French President Francois Hollande and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari agreed to strengthen military cooperation and work with the West African country’s neighbors in an stepped-up effort to crush Boko Haram.
Buhari said the EU and others had pledged 916 million euros ($1.035 billion) to help rebuild Nigeria from the impacts of the Islamic militant group, which among other things has displaced more than 2 million people in the country’s northeast.
The leaders spoke in the capital, Abuja, on Saturday following a summit also attended by the heads of state from Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin, and representatives of the U.S., U.K and European Union. One of the meeting’s goals was to help orchestrate the safe return of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted in April 2014.
“On the issue of Boko Haram, when there is a threat to a country in Africa, there is a threat to France,” Hollande told reporters after saying that France will share intelligence, help with counterinsurgency training, and provide equipment to those fighting the group.
The seven-year conflict waged by Boko Haram to impose its version of Shariah, or Islamic law, has killed thousands and caused at least $9 billion in damage, according to government estimates. After being driven out of large expanses of territory it held a year ago, the jihadist group has resorted to suicide bombings and massacres in remote villages. Violence has spilled over to Nigeria’s neighbors, including Chad.
While Boko Haram has been weakened by better cooperation among countries in the region, the group remains a threat, Hollande said. The Abuja talks followed a high-level regional security meeting in Paris two years ago.
“We must take the opportunity this summit presents to evaluate the successes we have achieved, consolidate the gains, identify any shortcomings we have experienced, and then draw important lessons,” said Buhari.
A joint force from Cameroon and Nigeria this week struck a blow against Boko Haram with the capture of leader Boukar Kaou and five of his aides during a raid in northeastern Nigeria during which 58 militants died, a Cameroon government spokesman said. No soldiers were killed and 46 hostages were freed, including 18 women and 28 children.
France intervened in the fight against Islamist militants in the Lake Chad Basin region at the start of 2013, and now has about 3,000 soldiers deployed in the Sahel from Mali to Niger and Chad.
The U.K. plans to train almost 1,000 Nigerian military personnel for counter-insurgency measures, Sky News reported on Saturday, citing Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. A promise of 40 million pounds ($57.5 million) to fight Boko Haram came days after Prime Minister David Cameron called Nigeria “fantastically corrupt.”
Before Saturday’s meetings, Hollande signed other agreements with Nigeria, an OPEC member and Africa’s largest economy, for technical, scientific and cultural cooperation and a treaty to support the country’s agricultural industry.
“We are aware of the needs in Nigeria,” Hollande said. “French companies can help meet these needs.”