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Ukraine war weapons in Nigeria: Why India and Africa should be worried

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DAILY REVIEW: A few months after the Ukraine conflict began on February 24, there have been reports of West-supplied small weapons and ammunition having being found in the Islamist militancy-plagued regions of Africa.

The confirmation came from none other than Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday when he declared that because of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, weapons and fighters are streaming into the terror hotspot of the Lake Chad region.

While President Buhari, speaking at a Lake Chad Basin Commission summit in Abuja, did not name the terror groups that were using the weapons being smuggled out from Ukraine, there was no doubt that the dreaded Boko Haram was one of the main recipients.

Historically, Ukraine had been a key weapons supplier for the sub-Saharan African nations.

The Sunni radical Boko Haram terror group in Nigeria styles itself as the Islamic State (IS) in neigbouring Chad and Niger and is a declared affiliate having announced a ‘bayah’ (oath of allegiance) to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Islamic State in India

In India, the Islamic State has a proven presence, including in Kashmir. A few Indians, mainly from Kerala, had also travelled to conflict zones in Afghanistan and Iraq to wage the ‘holy war’.

Initially, the Afghanistan-headquartered Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK) began as a self-declared ‘wilayat’ (province) under the overall control of the ‘caliphate’ of ISIS.

But, perhaps, realising the distinct importance of India and Pakistan, ISK branched out to set up ‘Wilayat al-Hind’ branch for India and the ‘Wilayat Pakistan’ for Pakistan on May 10, 2019, and May 15, 2019, respectively.

Drug route

The development has significant security implications for India as there is a flourishing illicit drug trade between India and Nigeria especially of the ‘made in India’ opium-based ‘Tramadol’.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) had pointed out in a recent report: “Illicit tramadol sales have previously been associated with the funding of violent extremist groups operating in parts of Africa.”

Available as tablets and injections, the painkilling Tramadol (chemical name tramadol hydrochloride) is mostly manufactured in factories—licit and illicit—from Punjab to Gujarat is known by different names like ‘chill pills’, ‘trammies’, ‘ultras’, and ‘tomatoes’.

West Africa

The proliferation of weapons in West African countries are likely to worsen the security situation in the region. It took African countries years after the fall of Ghaddafi to recover from the deadly consequences of arm trafficking which mostly end up in the hands of Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) who have replaced Boko Haram as the most brutal terrorist organization in Nigeria and the lake Chad. It is interesting to note that countries bordering the Lake Chad such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic have been battling terrorist organizations for years. One of the key factors that help our militaries to defeat them and force them to retreat to isolated forests was our multinational forces who have endured years of trench warfare, artillery duel, and counteroffensives which help our countries to recapture the territories the terrorists seized.

But the weapons in Ukraine are more dangerous and more advanced than most of the weapons that usually flood Africa. Since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in the late February this year, the collective West have spent billions of dollars to supply the country with weapons, ammunitions, drones, anti-tank weapons, M777 howitzers, Javelin anti-aircraft missiles, artillery shells and many more weapons in order to deter Russia.

While the flow of weapons has helped Ukraine to deter Russia, or at least deny Putin of outright victory since the war still grinds on, the major threat to Africa is these weapons are rerouted to Africa, and looking at the volatile situation in Burkina Faso, Niger, Central African Republic, Ambazonian rebels in Cameroon who are fighting the central government over discrimination of English speaking regions of Cameroon.

The porous borders in Africa have also made it even more difficult to stop drug trafficking in West Africa and beyond.

Nigeria, the largest player in the war against illicit drug and arm trade in West Africa should work with its neighbors by establishing a special taskforce to track weapon shipment and their proliferation.

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