Nigeria seeking Russian help against Boko Haram is pregnant with interesting meanings in a season when the United States is feeling sick over the expansion of Chinese influence in Africa. And not only is Nigeria asking for assistance on Boko Haram, it also wants Russia to help with maritime security on the Gulf of Guinea. In other words, Nigeria wants the Russian Navy to become its security consultant on issues along its 800km maritime boundary. The request was tabled by the country’s defence minister, Mansur Dan-Ali, at a global security meeting hosted by Moscow recently.
It is still green – the part exposed to the public at least – and we don’t want to speculate about what the specifics will boil down to but definitely, this is packed full of interesting sparks of geopolitics. Moves being made inside the fog of war are a powerful opportunity for major changes and sudden realignment with lasting impacts.
Let us examine national security and public perception of that subject in Nigeria first as a tool for anticipating our diplomacy with Russia on the issue. The ravages of Boko Haram have shaken us all for about a decade now and thousands of people have been killed. Thousands have disappeared and hundreds are in captivity and sexual slavery. Hundreds of our troops have been killed. That is the easier part, and I say that with all sense of responsibility and respect for the country. The harder parts are the havoc that is prowling silently on the Abuja-Kaduna highway, the incendiary situation deeper inland at Zamfara, the sudden flares in Sokoto, the death that strikes suddenly in Anambra, Delta, Benue states; this gradual spread of pure evil that suddenly turns day into night, catching everyone off guard to inflict the most vicious and most terrible blows on men, women and children alike.
It is a war of nerves openly professing affiliation with ISIS, the group that killed 390 people in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday as people worshipped in a feisty church service or took it easy in luxury hotels in Colombo, the nation’s capital. As we speak, troops are being deployed in a part of Ekiti State as “herdsmen” have been reported to have attacked a hamlet there and accomplished deaths and destruction. Kidnapping by terror groups has been reported in Osun and Ondo states as well. This is not something Nigerians want to live with a day longer and if it means Russians offering advice, I believe the word from Nigerians is definitely, “So be it!”
Or even a little more than offer of advice will be okayed by Nigerians. Russian arms, intelligence doctrines, full-fledged military strategies and tactics such as deployed in its full ruthlessness against ISIS in Syria are all welcome, I might say. Nothing worth living for can be made to happen in a place where bombs explode and gunfire rakes from time to time and so, we have to put peace and the eradication of terrorism first on our to-do list. America is not going to like it much but we have to do what we must for now. We have to be alive before we are friends of the West or anyone for that matter.
But what will Russia demand in return?
Oil? No. Russia can supply us with oil if we need some. It has excess of gas and coal as well.
Russia needs friends, influence and bases -covert and overt – where it can open the window on the US, the European Union and China and monitor the moves of those countries. Russia also has a need to make America feel bad in a general way and be clogs in that country’s wheel of efforts at creating a global hegemony. Allowing Nigeria to be a part of all that would have been dangerous up to 1991, and perhaps until 2016 when America still had a solid façade of respect for and desires of friendship with Africa. Getting into the fray at this time may just serve us well because we are somewhat in the age of much more self-interest and nationalism.
Personally, I will even prefer the Nigerian government gets decisive in negotiating with Russia and takes steps that show Britain, France and the US that we value the lives of Nigerians above being in bed with their collective ideologies and covert positions on Nigeria! Nigeria should learn something from Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish president, and the adept moves he has been making recently, artfully playing the East off against the West and getting what he wants. I will like our diplomacy to be more emphatic and more committed in this case and I have a feeling that the West will only recede and we will have mostly China and Russia left in the game. That is not a bad thing. This is life and opportunities will always show up and we can always identify and seize them if we are prepared. Nigeria should welcome Vladmir Putin but put in place a good agreement and timelines in sorting out its security challenges despite any frown of the West.
Ogunlela writes from Lagos via [email protected]