Emerging developments from the EU’s Draft Action Plan for Nigeria

By Dr Kwaku Arhin-Sam, Director, Friedensau Institute for Evaluation (FIFE)

Introduction

Nigeria continues to occupy a vital policy position in European Union’s (EU) external migration governance agenda. On the African continent and particularly in West Africa, Nigeria draws attention to its economic, social, and political strength and dominance. However, the largest economy in Africa and the country with the largest population on the continent still faces challenges, including corruption, insecurity, under-development, poverty, and marginalization.
In the latest Draft Action Plan on Nigeria (Operationalization of the Pact – Action plans for strengthening comprehensive migration partnerships with priority countries of origin and transit), the west African superpower is again in the spotlight of EU external migration policy on Africa.

Background to the Draft Action Plan

In 2015, Nigeria and the EU signed the Common Agenda on Migration and Mobility (CAMM), a migration partnership framework with four major priority areas;

  • To better organize legal migration and foster well-managed mobility.
  • To prevent and combat irregular migration and tackle trafficking in human beings.
  • To maximize the development impact of migration and mobility.
  • To promote international protection.

The Draft Action Plan builds on the CAMM but seeks a comprehensive approach to mobility and migration, including assisting refugees and internally displaced persons in Nigeria. As an overall objective, the EU in this Draft Action Plan aims to strengthen the EU-Nigeria Migration partnership through intensified all-level political dialogue (national, regional, and continental), particularly by proposing to include the participation of EU-member States in local-level political dialogue. Also, the plan outlines the EU’s aim to engage and revamp bilateral and joint ministerial dialogues on a broader scale, including on issues like digitization, democracy, trade and investment energy and circular economy Nigeria in a series of bilateral. The Draft Action Plan

  • offers protection and humanitarian assistance to refugees and IDPs,
  • is interested in addressing the root causes of migration and forced displacement,
  • improve on managing migration and governance,
  • push for return, readmission, and reintegration of Nigerian migrants,
  • promote regular migration,
  • intends to support countries along migration routes to Europe through a multi-country initiative called the Team Europe Initiative.

What is „new“?

On the one hand, the Draft Action Plan builds or intensify what was already agreed on in the CAMM. On the other hand, there are a few proposals in the Action Plan worth taking note of:

  1.  The Team Europe Initiatives on migratory routes: Team Europe Initiatives (TEIs) are joint activities by the EU, its member states, and the European development finance institutions. It is a new EU policy term that only became commonly used in EU policy documents in mid-2020. TEIs bring together the possible mix of modalities, tools, and partners (e.g. civil society organizations (CSOs) and the private sector), including multinational partners.
    In this Draft Action Plan, two TEIs are proposed; 1) TEI on the Atlantic/Western Mediterranean migration route targeting countries affected by Mediterranean routes, and 2) TEI on the Central Mediterranean Route targeting affected countries on the route. In both TEIs, Nigeria is part of the countries targeted.
  2. Intensifying EU migration and Border agencies roles in Nigeria: In this new Draft Action Plan, the roles of agencies like Frontex, Europol and EASO in Nigeria are to be intensified. Since 2012, Nigeria has been working with Frontex in a working arrangement. The Draft Action Plan seeks to update the working arrangement to reflect Frontex’s new mandates in integrated border management, including a systematic collaboration with the other EU agencies with Nigerian government agencies. This will pave the way for EU agencies to play an active role in migration and border management in Nigeria.
  3. A push for Return, Readmission, and Reintegration (R3): The call for an R3 agreement is not new to the EU-Nigeria migration partnership, but the push to swiftly conclude the R3 negotiations shows an intensified interest on the part of the EU. A return agreement between Nigeria and the EU was a major priority for the EU in the CAMM. The highly sought after (at least from the EU side) R3 agreement started five years ago (in October 2016) and has, to date, not been concluded. Nigeria has so far not cooperated in such an agreement. Therefore, the EU’s Draft Action Plan constitutes another attempt by the EU to conclude negotiations for the agreement.
  4. New funding framework: The Draft Action Plan proposes a Multiannual Financial Framework from 2021 to 2027. It focuses on EU priorities and Nigeria on Green and Digital Economy, Governance, Peace and Migration, and Human Development through a regional migration support programme for Sub-Saran Africa. The funding framework is similar to the EDF, but its disbursement could be highly dependent on how partner countries collaborate on the proposals of the Action Plan.

Conclusion

Nigeria is one of the priority countries on the EU’s external migration policy for sub-Sahara Africa and one of the big recipients of EU’s migration-related funding. The Draft Action Plan contains several positive proposals (e.g., intensive political and economic dialogue and new funding scheme) that converge with Nigeria’s interests.

Yet when it comes to R3 (EU’s most interesting issue), the Nigerian government has been dragging its feet since 2016. The diverging point has been the reluctance of the government to be seen cooperating with the EU to bring back Nigerians from Europe. For instance, challenges such as lack of prospects for young Nigerians, the North and South divide, lack of infrastructure, the rising unemployment and insecurity are among the root causes of migration in Nigeria. And while these challenges continue to exacerbate under the current government, one can expect the government to not easily give in to just any return, readmission, and reintegration agreement, without mutual support to tackle these challenges. Meanwhile, remittances continue to flow back to Nigeria from regular and irregular migrants alike and have always been part of the underpinning factors for any R3 agreement.

As the EU continue to push for a swift negotiation on R3, the Nigerian government could be put in a situation of either giving in to an R3 agreement (in return for the new funding framework under the Draft Action Plan) or remain indifferent to the readmission agreement. The first option (going in for the R3 deal) could have political consequences without adequate developmental support and funding from the EU.

Overall, the Draft Action Plan constitutes a repacked approach to enforcing the implementation of agreed terms in the CAMM, especially on return and readmission. But it also shows interest in a rigorous and comprehensive interaction with and support for Nigeria. The extent to which the EU is willing to go will thus be determined by how far Nigeria will be ready to collaborate. The Action plan is similar to previous partnerships in terms of more cooperation for more money.

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