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X-raying Kingibe’s role as special envoy to Chad

To show the seriousness he attached to the Chadian crisis and its implication for the security of Nigeria and other neighbouring countries, President Muhammadu Buhari recently approved the appointment of Ambassador Babagana Kingibe as his special envoy with cabinet rank status to Chad and the Lake Chad Basin Region. ASSISTANT EDITOR BOLA OLAJUWON spoke with foreign affairs experts on the appointment and the issues at stake.

The subsequent killing of Col. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya after the Arab Spring succeeded in raising multiple security concerns within West Africa and the Sahel region. The international community, particularly the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), continue to grapple with post-Gaddafi security challenges in varying dimensions across Africa.

West African and the Sahel and the growing insecurity challenges

Soon after the conflict in Libya erupted, countries in West Africa and the Sahel region had to contend with the influx of hundreds of thousands of traumatised and impoverished returnees as well as the inflow of unspecified and unquantifiable numbers of arms and ammunition from the Libyan arsenal.

The report cites estimates of the number of returnees to Niger, Mali, Chad and Mauritania at approximately 420,000, adding to populations already facing food shortages and in some cases even famine due to drought and other natural causes. This has created a humanitarian crisis that has “negatively impacted the capacity” of governments and the UN. In some areas, “the humanitarian vacuum is being filled by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and criminal elements, who are reportedly providing services and humanitarian assistance in remote areas”.

This situation, according to the report, has, in turn, enabled the terrorist group to “develop recruitment and local support networks for gathering information, supplying arms and ammunition and other logistics”.

This uncertainty has further heightened growing rebel and Islamic militants’ activities in West African countries like Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic and others.

These developments have led to growing disorder and a major challenge for governments within the territories, where nomadic ethnic groups, who previously fought alongside the Libyan dictator, are engendering instability across the region. Nigeria’s Northeast is facing Boko Haram and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacks.

Boko Haram, officially known as Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad, is a jihadist terrorist organisation, which is also active in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. Since March 2015, the group aligned with the ISIL. The group has been known for its brutality, and since the insurgency started in 2009, Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced millions from their homes, and was at one time the world’s deadliest terror group, according to the Global Terrorism Index. Boko Haram and ISIL are now enemies.

However, more pressure was also exerted on the region as a military unit tried to seize the presidential palace in Niger’s capital, Niamey, recently in an attempted coup. The assailants, from a nearby airbase, fled after the presidential guard met their attack with heavy shelling and gunfire. The attempted coup came as President Mahamadou Issoufou was about to step down after two five-year terms. It happened as the country’s president-elect, Mohamed Bazoum, was to be sworn in after an election victory disputed by his opponent, Mahamane Ousmane.

Dèby Itno’s death and discomfort of foreign, national security policymakers

To add to the mounting pressures on the West and Sahel region, the death of Chad’s President Idriss Dèby Itno inevitably alarmed foreign and national security policymakers in Nigeria, the West African region and as far as France.

The 68-year-old Dèby was reportedly killed on the frontline in northern Chad across the border with Libya, where Chadian troops were battling the foreign-backed rebel group, Front pour I’Alternance et al Concorde au Tchad. But, a recent report claimed that he was killed by his tribesmen during a peace meeting. A transitional military council headed by Dèby’s son, Mahamat Dèby, has since taken over the reins of power. But, the new leader is facing rebels’ opposition, which affects the security of Nigeria and others.

Dèby had been in power since 1990 and had recently declared victory in elections that gave him his sixth term in office. The official result said he had garnered nearly 80% of the vote. The poll was boycotted by the opposition and fell short of qualifying as a free and fair election.

But his sudden death has serious implications for regional stability and the war against insurgency in the troubled Lake Chad Basin and the broader Sahel region in West Africa. It is also being keenly felt by two countries that play significant roles in the region – Nigeria and France.

For Nigeria, the dangers posed by Dèby’s death are very close to home. This is primarily because of the potential proliferation of weapons into its borders from Libya, via Chad and possible collaborations between violent extremist groups and rebels.

President Muhammadu Buhari and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron recently pledged to work together to fight insecurity bedevilling the Lake Chad basin area and the entire stretch of the Sahel region. Speaking at a bilateral meeting, at which he hosted President Buhari on the sidelines of the Financing Africa Summit in Paris, President Macron pledged his steadfast support for Nigeria and its citizens as they confront the security challenges facing the country.

The French leader said his government would give Nigeria all the support it needed to combat the security threats hindering the country’s economic growth.

President Buhari has also promised that Nigeria would assist Chad to stabilise and return to constitutional rule. The president made the pledge when he hosted Mahamat Deby at the State House, Abuja.

Buhari told the new Chadian leader: “We are bound together by culture and geography, and we will help in all ways we can. Nigerians know and appreciate the role Chad played in helping us to combat terrorism, we will continue the collaboration.”

Buhari also convened an Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) in Abuja to discuss the recent developments in Chad after Deby Itno died. At the meeting, he urged leaders within the Lake Chad region and international development partners to wake up to the need for peace and stability to be restored in the region. “Our region is faced with difficult, several challenges that need the support and engagement of all to overcome,” said the Nigerian leader, who opened the one-day summit in his capacity as the Chair of leaders of LCBC member countries.

He said while transnational crimes and rebellion cutting across the region continue to evolve in scope, the attendant conflicts also continue to retain their distinct form of inflicting untold hardship and difficulty on the lives of the citizens. “The threats by the Chadian rebel groups, who are clamouring to overthrow the government, must be viewed with all the seriousness they deserve because the consequences of a destabilised Chad to the sub-region cannot be imagined,” Buhari said.

According to him, the flow of refugees and displaced persons from the country, the unrestrained flow of arms, drugs, and other harmful substances into Lake Chad and Sahel regions, which are already challenged by terrorists seeking to establish parallel systems, would further compound the security and stability of the areas and neighbouring countries. The Nigerian leader called on other leaders in the region to rise to the existent challenges and not allow the enemies of the region to succeed in their quest to destabilise the area.

Kingibe as special envoy to Chad and the Lake Chad Basin Region

To also show the seriousness he attached to the Chadian crisis, President Buhari approved the appointment of Ambassador Babagana Kingibe as his special envoy with cabinet rank status, to Chad and the Lake Chad Basin Region. The appointment of a special envoy by the President was in line with the resolution of the Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Lake Chad Basin Commission Member Countries, on the situation on May 25, 2021.

President Buhari has by the appointment, demonstrated the determination of Nigeria to lead regional security efforts that will stabilise the Lake Chad Basin Region, bring peace to Chad and ultimately eliminate the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast region of Nigeria. Kingibe is a Nigerian diplomat, politician and civil servant, who has held several high ranking government offices, culminating in his appointment as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation from 2007 to 2008.

Some foreign affairs experts and diplomat, in interviews with The Nation, lauded the Federal Government on Babagana’s appointment. According to the experts, the Federal Government cannot be indifferent to the situation in Chad knowing that the neighbouring country is strategic to the peace and security of Nigeria.

Those interviewed by The Nation include former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Bulus Z. Lolo; former Nigeria Institute International Affairs (NIIA) Director-General Prof. Bola Akinterinwa; Director of Research, NIIA Dr. Efem Ubi; and an international affairs expert, Prof. Osita Agbu.

Lolo, in his reaction to the appointment, explained: “With the death of Deby, whose tenure saw the longest stability in Chad and ruling the country the way it is, it will be a bit challenging to ensure that relative stability prevails in the country so that the forces fighting his government would not overrun any new government in place in the neighbouring country so that a Chad that is unstable will not aggravate insecurity in Nigeria.”

The former permanent secretary noted that Nigeria’s Northeast states, which are neighbours to Chad, are facing an insecurity challenge, stressing that it is in Nigeria’s best interest for peace to reign in Chad.

“It is a very good move by Nigeria that anything happening in our neighbourhood, it is in our national interest that we must follow it keenly. The use of a special envoy is a tool in diplomacy that other countries are making use of. That Ambassador Babagana has been appointed in the case of Chad and Sahel region is a good move in the right direction,” he said. Lolo said Babagana belong to the old school who grew up through the years in Foreign Service as a diplomat, politician and civil servant who had held several high ranking government offices, culminating in his appointment as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation from 2007 to 2008.

He said: “The new special envoy has seen it all and in diplomacy, he is a guru. So, we can only wish him the best of luck, hoping that the events in Chad will work out well for the good of the country and unity will remain central for the peace and good of all the stakeholders in Chad and the neighbours.

“If engaging as we have done is the solution, so be it. Therefore, we must not close our eyes to the situation in Chad for a second. I wish Ambassador Babagana well in his task.”

Akinterinwa said no one could question Babagana’s competency or capability. “As a former diplomat and foreign minister, he knows what is obtainable. He can serve as a very good emissary. Don’t forget that he was also a former Secretary to the Federal Government. As an envoy, he may have cabinet status, but he is not a minister after being a minister many years ago.

“People do not differentiate between who is an envoy, an ambassador, high commissioner and an ambassador plenipotentiary. Babagana was so appointed as having the status of the cabinet to show the seriousness is according to the Chad and Sahel issue as a matter of protocol. That is the reason you must appoint a notable person. You don’t just send anybody. You must send someone who is well known; a notable person who can carry along all the stakeholders is very critical.”

Ubi, in his submission, said there was nothing wrong about Babagana’s appointment as an envoy with Cabinet status, insisting that he is not equal in status with the minister of foreign affairs and his minister of state.

“The Foreign Affairs Minister cannot be everywhere. Maybe with the problem in the Sahel, that is why Nigeria is sending someone like Babagana. The Sahel is the hottest spot in the continent now in terms of insecurity – from Libya, Chad, and Niger. Whatever we put together to tackle the issue is worthwhile. Therefore, the Federal Government appointed Babagana because of the mandate. What we hope to achieve is what matters,” Ubi asserted.

On the age of the special envoy, the NIIA Director of Research said: “Why do we have to bother about who is appointed, who is not appointed and the age of who is appointed. The question should be: Is the person appointed fit for the appointment?”

But, Prof. Agbu said hearing the old name, again and again, is becoming a little worrisome.

Agbu, who noted that while he and other like minds recognise the need for experience, said the appointment might lead to inertia. “I don’t know whether it is because we don’t have capable hands in the Foreign Service, but we are not comfortable with the appointment,” Agbu said.

The university don reasoned that the Chadian situation is complex, adding that Nigeria must know where its neighbours and foreign powers stand. He, however, wished the special envoy well.

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