Root causes

Nigeria: UN Secretary General warns terror threat requires proper investment in jobs, food, security

By Kayode Aluko

Posted on May 4, 2022 13:06

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres courtesy visit to Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum in Maiduguri
United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres speaks during a courtesy visit to Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum in Maiduguri, Nigeria, May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has toured three West African countries, wrapping up his trip with a first-time visit to Nigeria where he said he would become the voice the country needs as it seeks funding to build back better after a decade-long insurgency that has crippled lives and livelihood in its northeast region. 

From Senegal, his first stop, then to Niger and finally to Nigeria, Guterres had the same message as he sought to unpack the continent’s most pressing needs: more resources to fight terror, help to fight Covid-19 and to bounce back.

“When we talk about the socio-economic situation, it is impossible not to address the war in Ukraine and its impact on Africa,” Guterres said while meeting with Senegalese President Macky Sall. The Ukrainian war, he said, “aggravates a triple crisis: food, energy, and financial, for the region and beyond”.

In the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the global food supply has been heavily disrupted as trade from both countries accounts for a reasonable percentage of some agricultural products worldwide, including fertiliser, sunflower seed oil and wheat.

In West and Central Africa, where Jihadi violence, climate change and hunger are already taking a toll on human life, more than 28 million people are “acutely food insecure”, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), with the highest levels recorded in parts of Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger.

“I have said several times that we need a reform of a global financial system that is morally bankrupt. It was designed by the rich, for the rich. As a matter of urgency, greater use must be made of all the mechanisms available for the benefit of developing countries, including medium-income countries, especially in Africa,” Guterres said in Senegal.

Multi-dimensional crisis

In Niger, Guterres spoke about a “multidimensional crisis of a rare scale” that the country is battling beyond its security challenges.

There are varying perspectives and opinions on reintegration, and the issue of stigmatisation is particularly salient

“We must fight the root causes – poverty, exclusion, impunity, food insecurity, climate crisis – which exacerbate inter-communal tensions and continue to fuel violent extremism and terrorism in many countries around the world, but also here in the Sahel,” he said, calling for a “large, urgent and coordinated international mobilisation”.

With violent extremism carried out by the Boko Haram insurgent group and its offshoot the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) now in its 12th year in Nigeria, authorities in Africa’s most populous country are now banking on a government deradicalisation, rehabilitation, and reintegration (DRR) programme, which is targeting thousands of militants who have defected from the militant group and surrendered their arms.

More than 1,600 of these fighters have now been fully reintegrated into the society, with thousands more to go, especially on the back of mass defections from the militant camps.

“The governor has told me that he would need to create new facilities able to have effective reintegration of these ex-terrorists or ex-combatants. I promised that we will be fully supportive of that project and when that project is formulated, I am ready to be an advocate of it and to be telling different countries around the world that they need to invest because the best thing we can do for peace is to reintegrate those that in a moment of despair became terrorists, but now want to become good citizens and want to contribute to the well-being of their brothers and sisters,” said the UN chief of Nigeria’s reintegration program.

Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), however, notes that the reintegration programme happens to be the most challenging aspect of responding to the aftermath of the violence in northeast Nigeria.

“There are varying perspectives and opinions on reintegration, and the issue of stigmatisation is particularly salient,” she says. “The challenge of reintegration is also not helped by evidence that several wives of Boko Haram insurgents fled back into the bush even after months of deradicalisation.”

Message to survivors of Boko Haram

Guterres still had a message of hope and respect for survivors of Boko Haram. Jihadi violence in Nigeria – which has spilt over to Chad, Cameroon and Niger – has led to the death of 350,000 persons, including 35,000 direct deaths, and it has displaced 2.1 million people, according to the UN.

“I have a lot of respect for you. I imagine myself as an IDP [internally displaced person],” Guterres said when he met thousands of the IDPs at the Gwubio camp in Maiduguri, Borno state capital. “I imagine myself….fleeing from Boko Haram and going through the bush.”

With less than 50% of the 2.1 million persons displaced by the insurgency staying in formal displacement camps, there is also a dire humanitarian crisis with children and women among the most affected.

In Gwubio camp in Maiduguri, a UN official who joined the delegation of Guterres tells The Africa Report that the “the need for food has never been greater than now”.

“What you see here is nothing compared to the situation of some IDPs in Yobe where there is no humanitarian assistance because of their locations and limited funding,” she says, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the UN declined to give an official interview during the visit.

Is the Boko Haram war nearing its end?

The Nigerian government has repeatedly claimed that the extremists have been “degraded” and restricted to just a small part of the Lake Chad region, with President Muhammadu Buhari saying earlier this week that the war waged against Boko Haram is “approaching its conclusion”.

On the contrary, though, analysts believe the war is “far from over”, especially as the Nigerian military has now confirmed that some of the insurgents who fled Borno in the heat of airstrikes are now working with armed groups in the northwest states.

Despite the Nigerian military’s recent claims that it has been able to wade off attacks in much of the northeast, the insurgents attacked the Chibok community in Borno state in the evening, around the same time the UN Secretary-General was wrapping up his engagements in the state.

“Sometimes, when these things [attacks] go down like this, it is as if the military loses their guard [sic] as a result,” says Jack Vincent, who has researched the Boko Haram insurgency for many years. Speaking to The Africa Report in Maiduguri, he says: “Anytime we celebrate that the attacks are going down, then to prove that they are still around, the terrorists will now carry out something massive and this has been the situation all along.”

Building back better

Beyond the military intervention, Guterres acknowledged investment in eradicating “the root causes of terrorism” not just as witnessed in Nigeria, but in other parts of the African continent he had visited.

“The people I met today in reality want to go back home in safety and dignity,” he said. “And when one looks at the State, one understands that the way to [fight] terrorism effectively, is to … invest in livelihoods, it is to invest in the reintegration of those that have been in the past recruited by these terrorist groups.”

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.