On the 27th of April 2021, protests erupted in the capital city of N’Djamena as thousands of young Chadians banged pots and burnt French flags around the city, in protest of the military takeover and the French government’s support for it. Opposition members themed the protests “Wakit Tama” or “The hour has come” as police launched tear gas to disperse the crowd of angry protesters.
The protests are part of a larger series of events that could lead to even more chaos in the West African Sahel region, which is deeply troubled by rising insurgency along the Sahel belt.
Earlier this month, President Idriss Deby of Chad died of injuries suffered on the frontlines when some terrorists attacked the army. The President had visited the frontlines to share his election victory with the soldiers before the unfortunate incident.
The Chadian military also announced that day that the son of Chad’s slain president Idriss Deby Itno will replace him as the head of the military council, circumventing the Chadian constitutional process which would have made the speaker of the House the interim leader.
However, the military takeover has received foreign support so far and this has contributed to the anger from local Chadians as the French Government, in particular, disclosed its support for the military takeover after late President Deby’s son, Mahamat Deby Itno assumed power.
French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said: “There are exceptional circumstances… Logically, it should be Mr Kabadi…but he refused because of the exceptional security reasons that were needed to ensure the stability of this country.”
How does a crisis in Chad affect Nigeria?
The Chadian Government of late President Deby had been in a longstanding battle with rebels trying to take over control in the south. The Government had also been a key ally of Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram and Sahelian insurgency which has been a growing problem in the past few years.
SBM Intelligence, Nigerian Socioeconomic and Research firm, stated in its report titled Idriss Déby: The ring of instability closes that geographically, Chad is at the heart of a number of conflicts in West and Central Africa. “To its west, Déby had been a key ally for Nigeria in its fight against Boko Haram. The Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) operation which was supposed to include cooperation with Niger, Cameroon and Chad, ended up being a largely Nigerian operation with input from only the Chadian army.”
To its north, it acted as an effective buffer against Libya with whom Chad has fought several conflicts, Darfur in Sudan which directly impacted his ethnic Zaghawa people and the sectarian crisis that has pitched in the Central African Republic. This, in part, is what made him a favoured clearinghouse on regional security strategy for foreign power interests, particularly France and the U.S. It was also at the heart of his personality cult at home, becoming a centrifugal political and socio economic force that was unmatched by any other Chadian political figure,” the report states.
The report also added that Late President Deby dislodged Boko Haram jihadists from Chad, after personally leading an offensive in early 2020 which killed about a thousand of the insurgents, and declared an end to Chadian involvement in the MNJTF, limiting Chadien forces within the country’s borders, with the bulk of the fighting in Lake Chad done by the Nigerian military.
A crisis in Chad may, therefore, spur a Boko Haram offensive in the area as the late President was a major effective and pragmatic hardliner in the fight against the terrorist group. “A succession battle, which is almost certain, would mean that the insurgents will have no worries about their flanks and can attack the Nigerian Army at will,” SBM says.
Nigeria’s reaction to the brewing crisis in Chad
Nigeria’s Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Salihi Magashi at a State House briefing earlier this month stated that the Nigerian government is beefing up security at its borders with Chad to prepare for any possible outfall of the military takeover after the death of President Idriss Deby.
“If there’s no security in Chad there will be a lot of trouble for all neighbouring countries. But thankfully we have a lot of ongoing military cooperation, through the MNJTF, which we expect to continue. We remain mindful of our borders, and developments in Chad.
“We are beefing up security at our borders, following the developments in Chad,” Magashi said.
This response should not come as a surprise, however, as the Nigerian government has subtly signaled it is well aware of the Chad crisis and has also announced economic and humanitarian policies towards fixing the insurgency in the lake Chad region in a bid to contain the growing problem in the area.
Nigeria’s economic proposals with Chad to fight insurgency
The Lake Chad is a vital piece of economic activity in the region contributing to the livelihoods of almost 20 million people, including farmers, fishermen, and herders. It has also become a hotly contested asset between Jihadist non-state actors and both the Chad and Nigerian governments.
Last month, in a meeting with the late Idris Deby Itno at the State House in Abuja, President Muhammadu Buhari stated that Nigeria is engaging with relevant stakeholders on recharging Lake Chad as it is important that there be water transfer to the Lake from the Congo Basin.
Buhari added that the improved water transfer to the Lake Chad from the Congo Basin would enable the resumption of economic activity after years of fighting around the area, citing that it would also stop the “irregular migration of youths, who now dare the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, to get into Europe, seeking greener pastures.”
This month, Nigeria’s Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Farouq disclosed that the FG will focus on 3 areas aimed at supporting Project Lake Chad (PROLAC) including Regional and National Coordination Platform and Local Capacity Building aimed at reinforcing regional dialogue and data collection and dissemination.
She added that the Lake Chad Region faces a combination of multidimensional risk factors which deepen vulnerabilities, citing Boko Haram’s violent activities in the area which has spread towards Cameroon, Chad, and Niger and created a humanitarian crisis of IDP’s and refugees within the Lake Chad Region. The Minister said the FG proposes the provision of an enabling environment to support peace enforcement in the Lake Chad region.
What it means for Nigeria
Ikemesit Effiong, Head of Research at SBM Intelligence says Nigeria must push for a return to Democracy in Chad as the country is an important buffer in the fight against Jihadi extremism.
On Nigeria’s preparedness for the fall out of the military take over in Chad and fight with rebels, he said: “From Nigeria’s perspective, Chad’s strategic importance was primarily as an operative flank for Boko Haram that compelled the group to deploy significant resources to countering possible Chadian attacks on its east, a reality guaranteed by Deby’s personal involvement in countering the insurgency. It’s unclear that the new Chadian administration, buffeted by a bevy of domestic concerns, will carry on that task. Nigeria does not seem to have a game plan for this new paradigm.”
He added that internal tensions will “definitely” affect Chad’s own battles with Boko Haram as “It would mean the Chadian military fighting on at least two fronts – Boko Haram to its southeast and a rebel separatist movement in its north. Although the army is battle hardened, it is a relatively small force and may have difficulty holding its own against two unconventional, asymmetric threats.”
Does France’s support for the military government mean they would join the fight?
“Hardly,” Effiong says. “Much of the fighting is still within the purview of the G5 Sahel Group and the MNJTF. Foreign military assistance would remain largely in an advisory, intelligence and reconnaissance capacity.”
He urges Abuja must insist on a return to democracy within an acceptable time frame and pressure key Chadian stakeholders to pursue the path of peace and the democratic resolution of disputes. “A stable Chad is in Nigeria’s core strategic interest,” he says.
The ring belt of extremist insecurity surrounding Nigeria is something Abuja must take serious, as a stable Chad is one of Nigeria’s core allies in the fight against insecurity. It also does not come as a surprise at this point that President Muhammadu Buhari asked the US to consider re-locating the AFRICOM HQ from Germany to Africa as it will bring the US Armed forces closer to the “theatre of operations” in the face of growing security challenges in West and Central Africa.
Chad’s own demons may come through the inexperience of its new leader, the 37 years old son of the late president who is inexperienced in politics and will have a political battle, rebels and also the probability of Boko Haram strikes to contend with. Chad’s stability is in Nigeria’s interest as it will make the environment conducive enough for the implementation of the new Lake Chad policies which are crucial to returning economic stability to the troubled area.