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  • on 27.07.2015
  • at 03:09 PM
  • by Naomi Cohen

Why Nigeria Should Think of itself as Central African 0

The ‘concentric circle‘ model which frames how Nigeria’s foreign policy thinkers view our region places the country exclusively in West Africa. Consequently West Africa has traditionally been the main focus of the country’s regional diplomacy.

West Africa also remains the arena of Nigeria’s boldest and most celebrated diplomatic initiatives to date – the establishment of ECOWAS in 1975  and the ECOMOG interventions of the 1990s.

I think this view of our broader region which situates Nigeria on the eastern edges of West Africa is incomplete. Instead our strategic thinkers should embrace the country’s natural identity as a potential pivotal power situated at a crossroad between multiple regions, and an anchor state linking West and Central Africa together.

Nigeria’s broader region also encompasses Central Africa. Therefore we should also join Central Africa’s principal regional organisation – the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) – as an observer.

A Potential Pivotal Power and an Anchor State

Geographically, Nigeria shares land and sea boundaries with six countries: Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Niger, and Sao Tome and Principe. Of these, only Benin and Niger are West African states and members of ECOWAS. Our other four neighbours are Central African states and members of ECCAS. Our longest land boundary is with a Central African and ECCAS state: Cameroon.

Similarly, Nigeria’s most pressing security challenge – Boko Haram’s terrorist insurgency – is concentrated along our borders with our Central African neighbours, Cameroon and Chad. To all intents and purposes, given the serious security threat posed by Boko Haram, Nigeria’s defence diplomacy will be oriented towards our Central African border for the next few years.

Central Africa has a special place in Nigeria’s diplomatic and military history. Independent Nigeria’s first troop deployment abroad was to the Democratic Republic of Congo. A month after gaining independence, Nigeria volunteered an army contingent to join UN forces trying to quell the post-independence crisis that gripped that Central African country.

Similarly Nigeria’s first major military intervention abroad under its own initiative occurred in one of our Central African neighbours: Chad. Alarmed at the chaos on its north-eastern border as a result of Chad’s civil war, Nigeria deployed an 800-man peacekeeping force into the country in March 1979.

Its objective was to maintain order and provide breathing room for the rebels to hammer out a political settlement to the conflict. The mission failed. Nigeria, lacking the “political, economic and military leverage needed to impose peace on the factions in Chad”, withdrew its troops three months later.

Continue reading on African Arguments

by Muktar Usman-Janguza

Photo Credit: Flickr/Dignity Liberia

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