Niger’s Defence Minister Issoufou Katambe on Sunday said that an updated death toll list of soldiers killed in Thursday’s attack on an army base in the country would be announced this week after a national security council meeting.
News sources told Reuters that the death toll from the attack has risen to at least 89, surpassing a raid last month that killed 71 soldiers as the deadliest against Nigerien forces in years.
The government said on Thursday that 25 soldiers were killed, according to a provisional death toll, while successfully repelling the attack in the western town of Chinagodrar by assailants aboard motorcycles and other vehicles.
But four security sources told Reuters that at least 89 members of Niger’s security forces who were killed in the attack were buried on Saturday in the capital, Niamey.
One of the sources said the actual death toll could be higher because a number of soldiers were buried immediately on Thursday in Chinagodrar.
The Chinagodrar attack, coming a month after the raid in nearby Inates by fighters from an Islamic State affiliate that killed 71 soldiers, highlights the deteriorating security situation near Niger’s borders with Mali and Burkina Faso.
Attacks have risen fourfold over the past year in Niger, killing nearly 400 people, according to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a non-profit research organisation, despite efforts by international forces to stop militants linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda.
French fighter jets were scrambled on Thursday to scare off the attackers, France’s regional taskforce said, possibly averting an even heavier casualty count.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but Katambe said on Friday that the army would launch a new offensive against jihadists.
West Africa’s Sahel region, a semi-arid belt beneath the Sahara, has been in crisis since 2012, when ethnic Tuareg rebels and loosely aligned jihadists seized the northern two-thirds of Mali, forcing France to intervene to temporarily beat them back.
Nigerian Army deploys 185 troops for peacekeeping in Guinea Bissau
Army authorities asked the troops to respect the culture and people of Guinea Bissau and warned against getting involved in “trafficking of illicit substance of any kind.”
Nigeria has completed pre-deployment training for 185 troops for peacekeeping mission in Guinea Bissau, army authorities said on Friday.
The 185 troops began their pre deployment training on January 6, at the Martin Luther Agwai International Leadership and Peace Keeping Centre, MLAILPKC, Jaji Kaduna State.
Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, said the troops will be Nigeria’s Company 8, in the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea Bissau, official News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported.
Buratai was represented by Maj.-Gen Kelvin Aligbe Commandant Nigerian Army School of Infantry, NASI.
He said the graduation further confirmed the commitment of Nigeria to deploy quality peacekeepers as part of its contributions to the quest for global peace and security.
He explained that the pre-deployment training was aimed at refreshing and polishing their knowledge and expertise in peace support operation.
“The training was to equip you with the requisite skills required to protect yourselves, ECOWAS Mission in Guinea, equipment and the citizens of Guinea Bissau your host nation, while carrying out the mission’s mandate,” Buratai said.
The army chief cautioned the troops to avoid any ugly incident that could tarnish the image of the Army and Nigeria during their stay in Guinea Bissau.
“Let me categorically state that you are to discharge your duties in consonance with the mission’s mandate at all times. I must also remind you that the rules of engagement in the mission give you the latitude to exhibit utmost professionalism in the discharge of your responsibilities.
Buratai asked the soldiers to respect the culture and religious sensitivity of the people in Guinea Bissau and warned that they must not involve themselves in “trafficking of illicit substance of any kind.”
He added that the ECOWAS Mission has zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse.
“The Nigerian Army and indeed the government will also not tolerate the contravention of these policies,” Buratai said.
Earlier, Maj.-Gen James Ataguba, Commandant of MLAILPKC said that the training included classroom lectures on prescribed United Nation pre-deployment training materials.
Ataguba said that the physical and field training covered areas such as intensive physical exercises, occupation of basic camp, crowd dispersal, tactical convoy movement, escort of VIP and weapons handling.
“I therefore make bold to say that the Nigerian Company 8 Economic Community of West State mission in Guinea Bissau has received adequate training required to be into any UN or regional coordinated mission,” the official said.
Burkinabe Parliament backs plan to legalise, fund vigilante groups
The law, which now goes to President Roch Marc Kabore for his signature, calls for volunteers to receive brief military training and unspecified equipment.
Plans by Burkina Faso’s government to legalise and fund vigilante groups to combat constant killings by militant groups and terrorists on Thursday received the backing of the country’s parliament which approved the request.
The law, which now goes to President Roch Marc Kabore for his signature, calls for volunteers to receive brief military training, unspecified equipment, healthcare and bonus payments. Recruitment is to be managed by village leaders.
The move, which is expected to apply mostly to vigilante groups called Koglweogo – “guardians of the bush” in the Moore language – has drawn concerns from the United Nations and human rights activists, who fear it could empower fighters accused of ethnic killings in the past, a Reuters report said.
But authorities are in a dilemma due to constant attacks and killings, leaving them with no choice than to provide funding and training to local vigilantes in response to the growing firepower of terrorist groups who threaten to overrun government forces across large swathes of the West African country.
The vigilantes grew significantly as a response to instability that followed the 2014 revolution that overthrew longtime President Blaise Compaore. There are an estimated 40,000 such groups across Burkina Faso, according to the U.N.
“This law was voted unanimously by the parliament,” Defence Minister Moumina Cheriff Sy told reporters after the vote. “It shows that beyond our differences of opinion… we can be one when it comes to defending the homeland.”
Security deteriorated dramatically across Burkina Faso and its neighbors in the semi-arid Sahel region last year, as militants with ties to Islamic State and Al-Qaeda stepped up their attacks.
On Monday, militants killed 36 people at a market in a village in northern Burkina Faso.
Collaboration between state security forces and the vigilantes has previously been informal. The government said the new law would help defeat the “terrorist Hydra”.
A U.N. committee of experts on torture voiced concerns in November about a lack of oversight of the Koglweogo, saying the groups were implicated in a massacre of dozens of Fulani herders in January 2019.
The violence in the Sahel has also fuelled ethnic conflict, particularly between rival hunting and farming communities, with ethnic self-defence militias targeting civilians in reprisal for militant attacks.
In neighbouring Mali, a vigilante group is believed to be responsible for an attack that killed about 160 Fulani civilians last March, the deadliest such incident in recent times.
Nigeria reluctantly backs “Amotekun” after weeks of public uproar
“It was agreed that the structure of Amotekun should also align with the Community Policing strategy of the Federal Government,” the presidency statement said on Thursday.
The Nigerian government on Thursday reached an amicable settlement with Governors of the Southwest region of the country on the formation of a security network for the area that had generated controversy and heated national debate.
“News Flash: FG, Southwest Governors agree on Amotekun”, Laolu Akande, a spokesman for Nigeria’s Vice President tweeted before the meeting ended.
A later statement by the government said the agreement was reached at a meeting by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and governors of the Southwestern states at the presidential villa in Abuja.
“… regard to the need for all hands to be on deck in addressing the security concerns across the country, it was agreed that the structure of Amotekun should also align with the Community Policing strategy of the Federal Government,” the presidency statement said.
The state governors had asked to see President Muhammadu Buhari over the controversy surrounding the Amotekun initiative that saw many people supporting or opposing the new security arrangement with some calling it a subtle act of secession by Southwestern leaders. Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo who comes from same region, hosted the meeting.
“It was also agreed that necessary legal instruments will be put in place by each of the States to give legal backing to the Amotekun initiative and address all issues concerning the regulation of the security structure,” the presidency announced in the statement.
The country’s Attorney General and Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami had declared twice in statements last week and earlier on Thursday that the outfit was illegal.
He called for its disbandment saying his office was never consulted and that there was no law backing such an initiative.
“No amount of effort to hide the truth will work. People could be carried away by sentimental or emotional inclinations, but the truth remains apparently palpable. The bottom line is that the current Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not accommodate the formation of regional security architecture,” Malami said in a statement before the meeting began in Thursday.
– Heated debates across the country –
As the debate generated into rallies and protests mainly in Southwestern states, leaders across Nigeria intervened and urged caution on the parts of federal and state authorities as well as sponsored groups.
Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar waded into the national discourse by advising the Nigerian government to allow for such regional or local security arrangements to safeguard lives as the insecurity in the country has become too burdensome for the police and other security agencies keeping them overwhelmed.
Atiku backed the establishment of Amotekun stating that such a local security outfit would assist the police, armed forces and paramilitary bodies in securing the nation.
He added that the right to self-defence, enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter is a right that nobody has the authority to criminalize the protection of human life.
“The right to self-defence, including the right to combat terror, is guaranteed by international law, enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, of which Nigeria is a signatory”, Atiku said.
After being accused of a loud silence on a matter that he would have been throwing arrows at federal authorities if his party was not the ruling party, leader of the region and National Leader of All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, finally spoke on the matter calling for dialogue between governors of Southwest states and the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice.
Tinubu said he did not believe that the Western Nigeria Security Network or “Amotekun” was intended to put the country at risk and maintained that dialogue between the two parties would address the grey areas.
“Those claiming that this limited, inoffensive addition to security threatens the Republic have taken themselves upon a madcap excursion.
“Those claiming the federal government seeks to terribly suppress the South West have also lost their compass,” the Southwest leader said.
Tinubu said “those who occupy these two extremes have sunken into the dark recesses of fear and political paranoia that can undo a country if such sentiments are allowed to gestation. This issue (Amotekun) has dominated recent discourse and media headlines. Distilled to its basics, it concerns how best state governments can assist with the safety and security of their residents,” the APC leader said.
After the meeting on Thursday, Attorney General Malami, surrounded by Southwest governors was asked to address journalists but he instead asked Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo to speak and remained silent despite the barrage of questions thrown at him.
Akeredolu told State House correspondents they have used political and legal solutions to arrive at conclusions.
Political observers are hoping that this new development will help to reopen the national discourse on constitutional reforms that should see more powers devolved to the states, a clamour known as “fiscal federalism” that has been the major singsong of many politicians from southern Nigeria.
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