Africa

African viewpoint: Why Nigeria must fight in Mali

  • 29 January 2013
  • From the section Africa
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Nigerian soldiers unload their equipment as they arrive at the Mali air force base near Bamako 19 January 2013

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa in Lagos writes that Nigerians are wrong to criticise their government for sending troops to Mali.

The very large proportion of Nigerians who strongly oppose the deployment of their troops to Mali for combat duties may not be totally ill-informed or ignorant. They are just being human, one may say.

To start with, ask them the question, where is Mali? My conversations with people in Lagos in the past week revealed that many of us know next to nothing about that country.

I had to refer to a wall map and the internet to find some facts about Mali. It is not a country that projects itself to the ordinary Nigerian here beyond being "somewhere in the Sahara".

So, why should Nigerian soldiers be sent there to fight and probably die? Liberia and Sierra Leone - where Nigerian troops played a key role in ending conflict - were like our neighbours. But Mali?

The arguments which continue to dominate the home media are three-fold.

One is that President Goodluck Jonathan has no business playing the regional sergeant-major when he has not been able to subdue the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, which is killing people almost at will all over northern Nigeria.

The second is that the nationally escalating level of corruption suggests that the Mali operation will offer an opportunity for another onslaught on the national treasury by political kleptomaniacs.

The third argument by Nigerians in the national media is that the country should stop sacrificing the blood of its soldiers on external operations when, analysts say, earlier efforts yielded us neither political goodwill nor economic returns from the beneficiary states.

'Nigeria's disintegration'

Indeed, it is because of Boko Haram that Nigeria should not just sit and watch Mali go under.

A girl walks past vehicle destroyed during an aerial bombing by France in Diabaly, Mali, on 21 January 2013
France has led an air and ground offensive against militants in Mali

Al-Qaeda and other jihadists are believed to have chosen northern Mali as their base for spreading across West Africa, and their most prized target is Nigeria.

The fear of Nigeria's predicted disintegration in 2015 will become very real if they are allowed to succeed.

Anyway, it is not as if Nigeria is going it alone. France is leading the intervention. Troops from Burkina Faso and Niger, which are also in danger of attack, are our comrades in the Malian desert.

As for corruption, I doubt if the military contractors and pay officers who will be involved in the operations are ghosts. Nigerians need only keep a close watch on them.

The French have shown their interest - to protect the uranium mines across the border in Niger, on which they rely for their nuclear power. Fair enough.

Nigeria also has its own objective in the intervention - and that is to safeguard its peace and security at home by crushing the militants in Mali, at whatever cost.

That single-minded pursuit should not be denied to President Jonathan. Otherwise, there may be no 2015 for Nigeria.

If you would like to comment on Sola Odunfa's column, please do so below.

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