The death of Chad’s veteran President Idriss Déby Itno on Tuesday from battlefield injuries has led to an atmosphere of uncertainty and concern about the security in neighbouring Nigeria and the Lake Chad region.
68-year-old old Deby, who came to power after toppling former leader, Hissene Habre, in a rebellion in 1990, was on course for a sixth term in office after winning 79.32 per cent of April 11’s presidential election, according to provisional results announced by the electoral commission on Monday.
Deby died of injuries suffered in the frontline where Chadian troops were battling an incursion by the Libya-based Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) rebel group.
In an interview published a day earlier by Radio France Internationale, FACT leader Mahamat Mahdi Ali, revealed his forces had made a strategic withdrawal, accusing France of giving Idriss Déby an edge through reconnaissance flights and intelligence.
A Military Transition Council was immediately set up, headed by the late president’s son, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, a 37-year-old four-star general and commander of the presidential guard.
“For Nigeria, Déby’s death is not good news as the battle-hardened Chadian Army has been the only effective check on Boko Haram. While his son, Mahamat Déby Itno, is at the moment the de-facto head of the military council, there is no clear successor to Mr Déby as he was effectively the state,” observed Lagos-based SBM Intelligence.
Chad: critical security partner for Nigeria, Lake Chad
President Deby’s death and the unfolding security situation in Chad, HumAngle learnt, have made the Nigerian military raise its alert level to the maximum in preparation for a possible escalation of crisis.
On Tuesday, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said the death of Chad’s long-time ruler would surely create a big vacuum in the efforts to jointly confront the terror groups, Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Nigeria is also uncertain about Chad’s ability to sustain security cooperations with neighbours and its obligations to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF).
A senior security official informed HumAngle that the developments in Chad were a “big blow to counterinsurgency” operations in the Sahel, particularly Northeast Nigeria.
The country is a critical security and counter-insurgency partner in the Lake Chad region and Nigeria’s Northeast where Boko Haram and its splinter faction, ISWAP, are waging a bloody insurgency campaign against Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon.
The over a decade-long insurgency has recorded over 37,500 deaths and displaced over 2.5 million people in Northeast Nigeria and the Lake Chad region.
In March, the late Chadian leader held a meeting with President Buhari on bilateral issues surrounding security and Lake Chad. The discussion took place about three months after Borno state Governor, Babagana Zulum, met Deby in N’Djamena on the ongoing counter-insurgency operation.
Nigeria’s Army chief in February spoke about involving the Chadian military in offensive operations while addressing troops.
“We shall be bringing in the Chadians to ensure the annihilation of the insurgents in the North-East soonest,” he announced.
In January, last year, 1,200 Chadian troops withdrew after the end of their months-long mission fighting insurgents alongside the Nigerian military in Northern Borno.
HumAngle understands that Nigeria was expecting a Chadian contingent to arrive in northern Borno, an area that is currently experiencing a tense security situation due to a spike in ISWAP attacks.
The ongoing political turmoil in Chad, however, casts doubt on whether increased collaboration between both countries’ armed forces will take place as intended.
The involvement of Chadian troops has proven crucial to anti-terrorism efforts in Nigeria. They played a significant role in recapturing towns under Boko Haram’s control in 2015. The offensive occurred simultaneously with those launched by the Nigerian military to recapture territories lost to Boko Haram.
The headquarters of the remodelled MNJTF instituted by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council is located in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, while the MNJTF sector is based in the western Chad town of Baga-sola.
HumAngle understands that there are also concerns about the security consequence of rebels, deserters, and weapons movement around the already volatile region.
The situation in Chad, SBM Intelligence noted, could make the Lake Chad area more vulnerable to terrorist elements, thus cementing its use for staging attacks on civilians and military bases.
“[Deby’s] passing has left a big gap in a neighbouring country that is likely to have a profound impact on Nigeria’s security. Nigeria is still reeling from the southward flow of jihadists and ammunition in the wake of Muammar Gaddafi’s death in 2011. The upheaval in Chad is much closer to home and thus potentially much more significant,” the think tank said.
“The priority now is for an orderly transition to take place, along with a swift consolidation of power by Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, who has been named interim president by the transitional military council. The military must also step up its operational tempo to prevent the rebels from exploiting the power vacuum.”