but in all other aspects of the country’s interests as well.
Nigeria must not just be able to tackle its security challenges but it should also have a strategic agenda to not only protect its interests but also secure appropriate influence befitting its status as the most populous African country with the largest economy in the continent, and indeed a country with the potential to develop into a notable player in global politics. After all, every ambitious country in the world has and indeed pursues its own agenda.
It’s high time the federal government came up with an ambitious plan to achieve that. The National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, relevant agencies and research institutions should collectively embark on designing such an agenda for Nigeria, as well as designing the appropriate intelligence, diplomatic, media and public relations strategies to achieve it.
In the meantime, for the federal government to be able to tackle the inflow of trafficked arms from Libya, it must be proactive enough. It needs to somehow impose itself as an indispensable stakeholder in international diplomatic efforts to solve the Libyan crisis. It should also establish effective intelligence presence inside Libya to identify, infiltrate and eliminate the arms trafficking cartels and their accomplices in Nigeria.