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Abuja Summit Intones Requiem For Boko Haram

Many successes registered after the first summit in Paris two years ago but final death knell still to be sounded.

President Paul Biya and eight other colleagues from Nigeria, France, Benin, Chad,Gabon, Niger, Senegal and Togo emerged from the second Regional Summit on Security in Abuja last Saturday with much to celebrate. For once some notable defeats have been inflicted on the nebulous Boko Haram sect, thus weakening it considerably and, in fact pushing it into a situation where it literally is counting its days.

These victories came about thanks largely to the new synergy in the fight initiated at the Paris summit held in May 2014 at which France, the European Union and other Western powers undertook to be more present in multifarious ways in the fight to defeat the sect which had occupied huge chunks of territory in Nigeria and made regular incursions into Cameroonian and Nigerien territory committing brutal atrocities on local people through rape, maiming and rampant destruction of social infrastructure such as schools and health units.

The theme of the summit:  “consolidating collective efforts for regional peace and development” spoke volumes about the need to consolidate the gains garnered from the Paris meeting, but above all, to set a new development agenda for the affected zones. To this end, the summit considered progress and shortcomings in three areas: military and security issues, Internally Displaced People and refugees and the Lake Chad Basin Commission. With regard to security, the task today is to consolidate the gains in the fight against the insurgency, the management of the post-conflict phase of the fight as well as other security issues regarding cooperation with all regional and sub-regional organisations such as ECOWAS, ECCAS, GGC etc.

However flattery this balance sheet is, we must draw some wisdom from remarks made by the Chadian Head of State Idriss Deby Itno using an African proverb that a snake can only be said to have been totally killed when its head is cut off and that even if other parts of the body is severed, that cannot be considered to be killing; And many speakers at Saturday’s summit stressed on the necessity to definitively rout the sect rather than simply degrading it as is the case today. But a most urgent challenge is the humanitarian situation which calls for immediate attention because of its scope.

There are currently hundreds of thousands of internally Displaced Persons as well as cross-border refugees. Cameroon, for instance hosts some70 000 refugees from Nigeria. Then there is also the non-negligible problem of the Lake Chad which is the epicenter of the insurgency and whose waters have to be restored and the whole lake area developed so that people around it and members of the Lake Chad Basin Commission  can draw maximum benefits from it.

Virtually all the speakers at the summit stressed the necessity of addressing youth employment problems because, for them, extremism thrives on social vulnerability. They all agreed that another way of fighting Boko Haram is fighting poverty because all too often young unemployed people can be very easily attracted to fanaticism and extremism.

Though not a donor’s conference as such, the Abuja summit results brought some good news. For example, the High Representative of the EU Frederica Mogherini the provision of 1.4 Billion Euros in humanitarian assistance to run for the next five years with 50 Million Euros for the Multinational Joint Task Force. The British Foreign Secretary also announced funding of 30 Million Pounds in humanitarian aid to run for three years. Similar funding initiatives were announced by France notably for projects in the Lake Chad Basin area.

As the curtains closed on the Abuja summit, what remained very clear on the wall is the military decline of Boko haram, expected to continue in the next few weeks or months with fresh funding and more determination to defeat it totally. The huge challenge today is the humanitarian crisis and ways of getting essential social services such as schools and health centres functioning.

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