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The declaration of “war” on Boko Haram extremists by African leaders at a security summit in Paris is a major step to tackle the regional threat posed by the group as well as help end the insurgency if properly implemented, analysts say.
“It's a good thing that the leaders have agreed to work together to fight Boko Haram,” said Nwolise Osisioma, a professor and head of political science and international relation at the University of Ibadan, south-west Nigeria.
“But the leaders must have the political will to execute the decision with one mind. If they do, it will go a long way in checkmating Boko Haram,” he said.
“The leaders will also have to tackle the issue of logistics, that of intelligence gathering. Nigeria for instance, has military capability to fight Boko Haram. What is lacking is intelligence,” he said.
“We hope, France as the facilitator of the summit, will assist with intelligence and satellite.”
Osisioma said he believed dialogue rather than force was a better option.
“If the government had entered into negotiation with Boko Haram and met their demands in 2009 when they started their rebellion, the crisis would not have festered to this point.
“The lesson is that when internal groups make demands, government should attend to those demands. If not, those demands can transform into other things which can be more devastating,” he said.
“The inability of the Nigerian government to meet the initial demands of the group such as reconstruction of their damaged Mosque, compensation for their slain leader and release of their members in custody has emboldened it to be more violent.”
Dapo Thomas of Lagos state university sees the Paris deal as a “game changer” in the five-year-old Boko Haram violence.
“It will see an end to the Boko Haram menace if the agreement is faithfully implemented,” he said.
“There is no way Nigeria can win the battle alone. It needs the co-operation of neighbouring countries,” he said.
He said it had been established that Boko Haram fighters usually flee across the borders after launching their deadly attacks in Nigeria.
“It is not a coincidence that most of the Boko Haram attacks in the north-east occur around the border areas and a joint military operation along those frontiers will go a long way in stemming such attacks,” he said.
“With the Paris accord, the days of Boko Haram are over.”
Thomas said there are speculations that the kidnapped schoolgirls were being held around the border with Cameroon.
He therefore called for a full implementation of the Paris deal.
“The leaders should put aside their individual differences and ensure that the terms of the agreement are implemented to the letter,” he said.
Simon Kolawole, a columnist with the independent daily This Day said it was “a shame” that it took the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from the remote northeastern town of Chibok by Boko Haram extremists before the leaders could agree to work together.
“President Goodluck Jonathan had in the past sought the intervention of French President Francois Hollande to talk to our francophone neighbours, especially Niger, Chad and Cameroon where the militants gain access to Nigeria,” he lamented.
“Better late than never, and I think the Paris summit has redefined the war against Boko Haram,” he said.
“It is now left for the countries to draw up their strategies and show sincerity and commitment to the war,” he added.
Last month's abductions of the teenage girls and the Nigerian government's slow response to the incident sparked global outrage and street protests in Nigeria and across the world.
Hollande, who hosted the regional summit at the instance of Jonathan, slammed the Islamist group, with the African leaders declaring war on the sect, blamed for 2 000 deaths this year as well as the abduction of girls.
Just hours ahead of the summit, the Islamists carried out another brazen attack, this time killing one Chinese worker and kidnapping 10 others in Cameroon - underlining the regional threat posed by the group.
“We have seen what this organisation is capable of,” Hollande said at the close of the half-day summit on Saturday.
“We are here to declare war on Boko Haram,” Cameroon President Paul Biya said, while his Benin counterpart Thomas Boni Yayi added: “Religious intolerance has no place in Africa.”
Chad's Idriss Deby warned: “Terrorists have already done enough damage. Letting them continue would run the risk of allowing the whole region to fall into chaos.”
Jonathan stressed his commitment to find the abducted girls.
“We are totally committed to finding the girls, wherever they are,” he said.
“We've been scanning these areas with surveillance aircraft,” he added, saying Nigeria had deployed 20 000 troops to find the girls.
“Boko Haram is no longer a local terror group,” he said.
“From 2009 to today it has changed and can be described as al-Qaeda in western and central Africa,” he said.
The countries also agreed to push for UN sanctions against the leaders of Boko Haram and another Nigerian Islamist group, Ansaru. - Sapa-AFP