By Ismaila Chafe, Abuja.
President Muhammadu Buhari has again called for tighter border security in the Lake Chad region to consolidate the gains of security agencies against terrorist activities in the Sahel region of West Africa.
The president made the call in his opening address at the 16th Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), held at the Conference Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Tuesday.
Buhari, who is Chairman of the Summit of Heads of State and Government, said the threat by terrorists in the region had been relatively brought under control, while the influx of weapons posed fresh challenges.
He said: “It must, however, be stated that in spite of the successes recorded by the gallant troops of the MNJTF and the various ongoing national operations in the region, terrorist threats still lurk in the region.
“Regrettably, the situation in the Sahel and the raging war in Ukraine serve as major sources of weapons and fighters that bolster the ranks of the terrorists in the Lake Chad Region.
“A substantial proportion of the arms and ammunition, procured to execute the war in Libya, continues to find its way to the Lake Chad Region and other parts of the Sahel.
“Weapons being used for the war in Ukraine and Russia are equally beginning to filter into the region.
“This illegal movement of arms into the region has heightened the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, which continues to threaten our collective peace and security in the region.
Buhari said that there was the urgent need for expedited collaborative actions by border control agencies and other security services to stop the circulation of all illegal weapons in the region.
The Nigerian leader said that the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) deserved commendation for various operations that had brought measurable stability to the Lake Chad Basin.
“The threat of Boko Haram terrorism in the Lake Chad area no doubt brought to the fore, the imperative of enhanced collaboration among the defence forces of the region, in the face of a common aggressor.
“I am pleased that through the Multinational Joint Task Force, we responded to the challenge, proving beyond reasonable doubt that with the requisite commitment and determination, the region can solve its challenges in the best ways possible.
“The MNJTF has, indeed, become a model, breaking physical barriers and affirming the workability of the common approach to conquer challenges in the area.
“Permit me, therefore, to pay tribute to the untiring efforts of the officers and men of the Multinational Joint Task Force and our various National Armed Forces, who continue to make remarkable sacrifices in the fight against terrorism in the region.
“The efforts and memories of these gallant soldiers, some of whom have paid the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty for the survival and restoration of stability to the region, will never be forgotten,” he said.
Buhari also reiterated that during the period under review and with the support of Heads of State, efforts and funding were sustained for the MNJTF to ensure that it delivered on its mandate of ensuring a safe and secure environment in the region.
“You will recall that consequent on the deteriorating security situation in the region, the Extraordinary Summit of Dec. 15, 2018, held here in Abuja, directed the conduct of continuous operations to completely eradicate the scourge of Boko Haram terrorism from the region.
“I am glad to inform my dear brothers that in keeping with that decision, the MNJTF has since then, successfully conducted three major operations:
“Ops ‘YANCIN TAFKI’ (I&II) and Ops Lake Sanity I, with the fourth one, Ops Lake Sanity II, being planned.
“The next phase of the operation will take cognisance of lessons learned from previous exercises and effectively consolidate the gains attained by preceding Ops.
“I am glad to note that during the execution of Ops Lake Sanity I, regrouping terrorists in the Lake Chad Islands were effectively decimated,” he added.
Buhari urged the leaders to complement the fight against terrorism with development.
He said: “Although terrorist threats have been significantly decimated in the region, it is worthy of note that military actions alone cannot effectively win the war against terrorism.
“There is the overriding need to complement military operations with the provision of sustainable development projects that will ameliorate the living conditions of the affected people in the region.
“Government presence must be positively felt in the area to restore the confidence of citizens in the ability of the state to protect them and provide basic infrastructure for all.
“It is in view of the foregoing, that the implementation of the Regional Strategy for the Stabilisation, Recovery and Resilience of the Boko Haram-affected areas of the region must gain further traction without any delay.
“I am glad to note the development, costing and validation of the territorial action plans for the eight Boko Haram most-affected territories of the region.”
According to him, these action plans are the basic building blocks for the implementation of the strategy for the developmental needs of the people of the area.
“While we commend these initiatives, we must immediately commence efforts at their operationalisation.
“In this regard, I urge our partners to continue to support us, as we redouble the ongoing efforts at developing the region, to win the hearts and minds of the citizens in the area,’’ he urged.
Buhari stressed that the Lake Chad region was faced with a complex security situation that was highly dynamic, constantly changing and increasingly influenced by the impact of climate change and other variables, including sadly, some external factors.
“These factors have made it imperative for us to regularly review the development and counter-terrorism strategies that are operational in the region,” he added.
The president said that the member-countries must continue together to proffer ingenious solutions to the challenges confronting them.
He said: “We must, through the commission, continue to make concerted efforts to provide the desired leadership, and ownership.
“We must also ensure that our experts and troops are adequately motivated and supported to achieve our objectives.
“We must strive to continue to view our region through the lens of equity, fairness, diversity and inclusion.
“It is imperative that we all see ourselves reflected in the kind of leadership we provide for the region.
“We must continue to support and contribute to the success of the organization.”
Buhari called on the leaders to rise and face the challenges of the region headlong, in order to deliver the bright future, which they envisaged for the region.
The president said budgetary concerns remained a challenge for all member countries, considering the declining global inflows and increasing demands.
“We must, however, never lose sight of the vision of the founding fathers of the commission.
“We must continue to strive and make collaborative efforts, aimed at upholding the ideals for which the LCBC, in its nearly 60 years of existence, has continued to pursue.
“To our gallant troops in the field, ensuring the safety and stability of the region, we recommit ourselves to sustaining the ongoing counter-terrorism efforts by providing you with the requisite needs to function optimally,” he said.
The president assured that their welfare would continue to remain greater priority, and urged them to rededicate themselves “as we take the final push towards eradicating terrorism from our region”.
Buhari said: “Together, we shall restore and transform the Lake Chad Region to its former glory.
“As Chairman of the Summit of Heads of Government and State of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, I commend and thank you all for the vibrant solidarity, enhanced strong cooperation and support we continue to share.
“I equally express sincere gratitude to our partners for the support they continue to offer us, in our joint collaborative efforts to fight the challenges that have hampered the sustainable development of the region, particularly climate change and terrorism.
“Together, we have shown that with commitment and with the desired support, we can achieve success.’’
The president urged the leaders to remain committed to ensuring that the diversity in the region continued to be a source of strength and a positive cohesive force for the people of the Lake Chad Region.
Buhari said: “My dear brother-presidents, we must remain unrelenting in providing the needed political and material support for the LCBC/MNJTF in its efforts at delivering regional initiatives that will revamp Lake Chad and revitalise the socio-economic activities of the region.
“The fight against Boko Haram and other forms of criminality in the region must remain issues on the front burner of discourse in the region.
“I thank you all for your support to me as Chairman of the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and call on you in the spirit of true African brotherhood, to extend the same support to my successor.
“I also wish to thank the Executive Secretary of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Head of Mission of the Multinational Joint Task Force, Amb. Mamman Nuhu, and his team for their efforts at delivering on the mandate of the Commission.”
He urged them to sustain the lofty ideals of ensuring that the people of the region optimally benefited from the resources of the region.
The president welcomed the Libya to active participation in the activities of the commission.
“This is a positive step in the quest of our sister nation to rise beyond its current travails and to return to active engagements in the comity of nations.
“Together, we shall collectively pursue our shared objectives of joint development of the Lake Chad region,’’ he said.
On his stewardship as Chairman of the LCBC, Buhari said that the meeting provided a platform to holistically review collective efforts at sustainable management of shared heritage, Lake Chad, and to reinvigorate efforts at ensuring peace and stability in the region.
He said: It equally provided an opportunity to reflect on the journey so far since 2018, when my dear brothers bestowed on me the task of steering this unique organization, an honour for which I am grateful.
“In the last four years, the commission and, indeed, the region witnessed several challenges. However, with your support, we rose to the task of addressing them.
“As my mandate as Chairman of the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Lake Chad Basin Commission comes to an end, I am proud of the great strides we continue to collectively make to ensure that we ultimately restore the Lake Chad Region to its once enviable state as a hub of economic development.
“Our sustained sacrifices at restoring peace and stability to the region and enabling the people in the area to return to their normal lives and activities are highly commendable.
“During the period under review, we intensified our efforts at ensuring that the drive to revitalize the Lake Chad through the Inter-Basin Water Transfer Project attracted regional and international attention.”
The president acknowledged the concerted efforts of the commission, in consonance with its partners, towards giving life to the laudable and all-important project.
According to him, progress had been made towards procuring the services of a world-class firm to conduct in-depth feasibility study on the improvement of the hydraulic capacities of the major tributaries of the Lake and to improve the retention capacity of the Lake itself.
“This is the first and most important step towards ensuring that the project is executed, in conformity with international best practices and that the solutions we seek today are sustainable,” he said.
Buhari said that it was heart-warming to note the various interventions that had been carried out through the commission to complement the developmental initiatives of various governments in the region.
The president noted that through the Regional Stabilization Strategy and its implementing components, the people of the region affected by the scourge of Boko Haram had continued to receive the support they needed towards ensuring that they effectively returned to their normal homes.
“You will recall that following the demise of our dear brother, H.E. Idriss Deby Itno of Chad, in April 2021, I, under the umbrella of the Commission, convened an Extraordinary and enlarged Summit of Heads of State and Government of the region on 25thMay 2021 to review and consider the situation in Chad,” he said.
He added that this was aimed at ensuring stability and a peaceful transition in that nation.
“With your support, and in execution of the decisions of the Extraordinary Summit, I have taken several measures including, appointing an accomplished diplomat, Amb. Baba Gana Kingibe, in June 2021, as the Special Envoy of the Lake Chad Basin Commission to facilitate the transition in Chad.
“Through his efforts, I have remained actively informed of the situation in Chad.
“Accordingly, I wish to reiterate to the government and people of the Republic of Chad, our collective commitment to actively work with them to navigate the processes of the transition in that country to a successful conclusion,’’ Buhari said.
Earlier in his remarks, the Chairman of the LCBC, Amb. Mammam Nuhu, said that two reports of the 68th session of the Council of Ministers would be presented and a report by the Special Envoy for Chadian transition.
Those at the summit include Prof. Faustine Archange Touadera, President of the Central African Republic; Mohamed Bazoum, President Niger Republic and Patrice Tallon, President of the Republic of Benin.
Others are Mahamat Idriss Itno, President of the Transition Military Council of Chad and Mohamed Al-Menfi, Chairman, Presidential Council of Libya.