By Rafiu Ajakaye
Hopes to establish a regional taskforce by countries making up the Lake Chad region to fight the militant group Boko Haram appear to have withered away.
Following months of negotiations and efforts by Nigeria's former president Goodluck Jonathan and his successor President Muhammadu Buhari, an 8,700-strong regional army comprising of soldiers from Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin was put together and was initially to be deployed by the end of July.
Four months after the appointed time, the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) has yet to begin operations raising concerns the regional alliance has collapsed – a fear deepened by the recent reported pullout of the Chadian forces from the alliance.
Nigeria and Chad have known rocky relations in the past. Earlier this year, former Nigerian defense spokesman Chris Olukolade openly criticized the conduct of his Chadian counterparts over disputes arising from the counterinsurgency operation.
"The MNJTF has collapsed even before it started," Fulan Nasrullah, a Nigerian blogger and national security analyst told Anadolu Agency. "There is massive trust deficit on all sides, especially between Niger alongside Nigeria and Chad alongside Cameroon."
Nasrullah said that conflict over sovereignty and overlapping roles of national armies as well as the lack of intelligence sharing constituted an issue .
"There were also divergent aims amongst the various Lake Chad states, with Chad interested in securing its logistics corridor through Cameroon; Cameroon interested only in pushing the insurgents across the border into Nigeria; Niger interested in doing the same, and Nigeria not quite sure what it wanted between crushing the insurgency or reaching an accommodation with the insurgents even if at its neighbors’ expense," he said.
"Nigeria is on its own," said Mukhtar Dan'Iyan, another security analyst.
Dan'Iyan claims Boko Haram's use of suicide bombings has perturbed armies unfamiliar with these types of tactics.
While suicide bombings have been rampant in Nigeria, most notably since the attacks on a United Nations building in Abuja in 2011, Niger, Chad and Cameroon did not experience the phenomenon until the second quarter of 2015.
"Chad lost close to a battalion in Cameroon [in guerilla attacks]; after that it pulled its troops back and left southern border unattended. Cameroon's BIR (the French acronym for Rapid Response Brigade) has also been decimated, so it decided to return to the status quo ante in the far north region and allow Boko Haram to do whatever it pleases there as long as it does not march south," Dan'Iyan said.
"Niger is not willing to pull the tiger by its tail, so the northern border is also on its own; even Benin's northern border is largely unsecured."
The Nigerian defense headquarters did not respond to questions about the status of the regional army.
Preferring not to be named, a top security analyst in Nigeria said it was hasty to conclude that the defense arrangement has collapsed.
"Insofar as Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger have all deployed for the MNJTF operations, the joint effort cannot be categorically described as having floundered," said the security analyst, warning of "grave consequences" for all the countries should the alliance collapse.
He said all the nations appear to have underrated the capabilities of Boko Haram in the early days of their alliance talks, adding - like Dan'Iyan - that repeated suicide attacks in major cities of the collaborating countries have made them rethink their involvement in the regional effort to face the Boko Haram.
"Whereas the Nigerian commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) was quoted mid-September as saying that the country's contingent had fully deployed to the mission area, the country's Chief of Defense Staff intimated late in November that the erstwhile very bullish Chadian forces had curiously not deployed for the joint operations," said the analyst.
"This was coming on the heels of a reported pullout of all Chadian forces hitherto deployed in Cameroon and the declaration of a state of emergency," he said. " Could it be that the Chadians are choosing to fortify their defenses at home before committing to the multinational military effort against Boko Haram? Has the appetite for foreign military interventions waned in Chad in the wake of suicide attacks hitherto unheard of in that country?”
In all, the analyst said the arrangement appears to be stalling as a result of dwindling political will, lack of resources and poor logistics.