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Iran’s nuclear ambition and the scramble for uranium in the Sahel

By Hugo Odiogor, Foreign Affairs Editor
Thirty four years after the Islamic revolution that ushered in the theocratic state in the Persian Gulf Nigeria and indeed will be watching closely what comes out of Tehran today as it takes stock of the socio-economic and political ramifications in Iran.

Ordinarily, the event would be marked with pomp and grandeur, but the political ideology and social actions that have followed the Islamic revolution has kept the world on the edge.

The world is deeply concerned about the thinking of the Mullahs in Qom, but equally disturbing is the leadership disposition of the mercurial but sometimes provocative Mahmud Ahmedinejad, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

For Nigeria and indeed the West African countries feeling the scourge Islamic militancy, Iran may be far away, yet so close.

The revolution Iran left the Muslim world divided along the Shia and Sunni ideologies, it went further to polarized the Brotherhood into the Salafi and the Surfi  camps, all of these tendencies have their own interpretations and perspectives of the Islamic faith.

Watchers of the ongoing military campaign in Mali, the drought prone Sahel nation in West Africa may not see the effect of the changes that took place in Tehran 34 years ago but in a geopolitical space where nations take long term look of their interest, the hand of Iran, in exporting international jihad has been profound and remarkable.

Iran is far away and presently battling the impact of sanctions from Western nations and domestic opposition to the reign of the mullahs, but politics at the international level is about long term vision, short term strategies and calculated moves to attain national interest, with the best diplomatic instruments available.

There is no doubt that the February 11, 1979 Islamic revolution that enthroned a theocratic state in the Persian Gulf nation has had a profound impact in global political and religious relations as it marked the genesis of the doctrine Shi’ia theocracyemergence propounded by Khomeini.

The Ayatollah propagated a religious and theocratic ideologies that regarded the West and the superpowers as opponents of Islam and responsible for all the world’s wrongs. Iran had spent fortunes to promote radical Islamic ideology by sponsoring Politicians, youths, journalists, bureaucrats, researchers, scholars, preachers and religious zealots in different parts of the world. The Mujahedeen fighters that were in action in Afghanistan in the 1980s to confront the invasion of the Asian country by the defunct Soviet troops, were so heavily influenced by Ayatollah Khomeini’s “philosophy that all Muslims must mobilize to remove the superpowers from the global arena”.

They argued that Jews and Christians have gone astray from their “original religions,” and are agents of the West, therefore undeserving of any protection. All these have redefined inter religious and political relations in the 1990s and ultimately created a new concept of faith and martyrdom where the jihadists found justification in suicide in acts of terrorism based on religious grounds.

A senior research Fellow at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs Associate Prof Fred Agwu Aja told Vanguard that the exposure many of the Mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan to the ideological teachings of the late Ayatollah radicalized hem and perhaps changed the social and political relations in Arab world especially among the Sunnis and Shia groups.

According to Prof Agwu, the teachings of the late Iranian leader had continued to influence groups like Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, the Salafis in Algeria, Ansar Dine in Mali, Hamas and Hzebollah in the Middle East, Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula and, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria. These are the products of the radical teachings that have spread from Iran to the entire world.

The world view of these radicals is to pursue jihad against other religious faith especially, on Christian, and Arab leaders that they accuse of being close to America and associate themselves with liberal western values. This has been the genesis of the religion-inspired terrorism that has gained ascendancy since the end of the cold war.

So when France moved against the Al-Qaeda back Islamists in Mali on January, 10,2013, there were strategic global and regional interests that were at stake in a war the was designed to deny Al-Qaeda, any chance of establishing a safe haven in Africa.

That was the immediate goal but in the long term, the collapse of the Azawad republic or the possible emergence of an Islamist regime in the Sahel, was to deny Iran a friendly nation that would provide an easy source of uranium for its controversial nuclear projects.

Put differently, there is a causal link between the security situation in the Sahal and Iran’s nuclear ambition. According Sir Arthur Mbanefo, the Odu of Onitsha, the Sahel, a region populated mainly by the Tuaregs tribes has been neglected for too long  and has become a fertile ground for all criminal tendencies.

The region stretches from Mauritania in West Africa to the Horn of Africa. Some of the West Africa countries that fell within the savannah belt in Mauritania, Senegal, the Gambia, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Cote d’voire, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, the northern parts of Nigeria and Ghana.

Security situation

Some of these countries which have sizeable Muslim population are exposed to Iran which has become the inspiration of groups that want to see the emergence of governments’ base on Islamic religious tenets.

Iran has provided inspiration and played the role of a god father to all the radical groups, as it is in its interest to have friendly regimes in the Sahel, a possible source of raw material for its plants. Late Libyan leader, Col. Muamar Gaddafi, had fought to annex the Uranium rich Aouzou stripe, by supporting the rebel groups in the central African country.

This was the period that Libya was equally nursing its own nuclear ambition. Niger and Nigeria are also known to have deposits of Uranium. Iran has continued to show more that casual interest to the political development in Nigeria.

It has funded politicians and groups that had promised to advance the cause of Muslim Brotherhoods in governance.

The emergence of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is a testimony to the determination of Teheran to have governments that share the same inspiration of governing according to the tenets of Islam..

The Muslim Brotherhood in Nigeria has been insistent on eternal control of the political system in Nigeria even though the population of 160 million is equally split down the line between Christians and Muslim. The promotion of such tendencies as taking Nigerian into the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), introduction of Sharia jurisprudence in northern part of Nigeria, have received greater impetus and support from Iran more than any other Arab country.

Before the 2011 general election, Iran was the source of over 15 containers of heavy weapons which was intercepted in Lagos. This was followed by the seizure of large quantity of hard drugs which was also seized in Lagos.

Although the UN stepped into what was obviously illegal movement of arms and drugs, Iran claimed the arms were destined to an unnamed West African country.

The ongoing war against the Islamists in Mali and the linkage between the Boko Haram sect and Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb has a lot of national security implications for Nigeria because Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad, which have sizeable Muslim population. In September 2010, the Islamists group took seven hostages from a uranium mine in Arlit, Niger, and kidnapped four European tourists in Mali in January 2009. More recently, it kidnapped three aid workers in Tindouf, Algeria, in October 2011.

Some of these countries have been used as training grounds for Boko Haram sect. Their ultimate goal is to instigate a religious war that will result in the disintegration of Nigeria which the US based National Intelligence Agency, predicted will happen after 100years of Nigerian statehood.

Oil Diplomacy

Apart from Uranium, Iran has interest in the destabilization of Nigeria which it suspects will provide alternative source of oil to the West through the Gulf of Guinea Teheran has told the world that it would block the strait of Homuz in the event of Western led war against the Persian nation for its nuclear programme. The oil from the Gulf of Guinea to the West is one reason why we have the US backed African Command (AFRICOM), which is formed to secure US access to oil in the event of Iranian blockade of the major passage of oil to the West.

Nigeria therefore stands to profit from selling oil to the West and frustrating its planned blockade. It has its eyes on creating domestic security crisis that will continue to drain the attention of the leadership in Abuja.  The objective of the militant groups is to export economic jihad to Nigeria and ensure that the country remains in disarray.



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