US details security cooperation with Nigeria, calls for accountability on school kidnappings

The United States, in its security cooperation with Nigeria, is “looking at programs” to prevent Nigerian security forces from committing human rights abuses, as it works to enhance their ability to protect citizens, especially “young girls who are trying to get educated,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters on Tuesday before a United Nations Security Council meeting on peace and security in Africa.

The U.S. provided $7.1 million in International Military Education Training (IMET) funding to the Nigerian military from FY2016-FY2020.

Nigeria also received $1.1 million through the Africa Military Education Program (AMEP) that “aims to professionalize African militaries by encouraging respect for human rights, subordination to civilian authority, and the rule of law/ democratic norms,” wrote Brandie Wempe of Army University in 2018.

Yet abuses by security forces have continued occur. A 2020 U.S. government report on human rights in Nigeria found that although the Nigerian government “took some steps to investigate alleged abuses” by police and military forces, “impunity remained a significant problem.”

“We have called the [Nigerian] government out when we have seen violations being committed,” Thomas-Greenfield said, “but we also, at the same time, try to provide assistance and train and equip law enforcement and other professionals to address some of these issues and to address shortcomings that they have.”

Of particular concern last year were the human rights violations committed by the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) police unit and the use of violence by the security forces against civilians at protests in October.

After a number of civilians were killed at a protest in Lagos, Nigeria on October 20, the U.S. “condemned the use of excessive use of force by military forces” and called for an investigation. Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had in a tweet used the internationally adopted EndSARS hashtag.

Thomas-Greenfield on Tuesday was also concerned about a lack of accountability for kidnappings of schoolchildren “that continues to happen in Nigeria.”

“It’s something that we all have to work to address,” she said, “We have to hold people accountable and really have them punished for those kinds of acts.”

A recent U.S. government report found that of 276 girls from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014, 112 “remained in captivity”. And as of March, about 600 students had been kidnapped from schools since December 2020 by what the government labeled as ‘bandits’.

On Tuesday, the Nigeria Police Force announced a new program, “Operation Restore Peace,” to combat banditry among other threats to security in the southeast region in Nigeria – the military and intelligence agencies will also participate in the operation.

“The use of helicopters and other aircraft is concerning in that it could – and likely will – result in growing civilian casualties, thereby feeding the very separatists movements that the government is seeking to contain,” John Campbell of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote.

Nigeria faces several security threats including Islamic terrorism, conflict between herders and farmers, and banditry and armed gangs. A U.S. government report found that the government’s efforts to address these threats have been insufficient – terrorism, banditry, and armed gang activity have worsened – in part because security forces lack the capacity to address all three and more simultaneously.

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