By Adedayo Akinwale
The United States will assist Nigeria with roughly $50 million in planned security assistance under its “global train and equip” programme, a new report by the Congressional Research Services (CSR) has revealed.
CSR operates solely and at the behest of the United States Congress.
In the report titled: “Nigeria: Current Issues and U.S. Policy,” the US expressed concerns with human rights abuses by the Nigerian security personnel, which it said have constrained US security assistance, including counterterrorism aid.
The report said: “In addition to funds administered by the State Department, Department of Defence (DOD) has notified Congress of roughly $50 million in planned security assistance for Nigeria under its ‘global train and equip’ programme, currently authorized under 10 U.S.C. 333 — considerably less than amounts provided to other Lake Chad Basin countries.”
The report recalled that in 2014, the Obama administration blocked a transfer of U.S.-manufactured military helicopters from Israel to Nigeria due to human rights concerns, but added that security cooperation increased after the 2015 inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari, who pledged to curtail and investigate abuses.
The report noted that several factors have undermined the government’s response to security challenges, which it said included equipment shortages reportedly to have hindered counter-terrorism operations, as ISWAP and Boko Haram have looted weaponry and other materiel in repeated raids on military facilities.
The report noted that a protracted Islamist conflict in the North-east and mounting inter-communal violence in the Middle Belt have strained the security apparatus weakened by “decades of unchecked corruption and spurred massive humanitarian needs”.
In the North-west, the report said, such clashes have mounted in a context of escalating insecurity marked by banditry, kidnapping for ransom, ethnic vigilantism, and inter-communal conflict that killed approximately 8,000 people and displaced 200,000 between 2011 and early 2020.
The report said that more recently, Islamist extremist groups reportedly have sought to establish themselves in the North-west, building ties with local communities, criminal gangs, and herder-affiliated militia.
It noted that conflict between farmers and herders over access to resources, crop damage and livestock theft is not a new phenomenon, but mounting demographic, ecological and socio-economic pressures have placed growing strains on intercommunal relations.
The report said that rising livestock prices have spurred organised cattle rustling and other forms of criminality, prompting herders to heavily arm themselves for self-defence and herd protection, adding that weapons used by all parties have grown more sophisticated, with arms sourced from national defence stockpiles or trafficked into the country from abroad.
It stressed that farmer-herder tensions in Nigeria often overlap with ethnic and religious cleavages, heightening the risk of escalation and complicating attempts at conflict resolution.
It said that efforts to resolve farmer-herder violence and address resource access challenges have proven ineffective to date.
On economy, the report pointed out that the collapse of global oil prices and disruptions linked to COVID-19 have dimmed Nigeria’s economic prospects.
It said it was unclear whether the twin crises may hasten or impede longstanding efforts to diversify the economy away from hydrocarbons.
The report further stressed that rising unemployment and other economic hardships appear likely to aggravate social and political tensions, particularly among Nigeria’s youthful and rapidly growing labour force.
“According to various analyses, Nigeria’s economy continues to underperform. Infrastructure gaps, policy uncertainty, chronic power shortages, and years of underinvestment in education have impeded productivity.
“Pervasive corruption drains state resources and discourages private investment. Longstanding government intervention measures such as fuel subsidies, foreign exchange controls, import restrictions, and tax exemptions have created market distortions, eroded state finances and enabled graft.
“Due to poor non-oil tax administration and high noncompliance, Nigeria has one of the world’s lowest ratios of tax revenues to GDP.
“Already in a period of low growth in the wake of a brief 2016 recession, Nigeria’s economy is expected to face its sharpest contraction in decades amid a collapse in global oil prices and economic disruptions brought on by COVID-19,” it said.
The report added that plunging oil receipts are likely to have severe consequences for state finances, stressing that allocations to federal, state and local governments from the Federation Account — a centrally administered fund of oil earnings and other state revenues — dipped in mid-2020 and may decline further as Nigeria seeks to come into compliance with production cuts mandated by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
It said: “The Buhari administration has adjusted its official exchange rate downward, a key request on the part of international lenders, and has eliminated a longstanding fuel subsidy and raised electricity tariffs. The government’s future commitment to such cost-cutting measures, which are highly unpopular among consumers, remains to be seen; Buhari’s predecessor also sought to remove gasoline subsidies, but reversed the decision after nationwide protests.”
On religious freedom issues, the report noted that Islamist extremism in the north and farmer-herder clashes in the Middle Belt have heightened US concerns over religious freedom in Nigeria, whose population is roughly half Christian half Muslim.
In 2019, the Trump administration placed Nigeria on the “Special Watch List” pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA, P.L. 105-292, as amended), finding that the government had tolerated or engaged in “severe violations of religious freedom”.
The report said that U.S. religious freedom concerns partly centre on the application of Sharia law in Nigeria’s north.
It said though Sharia courts have operated in northern Nigeria since independence in 1960, yet their jurisdiction was limited to civil law until 1999, when northern states began to extend Sharia to criminal cases.
The report decried state repression of minority Shia Muslims in northern Nigeria, which is predominately Sunni, and has garnered growing attention in recent years.