Nigeria plays for status in Sierra Leone

WHEN forces acting in the name of democracy overthrow dictatorships, the international community is supposed to applaud. But when a Nigerian- led peace-keeping force chased Major Johnny Paul Koromoa's military junta from Freetown, the world responded with only a polite murmur.

Johnny Koromoa's eight-month-old regime took charge of Sierra Leone in a military coup and had earned a reputation for brutality, corruption and theft. The trouble is, the same things are often said of Nigeria.

Under General Sani Abacha's military rule, Nigeria has killed or imprisoned hundreds of dissidents. The execution of the ethnic Ogoni writer Ken Saro- Wiwa and eight fellow activists on charges of murder in 1995 was widely condemned abroad and prodded the United Nations, America and most Western countries, including Britain, into imposing limited sanctions.

But thanks to its ability to siphon off the country's massive oil wealth, Nigeria's ruling elite has felt able to defy the world. So, while no one mourns the passing of Major Koromoa and his thugs, now on the run in the north of the country, foreign diplomats in the region say their governments feel unable to congratulate Nigeria too publicly.

Some worry that Nigeria's hard-headed rulers may well be after more than Brownie points in Sierra Leone, which is still the dominant political and military power in West Africa. Many diplomats now believe the Sierra Leone operation could be part of a move to strengthen Nigeria's strategic position.

The expansion of Nigeria's military presence in Sierra Leone comes at a time when it is reducing its peace-keeping force in neighbouring Liberia. Originally deployed in 1990, the multi-national force from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) was dominated from the outset by Nigeria, which provided more than 10,000 troops. Sierra Leone has had its own peace-keepers from the group ever since the Liberian civil war spilled across the border in 1991.

Foreign observers believe this month's military offensive could have been intended to achieve several goals. Apart from securing a continued Nigerian presence in the western tip of Africa, it reinforced Nigeria's standing as the big player in Ecowas. It handed a rare, if muted, public relations victory to the military government in Nigeria and won Nigeria intense popularity with the inhabitants of Freetown.

It may also have guaranteed Nigeria's military elite a say in the future exploitation of Sierra Leone's mineral wealth. Apart from big deposits of bauxite and titanium dioxide, the diamond fields around Kono are estimated to yield gems worth more than pounds 150m a year.

The real question is how dependent the restored President Kabbah will be on Nigerian soldiers to uphold his rule. Major Koromoa's ousted army is already mounting bloody raids on the cities in the interior. According to Ecomog's Nigerian chief of staff General Abdu One Mohammad, the peace- keepers plan to pursue them into the bush and wipe them out.

"If you have a snake and you just hit the tail you are wasting your time," he said. "You have to hit the head as well."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all