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Deby’s death, Nigeria and Boko Haram insurgency

As a young man, he enrolled at the officers’ academy in N’Djamena before heading to France, where he trained as a pilot.

The death of Chadian president Idriss Deby, yesterday, has raised a serious question on how Nigeria and its neighbours will end the 12-year-old Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgency. 

Deby, who spent more than three decades in power, died following injuries he sustained when he led his troops to defend N’Djamena, the county’s capital from rebels onslaught.

Deby’s path to power 

As a young man, he enrolled at the officers’ academy in N’Djamena before heading to France, where he trained as a pilot.

He returned in 1979 to a country in the grip of feuding warlords.

Deby hitched his star to Hissene Habre and was rewarded with the post of army chief after Habre came to power in 1982, ousting Goukouni Weddeye.

He went on to distinguish himself fighting Libyan-backed rebels over mountainous territory in the north of the country.

But in 1989, he fell out with his increasingly paranoid boss, who accused him of plotting a coup.

Deby fled to Sudan, where he assembled an armed rebel group, the Patriotic Salvation Movement, which rolled into N’Djamena unopposed in December 1990.

In 1996, six years after he seized power and ushered in democracy, Deby was elected head of state in Chad’s first multi-party vote. He won all succeeding elections.

The main opposition withdrew its participation in 2006 and 2011, irked by a change to the constitution enabling the former soldier to renew his term; and the elections in 2015 were marked by accusations of fraud.

Last August, the national assembly named him field marshal, the first in Chad’s history, after he led an offensive against Boko Haram insurgents who had killed 90 troops and occupied some areas.

Fighting the insurgents

Chad, and indeed Idris Deby, has been central in the fight against Boko Haram/ISWAP, in the Lake Chad region.

Public Affairs analyst Abubakar Mohammed Kareto noted that the late Chadian leader was able to stabilise the country but there could be some crisis after his death.

He stressed that stability of Chad and Niger Republic is crucial to Nigeria’s internal security and perhaps Lake the Chad Basin countries.

“Today, the people of Borno and other Northeast states woke up to hear the sad news of late president Idriss Deby’s death, his demise is indeed catastrophic to the counter-insurgency  operations in the Northeast in particular and Sahel at large. Deby was a strategic player and coadjutor in the fight against Boko Haram.

“The implication of Deby’s death is huge to the Northeast, Nigeria as a country and the entire Lake Chad. Nigeria and other neighbouring countries need to beef security around their borders and remain alert to avoid infiltration of any kind because Chad is now a very vulnerable country.

“Our fear is largely on Chad’s ability to manage the fragile security situation. It is our hope that the new interim government will contain the situation, once if there is escalation of violence,  there will be large influx of Tchadians into Nigeria in the name of refugees while we are still battling with large number of internally displaced persons. The  proliferation of small arms will also be a serious issue that will bother internal security of countries neighbouring Tchad and states of Nigeria around Tchad,” Kareto said.

The 68-year-old war veteran was no stranger to the war front, having come to power after defeating the forces of Hissene Habre, the former rebel leader after years of rebellion, sending Habre into exile and taking over the government.

Deby’s death came on the day he was declared winner of the presidential election which was held on April 11, 2021. He has been in power since 1990

Idris Deby has been central in the fight against Boko Haram/ISWAB, especially in the Lake Chad region. He has been in the forefront of the fight against the insurgents and on many occasions led his troops to the battlefield. In 2014, there was a move by Deby to broker an agreement between Nigeria and Boko Haram insurgents.

Deby’s role in the fight against Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda became more prominent with the setting up of the Multi- National Joint Task Force which brought together troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republics.  Early in its life we saw how Chadian soldiers swept through the Nigerian territory through the south eastern Niger Republic rapidly chasing Boko Haram insurgents into Nigeria.

Again, last year, Deby led his troops to chase away Boko Haram insurgents, who were said to have killed 100 Chadian troops and occupied some areas.

With his death and the rebels fighting for the control of the country, diplomats and security experts believe Nigeria needs to act fast to stem any repercussion that may ensue.

A former ambassador to Pakistan, Ambassador Dauda Danladi, advised Nigeria to show solidarity to Chad and support the contribution that Chadian government has been making to stabilise the region.

He said late Deby had been a very strong ally of Nigeria, and worked to stabilize Chad and the region for almost 30 years.

“Chad under Deby had been a strong pillar along the Lake Chad in the fight against Boko Haram. On several occasions, Deby had led the fight directly. Therefore, he was a strong pillar when it comes to the contribution to the Multi- National Taskforce that is launching counter terrorism attacks within the ECOWAS.

“Again, Idriss Deby was contributing to checkmating the incursion of ISILS and al-Qaeda fighters in Mali by sending 1000 forces to Mali and large number of forces to Central Africa. To a large extent, he contributed in stabilising our region.

“In fact we have lost a very strong pillar in this region, and his demise has created a vacuum that will be felt. Even though Mahamat, his son, has been chosen to lead the military council but he may not have the doggedness and fighting spirit of his dad.”

He advised Nigerian government to accelerate the presentation of the accreditation of the former service chiefs posted there, and to quickly give moral support to the multinational taskforce.

Former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, has also advised President Muhammadu Buhari, and security operatives in the country to monitor the situation in Chad.

The former minister who reacted on her tweeter handle also stressed that the country is one of the weakest links of vulnerability to Nigeria’s security.

“One definitely hopes our C-in-C @MBuhari and the Security Team @DefenceInfoNG @HQNigerianArmy are alert to what’s going on in Chad at this time. That country is one of the weakest links of vulnerability to Nigeria’s security. Keep a fixed gaze on developments in Chad, please,” she tweeted.

Meanwhile, a military council led by Deby’s son, a 37-year-old four star general, will govern for the next 18 months.

Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno will lead the council but “free and democratic” elections will be held once the transition period is over, the army said in its statement.

Security analysts say much will depend on how the new military regime manages to prepare the next political stage and whether it will seek to develop dialogue and consensus about the way forward or try to sustain the type of constitutional strongman regime that Mr Deby had built.

For Nigeria and other members of the Lake Chad Commission it remains to be seen how the new regime will manage the volatile situation both at home and abroad.

But one thing security experts are emphasising is the need for Nigeria to watch the situation closely and offer help where necessary to stabilise the region.

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