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OPINION: Takeaways From President Muhammadu Buhari’s Participation In 3rd Dakar Forum On African Peace And Security

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This year’s Dakar International Forum on Peace and in Security in Africa, the third in the annual series attracted the participation of President Muhammadu Buhari along with some other African leaders.  It was an important opportunity to strengthen relations between Africa and its development partners.  In addition to all things, President Buhari owed to his Senegalese counterpart to be present on account of the visit, at least three times that I know, that President Mackey Sall came here on our government’s invitation.

President Buhari was received with a lot of warmth. It was clear from the actions and pronouncements of the hosts, that President Sall and his government were very pleased that President Buhari had at last reciprocated by visiting.  Besides the diplomatic gains of the visit, what other major gains were made by Nigeria by having our President in  attendance?

As a background, the meeting had in attendance, high-level stakeholders, including, as earlier stated, Presidents and heads of government as well as ministers responsible for internal security, defence and foreign affairs.  Others were heads of security and defence institutions on the continent, regional and international organizations, business leaders, scholars, experts and the civil society.  Dozens of workshops were held on security related issues affecting Africa.

It was an intense two-day engagement, and for those who mistake the presidential trips as pleasurable junkets, the President’s plane left Dakar in the dark hours of the second day of the visit, to land in Abuja early the following morning.

The President had raced back home to swear in the new commissioners he appointed for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and to preside at the Wednesday meeting of the Federal Executive Council, FEC.

The Forum attached a central importance to experience-sharing.

Now, this is an area in which Nigeria has the dubious honor of being a leader, given our ongoing engagement with Boko Haram terrorists. Routing the Boko Haram terrorism is one of the priorities of this administration. The President has defined the challenges of terrorism in Nigeria as being Boko Haram in the North East and Militancy in the South-South.

In the speech he read, and his various responses to questions at an interactive forum, President Buhari offered to the continent this county’s recipe for a lasting solution to the challenge of terrorism. His speech was further expanded in details by officials on the delegation.

In the series of briefings, African leaders were given the essentials of the two-way approach to fighting terror put in place by the current administration.

One is that there  is a “Soft Approach.” This approach has a blueprint tagged as “National Counter-terrorism Strategy.” As a part of this, government has a de-radicalization program coordinated by the Counter Terrorism Centre. De-radicalization basically entails the various ways to rehabilitate and re-orientate repentant terrorists and to fight the ideological influence of terrorist organizations.

An implementation mechanism, the Presidential Committee for North East Initiative (PCNI), for economic empowerment through provision of emergency assistance, social stabilisation, economic reconstruction and redevelopment has also been put in place.

There is also in place, a Victim Support Fund and a National Trauma Centre to collate data on victims of Boko Haram insurgency, and provide assistance to them.

Government is also engaging in the sensitization and orientation of the civil populace to disabuse their mind against the negative propaganda of the Boko Haram group.

There is also a Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Resolution of Security Challenges in the North East to engage the Boko Haram (BH) insurgents and win their hearts through dialogue. The Committee has engaged the insurgents in various prisons and detention centers with a view to cultivating them to accept the dialogue option. As a result of this engagement, 21 Chibok Girls were released on 13th October, 2016, through negotiations. Efforts are being intensified to ensure the safe release of the rest of the Chibok Girls and other victims.

Government has also established a Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PRESCOM) specifically to address the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the country.  Almajiri schools (integrated western and Quranic schools) in the nineteen (19) states of the north to facilitate enrolment of street children who are vulnerable to recruitment by Boko Haram and other terrorist groups have established. Through the implementation of Safe School Initiative,SSI, protection of schools in the states affected by Boko Haram is being paid attention to, with an initial funding of US$20million.

Other measures put in place include wider Foreign Intelligence Cooperation (Liaison Relations) at the regional and sub-regional levels in view of the trans-national and cross-border nature of terrorism and related crimes. In this regard, a Regional Intelligence Fusion Unit (RIFU) and National Intelligence Fusion Centre for coordinated action against terrorism, including intelligence sharing in response to the security challenges posed by Boko Haram insurgency and Terrorism have been put in place.

As an indication of the success of this experiment, the RIFU achieved 98 per cent increase in intelligence sharing in 2016, with more countries seeking to join the Unit.

The second approach to the threat of terrorism by Nigeria is tagged the “Hard Approach.”

The Forum was briefed by our officials on ongoing intensification of Air and Ground Military Offensive against the Boko Haram group and its bases. There is also an ongoing:

Deployment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Satellite Imagery to gather Intelligence to assist in detecting locations of the terrorists;

Supply of modern military equipment and hardware to the military;

Relocation of Military Command and Control to Maiduguri, Borno State, the epicentre of Boko Haram/Terrorism activities;

Boosting the morale of Military Officers and Soldiers engaged in combat operations, including through training and re-training;

Sustenance of Joint Operations between Nigeria and her neighbours;

Full operationalization of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) under the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) to combat Boko Haram menace;

Substantial degrading of the capacity of Boko Haram to hold territories and carry out massive attacks. President Buhari made it clear that the fight against corruption in his country aims at addressing factors that promote terrorism and violent extremism.

“Corruption,” said the President “deprives the citizens including the youth of their right to basic necessities of life including education,health and employment.”

He informed them that his administration had put in place an empowerment program targeting 500,000 youth, of which 200,000 have been employed in the first instance.  Following this excellent presentation, many countries expressed their appreciation of Nigeria’s anti terrorism mechanisms and efforts.

A major objective of the Dakar Forum is the strengthening of African Unity with a view to finding their own solutions to the problems of security on the continent. This is in line with the theme for this year’s meeting which is “Africa Meets Its Security Challenges: Viewpoints For Efficient Solutions.”

To achieve this, the leaders agreed to use common security platforms to achieve the goal of a unified African approach.

Some of these will hopefully see African Navies and Maritime agencies working together to secure international waters.  It has since been recognized that a stable maritime environment is critical for regional and global security and that states acting in isolation of one another have tended to achieve very little.

The threat of sea-borne terror and piracy continues to pose a strong challenge, with pirates moving from Somalia to the Gulf of Guinea. The meeting recognized the efforts of Nigeria and her maritime neighbours to counter the situation. Going forward, African Navies should be working more closely with each other.

The meeting also provided an opportunity to learn from each other on how best to get international partnerships to work together for common solutions to shared problems.  To this end, defence and security establishments will march together to confront the new challenges facing the continent and will cooperate with one another by sharing intelligence, training and synergy.

This country’s President Muhammadu Buhari was clearly the toast of by all at the interactive session.  The model of cooperation put in place by the leaders of the Lake Chad Basin Commission Countries, and the impressive success recorded by the Multinational Joint Task Force, MNJTF will serve a strong motivation for the actualization of  a continent-wide mechanism for military intervention in crisis situations. Each country has however been implored to start by taking charge of their territories and resources to avoid their falling into the hands of terrorists.

To confront the threat of the spread of hate speech, redicalisation and violent extremism, the Africa leaders will each in their countries keep an eye on  the internet.

In an important decision taken, the Forum noted that rising connectivity has helped the growth of extremism and radicalization, and leaders were urged to make state institutions to be more mindful of those seeking to incite violence using social media platforms.

African private sector has equally been urged to key into the efforts to build new pillars of economic activities on the continent to reduce joblessness and crime.  Participants agreed that the private sector is an equal stakeholder in peace and security in Africa and for this reason, businesses on the continent must brace up for more involvement in this regard as part of their corporate social responsibility.

The Dakar Forum also adopted several measures to advance the vision of conflict-free Africa by 2020.  At his usual interaction with Nigerians in countries he visits, President Muhammadu Buhari held a meeting with an important group made up of leaders of various Nigerian associations in Senegal and Cote D’ivore.

These leaders expressed their strong confidence in the leadership of the President and enlisted their full support for his efforts to secure the country, decimate corruption and restructure the economy for employment and growth.  The President was accompanied on the trip by the ministers of Interior, General Abdul-Rahman Danbazau (rtd), Defence, General Mansur Dan Ali (rtd) and Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffery Onyeama.

Others included the National Security Adviser, General Babagana Manguno (rtd), the Director, National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador AYO Oke and the Chief of Defence Staff, Lt. General Gabriel Olanisakin.

Written by Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to President (Media & Publicity)

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