An Assessment Of Britain’s Relations With Nigeria In 2018

Sola Tayo is a BBC journalist, a Senior Associate Fellow at the Conflict Studies And Analysis Project at the Global Initiative For Civil Stabilisation, and an Associate Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs/Chatham House. Sola tweets via @tayos02.

Conflict Studies And Analysis Project’s content does not contain information of a classified or otherwise official nature, neither does the content represent the position of any governmental or non governmental entity.

Summary: Nigeria, one of Africa’s largest economies is facing several internal security threats. Violence has devastated the northeast in the form of an insurgency with Islamic State linked groups while bloody resource based conflicts have at varying times wreaked havoc on the oil and agriculture industries and contributed to wide-scale outbreaks of violence.

Nigeria has traditionally played a role in conflict resolution and its military has been deployed on peacekeeping operations across the continent. But Nigeria’s military has been increasingly deployed to tackle its own internal conflicts. Underfunded ad overstretched,  its military at times struggles to battle better equipped militants.

Although Nigeria is considered a regional powerhouse, it receives a lot of assistance from its western allies – the United Kingdom, the United States and France.

This paper discusses the defence and security relationship between Nigeria and the United Kingdom in 2018.

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Since gaining its independence in 1960, Nigeria has maintained strong relations with the United Kingdom, its former colonial master. The United Kingdom is now one of Nigeria’s strongest allies and as such its security issues are of great concern to London. Nigeria’s location on the edge of the Sahel – a region that has seen an alarming rise in the activity of Islamic State linked insurgents – leave it vulnerable to cross border activity by insurgents. Its struggles with home grown insurgents are considered a potential threat to global security. The UK, like many of Nigeria’s allies, is worried that the increased presence of the Islamic State in the country could become a threat way beyond Nigeria’s borders.

2018 was an important year for British-Nigerian official relations. Of particular significance was the visit of the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, to Abuja and (Nigeria’s commercial capital) Lagos in August. Nigeria was one of three African countries (including Kenya and South Africa) visited by Mrs May as part of a mission to reset the United Kingdom’s relations with former colonies in Africa as it prepares to leave the European Union this year.

The focus of her visit was to discuss improving bilateral relations between the two countries. Security was very much on the agenda and both countries signed a defence and security agreement[1].

In addition the UK’s Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, visited Nigeria in November.  He reiterated the UK’s commitment to the agreement stressing that it was in his country’s interest to help keep Nigeria secure to avoid insurgents establishing a caliphate and plotting attacks against the West.[2]

Nigeria is a key area for defence engagement for the UK and most of the work involves training and intelligence sharing. The British Army and Royal Air Force send Short Term Training Teams (STTTs) to provide infantry training to the Nigerian Army and Air Force.

Most of the UK’s work in Nigeria is focussed on the North East where the insurgency by insurgent groups has claimed more than 100,000 lives since 2009[3]. The insurgency has also displaced more than 2 million Nigerians and, in 2016, put more than 5 million people in the region at risk of food shortages when aid workers were unable to enter the region with supplies[4].

 The United Kingdom says the defence and security agreement will transform the way both countries work together to combat shared threats. The UK will expand its current programme of training for Nigeria’s military as well as offering a broader supply of equipment.

The provision of training and equipment is centred around protecting soldiers from the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and includes the gifting of a range of £775,000 worth of counter IED equipment to the Nigerian army.

The UK also pledged to – for the first time – train full army units (as opposed to the current system where individual soldiers are trained) before they are deployed to the North East.

The UK has avoided providing Nigeria with arms because of allegations of human rights abuses by its military so the Prime Minister’s pledge to review this will give the Nigerian army a boost in its fight against the militants.

Education has suffered as a result of the insurgency.  Schools have been destroyed or closed, there is a chronic shortage of teachers (many have fled) and there are few crisis response systems in place to protect civilians from attacks by terrorists. Under the agreement both countries will work together on a £13 million programme to educate 100,000 children living in the affected areas of the region.

The UK under this agreement, committed to help Nigeria to implement a crisis response mechanism to help civilians keep safe. In addition the UK has offered to help with teacher training in conflict zones.The United Kingdom also hopes its investment in education will help to reduce the ability of insurgent groups to attract impressionable people by engaging communities to counter the propaganda used as a recruitment tool.

The agreement also encompasses cooperation on improving policing (which is chronically under-resourced in Nigeria), tackling kidnapping, human trafficking and other organised crime, corruption (through the creation of a civil asset recovery task force to help recover stolen assets) and the ongoing issue of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

The UK’s Defence Secretary in 2018, also announced the establishment of the UK’s first specialist army training team to tackle sexual violence and the use of female and child suicide bombers.  The team will primarily work in east Africa where the militant group Al-Shabaab has brutalised civilian populations in Somalia and the region. It is expected that afterwards the training will expand to Nigeria which has seen a rise in the use child and female suicide bombers by Boko Haram insurgents.

Nigeria is also experiencing another devastating conflict in the form of violent clashes between farmers and cattle herders.  Although the roots of the violence is largely resource based, the demographic of the parties involved and the way it has been reported by the media has led to it being labelled a conflict based on religion.

The herder/farmer violence is said to have claimed at least 2000 lives in 2018 alone[5]. The outbreaks of violence are not new but have taken an increasingly bloody turn in recent times.  So concerned is the UK that British parliamentarians – through a cross party parliamentary group on religious freedom –  have been engaged in debates on the subject.

The UK parliamentarians – many of who see it as a conflict based on religious discrimination – are pressuring UK government ministers to get tough on Nigeria for not doing enough to protect mainly (but not exclusively) Christian farmers against violence from armed Muslim herders from the Fulani ethnic group.

Although a reaction to the farmer/herder violence has yet to form a part of the UK’s engagement with Nigeria, it has been the purpose of visits to affected areas by UK parliamentarians.  The UK’s Minister for Africa said it was something she and the Prime Minister discussed with president Buhari and during their visit to Nigeria[6].

At the end of 2018 the UK Foreign Secretary commissioned a review into the persecution of Christians around the world[7].  The review will cover particular countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Officials from the Foreign Office have said the aim of the review is to eventually produce policy recommendations to protect religious minorities.

It is expected that Nigeria will be one of the countries studied in the review – despite Christianity not being a minority religion.

Last year saw a lot of activity and interest in Nigeria and the Sahel region from the United Kingdom, as it seeks to increase its footprint and extend its influence in Nigeria’s immediate region.

 

End Notes:

[1]UK. UK And Nigeria Step Up Cooperation To End Boko Haram Threat. Retrieved from;

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-and-nigeria-step-up-cooperation-to-end-boko-haram-threat

 

[2] Daily Mail. British Defence Secretary Warns Nigerian Jihadists Pose Growing Threat To Britain. Retrieved from: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6404117/Defence-Secretary-warns-jihadists-Nigeria-pose-growing-threat-Britain.html

 

[3] Premium Times. 100,00 Killed In Boko Haram Conflict. Retrieved from:

https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/223399-shocking-revelation-100000-killed-two-million-displaced-boko-haram-insurgency-borno-governor-says.html

 

[4] https://www.unocha.org/story/five-things-know-about-crisis-nigeria

 

[5] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/12/nigeria-government-failures-fuel-escalating-conflict-between-farmers-and-herders-as-death-toll-nears-4000/

[6] “Colleagues have asked about the role of the UK Government, who are of course extremely concerned about the violence. It is destroying communities and poses a grave threat to Nigeria’s stability, unity and prosperity. It poses significant risks to the peaceful conduct of next year’s important presidential elections; so we take every opportunity to raise our concerns with the Nigerian Government at every level.

When the Prime Minister and I were in Nigeria in August, she discussed the issue with President Buhari, and I was able to raise it with the Vice-President and Foreign Minister.”    — https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-11-27/debates/818A5775-5E16-4C15-84CB-8DA497FD0FBB/NigeriaArmedViolence(RuralCommunities)

 

[7] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/foreign-secretary-announces-global-review-into-persecution-of-christians

 

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