By Ola Bello
Insurgent activity carried out by terrorist group Boko Haram (BH) in northern Nigeria continues to escalate. This has prompted many international actors – including the European Union (EU) – to consider urgent measures towards the country. Significant gaps exist in the knowledge and analysis of the evolving situation, both on the part of international actors and the Nigerian government itself. This represents a key short-term challenge which must be addressed. In addition, proposals for upgraded EU counter-insurgency assistance to Nigeria are currently being examined. However, the EU’s long-standing approach of using development aid to foster more transparent and effective use of Nigerian resources remains fundamentally sound. A shift to hard counter-insurgency support beyond the necessary tasks of strengthening intelligence-gathering and law-enforcement capacities must be avoided. Such an approach risks alienating the EU from its core comparative advantages in ‘soft’ social and development
The new EU Sahel Strategy (ESS) – focused primarily on security risks in adjoining states – did not foresee BH’s potential regional reach as a central concern. Following BH’s has recent growth – both in reach and capacity – it is crucial that the EU response is based on a clearer understanding of Nigeria’s evolving security situation. The EU must arrive at an accurate assessment, before tailoring its approach to influence micro-level dynamics in Nigeria’s north. At the same time, it must offer an enhanced strategic outreach to the country, transcending immediate counter-insurgency contingencies.
A DARKENING OUTLOOK
Once a picture of controlled chaos, the situation developing in northern Nigeria appears to be spinning out of the government’s grasp. Incompetence in the security services is exacerbated by the many competing narratives of BH’s motives and support systems. The official line – that there exists a formal alliance between BH and international jihadists (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Somalia’s Al Shabaab) – is entirely at odds with one view held by certain sections of the populace: that part of the state security apparatus is complicit in terror attacks for self-serving ends. Some sceptical analysts see the federal government’s incompetent response to BH as linked to desires within the security establishment for increased national security spending. Some even allude to plots to secure a second presidential term for incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan by exacerbating national security threats.
Regardless of these differences, many recent EU policy discussions have focused on potential forms of assistance to the Nigerian security sector. Yet the West African country does not neatly lend itself to generalised insights, as proven by the existing knowledge on Security Sector Reform (SSR) as a counter-insurgency strategy. Elsewhere, SSR support has focused on active or retired military personnel and their prospective roles in counter-insurgency as a possible entry point for international action. Policy interventions based on this approach are clearly unsuitable in Nigeria: a whole generation of top Nigerian security officials have long viewed early retirement as an opportunity to expand private business interests by utilising government contacts and connections. Part of