Events are bringing home to the government of Nigeria the potential for mischief that Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi has achieved with so-far successful military intervention in neighboring Chad.
Just as Libyan-provided, Soviet-built weaponry was giving victory to the forces of Chad's President Goukhouni Woddei in the long-drawn-out civil war in that country, Islamic fundamentalists were going on the rampage in the important northern Nigerian city of Kano.
The fundamentalists are of a sect of migrants who have come into northern Nigeria from Chad and Cameroon. They have non-traditional weapons (that is, guns rather than spears and bows-and-arrows), the possible origin of which raises suspicions.
Violence first erupted in Kano a week ago. But according to Lagos radio, the trouble had not ended by Dec. 23, and Nigerian President Shehu Shagari (himself a Muslim) consequently had issued orders to the Nigerian Air Force to be prepared to help bring the situation under control.
These orders were being given while a summit meeting of 12 members of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was in session in Lagos considering the situation in Chad. The meeting originally had been summoned to consider the effectiveness of an earlier OAU call for the cease-fire in the Chad civil war.
But what the African leaders found themselves faced with was a cease-fire other than the one intended -- one achieved by the weight of Libyan intervention on the side of Mr. Woddei. The latter's rival, former Defense Minister Hissein Habre was put to flight.
Opening the Lagos summit Dec. 23, the OAU President, Sierra Leone's head of state, Siaka Stevens, said (without specifically mentioning Libya) that in Chad the "foreign presence must be eliminated."
As for the simultaneous distrubances in Kano, there is neither confirmation nor even allegation that Colonel Qaddafi is directly responsible for them. But analysts have long believed that one of the Libyan leader's main aims in gaining a foothold in Chad, right down to its capital N'djamena, was to secure a beach-head in Muslim sub-Saharan Africa. This would give him a base in black Africa from which to spread his own peculiar brand of Muslim fundamentalism.
In July of this year, Senegal broke off diplomatic relations with Libya on grounds that Colonel Qaddafi was harboring and backing a dissident Muslim leader from Senegal who wanted to turn the country into an Islamic state. Early November, Gambia followed suit in breaking with Colonel Qaddafi because of the latter's alleged instigation of troubles in that country. And later in November , Ghana, Too, ordered the Libyan Embassy in Accra to close and sent its occupants packing.
President Senghor of Senegal, in effect the dean of French-speaking African leaders, has accused Colonel Qaddafi of trying to exploit the Tuareg tribesmen to his advantage -- and to the detriment of the existing governments of French-speaking Mali and Niger. The Tuaregs are a distinctive, partly nomadic Muslim ethnic group whose homelands are astride several national boundaries on the southern edge of the Sahara.
After Colonel Qaddafi had criticized the governments of Niger and Mali for their treatment of Tuaregs, 10,000 people demonstrated against the Libyan leader in Niamey, the Niger capital, Dec. 1.
Just before Upper Volta President Lamizana was overthrown by his army in November, he blamed a wave of strike on "power-hungry politicians" who were being manipulated from outside. He did not say, from precisely where, but most people assumed he meant Libya. There is not hint, incidentally, that the Libyans were behind Mr. Lamizana's actual ouster: the Army impaparently removed him because it was impa! tient at his inability to cope with the situation.
The French-speaking countries along the rim of the Sahara look for the most part to France for their ultimate protection. But Nigeria (not to be confused with Niger) is an entirely different question. It is the giant of black Africa, with a population of perhpas 80 million. It has tremendous economic potential because of its oil and is, after Saudi Arabia, the second biggest foreign supplier of oil to the United States. In a word, it is big enough to stand on its own feet and face Colonel Qaddafi.
But whether or not the Libyan leader had any finger in the current trouble in Kano, Nigerian Foreign Minister Ishaya Audu already was saying a month ago that his government was worried by increasing Libyan activity not only around Nigeria's borders but also within its own territory.
Back in November when the fighting was still going on in Chad, Professor Audu told The Times of London that "At this moment there are a couple of Libyans who are massively purchasing food and other materials in Maidiguri [a northern Nigerian city]. . . for shipment to Chad. This is not done with the knowledge or permission of the Nigerian government."
The foreign minister added: "I sincerely hope the Libyans will keep out of [ Nigeria]. But if they continue, we will have to take drastic action."