Nigeria ‘in time of peril’ over Buhari, others, International crisis group warns

A new International Crisis Group, ICG report has urged the European Union, EU to step in and help address Nigeria’s challenges, which include President Muhammadu Buhari’s protracted illness, lingering agitation for Biafra and Boko Haram insurgency.

The report, which ICG published, July 20, as an additional update to its 2017 outlook, said: “these emergencies have put Nigeria in a time of uncertainty and peril.”

The ICG is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization with headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

The group is involved in over 70 areas of conflict or potential conflict on many continents.

Its board has key figures including Jean-Marie Guéhenno, who served as the UN Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations between 2000 and 2008.

Some Nigerians, including Lagos-lawyer, Ayo Obe, and retired banker, Fola Adeola, are also on the board of the ICG.

Kernel of report

“For the European Union, EU, which is already largely engaged in the Niger Delta and the North East, this means that it should also watch closely political, social and security developments in other regions in Nigeria, and work with other international actors to push for much-needed reforms that will address these challenges,” the report said.

President Buhari has not been seen in public since May 7, 2017, when he was airlifted to London on his second medical trip this year.

Altogether, he has spent some 125 days abroad receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness in 2017. The presidency has not said when the president is likely to return.

Government officials and the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC have dismissed concerns that Mr. Buhari’s absence could be taking a toll on government activities.

They argue that Acting President Yemi Osinbajo is in control of presidential powers as delegated to him by Mr. Buhari while he was proceeding on the medical leave.

While the acting president has signed a series of executive orders aimed at steering the troubled economy on the path of growth, critics express worry about his failure to swear-in two ministerial candidates that were confirmed by Senate more than two months ago.

In its report, the ICG said a succession tussle had already kicked off and could prove harmful to the country’s peace if not carefully managed.

“Some of Buhari’s Northern and Muslim loyalists are ill-disposed toward Osinbajo, from the South West and Christian,” the conflict prevention organisation said.

To address tensions around the crisis the ICG suggested three solutions the EU and other interested allies should pursue:

• Encourage transparency about the president’s health as a matter of public accountability to dispel rumours of a Northern conspiracy to keep him in power even if incapacitated;

• Send strong private or public messages to both military and regional political leaders, against unconstitutional actions, particularly military intervention and;

• Press all parties to abide by constitutional provisions, particularly to achieve a smooth transition if Buhari is unable to continue in office.

Secessionists agitations

The ICG expressed concerns about growing agitation by separatist groups, especially those calling for the separation of South-East region from Nigeria to create a new state of Biafra.

The report said a recent threat issued by some northern youth for the expulsion of Igbo from their region should not be allowed to collide with the existing anger of secessionists in the South-East.

The ICG recognised Mr. Osinbajo’s consultations “with both northern and south-eastern leaders to defuse tensions,” but warned that “there could be violence and large-scale population displacements,” if the northern youth live up to their threat.

Similarly, any attempt to forcibly evict Igbo or other southerners could spark a new wave of attacks against oil installations in the Niger-Delta, the ICG warned.

“Attacks against Igbos or other southerners in the north might lead some delta militants to target oil companies, either to pressure the federal and northern state governments to stop anti-Igbo violence, or to cover criminal activities.”

To prevent any outbreak of violence from the ethnic and tribal tensions, the ICG said the EU or its agents in Nigeria should:

• Encourage the government to strengthen measures to protect citizens, working with the military, police but also community leaders and associations;

• Engage with leaders of relevant south-eastern, northern and Niger Delta youth groups, and organise forums with the goal of halting inflammatory rhetoric, withdrawing quit orders and publicly denouncing violence and;

• Urge the National Assembly (federal parliament), presently divided over the 2014 National Conference Report and its recommendations, to commence deliberations on suggested federal reforms that could help prevent conflicts and curb separatist agitation.

Boko Haram

The group said Boko Haram remains a serious security threat to Nigeria, despite government’s claims that the insurgency had been curbed.

“The conflict’s humanitarian fallout is worsening: about 4.5 million people lack sufficient food,” the report stated.

It added that food and other logistics to internally displaced persons were still being hampered by the activities of terrorists in the Northeast.

“The Borno state government’s shelving of it’s earlier plan to close all IDP camps by 29 May underscored that large areas of the state are still unsafe,” it added.

The group also decried the slow pace of donors in redeeming their pledge.

The United Nations has managed to raise about 38% of its $1.05 billion targeted expenditure for the region. And it remained unclear how much of the N60 billion pledged by donors in Norway earlier this year had been redeemed.

To neutralise the damage of the eight-year insurgency, the ICG said the EU should take the following approaches:

• Prod the government to intensify military and other security efforts to ensure safer humanitarian access;

• Prioritise humanitarian assistance with operational presence, fast-track food assistance, and cash-based transfers wherever feasible;

Farmer-herdsmen clashes

“Clashes across the central belt and spreading southward, are killing some 2,500 people a year,” the report said, adding that the dispute had probably become deadly and in the scale of Boko Haram.

The ICG said recent anti-grazing laws in some states were put in place there following federal government’s inaction but added that such solutions could be counterproductive.

“Because state governments do not control the police and other security agencies, community vigilantes might be mobilised to enforce these bans, which could spark violence, particularly in Benue and Taraba states,” the ICG said.

On August 29, 2016, Governor Ayo Fayose signed a bill that prohibited open grazing into law in Ekiti State, becoming the first governor to do so in the country.

Mr. Fayose said violators could face terrorism charges and restricted herdsmen activities to some areas and banned grazing after 6 pm.

On May 22, 2017, Governor Samuel Ortom also assented to a similar bill against open grazing in Benue State, where incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers had left nearly 1,300 people dead in recent years.

The legislature in Taraba followed suit and passed an anti-open grazing bill on July 19, 2017, and it is expected that Governor Darius Ishaku would sign it into law.

The ICG suggested some temporary solutions which the EU could pursue in its intervention in this area:

• Urge state governments to exercise caution in considering – or enforcing – these new laws, and urge cattle herders’ and dealers’ associations wishing to protest to use lawful channels;

• Press the federal government and its security agencies to strengthen measures to detect and pre-empt potential unrest among both community vigilantes as well as herders and cattle dealers, particularly in Benue and Taraba states.

“In the longer term, EU member states should support, through funding, capacity building and technical aid, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture’s proposed National Ranching Development Plan, which seeks to promote cattle breeding only in ranches, as a permanent solution to herder-farmer friction,” the ICG said.