At a meeting of heads of state designed to address the struggle against the Boko Haram insurgency, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said his country must lead the fight against the group.
Boko Haram has been attacking towns, villages and cities in Nigeria’s northeast for six years, and analysts have long said Nigeria’s neighbors will need to help if the insurgency is to be put down for good.
The summit on Thursday in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, with neighboring heads of state along with defense and military officials was seen as a way for Nigeria and its neighbors to decide how best to deploy a task force of troops against the group.
Previous efforts at regional cooperation have been hit and miss. Under President Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, Chadian and Nigerien troops did enter Nigeria to fight Boko Haram earlier this year. But Chad’s president later complained that poor coordination with Nigeria was hampering his soldiers’ ability to strike the militants.
With a new government in power, Thomas Hansen, a senior analyst with Control Risks consultancy, says President Buhari wants to turn over a new leaf with his neighbors.
“The key thing is that they’re meeting and also that there’s been a change in government in Nigeria and perhaps that some of the regional governments also now feeling a bit more comfortable in getting closer to Nigeria at the military level in terms of actually facilitating cooperation," said Hansen.
At the summit, President Buhari made it clear that he wants a Nigerian commander in charge of the task force, rather than a rotating command. Hansen says Nigeria has long been protective of its standing in the region, despite Boko Haram at one point occupying parts of northeastern Nigeria estimated to be equivalent to the size of Belgium.
“Being the dominant regional power, it has perhaps also been a bit of a potential embarrassment to Nigerian military in particular that troops from foreign nations have been present on Nigerian soil because of security crisis," he said.
The heads of state of Chad, Niger and Benin attended the summit. Cameroon’s defense minister also attended.