This article is part of our special report Europe’s role in stopping Nigeria’s ‘silent slaughter’.
With the biggest economy in Africa, Nigeria should be a key partner for Brussels as the EU seeks to overhaul its political and trade ties with Africa. But terrorism and insecurity that plague the country continue to be a concern.
The European Commission unveiled its EU-Africa strategy in March, with peace and governance among the thematic ‘partnerships’ it wants to agree on during a six-month negotiating process between EU and African leaders that is due to culminate in an EU-African Union summit in October.
Human rights campaigners want the EU to put pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari to finally tackle two decades of terrorist attacks that have killed tens of thousands and seen Nigeria rank third out of 163 countries on the Global Terrorism Index, behind only Iraq and Afghanistan.
While Boko Haram Islamic terrorists are confined to perhaps 5% of Nigerian territory, Fulani militants operate across the country, particularly in the agricultural Middle Belt, where farmers and nomadic herders have been in a long-running conflict over land and water resources. The attacks by the Fulani and Islamic terror groups have been going on for close to two decades.
The failure by President Buhari, elected for a second four-year term in 2019, and his government to halt the killing and accusations of complicity by the government and military has fuelled the perception that Buhari is failing on security and favouring his own Fulani people, who comprise about 90% of the country’s nomadic herders.
In March, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) said it would seek to have President Buhari and his Vice President Yemi Osinbajo indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face prosecution for crimes against humanity, should the current wave of killings by armed herdsmen continue and the killers and their sponsors go unpunished.
Dr Richard Ikiebe, co-founder of the International Organisation for Peace Building and Social Justice (PSJ), says that there is “a state of denial” in Nigeria, particularly in the south of the country where the economic and political hubs are located.
Dr Ikiebe says that engaging EU policymakers remains a “work in progress”.
Yet the killings and attacks, which have left 1.8 million Nigerians internally displaced, are also one of the drivers of migration through the neighbouring Sahel region and eventually to Europe. Around 20,000 Nigerians have arrived in Europe from the Mediterranean since January 2017.
In January, a European Parliament resolution stated that “these attacks have been carried out with total impunity, with perpetrators rarely being held to account; whereas an Amnesty International report has demonstrated wilful negligence by the Nigerian Security Forces concerning the deadly attacks against farmers’ communities”.
In the accompanying debate on the floor of the chamber, EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, told EU lawmakers that the “human rights and humanitarian situation in Nigeria has significantly deteriorated”.
The EU is Nigeria’s second-largest donor, behind the United States, allocating the country €562 million through the European Development Fund (EDF) during the 2014-2020 budget period.
The question is what the EU can and is prepared to do.
“We discussed the implication of insecurity in Northeast, where an estimated 7.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and ways to ensure we come up with the best human rights conditions for victims of conflict,” said Ambassador Ketil Karlsen, Head of EU delegation to Nigeria following the most recent fifth EU-Nigeria Human Rights Dialogue in February.
In the meantime, the United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, is considering whether to create a special envoy for Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin.
Dr Ikiebe says that the EU should put “everything on the table” including the possible suspension of aid, until the Buhari government takes steps to stop the slaughter.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]