Author: Rubén Ruiz Calleja
The potential of Nigeria to exploit and export energy resources, and the Spanish and European demand could intensify their relations with this African country, facing the risks and threats which increase and try to destabilize this State and the region of the Sahel.
Although instability in the Sahel represents today a major risk for the European and Maghribian security, this analysis is focused particularly on Nigeria because of its growing importance on energy and security reasons. We cannot lose sight of Nigeria and the increasing number of attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram (BH) in the North of the country. Nigeria is an important economic partner for the European Union. The EU is a major consumer of Nigerian oil and gas exports (around 20% of crude oil and 80% of gas) and a major current and potential investor in the industry.
Trans-Saharan gas pipeline: great opportunity for Spain and Europe
Algeria, Niger and Nigeria signed in 2009 an agreement for the construction of the Trans-Saharan gas pipeline (NIGAL pipeline), whose completion is planned for 2015. From that year onwards, the Nigerian gas should be transported to Europe through Niger and Algeria with a direct connection to the Medgaz, the undersea gas pipeline between Algeria and Spain. This pipeline could transport between 20.000 and 30.000 million cubic meters of natural gas every year, corresponding to 25% of the needs of gas for the European Union. It would be very important for Spain if this pipeline would not have its destination in the Iberian Peninsula. Spain could become a transit country transporting gas from Africa to the rest of Europe. Nigeria, for the viability of the project, will have to deal with the problem of facing the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which carries out attacks in this gas and oil production area with the aim of trying to destroy the capacity of Nigeria to export its energy resources and, thus, weakening the country.
The Niger Delta is an important region for the exploitation of resources and for exporting energy from Nigeria to Europe. In this part of the country, the Nigerian government must face the threat of terrorism. Therefore, although both terrorist organizations have different goals, Nigeria must act in both fronts, in the North to deal with Boko Haram and in the South with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. For the European Union, a stable Nigeria, one of the most important states in Africa for the European interests, is fundamental if the EU wants to ensure the future diversification of European energetic imports and suppliers, and fighting against terrorism.
The terrorist threat in Nigeria
The new Strategy of the European Union for the Sahel does not foresee the threat of Boko Haram not only for Nigeria but also as a possible regional power which represents a threat for the neighbouring countries. Such risk from Nigeria is easy to be spread through the Sahel towards the Maghreb, which would represent a threat for the European security, as the Mediterranean area would be affected. The EU should make an accurate assessment with the risks coming from that region. At the same time, the fight against BH means also the fight against international terrorism and, in particular, against jihadism, because of the existing alliance between this terrorist group and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb on one hand, and with Al Shabaab in Somalia on the other hand. Policies in Nigeria have so far been mostly focused on economy. However, the threat of Boko Haram has caused the increasing of budget for security measures. 20% of the Nigerian budget is spent for security measures. Nevertheless, because of the close cooperation in terms of security between Nigeria and the United States (technical and equipment supply), the European Union cannot compete with the US in that field, but Europe could invest in development of the country, which could have direct consequences for the welfare of population and, at the same time, the capacity of terrorist groups to radicalize people and attack European and international interests in the country would be reduced.
The risks of spreading the BH ideology and, therefore, the attacks, is not unlikely, particularly in Chad, Cameroon or Niger, where there are close affinities of ethnicity between the population of these and the Northern Nigerians. For all these reasons, the European Union must take into consideration seriously the threat of Boko Haram, not only as a current threat for the security of Nigeria and its neighbouring countries, but also as a potential risk for the European security. If BH tries to destabilize the country, with the economic relations that this fact would imply, there would be consequences for the European Union. Moreover, if the North of Nigeria and part of the neighbouring countries fall under the influence of BH, Al Qaeda would have there a territory to settle and to develop its activities without pressure of governments.
Therefore, the fight against these terrorist groups operating in Nigeria is a key issue if Spain and Europe want to rely on Nigeria as a reliable alternative for their energetic supply in the short and medium term, and if the sub-Saharan country intends to attract business and to have access to the European market.