Nigeria’s military Wednesday dismissed concerns that the death of the President of Chad, Idriss Deby, may escalate the insurgency war in the northeast region of the country.
Deby, who was re-elected for a sixth term recently, died on Tuesday, a day after he was declared winner of the April 11 election, from injuries sustained while fighting rebels.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in a condolence message described the late Chadian leader as “a friend of Nigeria who had enthusiastically lent his hand in our efforts to defeat the murderous Boko Haram terrorists that have posed grave security challenges not only for Nigeria but also our African neighbours, particularly Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic.”
Buhari had also added that “the death of Deby will surely create a big vacuum in the efforts to jointly confront the Boko Haram terrorists and the Islamic State West Africa Province.”
Some security experts agreed with the president on Wednesday that the death of the Chadian president and the unsavoury developments in the country might tilt the war against terror in the North-east against Nigeria.
But the spokesman of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), Air Commodore Gabriel Gabkwet, downplayed these fears on Wednesday, telling THISDAY that the Nigerian Armed Forces are prepared for any eventuality.
“I don’t think there’s any cause for concern. Already, we have seen a smooth transition to the son of the former president and I think there is calm in the country,” he said, adding: “Agreed, he had a very strong influence on troops in the fight against terrorism. We have seen that there is a smooth transition which also means there is continuity.”
Gabkwet was emphatic that the death of Deby would not have any adverse effect on the war against insurgency.
He explained: “Whether his death will have an effect across the Chadian border into Nigeria, I will tell you it is an emphatic ‘No’. We have a Multinational Joint Task Force.
“So far, the task force is working effectively even before he died.
“We have a joint task force under the chief of defence staff. With officers, weapons and men, the air force is fully involved in that operation; so, I don’t see anything happening.
“What Nigerians are afraid of is the rebels fighting the Chadian government, who are also influenced by other rebels in Libya, may overrun the Chadian capital and start crossing into Nigeria. I don’t see the likelihood of that. I don’t see any cause for concern. Our operations will continue unabated.”
According to him, the new spirit of cooperation and collaboration within the military would be the game-changer.
“This country cannot be threatened by any outsider or any outside influence. The Armed Forces of Nigerian are equal to the task. The Nigerian Air Force is equal to the task.
“What we have going for us is the new spirit of cooperation, collaboration, intelligence sharing and togetherness exhibited by the chief of defence staff and service chiefs. As long as we are working jointly and maintaining that unity, I don’t think we have any reason to worry,” he said.
Concerns Mount over Possible Escalation of Insurgency Wa
Meanwhile, there were concerns security experts that the death of Deby may escalate the insurgency war in the North-east.
Military and intelligence experts, as well as others, who spoke to THISDAY separately, said the weakening of the Chadian leadership and the likelihood of the rebels overrunning the country’s capital may trigger an infiltration into Nigerian territory by rebel and terror groups.
An intelligence source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the death of Deby might prompt a realignment of the Chadian rebels and terror groups notably, Boko Haram and ISWAP, who sourced weapons from Libya.
He said the concern of Deby’s son would be to consolidate his hold on power, adding that he may not be as committed as his late father to fighting terror groups.
He said should the rebels overrun the capital, Ndjamena the implications would be huge for Nigeria and the risk of infiltration into Nigeria’s territory.
“There is a free flow of weapons in Chad. The state does not control what happens with arms. With weak leadership, the situation would be compounded.
“In Libya, the arsenal Gaddafi had, was huge. The arsenal was available to different factions, some of them with a skewed ideology like Boko Haram, some of them with moderate ideology and others a gang of greedy people looking for territory to occupy,” he said while noting that Nigeria should take necessary measures to prevent such occurrence.
Another military source serving near the border with Chad, however, told THISDAY that Nigerian troops were prepared for any eventuality in spite of the situation in Chad.
“You know Idris Deby is a strong member of the coalition and is from the strong fighter tribe in Chad. The rebels said they were going to overrun the capital and he led the battle at the frontline and unfortunately died.
“We are prepared. They cannot enter our territory,” he said.
On the likelihood of the rebels linking up with Boko Haram, he said the rebel groups had established links with Boko Haram.
“They are all terrorists. All the rebel groups operating within Niger, Chad and Nigeria are all terrorists and have links with Boko Haram but we are prepared for them,” he said.
He stated that with the killing of the president, “Chad would be more determined to rout the rebels even with greater intensity than when the man was alive. The president’s son is also a general and a warrior.”
However, a former presidential candidate in the 2019 general election, Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, warned that the death of Deby could complicate Nigeria’s security issues, particularly in the North-east and North-west.
Reacting to the development, Olawepo-Hashim said Nigeria’s policy experts must be worried of the development now.
He said: “The death of Idris Deby is undoubtedly a setback for Nigeria’s national security. Idris had been the buffer for Nigeria’s fight against multiple forces of insurgencies in the Lake Chad Region.
“Nigeria policy experts must of necessity be very worried now. Since the strategic mistake of the overthrow of Gaddafi by some western forces, who cobbled together a motley crowd of Islamists in 2010 and waged war against Libya, the security situation in the Sahel Region has rapidly deteriorated.”
He added that what was clear was that a balance of forces as a result of imported high-grade equipment of war and communication and training, have tilted things in support of non-state actors as opposed to the various states and governments of the Sahel region.
“The worst that knowledgeable African heads of state feared, have come to the Sahel as the forces of destruction unleashed on Libya continued to sweep through all the states of the Sahel and West Africa as a whole and even to Central Africa,” he said.
Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Burkina Faso, he said, were paying for the tragedy of 2010 in severe insecurity caused by non-state actors who were better trained and better armed.
“Whatever the internal politics in Chad is, Nigeria’s concern must be our national interest. This is standard international relations since the treaty of Westphalia in 1641, national security is the primary interest of states. Deby’s death has the potential to complicate things for Nigeria in the North-east and North-west,” Olawepo-Hashim said.
Iyobosa Uwugiaren and Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja