President Muhammadu Buhari has stressed the need for Nigeria and France to deepen their anti-terror cooperation.
This, he said, became necessary to check and overcome the activities of terrorists and insurgents in the Sahel region and beyond.
The Sahel region includes west to east parts of northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, central Mali, northern Burkina Faso, the extreme south of Algeria, Niger and the extreme north of Nigeria.
Other areas covered are the extreme north of Cameroon and Central African Republic, central Chad, central and southern Sudan, the extreme north of South Sudan, Eritrea and the extreme north of Ethiopia.
The Nigerian leader made the call in a special feature on post COVID-19 opportunities in Nigeria-France relations published by a leading Paris-based magazine, Le Point, on Tuesday.
He said the call had become imperative in view of the fact that terrorists and jihadists had taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to unleash attacks on innocent people and organisations across the Sahel region.
He noted that terrorism had become tragically common across Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger as well as around the Lake Chad Basin.
According to him, the Lake Chad Basin is where Boko Haram terrorism has taken advantage of the pandemic and pushed back into Nigeria, launching raids and attacks in Chad, Cameroon, and Niger.
“Now Nigeria and France should deepen our anti-terror cooperation if we are to overcome this scourge – particularly in the aftermath of the murder of the late President of Chad.
“Where for historical ties, support came to Nigeria from the UK, and to the G5 from France, terrorists do not recognise these border-aligned distinctions. We must be agile and flexible, cooperating across our borders to cut the head off their groups.
“Indeed, we have already done much to strengthen our bond. Intelligence sharing is well developed along with training on improvised explosives.
“But there is more we can do in cross-border military exercises and coordinating strategy.
“We know France has borne much of the strain for combating terrorism in the region.
“We, the leaders of Sahel countries, must also do more to present a unified front to lobby other Western nations, particularly Great Britain and the United States and the European Union for further military and humanitarian assistance,’’ he said.
Mr Buhari also noted that the fallout of the Libyan crisis had flushed the whole region with weapons, making disputes and competitions far more destructive.
“It is upon these conditions, the lies and propaganda of terrorists who falsely claim to be Islamists promising salvation can find an audience,’’ he said.
He observed that military gains might not provide the whole solution to the security challenges, saying governments must also provide environments conducive to the economic prosperity of their citizens.
“We know that military gains do not provide the whole solution. Without security, economic opportunity remains fragile. Without economic opportunity, the propensity for conflict grows.
“The solution must therefore be two pronged. If we do not improve those conditions, it leaves our people vulnerable to indoctrination, as one is vulnerable to COVID-19 without a vaccine,’’ the president said.