Today, we live in a world that is troubled by the fear of nuclear terrorism.
The Black Sea region of the world, the new republics born out of the defunct Soviet Union, is awash with illicit trafficking of nuclear and associated radioactive materials.
More troubling is the fact that these dangerous materials are being hawked in areas of turmoil in the Middle-East.
The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, which took control of the University of Mosul in Iraq, is believed to have formulated lethal explosives using nuclear material at the University lab.
ISIS has shown an incredible capacity and a lack of scruples in war as to deploy and use lethal weapons on civilian targets in the ongoing conflict.
The vision for the Nuclear Security Summit, which President Muhammadu Buhari attended along with 56 other leaders, came out of President Barack Obama’s belief that if terrorists can mount the type of attack they did on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001, they could use nuclear weapons on civil populations if they had them.
The first NSS summit Obama convened set a an ambitious agenda seeking to “strengthen the global nuclear safety architecture, especially to ensure that non-state actors do not have access to nuclear stuff”.
Among others, it aimed at increasing security around poorly guarded nuclear facilities and reactors and radioactive stuff from hospitals, and to secure cooperation among states to prevent,detect and deter smuggling of nuclear radioactive materials. This is in order to keep nuclear weapons “out of the reach of terrorists and rogue nations”.
The well-known ambition of the Islamic State in seeking nuclear materials in a bid to to use them in inflicting maximum damage in densely populated areas and fears expressed from concerns about the chaos in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Libya, described as largely being “ungoverned”, continuing to serve as bastions for the training of terrorist all make the threat of nuclear terrorism seem possible. Although there are several terrorist organizations, armed gangs and armed merchants snooping around for these weapons, ISIS have not hidden their own Weapons of Mass Destruction ambition. They gave the world a hint of this when they launched chemical attacks on civilians in Iraq and Syria.
“If these madmen ever got their hands on nuclear material, they will certainly use it to kill as many innocent people as possible,” warned President Obama.
To us here in Nigeria, nothing brings the lesson home more than the reported allegiance paid to ISIS by Boko Haram. Our supposedly home-grown terrorist organization had from then on extended its tentacles to the world’s most ruthless terrorist society.
With the alliances formed, Nigeria is clearly at a risk of terrorists making or acquiring a nuclear bomb from a nuclear weapons country and exploding on our population; there is the danger of them attacking radioactive material storages in the civilian domain, say hospitals (X-ray machines, smoke detectors etc) to create a so-called dirty bomb that can spread nuclear contaminants.
Why was it important for President Muahmmadu Buahri to attend the NSS?
Let us first talk about diplomacy and the role of Nigeria as a continental leader when it comes to nuclear technology.
This country has been active in the nuclear area for upward of 35 years, that is from the time the Murtala/Obasanjo administration initiated a nuclear program in response to fears that the then Apartheid South Africa, which had nuclear weapons could attack Nigeria given our frontline role in the quest for the liberation of that country. Two nuclear research centers were then set up, one at the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU Zaria and the other at the Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU Ile-Ife.
After South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt come next in ranking in nuclear technology activity on the African Continent.
In realpolitik in the unipolar world in which we live, a meeting called by President Obama is hard to ignore unless you are Mr. Putin or a Mugabe.
In the case of Nigeria, there is a special relationship between our leaders. There is so much love and respect for President Buhari on the Part of Obama that Secretary of State Kerry could pointedly tell our president to come forward with whatever he wanted of the administration if that can be done before the eight months when Obama’s tenure ends. President Obama was himself caught off guard saying to Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister: “Have you met President Buhari? He is doing a good job!”
In addition to all other things, this was a meeting of Presidents and leaders of Government in the World. Very serious issues of nuclear terrorism and how to protect nuclear materials were discussed at the highest level and could not have been delegated. As described by a delegate, the threat is global, the impact of a nuclear terrorist attack will be global and therefore solution must be global.
Our President, who had attended the summit for the first time, laid his own vision for nuclear safety around the globe.
If Nigeria did not participate, the rest of the World will find it difficult to believe that the Country can successfully handle the Nuclear Power Programme we are putting in place.
Nigeria is also affected because of current terrorism in the Country; we stand to get the goodwill of the world by attending and presenting our case and showing what we are doing to tackle the problem.
The participation of our president had hopefully brought national attention to bear, not only on the summit but helping to bring knowledge and awareness of the threats posed by nuclear terrorism.
As a matter of fact, this was the most successful NSS.
Gains from the Summit
As we prepare to start a program for peaceful nuclear technology, Nigeria needs to learn and exchange experience in developing capability and procedures for emergency preparedness. We must not repeat the mistakes others have made.
The country is already getting help on the development and promulgation of best practices for developing and implementing a nuclear program. Following talks and agreements at this summit, we are receiving deeper international cooperation.
The NSS is a demonstration of the complete transparency and confidence in the world on nuclear technology. The Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority under a notable nuclear scientist, Prof. Lawrence A. Dim, the Director-General led our team to share the progress report of the work we have done so far.
The whole world has come together as one to deal with terrorism. In fact, a discussion behind closed doors on nuclear terrorism based on a hypothetical scenario yielded a lot in terms of International understanding and cooperation in nuclear security. Countries with advances in this area are willing to share with all the others. Of particular interest, Israel for instance said they would share their advanced detection mechanisms for radioactive materials with all their neighbours, whether they have diplomatic relations with them or not.
Nigeria took home an portent lesson, which is that planning and strategy alone cannot combat the scourge, rather it is implementation that makes it work. The NNRA is expected to come up with plans for table-top exercises and drills from time to time to implement and test these strategies. The regular conduct of exercises and drill will help to mitigate the consequences, loss of life and resources in case of an attack.
President Buhari, who has shown a remarkable degree of support and encouragement has promised to do even more to support both NNRA the national regulatory body and the IAEA to sustain nuclear security
The country also joined the others to commit themselves to the reduction of Highly Enriched Uranium,HEU stockpiles in order to make it less attractive for terrorist to use for malicious intent in their countries.
The summit created world-wide awareness on the scourge of terrorism and for better protection and securing nuclear and radiological materials. Aside the these gains, there were bilateral meetings with other world leaders which resulted in the following gains
*There is no truth to the widespread speculation that President Obama will visit Nigeria before he ends his term but the Secretary of State John Kerry will be the one to come. Obama has earlier promised our President that he will come to Nigeria after he leaves office. An Obama visit has been the desire of Nigerians and Nigerian Leaders.
*The government of United States has made a commitment to spend 600m US$ in Nigeria arising from this visit.
*The United Nations made a commitment of 800m US$ towards the rebuilding of the North-East part of Nigeria destroyed by terrorists.
*The Government of Demark has expressed interest in investing in agricultural sector in Nigeria. This is also from one of the side meetings of the President during the NSS.
*The Japanese Government is very desirous of working with, and in assisting Nigeria. This is being worked by both parties.
*The US government through the Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and his office have pledged to support Nigeria’s effort to establish nuclear Security Infrastructure in all its ramification. They also pledged assistance in the areas of research and forensics development.
The overall achievement of the summit Is that it strengthened the nuclear security architecture at national, regional and global levels. It also broadened the ratification and implementation of international legal instruments regarding nuclear security. Participating nations agreed to to place all nuclear facilities under the highest security surveillance. They also agreed to increase individual and collective capacity to protect their borders against nuclear smuggling and radiological sources.
Nigeria gained international acceptance of its nuclear programs which are designed for peaceful purposes. But there is still much to be done by our parliament in domesticating international agreements, instruments and conventions signed by our governments. Some of these draft laws have been lingering in the legislature since 1999. “We have signed all the agreements, but Nigeria needs a new, comprehensive legal and regulatory framework” says Professor Dim.
With the progress so far achieved, the minister of Power, Babatunde Raji Fashola is optimistic that the foundation for this country’s first nuclear power plant, using the safest technology to produce 1,000 MW may be laid in four years.
With a president who takes great interest in these matters, nuclear energy may be the panacea to the unreliability of oil and gas in the provision of electricity in our country.
*Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity.
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