27 February 2014

Nigeria: Security Worries Overshadow Nigerian Centenary

Over 20 Heads of State converged on the International Conference Center Abuja, Nigeria's Federal Capital Territory for the conference. ( Resource: Over 20 Heads of State at Nigeria Centenary )

As Nigeria holds celebrations to mark its centenary as a unified state, it was promised support by visiting French President Francois Hollande in its protracted battle with terrorism.

The centenary celebrations marked Nigerian unification on January 1, 1914 and were attended by some 40 heads of state. They were preceded on a conference on peace, development and, appropriately enough, "human security."

Nigeria is still reeling from an attack by suspected Boko Haram Islamist militants in Yobe state in which 43 students were shot and hacked to death and their school burnt to the ground on Tuesday.

The violence continued on late Wednesday when hundreds of suspected militant fighters besieged the town of Michika in northeastern Adamawa state, destroying homes and businesses with heavy weaponry and explosives.

At least two people were killed in the attack, which destroyed four banks, hundreds of shops, a police station and several government buildings.

DW's correspondent in Abuja, Ben Shemang, said no leader spoke at the conference without calling for terrorism to be curtailed.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said terrorism was a global menace which has extended its tentacles to Africa and indeed Nigeria. "We will continue to respond decisively and strategically," he said.

European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, who was also in Abuja for the conference said "radicalism, extremism, and hate have no place in our societies and can only deserve our strongest condemnation and rejection."

French president sees 'reason for optimism'

Barroso also said the European Union stood firmly with Nigeria in its fight against this scourge of terrorism. The message was echoed by French President Francois Hollande, guest of honor at the centenary celebrations, who told delegates that their struggle was also France's struggle.

"We will always stand ready not only to provide our political support, but our help every time you need it, because the struggle against terrorism is also the struggle for democracy," Hollande said.

Despite crises in several regions, the French president maintained there was a reason for optimism in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.

"Africa has a great future. It's the continent of tomorrow," he said but warned that such promise could be "impeded by insecurity".

He then vowed to double French overseas development aid to the continent within the next five years.

Nigeria is not traditionally in France's sphere of influence. French interests are largely confined to the oil sector, although the country is France's biggest trading partner in Africa with investments worth 5.9 billion euros ($8 billion), according to French government figures.

President Goodluck Jonathan is struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives since 2009

But it is surrounded by French-speaking countries, notably its former colonies of Chad, Niger and Cameroon, which have seen an increase in people from Nigeria's northeast flee across the border to escape the violence.

Local perceptions of France

Direct French intervention in the fight against Boko Haram is considered unlikely.

"France is an unpopular country in this part of Nigeria, in the northern part of the country," Tukur Abdulkadir, senior lecturer in political science at Kaduna State University, told DW.

He was referring to the way local residents in the predominantly Muslim region, which bears the brunt of the Islamist insurgency, view the French intervention in the Central African Republic.

"Unfortunately the perception here is that the French decided to intervene in order to topple a government that was supposedly led by a Muslim and at the same time allowed the Christian militia to have a field day," he said.

Former colonial patron Britain, which was responsible for the 1914 merger between the southern and northern Nigerian protectorates, sent Mark Simmonds, minister for Africa, to represent Prime Minister David Cameron at the centenary event in Abuja.

"Democracies do not flourish nor do economies grow in the midst of instability," said Simmonds, whose speech focused mainly on strengthening trade between Britain and Nigeria.

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