Global Policy Forum

Nightmares of Nigeria's "Peacekeeping" Unfold

The Perspective (Smyrna, Georgia)
September 11, 2000

With the American decision to train and equip a Nigerian "super force" destined to solve Sierra Leone's horrors underway, a report by the Commander of the United Nations force in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) indicting the Nigerians for sabotaging peace in the country may necessitate a rethink if results are the objectives.

The Nigerians have of course rejected the report, instead accusing the Indian commander of cowardice and insulting Nigerian officers. Because Nigeria contributes the largest number of troops in Sierra Leone, observers believe Maj.-Gen. Vijay Jetley may find himself without a job since Nigerian troops may refuse to serve under him.

Long before the report, the signs of Nigeria's duplicity in prolonging the conflicts in West Africa for personal gains were all on the wall to see. The only problem is that no one cared. It was Africa, and the doctrine of "African solutions to African problems" was religiously fostered and adhered to as an excuse for inaction.

Maj.-Gen. Vijay Jetley, in a 4-page report circulated to Security Council members and published in part in The UK Guardian, depicts a conspiracy of collusion for diamonds and a cult of common interests between key ECOMOG officers and the ruthless rebels, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

The report narrates diamond deals and drug trafficking, all geared towards sabotaging efforts to end the country's decade old war producing more children with amputated limbs.

In retrospect, the report by the Indian commander illustrates the consequences of supinely watching an initially insignificant fire engulf an insignificant area, claim a few "expendable" victims, before attempting to stop its menacing spread. Had the UN seen the dangers of Nigeria's sole dominance in the Liberian war in regional perspectives, Sierra Leone, and now Guinea, would have been spared Liberia's spreading inferno. Nigeria's shifting alliances with competing Liberian rebel factions, secret arms sales by some officers, which culminated into the April 1996 war in Monrovia tacitly approved by ECOMOG, showed the compromising nature of the force. Sierra Leone should have taken lessons from this scenario. But they had no choice! So, they placed all their hopes in the "super Nigerians" and must now awake to the reality of the deception.

The fact is that long before Nigeria began doing business with Charles Taylor, the creator of the RUF, it had evidence of his enormous control over Foday Sankoh and his rebels. Sankoh lived with Taylor in Gbarnga. He was deeply involved in the Liberian war in preparation for his own. Visiting ECOMOG commanders, their intelligence sources, knew this and more. Even after he was President, Taylor made his Sierra Plan known to his operatives. "I will keep them (Nigerians) busy in Sierra Leone" he told confidantes. There was no secret in the fact that once Taylor was legitimized and entrenched in Liberia, Sierra Leone would be engulfed in chaos that would be extended to Guinea as we now see. That the Nigerians knew this, and yet christened the warlord as a regional player, should have been the hints of uglier times to come.

But world insensitivity, (even after a callous warlord whose interest was money through crime, butchering 250,000 and ensuring unimagined poverty through plunder) led to deceptive slogans of "African solutions for African problems," providing the justification for the current anarchy in West Africa. The Nigerians, claiming to have spent US$7 billion for Liberian "peace", became the supreme bosses setting the standards since Liberian political leaders and civil society had resigned themselves to lapdog roles, seeing Nigeria as the demi-god with all answers. When the Nigerians announced their "success" in dismantling half a dozen rebel groups as a prelude to hailed elections, the ECOMOG paradigm in successful peacekeeping became almost a biblical obsession. But as friends fell apart, a departing ECOMOG commander would admit failing to disarm armed factions following a quarrel with Taylor who now exerted his independence, lecturing Nigeria, "There is no small or big president. We are all presidents now," while he threatened to expel the ECOMOG commander.

The ECOMOG paradigm in peacekeeping, so canonized and appreciated by the international community devoid of interest in the resolution of crisis now spreading its tentacles, also entailed that Nigerian army would organize "free and fair" elections in which their soldiers served as polling agents as their foreign minister led the anointed one, Taylor, to cast his ballot ordained for victory by Nigeria. Now, the cancer, which originated from that marriage, is infesting other countries with devastating implications. The difference now is that Nigeria is no longer the solo dancer in this theater of horrors. Its machinations, so prevalent in Liberia, are coming to light.

In his report understandably denied by the Nigerians, the UNAMSIL Commander observed among others that: "The Nigerian army was interested in staying in Sierra Leone due to the massive benefits they were getting from illegal diamond mining", Maj.-Gen. Vijay reveals. According to The Guardian of 9 September, Maxwell Khobe, the Nigerian Commander of ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone, also made Sierra Leone Army chief, received US$10 million to permit the activities of the RUF. "The [West African intervention] force commander Maj.-General Kpamber, who referred to Sankoh as "the savior of the nation", a theme picked by the Rev. Jesse Jackson who compared the rebel leader with Nelson Mandela, was linked to the conspiracy to derail the entire peace process for personal gain. Claims Maj.-Gen. Vijay:

"It is understood that a tacit understanding was reached between the RUF and [the Nigerians] of non-interference in each other's activities. Protecting Nigerian interests was paramount even if it meant scuttling the [peace process.] To this end, the Special Representative [of the UN in Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji] and the deputy commander, cultivated the RUF leadership, especially Foday Sankoh behind my back. The Mission directive given to me which I tried to follow implicitly, directly conflicted with the interests of not only the warring factions but also of the major players in the diamond racket like Liberia and Nigeria. By placing their stooges in the right places, they have not only tried to scuttle the peace process but also tried to denigrate me and the country I represent to promote their own personal ambitions and personal interests.

"It is my opinion that the ECOMOG force commander along with the SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) and DFC (Deputy Force Commander worked hard to sabotage the peace process.

Keeping Nigerian interests paramount even it meant scuttling the peace process and this also implied that UNAMSIL (UN Sierra Leone Force) was expendable. As an Indian and having no hidden agenda to promote, I became a victim of the machinations of these countries."

Here are the reasons behind the intractability of the conflict consuming so much resources and lives. Personal interests tied to diamonds as children roam with amputated limbs and no future. As in Liberia, part of the problem is the lack of nationalism in Sierra Leone.

The belief in oneself provides the key to success in any undertaking. Just as the Liberians saw redemption in Nigeria and surrendered their minds, Sierra Leonean political leaders see Nigeria as the panacea to the conflict. Thus a Nigerian, Gen. Khobe, with no intrinsic interest or loyalty to Sierra Leone, was made head of the Sierra Leone Army without any consideration of the fact that the zeal to defend a country in many cases is tied to one's love of it and protection of its interests or values. Realizing this, the British have placed emphasis on training a Sierra Leone army capable of containing the rebels even as Liberia's Taylor, convinced that this is the most effective method of checkmating his terror, yells foul.

Is it therefore surprising that he became a US$10 million man and that Gen. Kpamber became a virtual ADC to Sankoh, touring diamond areas while other UN officers were barred?

Meanwhile, the head of the Nigerian army, Lt. Gen. Victor Malu, has called for the dismissal of the UNAMSIL chief. Gen. Malu said in an internal document shown to the AFP, "Ordinarily the letter would have been ignored as one coming from a confused mind but the issues raised impact on Nigeria as a nation, the Nigerian Army and all representatives of Nigeria in Sierra Leone.

"For the UNAMSIL Force Commander to go so low as to malign and indict [the late] Brigadier-General Khobe the way he did ... shows a complete lack of respect even for the dead.

"Throughout ECOMOG operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone, no Nigeria officer or soldier was ever caught in illegal mining activities, nor found with diamonds.

"Nigerian contingents were never deployed in mining areas of Sierra Leone. If Nigerian forces were dreaded by the RUF it is because of their courage and bravery in the face of the rebels... If the rebels treated other contingents with contempt it is because they treated the RUF with kid gloves."

In Liberia, political leaders now known to have held sympathies for Taylor's rebel NPFL frowned upon concrete actions that would have led to alternative solutions to counter the horrendous atrocities committed by the rebels. The fact that by 1995 the warlord was making about US$500 million from Sierra Leone diamonds alone helps to reveal the smooth relationships existing between him and a number of ECOMOG commanders on the one hand and Liberian political leaders on the other.

In societies such as Liberia and Sierra Leone deep in corruption as a way of life, similar scenarios between rebel and political leaders cannot be ruled out. All that had to be done in sizing Nigeria's capacity to end the Sierra Leone war was to look at its CV and performance in Liberia. Some believe that without the involvement of the British and therefore the UN, the Nigerians would have conducted Liberian-style elections, and left the country shattered as we now see in Liberia. This was the strategy that failed with British intervention, but the nightmares of Nigerian peacekeeping will linger, creating more victims.

More Information on Sierra Leone


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