By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor

The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban has raised serious concerns in Nigeria where ISWAP, Boko Haram and Ansaru pose a major threat. Many are worried that the country may be on the road to Afghanistan if government doesn’t call terrorism by its name.

Speaking on the issue, in this interview, a former Director-General of Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, Prof Bola Akinterinwa, says government’s disposition towards Boko Haram terrorists and bandits makes the Afghan situation a likely scenario. He, however, suggests ways to avoid such a situation.

The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban has raised concerns in a country like Nigeria that is battling violent extremism posed by ISWAP, Boko Haram and ANSARU.

Do you think the fears are real?

The implication should be looked at from the angle of the international politics of the Afghan crisis. And what is this international politics? First, the United States led a coalition to remove the Taliban from power.

Now that the same Taliban has come back to power, the first implication is to look at whether or not the Taliban would want to avenge. But they have declared that it is not their intention to avenge. They made the declarative statement but we are not sure.

And it is not likely they will keep to their words. On the implications for countries experiencing extremism in Africa, the issue is that if the Taliban do not keep to their  words, Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISWAP in the Sahel are most likely to follow the whims and caprices of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. And the reasons cannot be farfetched. Boko Haram subscribed to the leadership of Osama bin Laden, who was a guest of the Taliban during their first stint in power. They supported and still support Al Qaeda. In this case, it is expected that sooner than later, Bokohramism may be emboldened by what is happening in Afghanistan.

Even though no state has recognised the Taliban government, what should Nigeria do in the area of state recognition?

The issue of state recognition and government recognition would be raised. At the level of Nigeria, our foreign policy tradition is to recognise states. Our tradition does not bother much about recognition of government. We recognise the state Afghanistan. By implication, government of Nigeria subscribes to the continuity and sovereign existence of the state of Afghanistan. This means that the legality or illegality of the government of Afghanistan shouldn’t mean much for the government of Nigeria.

Based on recognition of government, the African Union, AU, has a standard policy which states that under no circumstance will the AU or an African leader accept unconstitutional change of government. In this case, if you take over power by force in whatever manner, it is considered illegitimate.

The government that emerges from the change of government is illegitimate. For Nigeria, can that mentality of non-constitutional change of government apply? If Nigeria’s foreign policy recognizes state, now that it is part of the rules of the AU not to recognise illegal government. Will that one apply  in the case of Afghanistan? This is a likely issue that would be raised.

There are fears that the development may have far-reaching security implications for Nigeria…

If for instance, international solidarity is to be mobilized against the Afghanistan government, what would be the position of Nigeria by the virtue of the fact that many people in Nigeria not only support but fund Boko Haram extremism in the country?

Even the government of Nigeria believes not in countering but pardoning Boko Haram agents they describe as repentant Boko Haram. If the government has this type of attitudinal disposition, to what extent would the Boko Haram supporters in Nigeria be against whatever the Taliban represent in Afghanistan? More importantly, from the point of international law, can we say that the Taliban came to power legally or illegally?

What would people say? The issue is that the President for whatever reason decided to fly out, leaving power. They didn’t hand over to anybody, meaning that the Taliban took over peacefully. There was no bloodshed. So, how do we explain the legality or the illegality of the takeover? I raised this question because of the implication.

Now, if for instance, people are fighting either for Yoruba Republic or Biafra Republic, to what extent do you think government of Nigeria would be able to prevent the non-preventable? For about two decades, the United States maintained what I can call forced national unity in Afghanistan. When Americans can no longer sustain national unity by use of force, they left.

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And the Taliban had been waiting, having vowed to make life difficult for Americans. The Americans got tired and withdrew. In the same way in the context of Nigeria, whatever and whoever may be sustaining the position of the government of Nigeria on national unity may get tired someday because national unity is now being sustained by the use of force.

Our government doesn’t believe it has to negotiate. It believes in force. The same government reportedly threatened to proscribe groups who talk about negotiating national unity. If the Americans can withdraw from Afghanistan after investing more than $1 trillion as records suggest, that means federal government of Nigeria needs to sit down and address insurgency calls for self-determination and secession.

The likely scenario here is that the global community would meet and is likely to be preoccupied with the Afghan question. More importantly, the US and its allies like North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, and others involved in driving the Taliban out in 2001 must meet on the Afghan question.

The likelihood is that the Afghan question will become the preoccupation of the international community including Nigeria and African countries simply because of what the Taliban represent. It is globally known as a terrorist organization.

They have said they won’t allow the use of Afghanistan to spread terrorism but we don’t know if they would respect it or not. The issue is that some countries are most likely to recognise the Taliban government. Some are not likely. The bottom line is that the liberal ideological values that have been put in place in Afghanistan in the last two decades would be no more.

Boko Haram

Boko Haram is fighting in a different context based on self-determination because this time, they are fighting to disrupt and divide Nigeria because they want an Islamic caliphate. Anywhere Boko Haram can conquer what happens? They put their flag their immediately, signifying territorial conquest. That is exactly what the Taliban do. And they are doing it already in Afghanistan since they took over. They also renamed the country as Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

They don’t want to hear about the Republic of Afghanistan. That is what Boko Haram is also seeking in Nigeria. Therefore, for Nigeria to address the problems posed by non-state actors, all the stakeholders should be brought to the table. And in doing that, you don’t talk from the position of power by boasting about your military might. The President shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that a small non-powerful group can create a monumental problem for a big country.

We saw what happened in Afghanistan. How many were the terrorists that brought down the twin towers in the US? Was that not the reason the US foreign policy was reviewed and redesigned? Why is that as powerful as the Nigerian government is, it has not been able to defeat the so-called armed bandits and Boko Haram insurgents. In the case of the Taliban, we saw that the President instead of fighting to finish decided to escape.

That shows how a small group defeated an established state. One can be very powerful but it would take a mosquito bite for the person to fall sick and die. What I am saying is that we need to be commonsensical in dealing with our security challenges as a nation.

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