The European Union believes Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram could be more successful if authorities adopt alternative methods of countering violent extremism.
The advisory came on Thursday, signaling the concessions among donors that a military pursuit of the militants is insufficient.
Nigeria has been deploying troops to the restive northeast to tackle terror groups and other crises causing insecurity, including banditry, kidnapping and secession violence. The results have been mixed, with Boko Haram increasingly kidnapping and killing people.
At a briefing, Head of the EU Delegation to Nigeria and to the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), Ketil Karlsen, advised the adoption of dialogue and legal instruments rather than dependence on military.
“We are supporting the government’s efforts to fight terrorism, radicalisation and violent extremism as well as the reform of the criminal justice system in Nigeria,” he said.
Nigeria has been one of the beneficiaries of EU security funding for the Sahel region, under the Africa Peace Facility, targeting Isis and Boko Haram insurgents, as well as rebuilding institutions that could prevent a relapse to violence.
Beyond the military
But despite running a coalition of military operations with neighbours Chad, Niger, Cameroon; the humanitarian crisis occasioned by displacements is increasing, forcing partners to rethink strategy.
Two weeks ago, a group of NGOs wrote to regional leaders in the Sahel, warning that the combat strategy against Boko Haram will be insufficient unless buoyed with a programme to dissuade people from joining.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had on April 27 also suggested a wider programme to combat Boko Haram, beyond military means.
“America will support with resources, information sharing, capacity building, equipment, amongst others,” he explained in a virtual session with journalists, after virtual meetings with Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya) and Muhammadu Buhari (Nigeria).
“I think it is fair to say that the challenges Nigeria faces when it comes to security are quite extraordinary. Whether it’s terrorism, banditry, criminality or piracy; all of these are real challenges," he said.
“The United States is committed to supporting Nigeria as it meets these challenges. What that involves primarily is helping Nigeria continue to build its capacity.’’
Mr Blinken suggested that improving the capacity of the military was crucial but he said it was necessary to deal with other factors causing conflict, violence, and extremism in the Lake Chad Basin Region.
“There, we’ve seen over time, as you know, the erosion of the Basin, including because of climate change," he said.
"That, in turn, can produce conflict over resources, new migratory patterns that put people in conflict, food insecurity, and the easier spread of disease, all of which can produce an environment in which terrorism, criminality, other forms of violence are more likely.”
Overall, and in spite of internal criticisms that Buhari had been nonchalant over the situation, Blinken said the 78-year-old ex-military leader remained focused.
“So I think it’s vital that we address these, as I know President Buhari is very focused on.”