Tuesday, 2 April 2013

AMERICA DRONES IN THE SAHEL: ALL IS NOT WELL

Over the years America has being making frantic moves to establish its intelligent wings around Nigeria without much success. It could be recalled that in 2003 former US President, George Bush attempted to deploy America troops in Nigeria to mount security at oil installations in the Niger-Delta. A move that necessitated me as the then Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Industrial Security to write former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the leadership of the National Assembly and States Assemblies protesting such gesture as it spells disastrous consequences for the nation’s security.

Then, the insecurity in the Niger-Delta was advanced as the major motivating factor. In the spirit of patriotism, I pointed out that the American Government cannot be responsible for the day-to-day protection of oil installations in the Niger-Delta or elsewhere in Nigeria.

The suggestion was accepted and implemented by the Federal Government of Nigeria and America was not be allowed to, in the name of 'security of oil installations,' capture our sovereignty, take over our wealth, seize our future and re-colonize us.

The Nigerian Institute of Industrial Security under my leadership then also raised an alarm through news items about the previous year’s move by the then National Assembly to engage Israelis for its security to the detriment of Nigeria and her security apparatus. The National Assembly gave us a listening ear.

We also pointed to the fact that Nigeria's abundant human and natural resources coupled with her leadership role in world politics constitute sufficient reasons for the nation to be direct target of imperialists and propagation of dependency and concluded by appealing to our listeners to know that our “objection to the President George Bush plan must not be misunderstood to mean an attack on either the U.S. Government or the Federal Government of Nigeria, rather, our action should be seen as patriotic and a manifestation of the good intention of protection professionals to draw the attention of the president and peoples of Nigeria to the fact that our sovereignty and our future as well as the future of the nation's security are being threatened." This letter and the news it generated were widely distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allafrica.com).

 It is unfortunate that exactly 10 years after, the same America had capitalized on the crisis in Mali to mount a drone base over our head, in Niger Republic, a country that  shares borders and important demographic features with Nigeria, especially in the northern parts of the country, “to serve as deterrence to terrorists”. Yet, on such blatant act that compromises our internal security, Nigeria is saying nothing because our security apparatus has been weakened and disorganized by internal crisis.  

As soon as we received the news that the US had reached an agreement with the Republic of Niger to set up a drone base in that country our concerns were merely on the location of the war machine, its possibility of violating our territorial integrity and internal security. These fears were not marshaled into a strong opposing force to protest the invasion of Nigeria’s privacy on continuous basis in the pretence of fighting terrorists.

 

This development which should be of great concern to Nigeria’s security and intelligence communities vis-a-vis the implications of having such equipment that can gather sensitive information about the country in our backyard was treated with levity. To many Nigerians, all is well. All is not well when as a nation we cannot keep our secrets secret. All is not well when we are under the prying eyes of America or when our privacy is being watched and trampled upon by a competing nation.  All is not well when our nakedness is being videoed and analyzed per second per second. All is not well when we cannot protect ourselves from external dependency and domination. All is not well when America drones hang over our shoulders in the Sahel region.

Prof. Fred Aja Agwu, a Senior Research Fellow at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, pointed out that the activities of Boko Haram and other terrorists groups show that insurgency in region has been internationalized, the local insurgents have been infiltrated and the “Nigerian security and intelligence communities have proved incapable of coping with the situation”, so they need external help. Help, at the detriment of Nigeria?  

America has always perceived Nigeria as an emerging global power with the necessary potentials and resources of dominating the world. To the US, the fear of Nigeria is the beginning of wisdom therefore, Nigeria must be put in check; Nigeria must be surrounded with all available modern surveillance and monitoring gargets capable of conveying real time security and intelligence information to the Pentagon 24/7.

The activities of Boko Haram and Ansaru have been cited severally as indication that Nigeria is an area of interest for drone surveillance, whether in Niger or in Nigeria. As Prof. Ogbabe Oche said, the presence of drones in Niger Republic may serve as deterrence to terrorists but its implications for Nigeria’s national security cannot be overlooked.

Prof. Oche explained that the drone option has become necessary because Nigeria is not showing that it is capable of defending its territorial integrity and upholding the security of its citizens.

 

Understanding Drones
Drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle that is used for surveillance and targeted attacks on suspected terrorists and they have been used by the United States of America which developed the technology. Drone is remotely controlled and has visual sensors that allow those operating it to focus on intended targets. It carries different types of weapons. Example includes the MQ-9 drones which can employ four laser guided Hellfire missiles on time sensitive targets.

The former America President, George W. Bush was the first to order drone strikes in 2008 in Pakistan during his last days in office. There are various types of drones namely the MQ-IB predator which is used for medium altitude long endurance mission. It performs intelligence gathering and has what the military call munitions capabilities.

The second type is the MQ-9 reaper which is used primarily for hunting and killer mission. It is designed to find, fix, track, get, examine and assess against high value, fleeting and time sensitive targets. It, as well has the capacity for intelligence gathering.

Leon Panetta, former CIA Director General described the drone as “very effective” as it “has achieved high level of precision attacks on targets. Military experts believe that …drone has changed the nature of modern warfare because it is surgically precise and high effective.”

Drones were first used in Warfare 2008 for intelligence gathering in Pakistan.  In that year, the US fired the first missile from a drone at a terrorist target in Waziristan. The US used the stealthy UAV RQ-17 drones to fly over Osama Bin Laden compound in Pakistan, to monitor the compound before the advance of the Navy Seals that killed him on May 2, 2011.

America secret drone campaign against Al Qaeda and its affiliates has changed the face and nature of modern warfare. It has become a key weapon in US arsenal against suspected terrorists and the prospects of using it in the Sahel cannot be ruled out as Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb continues to grow in strength and presence in the region. Only US, UK and Israel have launched drone strikes against their enemies.

Reports from Pentagon have revealed that the US has about 8,000 drones and it has carried out about 349 drone strikes in Pakistan, 61 in Yemen while it is estimated that between 1,500 to 2,500 persons may have died from this modern form of warfare. The casualty rate is believed to be high among non- combatants and non-terrorists but many people also argue that this is the propaganda of terrorists who want to draw sympathy to themselves and increase the criticisms against the use of drones to hunt them.

 

Drones Race
it is on records that Israel has, over the years, led the world in developing unmanned aerial vehicle system (UAS). The America Aerospace Study (2011), disclosed that there are about 680 of such UASs.  

About 70 countries including China, UK, Australia, and Russia are known to have such technology. Even Iran, which claimed that it recently brought down one US drone, has acquired the technology. China exposed in 2010 that it has 25 drone models. Today, there are more countries lining up to acquire the technology and usage of drones either for domestic or military purposes. In the US, the police use drones for law enforcement duties, especially to gather intelligence.

President Obama administration, which has been secretive about the use of drones, is known to have ordered more drone strikes against suspected terrorists outside the shores of the US than its predecessor. The administration is now faced with the responsibility of mobilizing a global consensus on the use of drones.

 

Regulating the Use of Drones

In USA, there have been debates within Government and Congress on legal justification for the use of drones especially targeting US citizens on American soil or abroad if they are found to be involved in acts of terrorism. There is increasing public demand for information on how the drones are used.

The need to regulate the drone programme is very relevant now than ever before. It has become necessary to draw a guideline for drone activities, to ensure that the future use of drones conforms to existing international and humanitarian laws. It is equally important to respect rights of independent nations in the use of drones.

International law advocates that terrorists are considered civilians and killing them is only legal if they are caught in the act of committing an attack. A number of experts have argued that drones create more terrorists than they kill them.

 

Other Applications of Drones

The applications of drones are increasing by the day. Apart from military uses, drones have been used for search and rescue operations, tracking of weather disasters, especially after storms, hurricanes, earth quakes, etc.

In Kenya, the Ol Pejeta conservancy is already considering the use of drones to monitor wild life to deter poachers.

While the Federal Government of Nigeria should also consider using drones to track incidence of pipeline vandalism as well as check crude oil theft in the Niger Delta, it is not later to kick start global campaign to force the US to withdraw its drones’ base from the Republic of Niger. Nigeria has the potentials for exercising beneficial influence in the Sahel region for good.

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