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Nigeria faces its ‘Iraq and Syria’ moment

Ayo Adedoyin
December 8, 2020

Increasing levels of domestic terrorism in Nigeria are threatening the potential for future investment and development in a promising region. The UK should be viewing the escalation of events closely and with great concern, and support bolstering security measures in the country, argues Ayo Adedoyin.

The last Saturday of November saw Boko Haram's brutal murder of over 110 farm workers near Maiduguri. Six others were wounded and eight went missing, including several women. Media coverage of Nigeria's atrocities is becoming increasingly global.

In the wake of Nigeria's deadliest terrorist attack in 2020, Nigeria's former President Olusegun Obasanjo warned his country of internal security threats such as a rampant Boko Haram and Islamic State.

Saturday's tragic events near Maiduguri show how necessary strong security is in a region where the threat of an ISIS comeback on the level of Syria or Iraq is very real. Protecting Africa's most vulnerable citizens, many of them Christians and other religious minorities, and averting the risk of continental collapse, must be top of the Western agenda. The potential is high for mass illegal immigration into Europe of the kind seen in 2015.

Indeed, it is starting to look like a question of when the West should intervene, rather than 'if'.

Mr Obasanjo, who addressed the annual conference of a human rights charity I lead, PSJ UK, has decried Nigeria's "internal security issues" of Boko Haram, banditry and kidnapping, and is concerned about challenges facing investors in the country.

His worry is that possible investors in Africa's largest economy, domestic or foreign, will be discouraged by the internal security issues of Islamist terrorism and widespread violence. Nigeria's youth are understandably frustrated about the prospects for their future, not least with such controversies as the recent 'End Sars' protests rocking the country.

The UK's Minister for Africa, Mr James Duddridge, also addressed the event on the challenges facing Nigeria and how they can best be resolved. The UK's help is crucial in dealing with West Africa's gravest security threat, rampant Islamist terrorism.

Recent ICON evidence suggests 100,000 Nigerians have been killed by Islamic State, Boko Haram or militant Fulani herdsmen since the year 2000, with all three groups heavily controlling the north east and Middle Belt of the country.

Such carnage could not happen without a degree of collusion with local government or military officials, particularly given the extent of seemingly wasted foreign aid pumped into Nigeria year on year to solve the crisis.

Earlier this year, the UK Government revealed it will sanction high-profile individuals with a track record of human rights abuses around the world, a measure strongly supported by PSJ UK.

Already impacting some Saudis and Russians, the sanctions regime started this summer. It aims to deter officials from committing serious human rights violations and hold those that do accountable.

While a ComRes poll found international groups such as the UN and the Nigerian government are the bodies seen as most likely to speak out (49 per cent each) and take action (44 per cent and 51 per cent, respectively) against growing violence towards Christians in Nigeria, it also showed strong support for a UK sanctions regime.

Fifty-eight per cent of Brits support sanctioning human rights abusers, with 53 per cent demanding that foreign aid to Nigeria be made conditional on the protection of vulnerable Christians.

The Nigerian Government must listen to the cries of its people, thoughtfully and accurately expressed by Mr Obasanjo, and take the internal security crisis much more seriously, as it fast risks becoming external. Africa's freedom, political stability and international trading prospects are at stake.

We would greatly appreciate the support of the UK to bolster security measures in Nigeria. We urge them to do as much as possible to help roll back the emerging caliphate, which is ruining lives, communities and whole nations in one of the world's most promising regions.

At PSJ UK's conference, Dr Gloria Puldu of the LEAH Foundation, advocating on behalf of Nigeria's captive poster girl Leah Sharibu, is set to plead for her release from Boko Haram almost three years on.

For the sake of Leah, her family, and a world at risk from a new caliphate, let's not make her wait any longer.

Ayo Adedoyin is Chief Executive of PSJ UK, a humanitarian organisation campaigning against the persecution of Christians and other minorities in Nigeria.
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