The United Kingdom is to dedicate a Brigade of its military to West Africa with training headquarters in Nigeria immediately after the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan next year, UK Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, said here.
Pledging its total support to Nigeria's peace Mission in Mali, General Richards said, during a courtesy call on his Nigerian counterpart, Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim, that the proposal for the Brigade is 'a framework for the long term, not just about Mali. So, the message is, we are coming back to the region as partners and as loyal friends.'
General Richards said the envisaged plan was to enable Nigeria and the United Kingdom synergise for greater cooperation.
According to the British Defence Chief, 'Mali is the immediate imperative. But as we withdraw from Afghanistan, we would have resources to do more in the region and send a brigade to West Africa, not to live here but to be a contact point to help train you, play football matches ... to rediscover what we used to have before we went to other regions.'
General Richards, accompanied by the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Andrew Pocock and other top UK military officers, said that Nigeria and Britain share an emotional relationship that is also hinged on mutual respect and understanding, spanning over the years.
He noted that despite the many challenges that come with the crisis in Mali, 'it is vital we have to resolve these issues on behalf of the sub-region and specifically in your (Nigeria's) interest too. So, we are with you 150 per cent. And we have to be transparent about how we solve it.
'Britain as a whole is committed to finding a lasting solution to this crisis but transparency is very critical in this enterprise.'
UK, General Richards stated, is also committed to assisting the situation in the area of logistic support because 'amateurs talk tactics and professionals talk logistic. We got to have transport, material. We are now on the basis of understanding where we can best help and we can now deliver together a solution to find out what is required and deliver it.'
On the new sphere of support, partnership and synergy with Nigeria, General Richards agreed that it was a departure from what used to be obtained.
Said he, 'we would have to identify where Nigerian forces have strength and where there are weak and make sure we deliver the right operation. I am of the opinion that command and control are very important. And I think we can look at how we can best develop this aspect of our joint operations, how to exercise command and control, using everything, from radio through intelligence gathering, through staff training and all that.'
Responding, Admiral Ibrahim said that the internal challenges Nigeria was facing cannot deter her from playing the big brother role to her other brother African countries in need.
Ibrahim stated: 'we have played our role and made sacrifices. We want to sustain that gracefully. We cannot afford to look the other way when another brother African country is consumed by some form of crisis. And we also know that it is in the best interest of all to solve the problem now or allow it to fester and it consume the whole of the sub-region. At the bi-literal level, Nigeria appreciates the commitment of Britain to assisting us in whatever form or shape, to enhance our participation in sub-regional enterprise.'
Admiral Ibrahim thanked General Richards for 'identifying with Nigeria by seeing into the future with us. It further demonstrates UK understanding of the challenges of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria given that the sub-region looks up to us for leadership and which we want to provide.'