he Libyan leader Mummar Gaddafi has made it clear that he would like to see Nigeria split into two as a way towards enduring peace. A few days, probably, after a sober reflection, or armed with additional information fed by Libya’s mission, he retracted his initial statement and offered what he may have thought to be the most acceptable panacea for Nigeria’s ethnic, religious and cultural pluralities –to divide Nigeria into major ethnic nationalities.
Gaddafi’s expressions were regarded as infuriating remarks, as well as meddling in Nigeria’s domestic affairs.It unleashed a storm of hostile reactions and anger-laced vitriol on Gaddafi.. Many were blunt to assert that the Libyan’s leader was suffering from a variant form of mental malady. Is Gaddafi mad or playing the politic of revenge?
Three major political factors may have inspired the Libyan leader, Gaddafi to meddle in Nigeria’s domestic affairs.Two of these factors could be retrieved from the remote, dusty cellars of history..
Nigeria’s cold war role during the Chadian conflict is one the factors. In that Chadian conflict, there were internal and external configurations that shaped its evolution, as well as shifting of alliances, and Nigeria played a role inimical to Libya’s vested interest.
Gaddafi initially supported the warlord, Habre, who pitched battle against the central government. Sudan and Egypt backed another faction led by GoukouniWeddeye. France embraced the cause of the Chadian central government. Later, there was change of alliances. Libyan abandoned Habre and formed alliance with the Soviet Union in support of Weddeye, while the United States, France, and Egypt backed Habre..
Libya, with the help of the Soviet captured and occupied the Aouzou Strip in the northern portion of Chad, which it claimed, belonged her, in the same IdiAmin claimed on his neighbour’s and his temporary occupation of kagara in Tanzania. Chad and Libya made a secret deal of unification of both countries. The sealed deal leaked and intense pressure was brought to bear on the OAU mostly from Nigeria and the deal was nullified.
After Libya had captured the Aouzou Strip, the fighting between Libya and Chad intensified. Nigeria was alarmed because of the perception that the conflagration might engulf countries bordering Chad, Nigeria inclusive. The fear of domino effect compelled Nigeria to intervene leading to peace conferences in Kano in 1979, and another peace talk in Lagos in 1980. Even though Nigeria wanted an enduring peace in Chad, Libya saw Nigeria as a ”spoiler” in Gaddafi’s grand design. Libya equally thought Nigeria was backing Habre, a Chadian warlord who also wanted to thwart Libya’s plan in actualization of her political objectives.
But what humiliated Libya most was Nigeria/US collaboration in handling the Libyan prisoners of war. Seven hundred Libyans soldiers were captured in Chad. Five hundred of them were alleged to have been flown to Nigeria on 8 December, 1980 and then to another country whose identity was unknown. Nigeria’s complicity in this regard with the US raise the political temperature in Libya culminating in sour relationship between Tripoli and Lagos. Scholars in tune with the cold war geopolitics would agree with me that relation between Libya and the US was like oil and water and Libya was poised to sabotage any form of US plan at that time to get a foot-hold in Africa. For Nigeria to have collaborated with the US in Chad, a country Gaddafi had vested interest was an unforgivable ”political sin.”
The second cold war political factor that remains etched in Gaddafi’s psyche is Nigeria’s support for Samuel Doe of Liberia during the Liberian civil war. Gaddafi saw president Doe as an American lackey in the West African sub-region. He had made unsuccessful attempt to persuade and cajole Doe to join his anti-American camp. The very fact that Doe was pro-America was enough reason for Gaddafi to pitch his tent with Doe’s opponent, Charles Taylor. Having the perception that Liberia was a ”US protectorate”, the Liberian conflict was therefore a glaring opportunity not only to obliterate Doe, but also to teach the US a bitter lesson – by sabotaging its foot-hold in West Africa. In order to actualise his ant-America design, Libya performed the function of training the initial irregular soldiers of Charles Taylor’s army. He was alleged to have also supplied arms and transported them with Libyan aircraft and delivered them to Charles Taylor either via BurkinaFaso or the Ivory Coast. Nigeria’s support for Doe, and its magnificent role in Ecomog, the military wing of Ecowas in pacifying the Liberian conflict, was a blow to Gaddafi’s interest.
The third factor that irritates Gaddafi is the enviable Nigeria’s regional power status. Nigeria perceives itself as a continental power in Africa in general, and West Africa in particular. It sees West Africa as its backyard as its role in Ecomog during the Liberia conflict has testified. Even though Nigeria has no expansionist propensity in West Africa or elsewhere but has its foreign policy anchored in regional stability and humanitarian factors, Libya sees it differently. The Liberian conflict was an opportunity for Nigeria to project its regional power status beyond it shore. Nigeria’s regional power stature was reinforced by its then Foreign Minister, when he said: ”This is our region, we do not want our region to be torn into pieces by civil wars, the type that is going on in Liberia.” Libya would like to trim Nigeria low.
Smoldering grievances over Nigeria’s cold war sabotage to Libya’s designs had remained latent and are seemingly forgotten for a prolonged time only to re-emerge with renewed vigour as a cause for revenge present itself. Nigeria’s inability to govern or manage its ethnic, religious and cultural pluralities had been exploited by Gaddafi to let loose his grievances that had been simmering beneath the political surface.