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Foreign Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 56-ii
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
EXTREMISM AND POLITICAL INSTABILITY IN NORTH AND WEST AFRICA
TUESDAY 25 JUNE 2013
PROFESSOR MICHAEL CLARKE
SIR RICHARD GOZNEY
Evidence heard in Public
Questions 50 - 140
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
1. This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
2. The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.
Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 25 June 2013
Richard Ottaway (Chair)
Sir Menzies Campbell
Mr Frank Roy
Sir John Stanley
Examination of Witness
Witness: Professor Michael Clarke, Director General, Royal United Services Institute, gave evidence.
Q50 Chair: I welcome members of the public to this second evidence session for the Committee’s inquiry into the UK’s response to extremism and political instability in North and West Africa.
May I extend a very warm welcome to our first witness, Professor Michael Clarke, the Director General of the Royal United Services Institute? Welcome, Michael. You are perhaps more used to appearing in front of the Defence Committee, but the fact that you are here shows the overlap and the strategic importance of this region. Is there anything that you would like to say by way of an opening statement?
Professor Clarke: Only that, in headline terms, the apparent threat from foreign jihadist terrorism seemed at one time to come from North Africa. It seemed to originate from North Africa, and in the years around 2001 to 2005 that was the prevailing assumption. That assumption was changed by Operation Crevice in 2004, and then the 7/7 bombings in 2005 and everything that happened thereafter.
In a sense, the wheel is coming full circle, because the present concern is now much more on the old areas of origin of a lot of jihadist terrorism, which goes back to North Africa. It has migrated, partly as an unexpected consequence of the Libyan war of 2011, into the Sahel and into West Africa, so in a sense we are partly revisiting some of the issues that seemed to be more important to us in the years immediately after 2001.
Q51 Chair: Our inquiry was sparked off by the In Amenas incident and the Prime Minister’s statement on the Floor of the House. I would not say that you were critical of his statement, but you had some comments to make about his phraseology then. The PM said that we were involved in a "generational struggle" with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its jihadist fellow travellers. Do you agree with that, or is it bigger than that?
Professor Clarke: No, I agree that it is a generational struggle. It is generational in the sense that the ideas behind what I call jihadism-I know that there is no really good term for this, but let us assume we all know what we mean if we say jihadism-are part of a generational evolution of thinking that could be expected to last at least for a generation if not for more. In that respect, yes, I think that the issue is generational.
It is also generational in the sense that it arises from alienation among a spectrum of youth-not always disadvantaged, but nevertheless a spectrum of alienation in people by and large under the age of 40-with one or two gurus who are considerably older than that, so it is generational in that revolutionary sense.
Where I disagree with the Prime Minister-in the statement he made after the In Amenas incident-was by implication in uniting all of these forces, as if they were all al-Qaeda. I think that that gave far too great a prominence to al-Qaeda core as an organising group, and it also ran the risk of uniting some of these disparate groups, who often will go along with the jihadist rhetoric on a temporary basis and for their own reasons. The danger in the Sahel seemed to me that our rhetoric would unite groups who will, by their own volition, tend to be fractious and fall apart given some time. Time is on our side in the Sahel area and North Africa. The worst thing we could do is to make the mistake of uniting them by glamorising them and by assuming them to be a universal threat to western interests.
Q52 Chair: Is there any other way of phrasing it? How would you put it then? He had to address the issue. You would have said, "They are and remain a disparate group"?
Professor Clarke: Yes. Some of the ideological hardliners in these groups had pulled along a lot of relatively secular groups. Boko Haram, in northern and western Nigeria, is pretty secular and is actually more concerned with a degree of territorial independence. It is not particularly committed to Sharia law, whereas Ansaru, which is connected to Boko Haram-it is a splinter group-is very Sharia-minded. The best thing we could do is to try to split those two things apart.
Equally, instability in both Algeria and Mali was stimulated by the Tuareg peoples, who found that they were in a different situation after the Libyan civil war. The Tuareg fall into some ideological hardliners and some determined secularists. The most important thing is to recognise that there is an ideological element to this struggle-what I would define, quite seriously, as Islamo-fascist. The jihadists are Islamo-fascists, and I would be prepared to defend that position on the basis of political theory. They are a group of Islamo-fascists who attract, through glamour, a group of warlords, criminals and fellow travellers, who can be easily motivated but just as easily disentangled from them if our strategy is correct.
Q53 Chair: That is interesting. Do you think that there is any support for this at grass-roots level? If you have an Islamo-fascist group, I would have thought that it would be pretty unpopular at the grass-roots level-the people in the villages who are struggling to get by. Is there hostility there, or do they support these people?
Professor Clarke: In various parts of the region and in South Asia, these groups can be fairly popular, certainly in the short term, because in a period of chaos, they represent something, and they are better organised. We should not be surprised that in the aftermath of the Arab Spring or Uprising-whatever we call it-political Islamists will do well, because they are better organised than most of the others, and they do stand for something in a time of chaos; anyone who stands for something carries a certain amount of support.
Yes, there is some support for these groups, but that support very often wanes when such groups take power, even locally. They can often take power by offering-they say-accessible justice. They set themselves up as an alternative Government. They are quick and arbitrary. They make decisions that local people very often like, at least in the short term, but not many groups in the world actually want to live under a strict interpretation of Sharia law.
Q54 Chair: One of our witnesses spoke of the democratic bulge-the population growth fuelling instability through creating a number of young men and women with little economic prospects. Do you think that that is a fair comment?
Professor Clarke: Yes. Young people without prospects are ripe for radicalisation of all sorts. There is plenty of evidence across the region and other regions of growing alienation among the under-30s and, in many cases, the under-25s. The question that we must address is what form that alienation takes. It does not always take a jihadist form. It does not even always take a violent form. It may take a form of indifference. It may take a form of complete apathy. But alienation is the background from which it is easy for determined ideologues to recruit followers and supporters.
Q55 Chair: Do you agree that the demographic bulge is fuelling that?
Professor Clarke: Absolutely. Yes. Across the greater Middle East, the proportion of young people under the age of 25 is growing all the time. The effect of that is clear: if those people can be satisfactorily accommodated with prospects and jobs, that is a source of prosperity. If they cannot, it is a source of endless instability.
Q56 Mark Hendrick: Professor Clarke, what evidence is there in North and West Africa of the jihadist groups getting funding from outside the area?
Professor Clarke: There is some evidence. I have to say that most of it is anecdotal, even to the security services, but there is some evidence of funding that finds its way from Saudi Arabia, which disburses so much funding to Wahabist movements that a lot of it gets passed on. There is some evidence, but that which I have seen is not systematic. I am not aware of very strong funding pipelines into West Africa. I am aware of strong funding pipelines into North Africa, but there is anecdotal evidence that some of that finds it way into West Africa. On the other hand, the funding required for a functioning group is not particularly great. Even small amounts of funding, even if irregular, can make quite a big difference in certain parts of Niger or Mauritania.
Q57 Mark Hendrick: Is there anything that we can do about it?
Professor Clarke: Not very much on the funding side, because the sort of funding that is supporting Wahabism and Salafism across the region is very dispersed. Many people think that a lot of it starts in Saudi Arabia, but it does not even begin in the Saudi Government. It begins within Saudi sources and sources that think of themselves as charitable organisations trying to promote a particular view of Islam.
Q58 Mark Hendrick: In January, in relation to the intervention in Mali, you wrote: "it is difficult to see what military action can realistically achieve that will not make the situation potentially worse". Is that still your view?
Professor Clarke: Yes. The issue faced in the region, in the Sahel, is that the distances are so great, and that French action in Mali in a military sense has been relatively successful. Their losses have been fairly small, and they have conducted some very effective operations which, from a military point of view, have excited the admiration of other military professionals. We have to say that. However, their ability to properly contain the situation is limited. They can keep rebel groups on the move because the western forces have mobility, they have intelligence, and they have air superiority. So they can always keep groups on the move, but they cannot attack those groups effectively. They cannot undercut them completely. The groups can keep dispersing, which is what seems to be happening.
The French are able, in support of the Malian Government, to take control of all the southern cities and townships in Mali, and some of the north. They can control the urban centres, which is reasonable, but they cannot actually stop groups attacking those centres or forming in other places by military means. It is like air in a balloon. You can keep it moving around, but you cannot ultimately diminish the amount of air.
Q59 Mark Hendrick: Some of us from the Committee visited Mali a few weeks back. We saw the training that went on between the Europeans training in Bamako. They were saying then that the work, while it may be effective in training an army, is not sustainable in the long term in keeping the rebels at bay.
Professor Clarke: Yes. The French or the European members can train the Malians. That is a useful thing to do. It would be useful in any case because more professional armies tend to be more democratic armies and more useful armies in terms of building societies. In this particular case, a more effective Malian army is an extremely important element. In a sense, what the French and other Europeans are doing is training the Malians to take over from them, so they can only do-we hope with reasonable efficiency-what the French are already doing. So it contains the situation, but, in itself, there is no answer within the sort of numbers we are talking about to the open spaces problem in these countries. These countries will always be difficult to police, and the best you can achieve is reasonable security in the urban centres. I am not denigrating that, because, if you can achieve that, that is quite a lot. But it will not in and of itself diminish the force of Islamist rebels.
Q60 Mark Hendrick: If the Islamists were to make another push in that part of Africa, as they did in Mali in 2012, where would it most likely come?
Professor Clarke: In the north; they can fall back on their heartland. In Mali, the danger is in the mountainous areas of the north. The capital is reasonably secure. The rebels could create incidents in the capital, but again I think we have to distinguish between those elements in Mali who are jihadists and those who are trying to overthrow the Government, because they want to replace the Government in a more secular way.
Q61 Mark Hendrick: I meant outside of Mali.
Professor Clarke: I beg your pardon. Outside Mali, Niger and Mauritania are more vulnerable-not to an organised takeover, but to rebel behaviour that may affect western companies and interests. Northern and western Nigeria are also in a dangerous state. These are very big areas and I would not expect any organisation to be able to mount an offensive in an organised way across the region, but if we are looking for areas of potential vulnerability to an upsurge in jihadist terrorism, I would say Niger, north-western Nigeria and parts of Mauritania are all vulnerable.
Sir John Stanley: As you will be aware, the UK and a significant number of other western countries were significant suppliers of all types of arms and ammunition to President Gaddafi right up to the start of the Arab spring. You will also be aware that the UN Panel of Experts’ latest report on the implementation of Resolution 1973 in relation to Libya highlights the breakdown of security around the Gaddafi stockpiles of weapons and ammunition as one of the major sources of arms, ammunition and more sophisticated weapons flowing out of Libya into Mali and elsewhere in Africa, and also into the wider Middle East.
You will know that the Panel of Experts state in their latest report: "The proliferation of weapons from Libya has continued at a worrying rate and has spread into new territory: West Africa, the Levant and, potentially, even the Horn of Africa...Since the uprising and the resulting collapse of the security apparatus, including the loss of national control over weapons stockpiles and the absence of any border controls, Libya has over the past two years become a significant and attractive source of weaponry in the region. Illicit flows from the country are fuelling existing conflicts in Africa and the Levant and enriching the arsenals of a range of non-State actors, including terrorist groups." Can you give us your perspective as to how significant the removal of all types of weapons and ammunition from the former Gaddafi stockpiles is in fuelling the conflicts taking place in Mali, sub-Saharan Africa, west Africa, north Africa and the Sahel?
Professor Clarke: The short answer is very serious. The arsenals that existed in Libya, as we all know, were extensive, and there has been almost no control over those weapons stocks. The new Government has proved virtually incapable of preventing those weapons stocks draining away. In any case, before the fall of Gaddafi, a lot of those stocks were in effect wide open, and more weapons were coming in from the Gulf as part of the civil war against Gaddafi.
Weapons never go out of commission; they just go somewhere else. Almost all weapons find a new home once a war is over. We worried at the end of 2011, when the Libyan war came to a conclusion, that the weapons would go southwards, which indeed they did. They went to the Tuareg rebellion, which destabilised Mali and then had knock-on effects in Mauritania and Niger. Those weapon stocks seemed to go southwards. I think the community is not particularly bothered about weapons going to Somalia, because it has always been well-stocked. It is saturated with light weapons, in any case.
The biggest difference has been Libyan weapons turning up in the Levant. The crisis in Syria is now a crisis across the Levant, from Lebanon through to Iraq. The exam question we always set ourselves now at RUSI is, will Lebanon and Iraq survive the Syria crisis? It is really very serious. There is a lot of evidence that Libyan weapons are now circulating pretty freely in the Levant, and that seems to be where they will have the most destabilising effect. But unquestionably they go out in all directions. They have certainly made a difference to the south of Libya, and now they have made a difference a long way away.
Q62 Sir John Stanley: Would you conclude from that, as some people have, that the very act of supplying weapons in those circumstances means that you are basically supplying weapons into a commercial market? The moment the weapons leave your possession-whether it is weapons or ammunition-they become commodities to be sold at the highest price.
Professor Clarke: I would agree with that. There is no such thing as an end-user guarantee on anything other than the most sophisticated of weaponry. Everything below the level of really sophisticated aerial, maritime and ground-based combat systems-the really high-tech stuff that we produce small arms, light weaponry or even medium-range weaponry, is on the market once it is sold to anybody. Those things, as I say, do not go obsolete very quickly.
Q63 Mr Roy: Professor, can I take you back to your remarks on the role of France in Mali? We have been told that their military presence could remain in Mali for quite some time. In your opinion, how easy will it be for France to disengage from Mali, and how long do you think it will take?
Professor Clarke: Rather like the ISAF presence in Afghanistan, the disengagement is entirely dependent on the rate at which they can train an indigenous force-in this case, the Malian army. Of course, they could always choose to disengage before that training is credibly done, but they would take a certain amount of political criticism in doing that.
A successful disengagement, one where they can walk away and say they have achieved their objective, would be one that is coincident with the adequate training of sufficient numbers in the Malian army. However, that is a two to three-year job at the very least in my estimation, and France has been talking about withdrawing in a matter of months. It seems to me that there is a disconnect between the political statements that Hollande feels he has had to make and the logic of the military situation on the ground.
Q64 Mr Roy: What effect does the potential failure to make a clear and swift break from Mali have on the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom’s interests?
Professor Clarke: I do not think there is a direct effect. The UK’s Ministry of Defence is taking a great deal of interest in what France is doing in Mali, and indeed has offered some forms of support. As support to an ally, we have offered a certain amount of logistical help and help with air support. It seems to me entirely appropriate that we did that. If the French operation in Mali went seriously wrong, I suppose Britain might be under some pressure to find ways of helping. However, the idea of direct help with boots on the ground would be absolutely out of the question in the present circumstances, if that is the thinking behind your question.
The expectation, as I understand it, in the Ministry of Defence at the moment is that the French operation has gone reasonably well. As long as they are prepared to step up the training process-they are getting some European support for that-they ought to be able to withdraw in a reasonably well-structured way. However, like all these operations, it can be knocked sideways by a particular event or another outrage, such as in the In Amenas case in Algeria.
Q65 Sir Menzies Campbell: Please accept my apologies for not being present when you began giving evidence-I had to go back to my office to take a telephone call.
I was interested in the exchange between Sir John Stanley and yourself about the marketability of weapons, particularly your evidence that anything up to the most sophisticated is probably available somewhere. May I ask you to tell us what we are talking about? We are talking about RPGs, mortars, artillery and anti-tank weapons. Anything up to the most sophisticated includes a lot of pretty heavyweight-I do not use that in the technical sense-equipment, doesn’t it?
Professor Clarke: Yes, it does. Light arms, bullets, of course the ubiquitous AK47s or whatever, and rocket propelled grenades are universal and can always be obtained, but mortars, light artillery and anti-tank weapons are certainly generally available too. One of the greatest examples was the Stinger missiles.
Q66 Sir Menzies Campbell: I was going to ask about those.
Professor Clarke: They1 were supplied to the mujaheddin in the Afghan war of 1980-88, and about 1,0002 were still extant at the end of the war. The United States tried a buy-back programme, but did not get more than 3003 at the very most, so there are 700 Stingers moving around the region. The good thing about the Stingers is that they rely on two forms of battery, which were not easily supplied or replicated. Interestingly, Stinger have made very small, occasional appearances on the world stage. I think that the general view is that we can now write off the 7004 that were never found. However, that is a relatively unusual case of a weapon that became obsolete with time; most of them do not. We certainly have to expect that the ones you are talking about will remain current for at least 10 or 15 years, if not longer.
Q67 Sir Menzies Campbell: Can you just explain, for the benefit of those who do not know, what a Stinger is?
Professor Clarke: It is a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile that the Americans supplied to the mujaheddin. It turned out that the mujaheddin could not use them very well against aircraft, but some of them learned how to use them against helicopters. Even so, there are different issues around this. Everyone assumes that if al-Qaeda got hold of these weapons, they would use them very accurately; they are actually quite hard to use. Even in the mujaheddin days, only a few members of the mujaheddin were good at using them, and they were only good at using them against Russian helicopters. Nevertheless, they did have a tipping effect on Russian perceptions of the war.
Q68 Chair: When the French go, do you think the rebels will return?
Professor Clarke: Yes.
Q69 Chair: And then what? Do the French have to come back again?
Professor Clarke: I doubt that the French will go back again. I think that the Malian Government will find themselves involved with a low-level insurgency, which they will cope with either well or less well.
Q70 Chair: You do not think that it will threaten Bamako again?
Professor Clarke: No. The Malians should be well enough trained to defend the capital, but I think that they will find themselves with an insurgency in their north, because I see nothing from the research that we do in our institute to indicate that the causes and the facilities for the insurgents are any less than they were. I do not see any reason to imagine that their will to try to take over will have lessened. I think that the Malians know that when the French leave, they will have to take it on. Of course, as with ISAF in Afghanistan, the French may be planning to leave behind enablers and to offer all sorts of indirect assistance, which may make a difference. But we will see how much they are prepared to leave behind as against the strength of any insurgency that develops.
Q71 Mike Gapes: I was in Mali a few weeks ago, and I was struck by the fact that there is tension because of the desire of the Malian Government-or the interim Government, pending a democratic election-to restore authority as quickly as possible in all territories, including Kidal, where there is a minority Tuareg group that is not accepting the role of the state. On the one hand there is that, and the wider issue of dealing with jihadist terrorist groups, which have come in, in some cases, from Algeria, Libya or elsewhere. However, is there a potentially longer problem here? The Malians, for understandable reasons, will be interested in state building once they have got a legitimate government and this process, whereas the international community will be interested in ensuring that there is not a potential ungoverned space in that large unpopulated area in the north of Mali.
Professor Clarke: I agree that may be a tension, because there will always be large ungoverned spaces in countries such as Mali and Mauritania. They are too big to govern, except in very sophisticated ways, which are not really available to them. Whatever happens in Bamako and the other towns and cities of Mali, the international community will always be concerned that they have some intelligence oversight on what is going on in between the urban centres, because Mali is in a region that has become radicalised. The Prime Minister was right on that score: it is a generational issue. Whatever form of government prevails in Mali over the medium term, it will be a candidate area for the creation, and even the training, of rebel groups.
Q72 Mike Gapes: In January, you wrote that "chasing different groups round the open spaces of the Sahel has strictly limited utility." That is a bit of an understatement, is it not? How much can regional co-operation help to deal with this? Given that we have got such a wide area, arbitrary lines drawn on maps by colonial powers and huge areas where the writ of central Government hardly runs at all, is this in effect a problem that the world will have to confront, or can regional co-operation deal with it?
Professor Clarke: I do not think that it is a hopeless cause. There are things that can be done to minimise the nature of the problem. Local linkages can be built up. Much greater attention can be paid to border security and international help can be given to that. More intelligence co-operation always helps, and trying, as far as possible, to generate the work of local communities. All those things can be stimulated at a regional level. It is possible for states, like the United States, those in Europe, and those external countries that are concerned about what is going on in the Sahel, to try to help technically and financially to engender all these things: intelligence co-operation, border security and local work through regional communities or local communities at a regional level, all of whom can make the open spaces less benign to the potential rebels or terrorists.
Q73 Mike Gapes: What do the situation in Mali and the events in 2012 and this year tell us about how effective the African Union or ECOWAS are and the potential that they have?
Professor Clarke: Their potential is so much greater than their practical effectiveness, but having said that, their effectiveness is orders of magnitude more than it was a few years ago, which is probably not saying very much. The African Union is able to put soldiers in the field of varying quality and on a political basis that is not particularly united or solid. The technical possibilities of the African Union are improving, but one of the problems that it has is that it still tends to depend on Nigerian troops who in some cases find it difficult to involve themselves in these areas, because they are not necessarily regarded as neutral or trusted. Equally, however, Nigerian troops are there in mass; they have numbers and training and they are not at all badly commanded. The African Union has some bright spots that are improving. The world’s involvement with the African Union has been rather formulaic to date. Much more might be achieved by western powers involving themselves more in the training and technical support to African Union troops and forces.
It is a delicate problem because African Union forces do not want to be talked at or lectured at, all the time. There is a political sensitivity there. Nevertheless, some very good work has been done in the past five or six years, which could be done much more intensively in the next five or six.
Q74 Mike Gapes: The submission of a written paper that we got from your colleagues in RUSI proposed that the UK could have a role in trying to get better co-ordination and interaction between countries in the Sahara and the Sahel region. Given that our historical relationship with many of these countries is quite limited, and that France is much more historically and currently engaged, would our involvement be welcomed?
Professor Clarke: If it were in the right areas, I think it would. We still have a lot to offer in technical military support and our ability to offer back-up and even training in command and control. There is also, remember, the Franco-British defence treaty of 2010, which is sometimes more popular in Paris than it is in London, particularly at present because the French would like us to do a bit more of the lifting on all of that.
I would not rule out the idea that we could make a contribution in Commonwealth Africa, just because France has got it covered in Francophone Africa. It seems to me that there is a natural British-French coincidence of interest, in which the French are taking the lead-and that’s fine. We could choose to do more in the context of British-French relations in co-ordinating more.
Q75 Mike Gapes: Specifically on Algeria, we went to Algeria before we went to Mali. There seemed to be some enthusiasm, at least rhetorically, for the Algerians to have closer co-operation with the UK. That ties in with what the Prime Minister said in January, and the Foreign Secretary’s speech at RUSI in February. One thing that struck me-and I would be grateful if you could confirm this-was that the Algerians have a very traditionalist view about non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
On the one hand, they want co-operation, but entirely on their terms. They want technology and assistance but it is, "You give us it; we control it." There is also a great reluctance for Algeria to get involved in any other country in the region outside its borders. Can you confirm that is the case? Or is there a possibility that that might change over time?
Professor Clarke: The essence of how you put it, Mr Gapes, is correct. Suffering the civil war in the 1990s, and well before that, gave the Algerian Government a very tough-minded attitude towards its independence and sovereignty of action. That is why in the In Amenas case the outside world could talk all it liked about the need to negotiate; there was no way that Government were going to wait and talk to terrorists who had invaded the plant. They were going to make a tough response whatever the outside world said, and almost whatever the consequences. That was to be expected.
Having said that, if there was a silver lining to that crisis it is that the Algerians show some signs of thinking afresh about their relationship with other European powers. I think there are some openings for a new beginning with other countries. I think the Prime Minister was right to say what he did in Algeria about our relationship with that country. There are some possibilities but we should accept that France is first port of call for the Algerians. That is traditionally the case and remains so. Nevertheless, that does not mean to say that we cannot complement French policy with a more forward-leaning policy towards relationships with the Government in Algiers.
Q76 Mike Gapes: But is it not also the case that the French-Algerian relationship is a difficult and complicated one? Given their history, the Algerians might welcome a relationship with Britain almost to reduce the reliance on the French because of all the historical baggage.
Professor Clarke: Yes, but in terms of our relationship with Paris we should handle that very carefully.
Q77 Mike Gapes: I agree.
Professor Clarke: There is scope for greater involvement but it ought to be managed in a very joint London-Paris framework.
Q78 Mike Gapes: What do you think, in practice, the Foreign Secretary’s remarks at RUSI mean in terms of the day to day future relationship? Is there anything practical that we could put forward at this stage?
Professor Clarke: The Foreign Secretary spoke eloquently, as he always does, about the need for new partnerships so that we can approach counter-terrorism in a more internationalist way. Every country raises special issues. Not all countries are as democratic or as respecting of civil rights as we think that we are, and therefore there will be lots of compromises, but the partnership is the way forward. All of that makes perfect sense.
A number of people after the speech were left wondering what was different or new about this approach, other than to lay it all out in a very clear way. The essence is: what could the partnerships contain? The defence engagement strategy may fit into this: the idea that, as we draw down from Afghanistan, we use our forces in a more politically astute way, or we use them to create more overtly political effects. If we are talking about better partnerships with countries, those partnerships depend on an intelligence relationship that has to be kept relatively separate and a diplomatic relationship which can be beefed up, but it also can be bolstered by a better technical relationship on military issues. There is a way of playing our military card in a new, post-Afghanistan situation more assertively than we did in the past.
Q79 Mike Gapes: On the intelligence question, Algeria’s human rights record is not necessarily one that we would be happy with. I know that we have got a memorandum of understanding and various other things, but how much further can we go in co-operating with Algeria on these issues?
Professor Clarke: In the case of Algeria, I would say: not very far until we get more assurances and demonstrated behaviour. Algeria is one of those countries in which we do have difficulties. As I mentioned before, precisely because of the viciousness of the civil war that they went through in the ’90s, the Algerian Government takes a very tough-minded attitude towards dissent and any elements of insurgency.
The idea of a partnership with Algeria is a nice aspiration, but those assurances and behaviour would need to be demonstrated in very practical ways for it to be politically acceptable to us. Whereas, for instance, greater partnerships with our friends in the Gulf or with our friends in Jordan, for instance, are far more meaningful and seem to have made some progress.
Q80 Rory Stewart: One of the fundamental problems we have been reporting on in this Committee over the last three years is the sense that there is a real lack of knowledge. We are facing a crisis in terms of UK expertise in political reporting: a lack of people who spend a long time in these countries and really understand them. We are beginning to replace that with a cadre of instant experts who talk about ungoverned space and existential threats. How many people in the UK foreign policy community-the Army, the Foreign Office and the think tanks-do you think genuinely have a profound a knowledge of Mali and its culture, history and languages or, indeed, any way of combining that with a deep sense of the UK’s strategic interests?
Professor Clarke: I would not like to put a figure on it, but it is only a handful. We are not talking about a large community who talk to each other all the time. There are individual, professional experts who are often hidden away in institutions that are not part of government, and there are people in government who can duck in and out of these issues, but I agree that our level of expertise on regions outside Europe, the Mediterranean and the Levant is not great.
Q81 Rory Stewart: That brings us on to the Prime Minister’s confident statement on 21 January that we face a large and existential threat in the UK from extremists. Do you think that extremists in the Maghreb and the Sahel pose an existential threat to UK security?
Professor Clarke: At the moment, only in an indirect way. Most of the extremists in whom we are interested are drawn at the moment towards Syria, because that is glamorous, and, partly, to the horn of Africa. That is a very indirect threat, in the sense that some of those people may regard the United Kingdom, other West European countries and the United States as legitimate targets for the campaigns that they have conducted in other parts of the world. It is indirect.
There is another version of indirect threat, which is that when people go to fight in a jihad-in a war-say in the Levant, it may serve to radicalise some of the communities that exist back in western Europe. That too is indirect.
By and large, with people who went to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, we used to worry that they would come back to western Europe with training, weapons and motivation. In reality, very few did. Dozens went, and a trickle of threes and fours came back; they were fairly easily monitored. That process has not happened in previous conflicts. We don’t know whether that is going to be repeated here, but it may be.
Q82 Rory Stewart: To come back from the Levant specifically to Mali and the Maghreb, what does somebody like the Prime Minister mean when he says that he thinks that specifically Mali and the Maghreb pose an existential threat to UK security? What is an existential threat? What sequence of events is he envisaging there?
Professor Clarke: I cannot speak for the Prime Minister, but my sense of the existential threat that he was speaking about was the threat of growing glamour and, as it were, the power of imitation: a jihadist campaign is carried on in three or four places in the world, simultaneously, usually for local reasons, and that has the effect of helping radicalise some of our alienated youth in this country. That is one version of the existential threat.
Q83 Rory Stewart: Surely existential means specifically a threat to the very existence of our country? It is not just a threat, but an existential threat.
Professor Clarke: I do not take the word "existential" to mean the existence of our country; I take it to mean that it is there in the very context in which we speak, whether we like it or not: it is existential in the sense that it is always there. In that respect, jihadism is a generational phenomenon; in so far as we should worry about it, it is in the context of world politics for the foreseeable future. It is existential in that sense.
If I can just add to that, I should say that there is one other element of threat, which is not normally referred to but that we are certainly doing a lot more work on in my institute, which is the threat to our interests abroad-so British interests, governmental organisations, British companies and British-related companies. British citizens working in these countries are at significantly greater threat, in the past couple of years, of kidnap and murder than they were before. The absolute numbers of these occurrences are small but the growth in the incidence is fairly dramatic.
Q84 Rory Stewart: I have two final points. In the late 1990s and early 2000s we were told that there was a very significant threat from Algerian terrorists to the United Kingdom. That appears not to have materialised, or else not to be very strong at the moment. Why is that? Why were we wrong about that and what do we do about it?
Professor Clarke: I do not think that we were entirely wrong about that. Kamel Bourgass was an Algerian who was behind the ricin plot, if you remember, which was an attempt-a very badly put together one, because these characters seemed to be making yoghurt more than ricin-to produce ricin in north London and smear it on door handles in the Jewish areas of Golders Green and Finsbury, and also take it on the tube. Their intention was to infect as many Jewish commuters as they possibly could. Their intentions were absolutely evil, although their incompetence was what most striking about the ricin case. But their leader was an Algerian, Kamel Bourgass.
We have not been completely free of Algerian influence on some of the terrorists and the plots that we have been engaged with, but it has been marginal to the incidence of terrorism. That has really come through Pakistan since 2002 and 2003.
Q85 Rory Stewart: And is the fact that it is marginal a tribute to the amazing work of our security services? Or was the threat perhaps not so high in the first place?
Professor Clarke: I do not think the threat was as high in the first place; that is certainly true. On the eve of 2004-05, the security services believed that they had pretty good information about all of the North African communities in Britain. They believed that their capacities and their motivation were quite low but then they got worried that they did not know enough about the South Asian communities, particularly the Pakistani community, and that lack was made manifest in 2005 with the 7/7 bombings.
We relied a lot on French intelligence, which was very good on Algerian issues for obvious reasons. We seemed to get a lot of good information from French intelligence which allowed us to head off one or two plots that were Algerian related or Algerian based. But I would not disagree with your essential contention that the threat from Algerian terrorism in the early ’90s was not great.
Q86 Rory Stewart: Finally, on the UK’s policy towards the West African diaspora community, are we doing enough to counter radicalisation here in the UK?
Professor Clarke: I can only give a general impression on that. My impression is that we are not because we do not have enough resource of the right sort devoted to it. Whereas I think we are making some headway on the South Asian community now, genuinely so, I don’t think we are doing as much with the West African community. But I cannot give you chapter and verse on that.
Q87 Chair: Final question, Professor Clarke. We have been talking about Algeria. Next door we have Morocco and they don’t talk to each other because of a row about Western Sahara. We have heard from witnesses and when we were in the region that if the two countries worked more closely together they would be more effective. Is that a fair comment?
Professor Clarke: Absolutely fair. The Moroccans have a lot to offer in all sorts of ways: economically, technically and in terms of their understanding of the politics of the North African region. But they do not work together. None of the North African communities do. They have better relations with their European partners than they do with each other, which is one of the reasons why it is very difficult to articulate a sensible regional policy for the whole of North Africa. You have to have a policy in relation to each individual state. So it is a matter of intensive bilateralism, rather than regional multilateralism.
Q88 Chair: If you look at countries of the region: Mauritania is broke; Western Sahara is annexed; Morocco is not talking to Algeria; Tunisia is 50:50; and Libya is still a mess. So there is no surprise that there is a bit of a lack of a regional policy at the moment.
Professor Clarke: Precisely.
Q89 Chair: Professor Clarke, thank you very much indeed. As ever, you were very clear and forthcoming.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Sir Richard Gozney, former UK High Commissioner to Nigeria and former UK Permanent Representative to the Economic Community of West African States, gave evidence.
Q90 Chair: I welcome Sir Richard Gozney, the former UK High Commissioner to Nigeria and former UK Permanent Representative to the Economic Community of West African States, better known as ECOWAS. Sir Richard, thank you very much for finding the time to come along. We have a vote in the House at 4 o’clock, so we will endeavour to finish the session by then. You obviously have a lot of knowledge about Nigeria and the region. You have spoken in the past about the northern alienation, which you referred to in some evidence you gave us. Is that due to religious superiority or a difference of a significant component in the north?
Sir Richard Gozney: I think that it is less about religious superiority than about economic inferiority and I do not mean that in a mental state but actually in the physical state and actual wealth, and the distribution of wealth in that country. Nigeria is a country obviously with a good deal of money from oil and gas. Most of the money tends to sit in the south; that is where the commerce is. So the northerners are under the federal arrangements they have in Nigeria; they are genuinely federal arrangements in Nigeria, with each state of the north, like all the 36 states of the country, getting a cut of about half of the federal money. The south gets more, because that is where the oil is, and the economic activity is overwhelmingly in the south. The north is also much drier and much poorer as a result, in terms of subsistence agriculture. So people feel that the geography and the climate have disadvantaged the north.
That has been compounded by the recent politics. Nigeria became democratic again in ’98, and their elections are variable, but they have held them and they have got through to the end of their two times four-year cycle for the first time ever in that country. They had as their first president a former general but a man who was elected as a civilian-General Obasanjo. He was from the south but appealed to the north. Then the north thought it was going to be their turn after eight years and people in that country tend to think in terms of the "turns" of the regions. They chose, and the populace duly elected, Yar’Adua, a former northern governor, but the poor man was already ill and died within a year or so. His deputy was not only from the south, but from the far south, the Delta. That was the first time that any President, or vice-president, of Nigeria had come from the far south, the delta, and he is the man who is still in charge now.
So, if you tot up the years since ’98, the north have only had their chap, or one of their chaps-who, under the informal Nigerian system, could be expected to see the north right-for only about a year in all that period. And that, in combination with the other factors, gives a sense of alienation. I would put it as being more economic than religious.
Q91 Chair: Is it surprising that this has not erupted on a larger scale in recent years? We see the outcomes of the presidential election; we see the religious and ethnic differences that you have been talking about. Does it surprise you that the protests have not been more emphatic?
Sir Richard Gozney: Yes. I think most people are surprised that Nigerians have not protested a great deal more about their circumstances for several decades, but particularly in this period when protests have been more easily permitted, because they are, as you would expect in a democracy. There is a large number of, I suppose, 20 to 25-year-olds-maybe a bit beyond that-who are not only without work and have not had much education but whose own estimates of their future prospects are probably even worse than they really are.
That makes those people pretty biddable to anyone who has got $2 a head in their pocket and wants to create trouble. I say that not lightly. We saw that situation repeatedly in Kaduna and in Kano, two of the big cities of the north-they are directly north of Abuja. So, if you want to create trouble, it is very easy to do so, because there is this disaffected youth. Well, we have seen it in recent years around the Middle East and now in Brazil, but these are not people who have got a political campaign to wage, or a political cause to further. They are poor, they feel they haven’t got much chance and for $2 they will take it on, even though the consequences to them may be very serious.
Q92 Mr Roy: In relation to education in the north, specifically female education, could you elaborate on how the United Kingdom, for example, might help to bring about more or better education for females?
Sir Richard Gozney: Yes. I mean, I expect the Department for International Development is doing those things, although I haven’t been keeping up with it for the past six years, since I left. It was putting a great emphasis on education, especially on women’s education, and I expect it is still the same. If you look around the whole of West Africa and down the western side of Africa, the contrasts in figures for women’s literacy are very striking; I had a reason to look at this the other day, well before I was contacted about coming along here. It is mostly the Francophone countries that have had poor literacy among women, and the Francophone countries in general have a much lower growth rate at the moment. It is a big jump to move from women’s literacy to the economic growth rate, but I do make that jump. I do think there is a link, because if a woman has been to school herself and starts having children and having girls, she will make a much bigger struggle to get those girls into school-I am talking not about university, but about primary schooling-so that they have basic literacy.
The figure for northern Nigeria is comparable to that for some of the Francophones, and that is not good company to keep. What can we do about that? There are plenty of very articulate, capable, educated Nigerians who can do the job for us. You don’t have to send British nationals up into the north, which is-
Q93 Mr Roy: Is that because it would be too sensitive to-
Sir Richard Gozney: I think that at the moment, after the kidnappings that have happened in the north-a poor British engineer was killed up there-the risks are probably difficult to manage. But there are-we were working with them seven or eight years ago-a lot of well educated Nigerians who genuinely care about people who are much less well educated. DFID were using them then and they could use them now; they probably are. That would be the agency I would use. You don’t have to send someone up with a couple of Land Rovers full of-
Q94 Mr Roy: So you would not recommend direct assistance.
Sir Richard Gozney: Well, this is direct assistance, in that we are paying for it.
Q95 Mr Roy: Yes, but I am talking about anyone from this country or any western country going over-
Sir Richard Gozney: I’m not sure you need that. I think there are enough Nigerians who can do it, but they are not being paid to do it, because the federal budget tends to get a bit thinned out before it reaches where it is meant to be going, and the state budgets, which I think cover primary and secondary education-not tertiary; that is the federal-tend to get thinned out, too. So the money available for doing this is not great. The schools are there. The children, as is the case everywhere in the countries that one visits in that part of the world, are desperate for the education.
We did send VSOs up there-quite a few VSOs were there-and if we can still do that, that’s fine. A lot of Kenyan and Ugandan VSOs-VSOs recruited in Kenya and Uganda-were working there, which is quite interesting. They have challenges, because in some places they are not expecting a fellow black face-to put it crudely-to turn up to teach them when they’ve applied for a British volunteer, but they were very successful in doing this, and that may be a slightly easier way of doing it. A Ugandan or a Kenyan is not such an obvious target in northern Nigeria as the others. So there are people you can use if you run out of Nigerians, but I think it would be a while before you did.
Q96 Mr Roy: Let’s keep to northern Nigeria. In terms of keeping Nigeria together and keeping violent extremism at bay, do you see the application of Sharia law, for example, in the north as part of the solution or as part of the problem?
Sir Richard Gozney: I left Nigeria feeling much more that it was part of the solution than when I went there, because I went there, like a lot of people, quite sceptical about Sharia law. I went there after four years in Indonesia, the biggest Muslim country in the world, where Sharia law was not being applied except in very restricted circumstances geographically and politically. It took the wife of the chief justice, who was herself a firebrand human rights lawyer of some international reputation, to check me on this. Maryam Uwais said, "Now you just be careful, you westerners, before you dismiss Sharia law. Often in the past, before Sharia courts were set up, a woman who got divorced in the north got nothing. Her husband was responsible for bringing up the children, and she walked away with nothing. Sharia law provides for her to get one third of the husband’s estate, and that is much better than it was." This comes from someone who is not a traditionalist Muslim or anything like that. So from then on I started looking at it differently, and when DFID, again, were helping to set up Sharia-not so much courts; that was the job of the Government, obviously-family arbitration and family reconciliation units, they were proving, although it was fairly early days, remarkably successful. The Sharia law and courts are quite quick-relatively quick-but the civil courts are very slow in that country. You are more likely to have passed the point of caring by the time the case comes through.
Q97 Mr Roy: Is there not a danger, though, that an anti-Christian climate could be built up because of the increasing use of Sharia law in courts and suchlike and that some Christians would feel as though they were a threat?
Sir Richard Gozney: I see exactly what you mean. I don’t believe myself that the use of Sharia law in civil and family cases engenders any political Islamic movement. If you start using it with criminal cases, it is rather different; they were very few and far between, and when they gave harsh sentences, they were almost always overturned by the Sharia appeal court, so the results were okay on that-it is a different issue. On the civil and family side, no, I do not think it has a political effect. It did not then.
Q98 Mark Hendrick: Sir Richard, when you were High Commissioner did you get the impression that the Nigerian Government were concerned about population growth in particular and the effects of it?
Sir Richard Gozney: No. I think it is one of the contrasts between parts of Africa I know and parts of Asia I know. There is not the same concern-I did not find it in East Africa, southern Africa or West Africa-that a net population growth of 2%-plus, which a number of those countries face, makes economic growth per capita so much harder. We have seen dramatic changes in India and in Indonesia, which I know well, of the birth rate coming down. They are still growing population-wise, but not at the 2%-plus rate that is still the case, I think, in much of sub-Saharan Africa. I raised it once in a private meeting with the ECOWAS Secretary-General, Mr Chambas, a former Ghanaian Foreign Minister, for whom I have a lot of time, and he looked at me as if I was Malthus reincarnated, so I did not raise it again.
Q99 Mark Hendrick: Has there not been any attempt whatsoever to relate population growth to political radicalisation perhaps?
Sir Richard Gozney: Sorry-population growth led to political radicalisation?
Mark Hendrick: To correlate the population growth with political radicalisation, because the economic condition of the people who make up that population is pretty poor for the reasons you said earlier.
Sir Richard Gozney: No, I do not think there has been, and that is partly because the South, where people are doing much better, also has very high population growth. It is not particularly Islamic and is not part of Muslim Nigeria. It does not distinguish Muslim Nigeria from the non-Muslim South. There was one fellow, a Muslim in the South and a wealthy fellow, who came up to me and congratulated me on the British education system, having put 16 of his children, all of whom he paid for, through the system. I said, "Well, that’s very good. You’re keeping British invisible exports going almost singlehandedly." He said, "Don’t worry, I have another nine still to go." I am afraid that there is no correlation, because there is not really much of a debate.
Q100 Mark Hendrick: When you were High Commissioner, was there any attempt by the UK Government to see their role as perhaps promoting population control in any way in Nigeria?
Sir Richard Gozney: No, and if someone had suggested it, I would have been very sceptical, because I do not think that we, as outsiders-Europeans-are the agents to spread that message. It needs to be done by somebody else. Seven or eight years ago, Nigerians did not have a hang-up about Britain; they had got well past that state. They had been independent for nearly 50 years-45 years-plus-and where there was reason to blame Governments for their ills, they have blamed themselves, not Britain. That is unlike situations `20 years earlier, in parts of the continent where people were much closer to the time of independence and where Britain tended to get the stick. That was completely absent. Notwithstanding that they blame themselves and not us, I still think that it would be not only a brave person, but a foolhardy person who went in from this country with that message. Many people would say that it needs to be given. I would not argue against that, but it needs a third-party to do it.
Q101 Chair: Sir Richard, it is the British Government’s policy to meet the unmet demand for contraception throughout sub-Saharan Africa at the moment, for the very simple reason that no country, apart from a few oil-rich states, have got themselves out of poverty without first stabilising their levels of population growth. When the person you were talking to raised their eyebrows and thought you were mad, was that out of ignorance or because having a large population meant more culturally than economically?
Sir Richard Gozney: There is a strong cultural factor and I think he thought that I was being patronising.
Q102 Andrew Rosindell: Good afternoon, Sir Richard. It is very good to see you. I shall ask a general point about Nigeria and Britain’s relationship with Nigeria. How much do you think that the problems that Nigeria faces, in terms of the different regions of Nigeria and the current ethnic divide, might have been avoided had it not been for a helter-skelter rush of decolonisation-if things had been decolonised at a slower rate, and if more care and attention had been given to the boundaries and respect for the different regions and different ethnic make-up, rather than the rush that took place? How much of this could have been avoided had we thought more carefully about it at the time?
Sir Richard Gozney: I am afraid that it would not have changed things much. The Nigerians were held back for three years-Ghana got independence in 1957, and Nigeria was not until 1960-because they could not agree between the regions-the West, the East and the North-as to what the federal constitution was and how it should work. They felt rather cross, because they were much the biggest population in the region, to have been beaten by the old Gold Coast and Ghana.
If we had slowed down, it would have made very little difference, unless we had been prepared to negotiate the break-up of Nigeria into a number of countries-at least three, but possibly four or five. At that point, there had been no break-up of sub-Saharan countries since the second world war; there have been only two since. It was certainly off limits to suggest it, and it would not have been welcome within the country. But that is hypothetical.
I think that that is the only way one could have reduced the ethnic differences, which are very marked, very strong and still play far too big a role in the politics of Nigeria. Nigeria is not unique like that. I lived in Kenya years ago, where the division between the two biggest ethnic groups there played a huge role-I think it still does-in politics. But it is very striking in Nigeria.
Q103 Andrew Rosindell: But had we been prepared to review the old colonial boundaries and look at other options, could it have made some difference, or would it really not have been realistic at the time?
Sir Richard Gozney: I don’t think it would have been realistic in terms of how the Nigerians would have reacted. Who knows what certain Nigerians would have said in 1958 or 1959? But I suspect that they would each have said, "No. We want the country as it is", with an eye to, in turn, ruling the whole lot from themselves in their own group. There were elaborate arrangements set in place so that it did rotate. It all broke down, which led to the Biafra war of the late 1960s, but the serious effort was made there, so that each region in turn could be in charge of the federal Government. I don’t think it would have worked.
Q104 Sir Menzies Campbell: Just a comment. When independence is in the air, it is very difficult to resist that, if you are the colonial power that is committed to implement it. Is that not so?
Sir Richard Gozney: Yes. Absolutely.
Q105 Sir Menzies Campbell: May I ask a general question? This is a country that is relatively stable, and has a federal system of government, which I think you have rather interestingly described as being centripetal. It is rich in resources. It appears, on the face of it, to have a moderate achievement in education. That being so, how is it that this dispossessed generation, which is susceptible to persuasion, has grown up? In particular, is it because, as you have described in a rather elegant way, the budgets get thinned out and that corruption stands in the way of the kind of economic development that would be much more advantageous to the population as a whole rather than a relatively small number of people?
Sir Richard Gozney: Yes. I think a lot of it is due to corruption. I think that corruption greatly increased from the start of independence by the phenomenon that Mr Rosindell spoke about-the regions. If you are a Yoruba from western Nigeria-thinking back 50 years-and your group has the federal power in its hands for a certain amount of time, you presume that when that power moves to the East or to the North, they will feather their nest. You may be wrong, but that will be the assumption. Therefore you would be doing your own region a disservice if you didn’t make the most of your turn. That got under the skin of that country pretty early on-late ’60s; within 10 years.
What had been some very good educational establishments-you still get doctors all over the United States who were trained in Ibadan medical faculty-fell away, as did all the other bits of infrastructure you need.
Oil was being developed, and the money flowing from oil was so much greater than the money flowing from any competitive manufacturing firm’s exports for the region that the brighter graduates went to the oil industry and have been there ever since. You have a number of professions that are well paid and are not corrupt that provide services to the oil industry, you have the oil industry itself, then you have a huge gap. For a country of 160 million people there is very little manufacturing, there is virtually no mining and there is not much commercial agriculture-a little, but not a great deal. The sources of economic activity that might fill in the middle are pretty few and far between. I am sure if my Nigerian friends were here they would argue the toss on some of that, but I do not think they would argue qualitatively.
Q106 Sir Menzies Campbell: Is that gap capable of being filled, and if it is not filled what are the consequences?
Sir Richard Gozney: I think it is capable of being filled, but it is probably not going to be led by the centre-by the federal Government. It will probably be led by the states. If a particular state has a particularly good governor-it matters hugely who is elected governor-and he or she knows they have a four-year run at it with a good chance of the following four years afterwards, they can make quite a difference. However, they have to be much more disciplined, and they have to push gently aside the people who helped them get that governorship, who will expect to be repaid. That goes even for the best; there are some very good governors as well as the extremely corrupt governors that the country has known. It is a labour of love, and there are lots of setbacks on the way. However, I suspect that if it is done, it will be at that level.
After the election-not the last election, but the 2007 election-the head of DFID, the head of the World Bank and I identified half a dozen states where we thought the newly elected governors could begin to make a substantial change. We went together to pay our respects to them and to say that DFID, the World Bank and the British Government in general were prepared to make a special effort in those states. What we did six years ago might not be replicable today, but it is the sort of thing that stands the most chance of making a difference, in terms of what outsiders do.
The penalties for governors who get it wrong are becoming a bit more apparent. There are four oil-producing states in the Niger delta, and the governors take a disproportionate share of the royalties, if they are being corrupt. They take a slice of the royalties before the rest of the money is divided up around the country. When one of them got arrested in London under the 2002 anti-corruption legislation, which means that corrupt activity anywhere becomes an offence here when the money is put through the British banking system, it was a great surprise-a huge shock. Unfortunately, he was let out on bail. The magistrate thought £1 million would deter him; but that was pocket money for him, and off he went.
A few years later, we got another one-the worst of the lot-by extraditing him from Dubai, and he is now serving a long prison sentence. People notice that, and that helps too. Effective use of anti-corruption legislation in this country with Nigerians, many of whom have property and assets and make frequent visits to this country, is strong. On a number of visits back to London during my three and a half years in Nigeria I went first to the Metropolitan police before even checking in with the Foreign Office.
Chair: How revealing.
Q107 Mike Gapes: Can I go back to the security issues in the region? You know ECOWAS very well because when you were the high commissioner you were also the permanent representative of the UK to the ECOWAS organisation in Abuja. Can you give us your assessment of the effectiveness of ECOWAS for regional security, as well as for the other issues it has to deal with? Do you think it has been an effective body, or is it becoming an effective body?
Chair: Sir Richard, before you answer that question, I have just been told that the vote may be a few minutes before four.
Sir Richard Gozney: ECOWAS has shown itself to be very effective, sometimes to the surprise of its own members, when serious things have happened. It sent off a force called ECOMOG to either Liberia or Sierra Leone-I think probably Liberia. It made all the difference. They mounted that themselves. There was no UN or EU support or anything and that was good. But like a lot of regional organisations, they react to a crisis rather than to day-to-day strains.
In terms of training up troops, the Ghanaians and the Senegalese have good reputations internationally. The Nigerians have played a certain amount of international peacekeeping just because they have a lot of soldiers. Seven or eight years ago we put quite a lot of money into an ECOWAS training centre for officers just outside Abuja. We had to pay for virtually everything because whatever they promised, the money tended not to appear, but it was cheap at the price. It linked with the Kofi Annan centre in Ghana and was producing some better fruits in terms of knowing about the essence of peacekeeping. Yes, they can do it but they don’t do it very often.
Q108 Mike Gapes: What about Mali? There was obviously a plan that there was going to be an African force there. In the end the insurgency happened and the French had to go in. Do you think that lessons have been learned from that?
Sir Richard Gozney: I do not know. I have not been back to West Africa recently. In my day the president, who was elected democratically within the limits of what that word means in Nigeria, was an ex-general. When I went to him quietly about Darfur, saying that the peacekeeping force in Sudan was very strapped and could the Nigerians find two more battalions, he said, "Yes", straight off. When I went to see the chief of general staff he said, "I’m not sure about two. We will find one but I am not sure the second one is quite up to it." But that was a slightly different era. Now there is a president from a very different background so there is probably less push from the top of the country that has the most troops as potential.
Q109 Mike Gapes: How does Nigeria see itself in terms of the region and regional security? Does it see itself as the big player with everybody else helping it or, because of its own internal problems, particularly in the recent period, are the Nigerians more reluctant than they were?
Sir Richard Gozney: I don’t think they look to other countries to help them. They certainly did not when I was there. I think they are willing to do what they can when a request comes up. It applied in Darfur. I think they may have gone to Somalia. I am not sure about that.
Q110 Mike Gapes: They are also in Mali.
Sir Richard Gozney: And they are also in Mali. But it is a more a question of, "There is an obvious need here. If we don’t put up a battalion who will? So we must put up one or two." There is a willingness to do that but I don’t think it forms part of a concept of how the countries knit together militarily.
Q111 Rory Stewart: Welcome. Where do we in the West tend to get Boko Haram wrong? What sort of clichés do you encounter from amateur foreign policy watchers looking at it? What is your sense of where our instincts may be wrong in thinking about Boko Haram?
Sir Richard Gozney: Probably the distinctive Nigerian factor in something like Boko Haram is the fact that money will play a large part. I suspect that money plays a large part in the motivation of people who join. Money plays a large part in almost everything in Nigeria. Unless you go and get money one way or another yourself no one else is going to look after you or your family. It is very stark in that country. I do not suggest that there were not extreme Islamists, with the aim of a caliphate, among some of the people originally, but most of that early activity, which began before I left, of beating up police stations and other instances of the federal Government was because they could get some money and some weapons out of it. Maybe there were a few leaders who were ideologically and religiously motivated, but I would be surprised if there were many.
Q112 Rory Stewart: What do you think of the Nigerian Government’s military response to Boko Haram? What are the risks in it?
Sir Richard Gozney: I don’t think my reaction to their response is very different from anywhere else in the world. Unless there is a political solution in people’s back pockets, military action at best and if well done will only hold the line a bit until people sit down and talk and come to a wider solution.
Q113 Rory Stewart: Broadly speaking, how worried are you by this phenomenon? Is it something that you see as a great tragedy-something that is going to dominate Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa for the next 20 or 30 years? Or do you think it is controllable? Where would you put it on a scale of one to 10 if you were reporting back from Nigeria? How much should we be worried about this?
Sir Richard Gozney: I am going to give you an answer that is too easy, though I do think it is right. Anybody who gives you a confident answer to that question is flying by the seat of their pants. I do not think there is an answer; I would be surprised if anybody had an answer to that now. It is a fairly new phenomenon that has developed, and it is not clear whether it is a lot of thugs taking advantage of something that may have started for slightly different reasons, or what would be a deep change for Nigeria-a Taliban-style commitment to a radically different sort of Government in the north.
We have been used for years to reading about violent criminality in the Niger delta. Almost all of it was driven just by money. There was little sense of righting human rights wrongs there. There were some notable exceptions. Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed by the military Government, and now his son are powerful exceptions, and I can think of a number of people I knew, including priests and others, who were also exceptions. However, most people in the Niger delta struggle were there for the loot, to put it crudely. I suspect that there is more of that than we believe in the north. Therefore, you cannot predict how it runs; it depends where the balance of calculation lies.
Q114 Rory Stewart: Finally, with the Division bell about to ring, what is your sense and instinct for how British commentators have tended to get Nigeria wrong? Where do you wince when you read newspaper or think-tank reports on Nigeria? What is your sense of the sorts of misleading prejudices or assumptions people bring to Nigeria?
Sir Richard Gozney: I think it is to underestimate the Nigerians. They are much more self-confident and, therefore, when educated and experienced, much more assertive in a positive sense than many people I have met, visited, seen and lived among in other parts of the continent. I think it is because they were never heavily colonised. There were no outside white farmers and no Asian traders in that part of the world. There is more scope within Nigeria to debate these things and, if someone provides the tinderbox, to help solve these things, but the political class and leadership relies so much on money politics that it is very difficult to get real action from them at a sufficient level.
They all have huge debts to repay once they get into office and then it becomes a vicious self-perpetuating circle. That is a bit harsh, but there are a lot of extremely clever, thoughtful, metropolitan people. I would regard them not just as bi-national-as people who hop over to London all the time-but as bi-cultural. They think through London-it is mostly London-or British eyes as well as Nigerian eyes. We need to listen more to them, use them and encourage them.
Q115 Chair: As the UK’s representative to ECOWAS, how much of your time did that take up?
Sir Richard Gozney: Little, because there was not much to discuss. I went along to talk to Mr Chambas and others when there was something to discuss.
Q116 Chair: Did they have plenary sessions?
Sir Richard Gozney: At that time, I don’t think they did. If there were, they were not such that I would have given up a morning to go along. That is because you could predict what would be said. There is a real language difficulty in ECOWAS. Relatively few of the Anglophone representatives-perhaps some of the more sophisticated Nigerians and Ghanaians-speak French, and surprisingly few of the sophisticated people from Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso or Cameroon speak good enough English. They did not seem to use them in those they sent to Nigeria. There were a number of Francophone representatives I met who really struggled in English. In a highly articulate country such as Nigeria it does not work. We need people who can keep their end up and take on the debate.
Q117 Chair: In English.
Sir Richard Gozney: In English, because that is the language in which that country works. It was a bit stacked up against the organisation. There was not a Liberia-type or Mali-type crisis when I was there. If there had been, I think it would have been the Foreign Ministers who piled in and, if necessary, the Heads of State, because foreign affairs are too important and sensitive to leave in the hands of mere functionaries in that part of the world.
Chair: The bell has not gone yet. Has anyone got any more questions? No. Sir Richard, thank you very much indeed. That is much appreciated. You were very forthcoming, helpful, direct and useful to us. Thank you.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Virginia Comolli, Research Associate for Transnational Threats, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, gave evidence.
Q118 Chair: Ms Comolli, I am so sorry that you have been kept waiting. A number of my colleagues seem to be dribbling back, but as we are quorate, we will make a start.
May I thank you very much for coming along? We have been looking at your book, "The lost boys of Kano". In it, you wrote about the impoverished Islamic north and the wealthier Christian south. Is that the right way of describing the differences? Is the sense of alienation about economics, or is it wider than that?
Virginia Comolli: First, thank you for inviting me here today. We often talk about Nigeria in terms of a country with a very marked north-south divide, meaning, as you mentioned, a poor Muslim north and a wealthier Christian south. Without overdoing that characterisation, there are some strong indicators that support that thesis. They are to do with economics, social issues and religion, and also political and historical roots.
Some of the previous speakers alluded to the issue of education. Nigeria is the No. 1 country in the world for out-of-school children; one in three kids is out of school and most of them are in the north. In fact, 70% of the northern population is illiterate, so that is a strong indicator of pointing at the poorer situation in the north. Also, 73% of the northern population lives in poverty and 27% of the population in the south lives in poverty, so you can see this huge disparity.
Earlier, Sir Richard mentioned the unwritten rule that was put in place post-independence whereby Muslim and Christian candidates would rotate for the presidency. That is also something that has created some friction between the north and the south, especially when President Jonathan took over after President Yar’Adua suddenly died during his first term.
But there are also some historical roots. Starting from the early 19th century with the Sokoto jihad, Islam spread across northern Nigeria. When the Brits arrived in northern Nigeria in 1902-03, they found a very divided country. They could not really see many signs of modernity in the north because it had been insulated; there were very few Christians living in the north, and those who were there lived in very segregated communities and did not have much access to political or social life. Acknowledging the power of the existing Islamic Administration at the time, the British decided to adopt a system of indirect rule whereby the existing Administration carried on, almost as if nothing had changed, and Sharia law remained in place until the end of the colonial era.
Great emphasis was given to the north. The north was the most important and more powerful part of the country. But then, when independence came, because the north had been so isolated, there was little modernity there. And because there were so few graduates in the north, very few jobs were given to northerners in the post-colonial administration in the federal government. The Igbo ethnic group in particular covered the most prominent positions within government.
It was at that time that the northern leaders started to feel threatened. They really feared that the more traditional Islamic way of life was under threat. This sentiment at the time-I do not mean to bore you with a history lesson here, but I want to highlight this-is what has also driven the various Islamic extremist movements that have emerged from the ’70s onwards.
I also say that to say that Boko Haram is not a completely new movement. It is not the first Islamic extremist movement to emerge in northern Nigeria. We had the Izala movement, the Maitatsine, the al-Muhajiroun, the Muslim Brotherhood-so many others have emerged with more or less the same ideology and motivated by the same drivers.
Q119 Rory Stewart: My apologies for being late. Before we go on to Boko Haram’s objectives and command structure, can you-in broad terms, for an amateur audience-tell us the difference between the objectives of Boko Haram and those of, for example, the Taliban?
Virginia Comolli: At the very beginning when Boko Haram emerged, their nickname was the Nigerian Taliban. This was because they were living in a very isolated community. They did not want any contact with other Muslims and they aspired to the societal model of the Taliban-a strict Salafist model-as the way to go, and that is why they did not want to mix with other people, even within the Muslim community. They were even displaying the Afghan flag, and the first base that they created was actually called Afghanistan. This was in Yobe state, close to the Niger border.
Boko Haram did not have any links with the Taliban, but they aspired to become like them. Over time, and especially after 2009 when Mohammed Yusuf died, the movement became more radical and violent. Mohammed Yusuf was the original leader who was a charismatic preacher, but also fairly moderate in relative terms. He was killed in police custody, so his death was an extrajudicial killing and it was a source of great debate. When his deputy, Abubakar Shekau, took over, he gave the movement a much more radical and violent imprint. He has been quoted as saying that he really enjoys killing human beings in the same way he enjoys killing chickens and rams. He was a radical person who tried in his speeches to align the movement with the struggle of fighters in Iraq, in Yemen or in Somalia and so on. He really tried to connect-at least from a rhetorical point of view-Boko Haram with the broader Islamist ideology.
Q120 Rory Stewart: Within the organisation, is there a vigorous debate between different clerics? Are there different interpretations of Islam or different theories on how to proceed? Also, to what extent are you describing what is essentially a half-secret organisation? How easy is it for you to gain direct access to these figures and militia?
Virginia Comolli: Gathering information, especially when it comes to security matters in the context of Nigeria, is in general very hard. If we look at the recent statements made by the Government and at the same time the videos issued by Boko Haram, we see a contrasting narrative. Also, the Nigerian press is often unreliable. Sometimes they just quote verbatim the Government’s press releases. Access that is given to foreign journalists is limited, and we can talk about that problem.
I base my knowledge on open source information online, but I have visited northern Nigeria. I have conducted interviews with Government people; people from religious communities, both Christian and Muslim; local NGOs; academics; the military; and also the common citizens.
Q121 Rory Stewart: It is a little like trying to describe the Taliban or al-Qaeda. It is an illegal fighting group, so there are serious problems of knowledge and access.
Virginia Comolli: Yes, absolutely. Unfortunately, I did not have access to Boko Haram members directly when I went there, but I did speak to a Nigerian journalist who has been dealing with them for a long time. He had managed in the past to interview the original leader, Mohammed Yusuf. He visited his house and he had a discussion with him, but that was a different era. Yusuf was an educated, well-mannered, charismatic person. Very few people communicate with the new leader, Abubakar Shekau, even within the Boko Haram movement. The structure is a loose, cell-based structure and the command and control is very loose, so he deals only with certain cells’ commanders who then pass on the message.
Q122 Rory Stewart: Is it strongly ethnically driven? Is there a clear core of an ethnic membership?
Virginia Comolli: Within Boko Haram, the two predominant ethnic groups are the Hausa-Fulani and the Kanuri. Shekau himself is a Kanuri. There have been some tensions there. It has been very hard to verify, but it looks like the top leadership is composed of Kanuri people, which has led to some tensions within the movement itself. Also, the Hausa-Fulani-the other ethnic group-felt they had been mistreated on a number of occasions.
In addition to that, it looks like that all the men who have been sent on suicide missions belong to the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group. So orders came that only the people from that ethnic group would become suicide attackers. That of course has not gone down very well among the membership.
Q123 Rory Stewart: Is your sense that their central objective is to create an Islamic state in Nigeria? In other words, are they still like the Taliban to some extent, in that their basic concerns are domestic-they want Sharia law and that kind of thing-or do you think that this is a genuinely international movement that has links to other extremist groups in the region and is engaged in some big international jihad?
Virginia Comolli: I think the answer to that is multifold. In the main, Boko Haram remains an inward looking movement that is focused on the Nigerian state, and it wants to expand Sharia law across the country. Having said that, they also have links with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and with Somalia. When I talk about links, I am not talking about a great ideological partnership; I am talking more at a tactical level. AQIM and al-Shabaab have provided training and money to Boko Haram, so there have been some links for a few years now. However, I would definitely say that Boko Haram is the junior partner in that relationship. Also, Boko Haram has never been recognised by the al-Qaeda core.
They have also established contact in Mali, and Boko Haram fighters have been fighting along with the groups in northern Mali. They have made ties with AQIM and also with the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa and with Ansar Dine. However, what I think should be more concerning when we are talking about the more regional approach is not so much Boko Haram proper as the Ansaru offshoot-the splinter group. Ansaru seems to have a much broader ideology. It has closer links to those other groups, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and it also has a much more sophisticated approach and is more involved in kidnappings of foreigners, which is really an AQ tactic; with one exception, that is not something that Boko Haram have really turned to.
Q124 Rory Stewart: Normally when we deal with this kind of group we tend to use words and phrases like political settlement, reconciliation and regional solution. Is that broadly your sense of what we should be doing, or what the Nigerian Government should be doing, in relation to this?
Virginia Comolli: Personally I am very sceptical of the approach adopted by the Nigerian Government. From the beginning, the Government’s approach has been a militarised one; since 2004 they have deployed joint taskforces, consisting of elements of all the armed forces, the intelligence services, the police, immigration, customs and so on. They declared a state of emergency this year in three states in the north; a state of emergency had already been put in place in other states last year. Then, of course, as we all know, they launched a big military deployment this year, with a total of 8,000 troops being sent to the north. That is the largest deployment since the civil war. It is a very serious military endeavour.
In parallel to that, in the past they have attempted some negotiations. They have not been very successful, mainly because it is very hard to find a partner with whom to negotiate. Some people claiming to represent Boko Haram said they were willing to enter into negotiation with the Government only to be dismissed a couple of days later by Abubakar Shekau saying, "No, these people don’t represent us. We don’t want to negotiate with the Government."
Similarly, there was discussion of an amnesty. An amnesty commission was established in April, so there is a group of people who are now going around and talking to various community leaders and decision makers, and trying to establish whether there is a possibility of an amnesty for some Boko Haram members. The process is running parallel with the state of emergency. It is itself a source of friction because people will say that the Government are sending contrasting messages. You try in a way to destroy the movement militarily but, on the other hand, you are still saying that you are willing to negotiate to pardon some of the others.
Q125 Mr Roy: Do you think that the recent state of emergency in the north-east is for the better or for the worse?
Virginia Comolli: I think the situation had reached a point where the integrity of the state was under threat. For the first time, President Jonathan conceded this spring that there were parts, especially in Borno State, where local officials had to run away. The Nigerian flag had to be removed, and the Boko Haram flag replaced it. It was very serious when the territorial integrity of the state was at risk. The situation was so bad that military intervention at that point was inevitable.
However, I think that it is a short-term solution. Other underlying grievances are not officially voiced by the movement, but I think that they are there and appeal to a broad number of people, who are poor and unemployed. Unless the grievances to do with unemployment, lack of opportunities, education and so on are addressed, no military operation will have solved the problem for good. They will do only what previous military operations have done in Nigeria, which was to suppress the movement temporarily. The movement, whatever it is called at a given time in history, goes underground for a few years, regroups and then re-emerges, with a slightly different name, but with more or less the same ideology.
Q126 Mr Roy: Do you think the United Kingdom should take a view not only on the state of emergency, but on the amnesty that is running at the moment? Or should the United Kingdom just stay well away?
Virginia Comolli: I am not sure. I do find the amnesty issue very controversial, especially based on the previous history of Nigeria vis-à-vis amnesty, referring to the Niger Delta groups. The Niger Delta groups were given amnesty by Yar’ Adua in 20075. What it meant in practice is that, since then, the country has been held hostage by those groups that receive up to $500 per month, per person, per fighter. It is a lot of money given that the average salary is between $120 and $130 a month for average people.
Last year, there were already some delays in the monthly payments and the movements, such as the movement for emancipation of the Niger Delta, said, "Well, if we don’t receive the money, we will start attacking oil infrastructure again." Mindful of that experience, which was a very expensive experience for the Nigerian Government and not that successful, given that a couple of attacks on oil infrastructures have taken place over the past 12 months, applying the amnesty to the North would not be a very easy solution.
Q127 Mr Roy: Should the UK encourage, discourage or just stay away?
Virginia Comolli: I think it should stay away on this. It makes your job easier.
Q128 Chair: Ansaru, which I understand means the Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa, is a breakaway from Boko Haram. How would you define the differences between the two organisations?
Virginia Comolli: The main difference is that Ansaru has broader, international connections and more sophisticated tactics, especially as a result of the closer partnership or links with more senior Islamist groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. It has also ideologically a more sophisticated way of looking at their struggle. They look back at the old key figures within the Islamic tradition of West Africa so, from that point of view, they are much more sophisticated. The difference is also that they kidnap foreigners, which is something that Boko Haram does not do. Of course, there was the kidnapping of the French family in Cameroon by Boko Haram earlier in the year. It is not very clear how that happened. It may have happened out of luck-they were stealing a car on the road and then found this other van full of foreigners and decided to kidnap them. It probably does not mean a change in the strategy of Boko Haram. So I think that the kidnapping is also a big difference between the two.
Q129 Chair: Do Ansaru pose a threat to Nigeria, or indeed to British interests in either Nigeria or this country?
Virginia Comolli: I believe that they are a threat to British interests in the region, but neither Ansaru or Boko Haram pose any threat to the UK directly. However, by attacking foreign workers in the region, they certainly pose a threat there. From the point of view of the Nigerian Government, again, they are a threat because of the attacks that they carry out. For instance, Ansaru attacked a convoy of Nigerian soldiers bound for Mali a few months ago, so yes, they certainly are a threat.
Q130 Chair: The Nigerian diaspora living here is surprisingly large. Are you aware of any signs of radicalisation?
Virginia Comolli: No, I have not heard anything to that effect. You are quite right: I believe that there are more than 500,000 Nigerians living in the UK, predominantly in south London. However, they belong primarily to the Yoruba and Igbo ethnic groups, and to a lesser extent the Edo, all of which are predominantly Christian and from the south. The other thing that I would say is that less than 9% of the Nigerians living in the UK are Muslim, and the bulk of the Nigerians living here are well educated professionals who do not really present a threat linked to Boko Haram or Ansaru at all.
Q131 Chair: I have to be careful here, because this is sub judice, but I want to talk about the Woolwich attack. The two protagonists who it is alleged murdered Drummer Lee Rigby are both of Nigerian extraction. Do you think that there is any significance in that? Do you think that it feeds back to the unrest that is going on in Nigeria at the moment? We can talk generally, rather than about the particular case.
Virginia Comolli: I really don’t think so. I do not see the connection. These are two men who were born in this country and grew up here. I do not think that it is at all related to Boko Haram.
Q132 Rory Stewart: What is your sense of how we get Nigeria wrong? When you hear people in Britain talk about Nigeria, generally speaking, what sort of mistakes do policy makers-perhaps the Foreign Office or Parliament-make?
Virginia Comolli: I’m not sure. There is a lot of talk about corruption, which unfortunately is not a mistake. It is pretty rampant, and I saw some very clear examples when I was there. One mistake, if I may call it that, is this: there is quite a lot of aid going into Nigeria-I met with the British Council and DFID operating there-but what I think is missing is greater oversight once the money is delivered to the recipient.
For instance, I interviewed a private company that runs development projects for DFID, USAID, and so on, and they gave me loads of examples of how they have seen, in their daily work, how people in the local communities can blatantly steal the money. They come up with programmes to help women to improve their job opportunities, so the local partnert comes up with a list of all the women that will take part in the programme-over 100 women. The company that I met goes to deliver the training course and there only 40 actual women; the other names were just made up so that the local partners could get the money for the training of 100 women.
That is just a small example, but there are so many others of that sort. I know that it is easier said than done, but it would help if there was greater monitoring of that sort of thing. I also spoke to some health workers. Money had been delivered to provide vaccinations for children. This aid organisation went to visit the community where the vaccines were supposed to be administered, and only 30% of the children had in their blood any sign that any vaccination had ever taken place. The other money just disappeared.
Q133 Mark Hendrick: You mentioned that less than 9% of the 500,000 people of Nigerian origin in this country are Muslim. Are you not aware, or do you not believe, that any of them would be radicalised in the way that Pakistanis may be or people from other parts of the world that have got serious terrorism problems may be?
Virginia Comolli: I agree-you only need one person to be radicalised to commit some violence. There is also the issue of lone wolves; that comes to mind. What I want to say is that, from what I have read and from my private conversations with branches of the UK Government, there does not seem to be an indication that people from within the Nigerian diaspora in this country have had any connections with Boko Haram or Ansaru.
Q134 Mark Hendrick: So there is no history that is known of?
Virginia Comolli: No, and also there is no history of Boko Haram recruiting anyone from outside West Africa. They do have within the organisation members from Chad, Niger and Cameroon-that is from the very beginning of the organisation-but no one from outside West Africa.
Q135 Mark Hendrick: How about Ansaru?
Virginia Comolli: They also have regional membership, primarily Nigerian, although they also include other members from other countries, but still within West Africa.
Q136 Mark Hendrick: They seem to be more broadly aligned with al-Qaeda and are not just locally focused like Boko Haram.
Virginia Comolli: Yes, that is why I think they are a regional threat rather than being a national threat in Nigeria, as Boko Haram is. But again I think that they are only capable to operate within the West African region. I don’t think they have the capability, or even the desire at this point, to carry out attacks in the UK or anywhere else outside West Africa.
Q137 Mark Hendrick: If they could establish themselves in Nigeria more strongly than they are established at the moment, do you feel that in the future they will try and perhaps take over Nigeria as a whole, or do you think that they are perhaps just interested in certain parts of Nigeria where they feel that they should be established and where they can set up their own mini-state, as such?
Virginia Comolli: At least in their rhetoric, they will always state that their ultimate goal is to Islamise the whole of Nigeria, but I don’t think that that could ever happen; I don’t think the Nigerian Government would ever allow that to happen. But, yes, I think that would remain their stated goal.
Q138 Mark Hendrick: Do you think their goal is mainly ideological, in the sense that they want to establish a Muslim state as such, or is it partly economic-born of poverty-whereby the south has got the oil and the wealth and they perhaps want to see that wealth redistributed? If that is the case, is there any scope whatsoever for coming to some agreement or some accommodation with the south, such that the wealth is spread and they could live harmoniously?
Virginia Comolli: Neither Ansaru nor Boko Haram have ever mentioned poverty in their statements as one of the drivers of their movements. However, my personal opinion is that poverty plays a big role in recruiting members for the group. Boko Haram in particular has shown the ability to spread southward. Even in Lagos a few weeks ago, there was the discovery of a large amount of weapons that were believed to be connected to a plan for attacks by Boko Haram; they were planning on carrying out attacks at the international airport at Lagos. If those attacks had happened, that would have had a tremendous impact, and also a political impact; it would further inflame this north-south divide that I mentioned earlier.
So, yes, they are trying to move south, but I don’t think they are fooling themselves in thinking that they could successfully spread to the Niger delta. That is because of those movements and those fighters that are still present in the Niger delta-the ones that are now receiving the amnesty payment. Indeed, some of those groups have already made it clear in some pretty major statements that they would not tolerate any Boko Haram infiltration in the south and that they are ready to take up arms if that was ever attempted.
Q139 Mr Roy: Can I ask a general question about Nigeria’s position in relation to the global drug trade and human trafficking? Where would you put it?
Virginia Comolli: The Nigerians have really pioneered organised crime in Africa. It is the other area, actually, that I work on; one is extremism, and the other one is drugs and organised crime in West Africa. So the Nigerians, especially over the past few years, have become much more independent when it comes to drug trafficking, especially of cocaine coming from Latin America through West Africa into Europe. They are no longer just the DHL for Latin American cartels; they are actually controlling their own trade. They have operatives based in South America, in places such as Venezuela and Brazil. They have operatives based in consumer receiving markets. So they control all the phases of trafficking.
Of course, they are involved in lots of other forms of criminality, including smuggling of migrants, and we have oil theft in the south. We have increasingly the problem of maritime piracy in West Africa, which has now reached the levels-in terms of numbers-of piracy off the coast of Somalia, even though the two types of piracy are very different. In Somalia, the pirates tended to be more sophisticated, while in West Africa piracy is really to do with stealing oil.
Q140 Mr Roy: Is there a correlation between human trafficking, the global drug trade and terrorism?
Virginia Comolli: There is. The nexus between crime and terrorism has been discussed quite a lot, in particular in the context of the Sahel and Mali. Unfortunately, there is a great lack of hard evidence to do with this. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence, especially when it comes to traffickers who are moving their goods northwards and have to transit through areas that are controlled by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and others. So it is very likely that, in order to be allowed to transit through those territories, they have had to pay a fee to AQIM. However, some more recent assessments that I have come across say that these days AQIM is much more involved in this trade and they ask the traffickers to pay them between 10% and 15% of the value of cocaine to facilitate the trade.
Also in West Africa there is Hezbollah, which is involved in both the cocaine trade and the heroin trade. They are really making use of the previous extensive Lebanese community that is present in West Africa, and also in South America in the case of cocaine trafficking. So part of that money also goes into Hezbollah.
Chair: Thank you very much indeed. You have ended up our afternoon rather nicely and given us a different angle on it. So, thank you very much for coming along and please convey our best wishes to everybody else at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Virginia Comolli: Thank you very much.
 Note by witness: Should read around 1000
 Note by witness: Should read 600
 Note by witness: Should read 200 or so
 Note by witness: Should read 400 or so
 Note by witness: Amnesty was granted in 2009