USAFRICOM: Burying Barre’s Ghost

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First City Monument Bank, FCMB

By Emeka Obasi

Somalian dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre, found home in Nigeria following his ouster in 1991 and rejection by Kenyan opposition when he arrived Nairobi for refuge. The maximum ruler died in Lagos five years later and it appears his blood soaked evil spirit is hovering all over the nation.

I received the good news that President Muhammadu Buhari has asked for help from the United States to tackle the unprecedented flood of insecurity that may consume the country and perhaps create a mass of refugees all over the the West African Sub Region.

Buhari bent backwards to ask America to move the headquarters of the United States Africa Command ( USAFRICOM) from Stuttgart Germany to Africa. His request was made through Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

It is a welcome development because the US courted Nigeria in 2008 when AFRICOM became operational. At that time, Abuja rejected plans to locate the Intercontinental military formation on Nigerian soil. There were less security issues to deal with.

I join my voice with that of President Buhari and add that AFRICOM should move down to Nigeria as soon as possible before we find ourselves in another Somalia. I have a feeling that Port Harcourt will serve as a suitable headquarters.

The Garden City hosts some  of our Petro wealth and as a port, will be useful in the fight against sea pirates in the Gulf of Guinea which may become a bigger problem if not tackled at the same time as insurgency, banditry and other  nascent forms of violence.

AFRICOM is like a Nigerian project. It was established on October 1, 2007. A year later, October 1, 2008, it became operational. The United States Special Operations Command, Africa became effective on October 1, 2009. These dates are historic. Nigeria became independent on October 1, 1960 and a Republic on October  1, 1963.

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The first Commander of AFRICOM, General William ‘Kip’ Ward, served in Somalia as part of American intervention, known as ‘Operation Restore Hope’. Nigerian troops were also in Somalia at the same time. Ward a bagged a Master’s degree in Political Science, from the Pennsylvania State University. That is the story of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, our first president.

Barre and Somalia should be eternally grateful to Nigeria. Unfortunately, we have been repaid in very bad coins. As AU Chairman, I guess Gen. Ibrahim Babangida tried to help a fallen colleague who was rejected at home and in Kenya. The man lived and died in Lagos. His body was taken back home for burial.

Nigerian troops of the 23rd Brigade captured Mogadishu from Italy in February 1941, during the Second World War. In March, they took Degehabur and Jijiga, both in the Somali part of Ethiopia. Brave warriors of First Battalion, Nigerian Regiment, advanced to Harar and Dire Dawa. Barre was part of that East African campaign where Nigerians freed his country.

The Nigerians returned to Somalia in 1993 after granting Barre assylum. They were part of a United Nations Peace Keeping Force, UNOSOM II. Twenty three other nations were involved with the United States assuming leadership.

The contingent of 29 officers and 621 soldiers from 245 Reconnaissance Battalion, was led by Lt.Col Olagunsoye Oyinlola. On September 5, 1993, seven Nigerian soldiers were killed at Checkpoint Pasta in what drew reminiscences of the Second World War.

Oyinlola accused Italian Peace Keepers under Gen. Bruno Loi of doing nothing while Somalians loyal to warlord, Mohamed Farrad Aidid, fired at the Nigerians. The Italians had gone into a pact with the locals on how to man a particular checkpoint. That was unknown to  ‘Ola Recce’ and his boys.

Oyinlola was lucky to return to Nigeria in one piece and subsequently became Military Governor of Lagos  and civilian governor of Osun State. Some of his soldiers came back with injuries. One of them had to plead for his life by telling Somalian captors that he was a Muslim like them.

Somalia is an irony.  The people are nearly united by one language and culture. Like the Fulani of Nigeria, they are pastoralists. At a time, Barre toyed with the idea of uniting all Somali in Somalia, Djibouti, Ogaden Ethiopia and North Eastern Kenya. He called the union Greater Somalia( Soomaaliweyn).

And he embarked on war to achieve that lofty dream. In 1977, Somalia attacked Ogaden, Ethiopia. What began well for Barre ended in disaster as his erstwhile friends, the Soviet Union, abandoned him for Ethiopia and paved way for Cuban troops to join the fight. Somalians were beaten back.

That was the Siad Barre that was later toppled by some of his former allies and forced to flee the country. He was a man of sorrow, tears and blood. Kenya rejected him. The Nigerian government welcomed the bloody man. In 1995, Barre died in Lagos.

His evil spirit seemed restless. From a very peaceful nation, Nigeria has become a High risk location dreaded by investors. There is a subtle plan by the Fulani all over West Africa to settle in Nigeria something akin to Barre’s plan for the Somali in Greater Somalia.

While on exile in Nigeria,Barre did not know that many Igbo who saw the Civil War detested him. Carl Gustaf von Rosen, the Swede who fought for Biafra with his five Malmo MFI-9 minicons, was killed by Somalian troops in Gode, Ethiopia during the Ogaden War.

AFRICOM is the best thing to happen to Nigeria. The Commander, Gen. Stephen Townsend, was just 10 when Barre emerged as leader of Somalia in 1969. He was in service away from Africa, during the Battle of Mogadishu that consumed a platoon or more of American fighters. Nigeria will not become another Somalia.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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