Professor Amadu Sesay of Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU,Ife, the moderator set the stage for what turned out to be a robust presentation and discussion.The occasion was the Abuja Debate on “The Role of Nigeria in Regional Security” organized by the Federich Ebert Stiftung,FES at Chelsea Hotel Abuja,Wednesday ,October 10.
After Felix Henkel,coordinator ,FES Regional office in Abuja gave his welcome address, Sesay highlighted the issues that pose security challenges namely ethnic ,religious and territorial tendencies;human trafficking/childlabour;terrorism;small arms andlight weapons proliferation,political istability and youth unemployment among others.
The key questions in the debate were more succinctly outlined by Henkel in the preface to the report published by the foundation.He asked “How do her internal challenges affect Nigeria’s ability to project influence in the region and beyond. Does the nation itself have a consistent understanding of her national interest, converging to coherent foreign and security policy doctrine ?What are neighbouring countries’ perceptions of and expectations towards this ‘African Giant’, and have these changed over time?”
The main presentation on occasion was made by Pofessor Warisu Oyesina Alli of University of Jos who outlined the findings from his report titled :The role of Nigeria in Regional Security.Alli noted that Nigeria is not only extra ordinarily endowed, but it has also played very important roles in resolving security challenges in the region.He however raised the issue that “Nigeria faces challenges at three levels in its leadership role in security policy in West Africa.These are at domestic level,at the sub regional level and from extra-regional powers bent on expanding their influence”
Taking a look at the perception of Nigeria’s neighbours, Alli said in the report that “at the subregional level, the main challenge which Nigeria faces in terms of it leadership role is the suspicion of other members of ECOWAS about its real intentions”But he quickly added that Nigeria has no choice but to continue investing resources in the ECOWAS integration project.
On the extra -African security interests in the region,the prof noted General TY Danjuma’s suggestion that the commitment of developed countries to Africa may continue to dwindle.But he also highlighted the fact that domestic security problems of countries in West Africa ,threats posed by Alqaeda in the Maghreb,AQIM have heightened the concerns and interests of western powers in the region.The United states and France have great interests in the region. In addition, the whole EU ,China and India have equally become interested players in the subregion.
But at the discussion stage, the issue of ECOWAS and its reaction to crisis came under intense scrutiny .Also,there were strong warnings from discussants and participants that Nigeria and the entire region should tread softly on the question of military intervention in Mali in order to avoid an interminable war.The French ambassador to Nigeria noted that his country may not send in troops but it will give logistics support to the region.
Participants seemed to be calling for caution over military intervention in Mali because aside from the internal contradictions in the country, the area has become a turf where competing interest of the US, Algeria and France and others may complicate matters for regional troops if they stepped into Mali.
Discussants at the debate included Professor William Fawole of OAU,Ife, Mr Isaac Armstrong (ECOWAS)and Ambassador Adul Bin Rimdap,Nigeria’s former ambassador to Germany.