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PSJ UK welcomes strengthened UK-Nigeria Defence Partnership as dialogue concludes

British and Nigerian National Security Advisers met over three days in February to review for the first time the progress made on the 2018 security partnership arrangement signed in Abuja by Prime Minister Theresa May and President Muhammed Buhari.

The joint partnership agreement committed both nations to promote mutual defence and security.

The dialogue took place between 31 January and 2 February in London. UK and Nigeria enjoy a deeply collaborative and long-standing security and defence relationship, underpinned by shared history, mutual trust and Commonwealth principles. These include democratic governance and respect for international humanitarian and human rights law. Both countries also have a shared desire to support regional and international peace and security.

However, insecurity is escalating in each of Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones. It puts governments of both nations very much in the ‘people’s dock’ accused of being either unwilling or unable to defend Africa’s most populous nation. Nigeria’s own leaders have the additional charge of failing to execute their internationally recognised duty to protect their citizens.

Both governments have now committed to deepening the partnership in the face of complex and evolving global threats that do not respect international borders. These include terrorism, conflict, human trafficking, serious and organised crime, drug trafficking, cyber-crime and piracy.

They have agreed to enhance existing cooperation in the following areas:

· civilian policing;

· civilian-led security and civil-military co-operation;

· human rights;

· women and youth, peace and security;

· defence co-operation and maritime security;

· serious and organised crime, drug trafficking, human trafficking and border security;

· countering terrorism and violent extremism.

Both UK and Nigeria are set to embed a “mutual accountability approach” into their cooperation, which will encourage Nigerians in the UK diaspora to question the UK government about Nigeria’s security, and vice versa.

The talks affirmed the importance of the Nigerian police’s primary role in domestic law enforcement, and keeping the peace. Nonetheless, it remains vitally important that reforms are comprehensive. Too much of Nigeria has been written off as ‘ungoverned spaces’.

‘Unknown gunmen’ have wreaked havoc on too many communities in these spaces, snuffing out innocent lives that should be contributing to the country’s development.

The United Kingdom is to provide a package of assistance in support of policing reform in Nigeria. This will include technical assistance, training and advice, exploring the potential to support models of policing in post-conflict areas.

PSJ UK and the rest of civil society will be keeping a watchful eye on how well they deliver on these commitments.

Jihadi-led insurgencies are to be a particular focus, helping to unscramble complex inter-linked socio-economic and religious factors. It is not helpful that both governments refer to such multi-faceted phenomena simply as ‘banditry’ or ‘clashes’.

Further cooperation between the UK Armed Forces and Nigeria’s Defence Special Operations Force are to explore options for responding to the shared threat of terrorism, helping to build Nigerian capacity in the face of their peculiar security challenges. The UK will share its experience of a multi-agency approach to terror. It would also share insight on terrorist financing, trans-border movements and the illegal movement of small arms and light weapons. This will particularly affect the North- East region of Nigeria.

But PSJ UK believe it is of paramount importance to remove the mutual blinkers regarding the North-East and begin to see the full picture. We believe there is a religious agenda to replace Nigeria’s secular government with one based on new rules. Religiously motivated militias are already collecting taxes and levies in communities across swathes of the North. They will continue to expand without a more realistic and holistic approach.

The joint commitment to continue working together in support of an integrated strategy that addresses the underlying drivers and vulnerabilities to violent extremism remains essential. The promised support from the UK in refining its counter-terrorism crisis response preparations is also very welcome.

Both parties recognised the humanitarian impact of the conflict in North-East Nigeria, and they agreed on the importance of protecting civilians. This will include through the safe, voluntary and sustainable relocation and resettlement of internally displaced people (IDPs). However, PSJ believe this should have gone further to cater for people who have little faith in a safe return home. We are calling for the option that fully respects the human right to a family life, and which offers a new start in a safer part of the country. They fear being abandoned in IDP camps or simply left to fend for themselves.

Three years after the 2018 Partnership was signed, impunity still prevails. No perpetrators of violence have been caught, tried and convicted; yet stories abound of communities being encouraged to accept and re-integrate so-called ‘repentant terrorists’. Justice is often a prerequisite to peace. We therefore call for the UK to prioritise its support for victims ahead of the rehabilitation and reintegration of criminals.

The joint communiqué released by the parties says it recognises the importance of an efficient, fair and effective justice system for victims of conflict. Nigeria, it says, commits to develop and implement a transitional justice framework, to prioritise the implementation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act across States. Nigeria commits to take steps to progress cases promptly, including trials of those accused of terrorism offences, to provide justice for victims. The United Kingdom offers to share technical advice and experience in support of these commitments. Once again, we aim to hold the feet of both governments to the fire in delivering on this.

One of the most lucrative and growing illicit sectors of economic activity in Nigeria is kidnapping.

The United Kingdom and Nigeria affirmed their shared objective to reduce kidnaps in Nigeria. They committed to furthering cooperation on assessing issues of kidnapping, and to create a fusion cell of all relevant agencies working on kidnaps. The UK committed to provide training and support through the delivery of ‘kidnap management and negotiation courses’, as well as sponsoring a National Kidnap Conference in Nigeria.

PSJ believes these are laudable aims, but if they are going to convince parents of children in conflict-ridden Northern Nigeria to send their children to school, they will need to be backed up with resources and actions that deliver results.

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