NIGERIA’S security problems in the northeast of the country could get considerably worse over the coming weeks as Chadian rebels who recently killed President Idris Deby have begun an advance on the capital N’djamena.
Last Monday, President Deby was killed in a clash with the rebels when his visited his troops on the front, just weeks after he won an election to extend his 30-year rule. A key ally of President Muhammadu Buhari, President Deby was one of Boko Haram’s most formidable opponents, personally leading raids against them.
On at least two occasions, Chadian troops mounted incursions into Nigeria to displace Boko Haram from their strongholds in Borno State. His death has emboldened the Chadian rebels, who are now said to be less than 300km from N’djamena and would have been closer had they not paused on Friday to allow President Deby’s funeral hold without incident.
Chad looks set to go through a period of instability whatever happens as a military council headed by President Deby’s son, Mahamat Deby, seized power after his father’s death, saying it intends to oversee an 18-month transition period. Opposition politicians and civil society have denounced the takeover as a coup and on called for organised protests yesterday.
Chadian rebels, known as the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (Fact), came over the border from northern neighbour Libya on April 11. Battle-hardened from years of fighting for Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar, the rebels may face stiff resistance from N’Djamena, however, as it is a base for roughly 5,100 French troops fighting jihadists in the region.
Fact, which does not have ties to jihadists, has rejected the military transition, calling it a monarchy and has called for a return to democracy. Fact spokesman Kingabe Ogouzeimi de Tapol said that they were preparing to advance without giving more details.
However, Azem Agouna, a spokesman for the military transition, said: “The rebellion does not even exist. It is annihilated.
Apparently Chad’s air force had been bombing Fact position morning and evening since Thursday, with France supported the raids with aerial surveillance. One French official confirmed that their armed forces regularly carry out reconnaissance flights in the region but denied taking offensive action against the rebels.
France has helped eliminate rebel threats in Chad in the past, including in 2019 when at President Deby’s request, French warplanes bombed a convoy that crossed over from Libya. At President Deby’s funeral on Friday, French president Emmanuel Macron, who sat next to his son, pledged to defend Chad and has also called for a transition to democracy.
Fact leader, Mahamat Ali, told Radio France International yesterday that the group would be open to a ceasefire if the two sides agreed to a national dialogue. It is not yet clear if France will broker a peace deal.
Nigeria shares a border with Chad and because it is very porous, the area has served as a major Boko Haram operating base. In addition, should Chad descend into chaos, it will lead to a flood of refugees, many of them armed.