Security experts have warned that Nigeria is sitting on a time bomb as the African Union alerted recently that over 6,000 Africans who fought for the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq could soon be returning to the continent.
According to the experts, the returning fighters pose a major security threat to the country, as they are likely to join forces with Boko Haram, an affiliate of ISIS.
The analysts warned that if the Federal Government failed to quickly install security measures to counter the potential threat, insurgency could increase in the country.
Notifying the continent of the intelligence report recently, AU’s Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, said member countries needed to work closely with one another and share information to counter the returning militants.
“There are reports of 6,000 African fighters among the 30,000 foreign elements who joined this terrorist group (ISIS) in the Middle East,” Chergui had said in Algiers, Algeria, during a meeting.
“The return of these elements to Africa poses a serious threat to our national security and stability and requires specific treatment and intense cooperation between African countries.”
As fears mount on the migration of the fighters, who could be bringing their extremist ideology and violence with them, a security expert, Mr. John Enweliku, said the development called for “great” worry.
He also called on the Federal Government to quickly deploy troops in the borders so as to ensure the safety of Nigerians.
He said, “Nigeria is sitting on a time bomb with this development. Boko Haram alone has caused lots of trouble and we have yet to fully overcome them. Should the returning fighters join the sect, there would be more trouble.
“It calls for great worry because of the problem we’re already facing with Boko Haram. The returning fighters would likely join Boko Haram. All the security agencies, as well as the AU and ECOWAS, have to start doing something about the development. Troops must be deployed in the borders because Nigeria’s borders are very porous.
“Most of the returning fighters could disguise as farmers or others; they might not even be carrying arms, so there should be intense security measures put in place.”
Enweliku also advised the government to quickly launch a deradicalisation programme for the returnee fighters.
According to the Future Advanced Research, a think tank in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, ISIS has an expanding network in Africa, especially Central and West Africa, where Boko Haram activities have led to the death of about 100,000 people and the displacement of 2.3 million.
In March 2015, the Boko Haram sect pledged allegiance to ISIS, thereby becoming the latter’s largest affiliate in the world.
By August 2015, Indian security agencies arrested two Nigerian youths, Imran Kabeer and Sani Jamiliu, suspected to be on their way to Iraq to team up with the dreaded ISIS terrorist group.
Speaking to Saturday PUNCH on Friday, a United Kingdom-trained criminologist and Chairman of Puma Eye Security Services, Pedro Ayandokun, said there was a high likelihood that most of the 6,000 returning fighters were coming to Nigeria, where Boko Haram operates.
He called on the Federal Government to be swift in deploying personnel in the borders to counter the impending security threat.
He said, “I would refer to the development as an invasion and it is a security threat mainly to Nigerians because as the fighters are returning, they would likely join their ‘brothers,’ that is, Boko Haram terrorists.
“They are coming to wreak havoc. Nigeria is definitely sitting on a time bomb; the fighters are our enemies and we have to be security conscious.
“The government needs to move fast in deploying troops in the borders, where the fighters are likely to come in through. The most appropriate thing to do is for the AU and the Economic Community of West African States to convene a regional security meeting to find a solution to the potential threat.”
Ayandokun also said the government should quickly initiate a rehabilitation programme for any suspected fighter, who is arrested at the borders so that they would not join the Boko Haram terrorist group.
“Because the fighters have yet to commit any crime on the continent, they should be quickly arrested [intelligence should help in identifying them] and be rehabilitated; otherwise, if they joined Boko Haram, we would be in the soup,” he said.
A security consultant, Mr. Chigozie Ubani, also said everything had to be done to contain the situation, adding that there was no doubt that Nigeria would be a target of the incoming insurgents.
“There is no doubt that Nigeria would be a target; so, the country needs to sit up and friends of Nigeria need to assist because it could turn out to be a huge crisis,” he said.
NIS to deploy gunboats, aircraft for border patrol
Although the police said they had yet to formally receive from the AU the intelligence report on the 6,000 returning fighters, the Force Public Relations Officer, Moshood Jimoh, said the organisation’s intelligence operatives and special forces were prepared to combat any terrorist threat in collaboration with other security services.
But when asked about it response to the AU intelligence report, the Nigeria Immigration Service said it had started carrying out community border security to further strengthen intelligence gathering at the country’s land and marine borders.
The NIS Public Relations Officer, Mr. Sunday James, told one of our correspondents that the new approach to border security involved immigration officers and community leaders.
He said, “We are implementing the community border patrol to strengthen security at the borders. The programme would involve our officers in the local government areas, heads of wards and local government chairmen.
“We have upgraded our officers in the local governments to regional officers to champion the programme; they would engage in intelligence gathering for us. So, we are empowering the unit at the grassroots.”
James also stated that the NIS planned to deploy gunboats to monitor the riverine areas, as well as three surveillance aircraft to patrol areas that couldn’t be manned by its operatives.
He said, “With these, nobody would be able to infiltrate the country because the areas through which people enter the country are via water and land borders.
“The Comptroller General of the service (Muhammed Babandede, MFR) has been directing his focus towards the two routes. With this new approach, I don’t think there is anything that can elude us.”
African leaders may discuss intelligence report at AU summit
Saturday PUNCH has also gathered that the impending return of 6,000 IS insurgents to Africa may be a topic of discussion at the African heads of state’s summit, which begins in Abuja on Saturday (today).
It was gathered on Friday that the AU would brief the leaders on the imminent return of the fighters and deliberate about handling the situation.
A top official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who confided in Saturday PUNCH, said, “I think the issue will be discussed when the leaders discuss terrorism at the event.”
ECOWAS Commission spokesperson, Dotscof Liberor, suggested that when the President of the AU Commission, Mustapha Mohammad, presented the issue today, member countries would see to forming a regional collaboration to counter the threat.
Military, UN, ECOWAS train officers in Abuja
Meanwhile, as part of efforts to counterinsurgency threats, the National Defence College, Abuja, has teamed up with the United Nations Training Service and the ECOWAS Department of Peacekeeping and Regional Security to train its officers on peacekeeping in conflict situations.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the 10-day training tagged, “Senior Mission Leaders’ Course,” was for officers drawn from 11 African countries, including Nigeria, Mali and South Africa.
The NDC Commandant, Rear Admiral Adeniyi Osinowo, said the training was a proactive measure in handling conflicts, adding that the aim of the course was to enhance the capacity of the participants to play their roles successfully in contemporary peace and support operations.
According to the NDC Public Relations Officer, Commander Edward Yeibo, Osinowo said the training came at a period of “contemporary conflicts in Africa which continue to pose a great challenge to the management of peace support operations.”
He added, “The ECOWAS, the African Union and other regional organisations have identified strategic leadership capability as very vital to the success of any mission. A total of 150 persons have been trained so far, who are now in various peace missions within the continent and beyond. The training has also enjoyed the support of the German government.”
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