This was timely, given the fact that the Nigerian insurgent group, Boko Haram, has recently strengthened links with the terrorist outfit, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), which has a formidable foothold in Libya.
The alliance is even more ominous in the light of the bold statement made about a month ago by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that Boko Haram no longer posed a threat to the country.
He stated that the terrorist organisation had been “systematically decimated” under his watch.
But we are faced with a different reality today – a terrifying alliance between Boko Haram and Isil, as reported by the New York Times.
This could dwarf the problems of the past and take the fight well beyond Nigeria’s borders.
So, while high-level participants at the Tana Forum were calling for Africa to sit at the top table when global security issues are being discussed, there is the small matter of the continent’s leaders taking action to stem the growing threat of terrorist activity in Africa in order to ensure peace and security on the continent.
The Boko Haram-Isil alliance could exacerbate security problems in Africa – now that the Nigerian group has emerged as the world’s deadliest terrorist organisation in operation, according to security experts.
Continuing suicide bombings and shocking evidence of a massive increase in the use of girls and young women as suicide bombers have nullified Buhari’s statements of success against Boko Haram and highlighted his failure to adequately manage the terrorist threat.
The Armed Conflict Survey 2016 by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) notes: “One of the key challenges in the fight against Boko Haram remained the group’s capacity to adapt and change tactics.
“As the military made large strides in the insurgents’ main areas of operation, they resorted to guerrilla warfare to harry and delay its advance.”
There was also “a sharp increase in [Boko Haram’s] use of suicide bombers, particularly women and children”.
The world’s deadliest terrorist group is taking its alliance with Isil seriously – a most concerning development.
Thus, the Buhari government’s failure to address the Boko Haram threat could add to a death toll that has already topped 20,000 people.
Indeed, the IISS Survey noted that the number of people killed in 2015 in the war against Boko Haram rose to 11,000, up from 7,000 in the previous year even through the Nigerian military announced that it recovered all of the towns it lost to the insurgents in 2014.
Much has been said about the nature of the alliance between Boko Haram and Isil, with many speculating that these links were weak and unlikely to manifest themselves in any major shift in strategy for Boko Haram.
But the revelation by the New York Times regarding the seizure of a large shipment of weapons from Isil fighters in Libya to the Lake Chad region, which has been overrun by Boko Haram, provides the first real evidence of a meaningful collaborative alliance between Isil and Boko Haram.
This has sounded alarm bells in West, Central and North Africa where it is feared that Boko Haram may be aiming to strike international targets such as foreign-owned hotels.
Countries in these regions will naturally be concerned about the potential impact that Boko Haram could have outside its conventional areas of operation.
With the situation poorly managed in Nigeria and the Buhari government’s failure to recognise that Boko Haram does represent a problem, the regional threat is very real.
A tie up between the two terrorist groups is of deep concern.
The combination of Boko Haram’s violent and brutal capability and disregard for human life alongside Isil’s international infrastructure and access to weapons would change the nature of the security terrain in Africa.
Reports have already emerged of Isil trying to improve Boko Haram’s public relations capabilities to enhance its recruitment efforts.
So the link has for some time been in place since Boko Haram pledged allegiance to Isil in March 2015.
Very little evidence of anything beyond this has emerged until now.
Buhari’s opponents have complained that his government’s diversion of state intelligence and security apparatus to combat corruption could hamper the Nigerian army’s fight against Boko Haram.
Surely, the security forces should not be involved in this politically motivated exercise in the face of a major security threat to Nigeria?
There have also been allegations of government misuse of foreign aid to support the war against Boko Haram.
The issue of financing peace and security operations in Africa was highlighted by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo at the Tana Forum.
He said that African governments would not be taken seriously if outsiders continued to finance peace activities on the continent.
“We must accept that security costs a lot of money and we have to fund these activities ourselves,” Obasanjo said.
Given the parlous state of the Nigerian economy, where will the government get the money to take on the Boko Haram threat?
This is why Buhari’s opponents are complaining about the use of state funds to “harass” political opponents.
The global security terrain has changed remarkably and Africa is part and parcel of this network, as the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, put it at the Tana Forum.
The Nigeria-Libya nexus is a clear example of how the terrorist network spreads its activities.
In all this, it is down to African leaders like Buhari and ordinary Africans themselves to work towards improving conditions on the continent.
Obasanjo put it aptly when he told the Tana Forum that the position Africa was in today was actually the way African leaders and their people wanted it to be.
They could do more to make things a whole lot better on the continent if they wanted to.
Buhari and other African leaders will have an opportunity to start putting things right during the second Regional Security Summit in Abuja this weekend to discuss efforts to support Nigeria and other Lake Chad Basin countries in the fight against Boko Haram.
Participants are expected to include heads of state from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and France.
US Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken will also attend, joined by Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Justin Siberell.