Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari, on Tuesday, revealed that his administration had invested over $1 billion in the acquisition of weapons from the United States and other countries in the fight against insurgency since he assumed office in 2015.
Buhari, who went down memory lane, narrated how two-thirds of Borno State, half of Yobe State, and some local government areas in Adamawa State were under the control of terrorists. He accused some Nigerians of using personal religious beliefs to champion their political and economic interests.
The president, according to a statement issued by his media adviser, Femi Adesina, explained, “When I assumed power in 2015, Boko Haram held about two-thirds of Borno State, half of Yobe State, and a couple of local government areas in Adamawa State, all in the North-east of Nigeria. We have been able to retrieve these swathes of territories by investing over a billion dollars to acquire hard and soft ware weaponry from the US and other friendly countries to carry out sustained operations against insurgency since 2015.
“Our armed forces and those of our partners in the Multinational Joint Task Force (consisting of Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Benin Republic and Nigeria) continue to demonstrate great bravery while paying the ultimate price in securing our collective freedom.
“Despite the difficult times we face, we continue to spend very scarce and lean resources to ensure that we have a well-resourced military force to take on this task.
“Ideally, these are resources could be spent on education, healthcare, infrastructure and other social services, but without peace, we have learnt the hard way that our children cannot go to school or seek good healthcare.”
Buhari charged African leaders to take immediate steps to find lasting solution to the over 10-year-old instability in Libya, which is having telling effect on neighbouring countries around it.
He stressed the need for the next Summit of the African Union to take a holistic review of the challenges that continued to fester in Libya with the hope of finding pragmatic African approach to resolving the instability in the country.
The president said the move was necessary to ensure that Libya no longer served as a safe-haven for all kinds of weapons and foreign fighters, whose profound impacts stared all in the sub-regions and Africa.
Buhari noted that efforts must be concretised towards the curtailment and possible prevention of the circulation of small arms and light weapons, as well as the festering of the foreign fighters in the African continent.
According to him, “Global terrorism, banditry and other trans-national crimes continue to pose enormous challenges not only to Africa but to global peace and security. These phenomena have become perennial threats to sustained economic development and growth.
“Nigeria and other regional bodies in Africa and the rest of the world are working assiduously to deal with these existential threats to the very existence of humanity. For us in Nigeria, we continue to engage bilaterally and multilaterally to comprehensively win the war against the Boko Haram insurgency and other related terror groups through kinetic and non-kinetic approaches.”
He told the assembly of African leaders that the shrinking of Lake Chad had resulted in dire consequences for the people of the region, including losing their traditional source of living. He said the situation had culminated in the easy recruitment of the youth by the terrorist groups, as the young people sought means of livelihood under difficult economic conditions.
Buhari explained that the scenario created serious instability and served as a litmus test for member countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) in devising means to restore livelihoods within the region.
He stated, “As a corollary to containing this development, the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) has begun implementing programmes to safeguard the ecosystem of the basin, including seeking global support to return the lake to an economic hub it was known for in the past.
“Although, we are winning the war, however, as a country and sub-region, we continue to be negatively impacted by events in Libya, Central Africa Republic, The Sahel and the war in Ukraine. Our region, is awash with all sorts of small and light weapons that continue to be freely in circulation, orchestrated by the impact of foreign fighters.
“We must therefore, support peace initiatives to bring political stability in crisis ridden areas such as Libya, Central African Republic and other parts of the Sahel region in order to discourage the spread of insurgency, other criminal groups, as well as arms and foreign fighters in these locations and continent-wide.”
Buhari noted that it was imperative for the African countries, through the African Union, to renew initiatives for finding African solutions to the challenges of Libya, which continued to remain very volatile and unstable, hoisting not only lack of peace and stability in that country, but also hindering development in the Sahel, Central and West Africa as well as the Lake Chad Regions.
He stated, “Too many external interests have pestered on the challenges of Libya for too long and regrettably compounded the search for sustainable resolution.
“This has left our sub-regions far more fragile and safe haven to all negative influences to regenerate which have ultimately remained threats to peace, stability, development and progress of our regions and the rest of Africa.
“It is my hope that the next African Union Summit next month, would revisit this matter, in a comprehensive and pragmatic manner, to free our regions and continent, the cycles of violence, instability, lack of development and progress in the sub-regions of Africa that are well-endowed with resources that can easily sustain not only the continent, but most of the world.
“It is my hope that President Macky Sall, as President of the African Union, would take up this challenge at the continent’s next Summit, to refocus our attention, to finding indigenous sustainable solutions to Libya as indeed the entire Peace and Stability Architecture of our continent.”
The president also urged leaders to put a premium on youth development, with more seriousness and actionable ideas in promoting skills acquisitions, while discouraging idleness.
According to the Nigerian leader, idleness of youths and their non-inclusion in discussion of issues that shape their lives and the future portend danger for the continent, especially in the areas of religious fundamentalism and extremism.
Buhari, who was honoured by the Abu Dhabi Peace Forum with an “Award for Strengthening Peace in Africa”, said there was a need to inculcate values and principles of tolerance and peace in educational institutions, and particularly, among the youth.
He said, “African leaders and decision makers should ensure that democratic principles and good governance form the basis for management of affairs in every country in Africa, noting that peace, security and good governance are inseparable.
“There is need also for African stakeholders, that is, the government, private sector and the Civil Society Organisations, to make concerted efforts to support existing mechanisms and initiatives to build strong and virile institutions that effectively support good governance which, inter alia, lead to the development and progress of our countries and continent.
“African leaders must reaffirm their commitment by demonstrating political will required for ownership of African Peace and Security Architecture and in the implementation of African Governance Architecture.
“We must also adjust the effectiveness of the early warning system and conflict prevention and adopt policies aimed at resolving the crisis of de-radicalisation through continuous dialogues and negotiations.”
Buhari thanked the Abu Dhabi Forum for Peace, under the tutelage and leadership of Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, for the honour of nominating him as the recipient of the “African Award for Strengthening the Peace”.
He said, “It is indeed a recognition that speaks volumes to the ultimate goal of collective efforts by African leaders to engender peace and stability as prerequisites for development in our continent.
“This event is taking place amidst growing armed conflicts, exacerbated by extremists’ ideology rooted in misinterpretation of religious precepts, and of course widespread deprivations of the citizens of Africa and other parts of the world.
“These sad developments have, for many decades, become worrisome that they preoccupy all governments and well-meaning organizations, as well as individuals in Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.
“Realising the danger posed by the growing insecurity to the progress African countries have achieved in their political and socio-economic advancement since gaining independence from their colonial masters, it is commendable that the Government of Mauritania, in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Forum for Peace, launched the First edition of the Conference in 2020, where the inaugural Conference deliberated on: “The Role of Islam in Africa: Tolerance and Moderation Against Extremism and Sectarianism.”
He added, “The theme of the Third edition of Peace Conference, ‘Enter all in Peace’ still corroborates the lingering scourge of insecurity, with linkages within and outside of the region, thereby necessitating the imperative for continued concerted engagements with governments and international partners towards its amelioration, if not outright eradication.”
Buhari paid tribute to the relentless drive and courage of His Excellency Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, for his initiative to promote peace through the process of combating extremists’ ideas that incubate violence in societies.
“Your scholarly teachings should be given due dissemination to counter the terrorists’ narrative misrepresenting Islamic thoughts,” he said.
The president stated that it was his strong belief that if leaders were able to re-commit themselves in the right directions with strong political will, Africa would be the better for it.
In his remarks, President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, said the 2023 conference theme was based on the recommendations of the “Nouakchott Declaration” that emerged from the inaugural conference.
The declaration, which aims to deconstruct the religious basis of extremist speeches and to limit violence based on religious arguments, was enshrined as a reference document in the African Vision for Peace at the 33rd Summit of Heads of State of the African Union.
Bin Bayyah said the 2023 conference aims to strengthen the implementation of the Nouakchott Declaration and grow its popularisation.
Bin Bayyah said, “We want to raise awareness among African elites, spiritual elites and the youth, of the absolute priority that must be given to peace, and the need to implement concrete actions to promote and entrench it.”
He said, “The promotion of peace is the only possible way to guarantee access to prosperity and economic and social development.”
According to him, women would be specifically included during the three days of reflection, debate and development of concrete peace building initiatives.
Welcoming African leaders and scholars to the peace conference, the President of Mauritania congratulated Buhari for the award. He said the award was given to Buhari for providing good leadership and promoting peace in a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-linguistic country, like Nigeria, and extending his experience and wisdom to other African countries.
Buhari accused some Nigerians of using personal religious beliefs to champion their political and economic interests.
The president, who spoke yesterday, at Nouakchott, Mauritania, while meeting with United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain, said some people hide under the canopy of religion to advance their economic and political agenda.
Buhari stressed that continuous education was needed so that the larger Nigerian populace would not be hoodwinked.
Recounting his private meeting at the White House with former President Donald Trump, the Nigerian leader recalled Trump asking him, “why are you killing Christians in Nigeria,” and how he proceeded to tell him that the issue in the country was not religious, but rather criminal, and a usage of religion by some elements to further their economic, and sometimes, political interests.
He said, “It’s a problem Nigeria has been struggling with for a long time, and it is completely unnecessary.
“Some people use religion as sentiment, but with adequate education, people are seeing through it now. Majority of the people just want to practice their religion without problem, but some people cash in on religious misunderstanding for their own ends.
“When people are educated, they are able to discern when others want to use religion for certain ends. They do it mostly for material reasons.
“Also, when some people are incompetent, they bring in all sorts of excuses, including religion.”
Ambassador Hussain said the United States of America was interested in partnering with Nigeria in the areas of formal and non-formal education, towards religious harmony.
He said, “There’s so much we can do together to promote peace, promote communal harmony. We love what you are doing, and we would be glad to assist as appropriate.”
Buhari also met with President of the Abu Dhabi Peace Forum, Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, on the sidelines of the African Conference for Peace, held in Nouakchott, Mauritanian capital.
Buhari, who had earlier been invested with the African Award for Strengthening the Peace, was described by the Shaykh as “a symbol and icon of leadership and integrity,” who would remain an inspiration even after leaving office as President.
Bayyah lauded the efforts of the Nigerian president to eradicate religious extremism, stressing that it was something the world must collaborate to do.
“You are doing a great job in that regard, and it is something we need to do wherever such rears its head round the world,” the respected cleric said.
Inviting the Nigerian leader to visit Abu Dhabi within the short time left for him in office, the Shaykh stated, “You have had varied experiences, as a military leader, a democratically elected leader for two terms, and your input will be appreciated in any society. We will be glad to receive you.”
Responding, Buhari recounted efforts made to extirpate the Boko Haram ideology in Nigeria, wondering why the group, along with Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) wants to split the country.
The president said, “Boko Haram is false. You say Western education is ungodly. It’s fraudulent. Whoever is financing them just wants to split the country. All the grounds they seized before we came have been recovered, and the rebuilding process is going on well.”