Nigeria’s security crisis: Under Tinubu, continuity will lead to calamity
President Tinubu’s response to Nigeria’s security crisis so far signals much of the same inaction. Should the UK intervene?
Nigeria may have a new president, but the challenges facing the country are all too familiar. In his inauguration speech, President Tinubu committed to make security his administration’s top priority, repeating the Panglossian pledge unfulfilled by his two predecessors.
Almost a decade after the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok sparked international outrage, Nigeria’s escalating security crisis shows no sign of abating. The number of abductions has now reached epidemic proportions, becoming a lamentable and totemic feature of Nigeria’s rampant criminality. The social, economic, and religious causes of Intercommunal violence remain unaddressed. Meanwhile, Nigeria finds itself at the nexus of the transnational terrorism networks destabilising the Sahel.
President Tinubu’s speech followed a depressingly predictable pattern. Despite the evident urgency of the security situation and the prominence of the issue throughout a protracted election campaign, his address made clear that he has no plan. Promises to reform Nigeria’s security doctrine and architecture were devoid of any detail, and his pledge to increase investment in security unquantified.
Nigerian leaders cannot afford to temporise. Nor can they continue the current ineffective and disjointed approach to national security. Addressing the crisis will require a level of resources, imagination, and international collaboration that have been hitherto absent.
The UK has been a longstanding, if hesitant partner of successive Nigerian governments since independence. For too long, it has pursued a development-led strategy in Nigeria, staying clear of military and security cooperation beyond the tokenistic bilateral Security and Defence Partnership which has had a negligible impact on the ground. This must change.
Whilst Nigeria’s human rights records make it a problematic partner, Britain has a decisive role to play in preventing the country descending from fragile to failed state. Delivering effective security sector reform is key to cultivating the police, security services, and military that Nigeria urgently needs. This is one of many areas where British expertise could make the difference.
However, there is little to suggest the UK is affording Nigeria the priority it deserves. The cost-of-living crisis and stubbornly high inflation have limited the UK’s ability to wield international influence. Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine has rightly taken centre-stage. Despite these competing policy priorities, the UK can ill-afford to neglect the situation in Nigeria.
Whilst it boasts Africa’s largest economy, the country is also home to the world’s largest population of people living in extreme poverty. Around a third of Nigerians are unemployed, with the absence of economic opportunity fuelling terrorism, emigration, and insecurity, all of which threaten Britain’s national security. The UK government cannot remain passive in the face of mounting instability in Nigeria. Nor can it afford to hope that the new administration will succeed where its predecessors failed.
There is nothing to suggest that the new Nigerian government has the will or imagination to stem the tide. Britain’s strategic intransigence towards Nigeria must end. It is time for the UK to recognise that it has real interests at stake in Nigeria, as well as the ability to affect change. All that is missing is the political will to act. And time is running out.