What started as mere suspicion in Nigeria’s security circles is now being treated with utmost seriousness: Chad may be the major backer and staying power of Boko Haram ─ with eyes on the oil deposits in the Chad Basin, Borno state.
Preliminary surveys have indicated that there is hydrocarbon deposit in an area covering 3,350 square metres in the Chad Basin, with federal government pumping close to N30bn in the last two years into feasibility studies of the oil potential there.
Countries such as Chad, Niger and Sudan with similar structural settings are already exploring or producing oil on their own soil, leading to conclusions that it is a matter of time for Nigeria’s turn.
The lukewarm attitude of Nigeria’s neighbours, particularly Chad and Cameroon, to the Boko Haram threat has long been attributed to regional rivalry rather than economic interest.
However, circumstances surrounding the phantom ceasefire deal brokered in October by Idriss Déby, the president of Chad, have alerted the security agencies to a possible involvement of the west African country in the insurgency.
“Chad might be eyeing control of the Chad Basin in Borno state, which is believed to be very rich in hydrocarbon reserves,” a senior military officer told TheCable.
“We now have enough grounds to suspect that the staying power of Boko Haram is Chad. While the terrorists have been striking against Cameroon, they have never carried out any attack in Chad. Their arms may be passing through the Chadian territory.”
Unconfirmed reports have linked the Chadian government to arms supply to Boko Haram as Nigerian authorities try to understand what has kept the insurgents fully armed in the last five years.
Although the militants have looted Nigerian armouries on several occasions, some of the weapons recovered from them have turned out to be different from what they stole.
If indeed Chad is fuelling the insurgency, Boko Haram may gain access to more sophisticated weapons, such as surface-to-air missiles, which are legally sold only to sovereign entities.
The transportation of armoured tanks and other heavy hardware into Nigeria may also be facilitated by Chad, but the insurgents are unlikely to acquire aircraft as no terrorist group has yet used the aerial route in launching attacks.
Abubakar Shekau, the group’s leader, once claimed to have shot down an aircraft belonging to the Nigerian military, but this was denied by defence headquarters.
Security sources said they have established that Chadian citizens are serving as foot soldiers for Boko Haram, which most recently made its biggest gain on the Nigerian territory since the insurgency began in 2009.
A retired diplomat said if Chadian links are verified, “then we have a potentially dangerous development in our hands. It could be a copycat scenario, considering how Muammar Ghaddafi destabilised West Africa as Libyan leader. Déby was very close to Ghaddafi and he may be copying his style.”
Another senior intelligence officer told TheCable that the federal government is “seriously studying” possible links between Chad and Boko Haram.
TheCable recently reported that Nigerian government officials are furious about the phantom ceasefire deal which misled the Nigerian military into dropping its guard, a situation that saw the terror group reinforce and take over more Nigerian towns and villages.
Déby, who was involved in putting the deal together claiming he had been contacted by Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader, has stopped communicating with Nigeria after the failed ceasefire deal.
On the three occasions that the Nigerian delegation went to N’Djamena, the Chadian capital, he did not attend to them, saying he was ill, a source had told TheCable.
President Goodluck Jonathan had met with Déby in September after being informed that the Chadian leader was in touch the leaders of Boko Haram who had indicated interest in negotiating a dialogue.
Ali Modu Sheriff, former governor of Borno state whose mother is from Chad, was instrumental to putting the meeting together, but he too has been accused of funding the terror group ─ a claim he has vehemently denied.
Sheriff, who recently defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is one of the biggest investors in the Chadian economy and is a close associate of Déby.