Dispatches from the Field: Final Day in Abuja
On Monday (6 March), Security Council members concluded their visiting mission to the Lake Chad Basin countries in Abuja. The day involved a meeting with the Vice-President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, as well as meetings with the UN Country Team in Nigeria, Nigerian civil society organisations, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), donors and partners, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, and female representatives of the Nigerian Senate and House of Representatives.
During the meetings, the overarching message was the complexity of the challenges facing Nigeria, in particular the conflict with Boko Haram in Nigeria’s northeast. The terrorist group remains a threat, and there is a need to alleviate and bring under control the associated humanitarian crisis, while addressing the underlying causes of this conflict. Among the root causes is acute poverty, and particularly important for overcoming this are the creation of jobs and education.
The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Edward Kallon, after presenting Nigeria’s economic and security challenges, said that there is an 18-month window to bring the crisis in northeast Nigeria under control, or it risked becoming protracted. Nigerian-based ambassadors and donors highlighted that, despite the military gains of the last two years against Boko Haram, the international community needs to take a holistic approach that simultaneously tackles the immediate challenges and underlying problems, or it will pay a much greater price in the future.
When members met Vice-President Osinbajo at the end of the day (in the absence abroad of President Muhammadu Buhari), he told them that Nigeria was committed to solving the Lake Chad Basin region crisis and preventing its spread. The military situation, however, was no longer the main challenge, although Boko Haram asymmetric attacks remained a threat. The Vice-President stressed that the most important issue now is how to deal with longer-term issues. He cited programmes to support displaced persons and reintegration, as well as to promote youth employment and education. At the meeting, Osinbajo acknowledged that abuses had occurred during counter-terrorism operations, but said Nigeria was now trying to strictly observe human rights. In their responses, several members stressed the importance of protecting human rights within counter-terrorism strategies. Osinbajo also highlighted how livelihoods had been affected by the impact of the shrinking of Lake Chad due to climate change, and expressed the hope that the mission would focus attention on the Lake Chad Basin.
One of the issues discussed during the concluding day of the mission was the access challenges for delivering humanitarian aid. In the UN country team meeting, concerns were raised about the requirement by authorities of military escorts for aid deliveries during active conflict, as this risked compromising the neutrality of relief efforts. Funding shortages were also highlighted, with members told that this has led to UN relief efforts being unable to meet the scale of needs even in the areas where there is access. At present, the UN’s 2017 humanitarian relief plan for northeast Nigeria, targeting the 6.9 million people most in need, has received – already one-quarter into the year – only $51 million, or 1.8 percent of the amount required for the year which exceeds $1 billion.
Meetings with the UN country team and Nigerian civil society groups revealed the problems of governance and corruption in Nigeria. These are issues that have contributed to northeast Nigeria’s marginalisation and underdevelopment, enabling the extremist ideology of Boko Haram to be embraced by a part of the population. When members met Minister of Budget and National Planning Udoma Udo Udoma, he elaborated on the reforms that President Buhari has pursued since his election in 2015 to tackle corruption and diversify the economy from its dependency on oil. He further sought to answer members’ questions about how Nigeria intended to fulfill the $1 billion commitment it announced for the war-torn northeast at the 24 February Oslo Donor Conference for Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin, where donor countries pledged $458 million for the crisis in 2017.
Discussions during the day highlighted Nigeria’s huge economic and demographic challenges. Abuja-based ambassadors stressed the risk that by not adequately supporting Nigeria in addressing the current crises, a revived or new insurgency could emerge that could further destabilise the region and exacerbate Europe’s refugee crisis. Nigeria was described during the day as being “too big to fail.”
Members appeared to want to build on their experience from the previous day in Maiduguri and were keen to learn more from the UN country team, civil society groups and the women legislators about how they try to address gender dimensions of the conflict, including sexual violence and exploitation, stressing the importance of empowering women.
Council members also made their first visit in ten years to ECOWAS. At a session with the Vice-President of ECOWAS, Edward Singhatey and the Secretary-General of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Ahmad Allam-Mi, members urged the creation of a common ECOWAS-ECCAS strategy to address the drivers of the Boko Haram conflict. Central Africa heads of state and government first announced they would pursue such a strategy with ECOWAS at an ECCAS summit held on 29 January 2015. The meeting afforded Singhatey the opportunity to comment on some of the other situations that both ECOWAS and the Council have been seized with: Mali, Guinea-Bissau, and The Gambia. On The Gambia, Singhatey spoke of ECOWAS’s intention to maintain a 500-strong force in the country following its recent political crisis, highlighting the financial support that ECOWAS would need for this.
Briefing on the Mission
On Thursday (8 March), the ambassadors of the three co-lead countries of the visiting mission, Francois Delattre (France), Fode Seck (Senegal), and Matthew Rycroft (UK), will brief the Council on the mission. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed may also brief. Over the course of the mission, the co-leads emphasised its objectives: to generate more attention to a conflict that has been neglected by signaling their support to the four countries they visited – Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria – in their efforts to combat Boko Haram; and to gain a better understanding of the scale of the humanitarian crisis and the root causes of the conflict. The mission seemed to impress on members the complexity of the crisis.
During the visit, members observed the progress by the four countries achieved through the MNJTF. Members seemed to have a stronger appreciation of the regional approach required for addressing the threats and problems of the Lake Chad countries
As next steps, it seems that the co-leads will seek the adoption of a draft presidential statement that covers the key messages and findings of the mission, including the need to support regional efforts to combat Boko Haram, to scale up the humanitarian response, and to address the structural causes underlining the crisis.