At the international level, the phenomenon of vigilante violence in Nigeria has not received much attention, either from the media or from governments. While some foreign governments have indicated that they are aware of and concerned about human rights abuses by vigilante groups, there has been no strong public condemnation of these abuses. The U.S. State Department's country report on human rights practices for 2001 did mention vigilante violence in Nigeria. Its section on Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life refers to some of the abuses by the Bakassi Boys. It states: "In Anambra State, the state government supported and paid the vigilante group known as the Bakassi Boys," and goes on to describe some of the human rights abuses carried out by the Bakassi Boys, including killings, mutilations, torture, and harassment of political opponents of the state government.
The British government, in particular, would be in a good position to urge the Nigerian government to take effective measures to prevent further vigilante violence. The UK has already provided training to the Nigerian police under previous governments. More recently, both the UK and the US have signed agreements with the Nigerian government to start implementing a reform assistance package for the Nigerian police from 2002. The British Department for International Development (DFID) has set up a seven-year-program in Nigeria, entitled Access to Justice, due to be launched in April 2002. The program is to cover all aspects of the justice sector in Nigeria, with long-term reform of the police as one of its main areas. DFID has recognized that the Nigerian police is significantly under-resourced, but its program will also aim to address more fundamental structural problems, on the basis that changes need to be made to current approaches to policing in Nigeria. Among other aspects, it will aim to include a human rights component in policing and suggest alternative techniques to some of those currently used by the Nigerian police, for example to limit excessive use of force. It will also aim to strengthen community access to police services and to improve policing and access to justice for poor people. A British police adviser is to work full-time with the Nigerian Ministry of Police Affairs and the office of the Inspector General of Police, to facilitate reforms in areas identified as priorities by the Nigerian police and ministry themselves. The program will be developed at the federal level and in four focal states; the states chosen for this program (Jigawa, Benue, Ekiti, and Enugu) do not include those where the Bakassi Boys or other vigilante groups are most active.
Diplomatic relations between the U.K. and Nigeria have also been strengthened in recent months. Prime Minister Tony Blair has been a strong supporter of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), an initiative launched in 2001 by several African leaders, including President Obasanjo, to seek international support for development for Africa. Tony Blair visited Nigeria in February 2002 after announcing that Africa would be one of the priorities for his government.
The U.S. remains the other key foreign actor in the west with the ability to push for positive change in Nigeria, in the light of close diplomatic links between the two countries. Since early 2000, the U.S.government has been collaborating with the U.K. government to provide technical assistance to build the capacity of the Nigerian police force, leading to a technical team going to Nigeria to conduct a strategic planning process. The U.S. faces certain restrictions in assisting in training the Nigerian police, codified in Section 660 of the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits the U.S. from using security assistance funds to train or support foreign police forces. In 2001, the U.S.Agency for International Development (USAID) had a budget of U.S.$20 million for support to democracy and good governance, and economic reform. In 2000 and 2001, USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) supported a strategic planning process with the Nigerian police, the Ministry of Police Affairs, and civil society groups. The cost of OTI's involvement for the initial assessment, strategic planning, and design of short-term program of U.S. assistance was U.S.$312,000. The OTI program itself sponsored workshops on various themes including election-related violence and relations between police and local communities; its annual budget in 2001 was U.S.$6 million, directed principally through Nigerian NGOs.
In fiscal year 2002, since the OTI program in Nigeria was ending and due to legal restrictions arising from Section 660, USAID transferred U.S.$1.45 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF) to the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). The police program is likely to be implemented by the Justice Department's International Criminal Training and Assistance Program (ICITAP). The program is designed to focus on the physical and operational rehabilitation of the Nigerian police in several areas: academic curriculum development, executive and senior management training, inventory and administrative records systems, and support for the National Assembly and non-governmental organizations.