PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan travelled out of Nigeria recently. He went to take care of one of his children in London. And that is because Nigerian presidents have always had more than one nation to cater for. A caring father would have more than one child on his hands anyway, not to mention one with enough financial muscles, and one with more than enough armed forces to spare.
So when David Cameron invited people to talk Somalia, he did not start on a false note. A meeting on peace for Africa without Nigeria in attendance is a fruitless effort. Everyone knows that. So it was good that President Jonathan didn’t have sleepless nights before he took the decision to go to London. He cancelled a trip to Davos, Switzerland, not long ago. Incessant terrorist attacks in his backyard were a reason for him to think twice on that occasion. But all seems relatively silent from the northern end lately.
And so in London, the president talked Somalia with forty other leaders from Africa, Middle East and Europe in attendance. Why is Somalia an issue for Nigeria, and Britain? Why has it been for anyone for almost two decades?
Somalia is an example on how to rule, dictatorially, do a few relatively good things and be praised to the high heavens as the best thing ever to happen. Then people protest, they seek for the right to choose, and in a mater of months, the entire house comes tumbling down along with the few good things done. Egypt, Libya are examples. Siad Barre ruled in Somalia during parts of the cold war years, global transformation happened, and he fled when sections of his people took up arms and asked for the right to choose. He later died in Nigeria. And that was how militants took over more than half of that country that is located in the Horn of Africa, at that spot where world’s ships turn away from the Indian Ocean into the Red Sea, on their way to the Mediterranean Sea, and into Europe.
As the civil war progressed, militants, the best organized of them – Al Shabab, harassed the rag-tag government in power, other smaller groups terrorized the sea and waylay ships. The United States sent in troops earlier on, but had to back out. That was in the early 1990s. The shaky government in Mogadishu has been propped up ever since by soldiers from other African countries, and lately under the African Union’s flag.
The colour of the war in Somalia has changed over the years. Al-Shaba had moved in and moved out of Mogadishu, threatening the government. And efforts had been made, from the EU to the UN, to end the war. Lately, after it had suffered serious setbacks on the battle field, and to the horror of every nation,
Al Shabab announced it had dissolved itself into the world Al-Qaeda terror network. This was the background to the conference that the British government called on Somalia. The conference may well be tagged an attempt to consolidate recent successes against Al-Shabab, and put up a united front against the Al-Qaeda terror network on the continent. But beyond confronting new and enlarged terror emanating from that part of Africa, and protecting shipping, what other reasons are there for Somalia to be of interest to Nigeria?
Nigeria is one other nation in which terror attacks have gone viral, and some Nigerians are said to have received training in Somalia.
Foreigners have also been fingered among those who carry out attacks in northern parts of Nigeria. Northern states are on the same lateral line, and are just some four nations away from Somalia.
Like Nigeria intervened in places such as Liberia and Sudan, good sense dictates that a problem should be nipped at source. More troops under AU umbrella have been approved to be deployed in Somalia lately, and Nigeria will be keen to be part of it; Nigeria has always been part of it.
As for the British government, its officials have been asked why it wants to expend resources to resolve a conflict that had defied solution in some fifteen previous attempts. The government explains that helping Somalia once again is in Britain’s interest.
Like other Western countries, Britain needs to cut expenditure in this austere times, and it wants to pay off debt too. It can do this by cutting spending on foreign aid to places such as Somalia. And dozens of British nationals reportedly receive training in some parts of Somalia; they are likely to return home with a mind to unleash terror.
In fact, British aid minister Andrew Mitchell said, “There are more British passport holders engaged in terrorist training in Somalia than in any other country in the world.” While neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia have stepped into Somalia, fearing Al-Shabab attacks on their territories, Western countries such as Britain do not look like they will do the same. But they will help AU with efforts to contain Al-Shabab and other terror groups; in any case, AU has always insisted it wants to solve its own problems using native wisdom.
One thing this latest peace effort will do is to install a credible government in Mogadishu. The government is then expected to take control of the whole country and close down the terror training camps. As things stand, attacks on ships have been reduced somewhat with naval ships from across the globe patrolling the Somali coast, but the effect is that attacks have become more violent and the pirates have moved away from the shore to evade the patrols.
Also, this is a country where food shortages have led to humanitarian aid been sought from places like Britain. East Africa witnessed drought last season, and Somalia suffered most. In the face of this, delivering aid to the needy is a dangerous endeavour. With a functioning government, Somalia would have handled the effect of the drought better. These are reasons the British government called the likes of Nigeria to a meeting of stakeholders in Somalia. There is no doubt that such coordinated, cooperative effort is more likely to achieve better results. But as the British PM acknowledges, ”The problems are very deep and the challenges are very grave.” Yet, the Somali prime minister Abdiweli Mohamed is optimistic: “Twenty years of lawlessness, violence and chaos is enough. Somalis are ready to move on.” Whether that happens or not is not solely dependent on Somalis, but also on nations such as Nigeria which strength and readiness to help other nations on the continent has always been counted upon.
Ajibade, a communications consultant