By Peter Babs Imade:
UNITED STATES President Barack Obama is preparing American troops for a special intervention in Nigeria, in the event of a widespread chaos that could threaten oil production, a top brass in the U.S. army and a security expert have revealed.
According to the Commander, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), General William Ward, American troops have been placed on red alert as the government is monitoring the political situation in Africa’s most populous nation.
Daniel Volman, Director of the U.S-based Africa Security Research Project, added that a growing U.S. need for natural resources was one of the main reasons the Defence Department developed AFRICOM, in the light of instability in places such as oil-rich Nigeria.
He said: “For the Pentagon, the nightmare scenario is that Nigeria will descend into chaos. Infighting in Nigeria will reach a point where oil production will actually be directly threatened, and then what do you do? Do you send American troops into Nigeria?
“The people at the Pentagon are already doing war-gaming and contingency planning for that – not because they particularly want to do that, but because they recognise how important Nigeria is to the United States.”
In 2007, the U.S. Government set up AFRICOM, after predicting Nigeria’s disintegration and possible breakup within 15 years.
Concerned about the series of political and religious crises which the country has been facing since President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was incapacitated by acute pericarditis that kept him in Saudi Arabia from November 23, 2009 till February 24, world leaders have been apprehensive about Nigeria’s future.
The latest crisis in Jos, where over 500 people, mostly children and women, were slaughtered by armed group, drew comments, on Tuesday, from Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
He advocated the breakup of the country into two nations to avoid further bloodshed between Muslims and Christians.
To diffuse tension, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan made a nationwide broadcast in January, over the Jos crisis, and he has been appealing to trouble makers to give peace a chance.
General Ward recently testified on Capitol Hill that AFRICOM is still based in Germany because public opinion in Africa makes it counter-productive to base its command there.
Volman also said that although AFRICOM is based in Stuttgart, General Ward and his people spend about half of their time on the African continent.
“They have also begun building up the level of U.S. military personnel at all the U.S. embassies, so they can have mini AFRICOM headquarters in every single country,” he said.
Mark Davidheiser, director of the newly-created U.S.-based Africa Peace and Conflict Network, says he believes that concerns over terrorism trump all else when it comes to AFRICOM.
“I mean the real concern is terrorism,” said Mark Davidheiser. “That is what is motivating this programme, I believe. There has been a lot of worry about the lack of robust governance in Africa and the rather loose or patchy rule of law that exists in many places. So, the fear is that Africa can become a haven for extremists.”
The United States has also had long standing military ties with African countries with fewer resources and no visible terrorist threat, such as Guinea, where recent years have been marked by power struggles within the military. When former coup leader turned long-time President, Lansana Conte, died in late 2008, a soldier took over in a coup, before barely surviving an assassination attempt by another soldier.
Steven McDonald, an expert with the Africa programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, says the example of Guinea points to some of the challenges the United States faces in helping the military in Africa.
“Whether they had seen it as a ‘poster child’ (leading example) in the sense of military relations or not, I kind of doubt that,” said McDonald. “I think there was a great deal of hope placed on it that there would be a different kind of transition there. And I am sure there have been attempts behind the scenes to try to dissuade and recoup what has happened. But it is probably just another example of why in smaller countries like that where it does not stand high on our priorities of interests in terms of our own national interest that we have very limited leverage, and we learn it when things like this happen.”
Davidheiser regrets the emphasis that has been placed on U.S.-Africa military relations.
“It saddens me that that has been such a pillar of U.S. policy – giving military aid, training, sending advisors, training local military members by U.S. trainers, who often, history has shown, have turned around and then been involved in all sorts of brutalities and human rights violations against the populations there,” he said.
In the case of Guinea, human rights groups say the country’s military, which received support and training from the United States, was responsible for the killing of 150 demonstrators at a stadium in the capital Conakry last year. Senior military officials have blamed renegade soldiers for the violence.
U.S. military officials say they are actively training security forces across the African continent to fight not only terrorism, but also drug and human trafficking as well as piracy.
Meanwhile, Nigeria may soon get into serious diplomatic trouble at the United Nations Security Council over the recurring killings of innocent citizens in Jos as the world body has taken the first step to hold the country responsible for the pogrom.
Already, a delegation of the world body has been mandated to gather information on what is happening in the Tin City.
The Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, earlier this week, sent a special envoy to Nigeria to gather information on potential causes of genocide and help identify how the international community can prevent such a scourge in Nigeria.
Only on Wednesday, the international news circuit was bombarded again, for the third time this year, of another round of religious killings in the state.
The UN and the United States have spoken out against this, with the UN calling it “a massacre” and both UN and US calling on the Federal Government to enforce the law and prevent further violence.
The UN Secretary General said the mandate given to the UN envoy “is to collect information on serious violations of human rights that could lead to genocide and to bring potential genocidal situations to the attention of the Security Council.”
If the envoy determines that there is troubling information in the Jos crisis that may lead to a potential and major crisis, he is mandated to report same to the Security Council which will then formally take up the Jos crisis as one of its security concerns around the world, with possible imposition of severe international actions including sanctions or the imposition of a UN force in the area.
The sending of a special envoy by the UN to Nigeria is indicative of the determination of the global body to begin to gather information to activate the UN General Assembly resolution on the UN’s “Responsibility to Protect” mandate.
A UN statement earlier in the week said the UN envoy, who is the Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide, Mr. Francis Deng, is already in the West African region having arrived on Wednesday and will from there be visiting Nigeria on how “to identify how national and sub-regional bodies can help prevent the scourge.”
Apart from Nigeria, the UN envoy will also visit Guinea and Ghana, “where he will discuss his mandate with government officials, UN officials on the ground and representatives from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)”.
Deng, a Sudanese scholar and advocate, was named to the post by Ban in 2007 “to collect information on serious violations of human rights that could lead to genocide and to bring potential genocidal situations to the attention of the Security Council.”
World leaders started considering the UN mandate in 2005, when then Nigeria’s President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, played an active role in the negotiations to mobilise support for such a mandate so that the international community will not just sit by and see the abuse and violation of people’s fundamental human rights by the government of the day without being able to stop it.
Obasanjo convinced some opposing leaders from developing countries not to oppose the mandate or completely kill the idea then as they feared that its adoption may give developed countries a right to militarily invade developing nations under the guise of the UN’s “responsibility to protect.’
Up until the 2009 General Assembly summit of world leaders, the issue of the UN’s Responsibility to Protect” was still being actively debated as the Assembly adopted by consensus its first resolution on the responsibility to protect, agreeing to hold further discussions on the international understanding to intervene to stop atrocities from taking place in sovereign nations.
The UN Secretary-General had called on the UN General Assembly “to turn the promise of the responsibility to protect into practice.”
The Responsibility to Protect principle was agreed to at a summit of world leaders in 2005 and sometimes known as ‘R2P’, it holds states responsible for shielding their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and related crimes against humanity and requires the international community to step in if this obligation is not met.
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