: A Causal Explanation for Limitations in UK's Security Force Assistance to Nigeria that Counters Boko Haram

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis seeks to understand the challenges in UK security force assistance provided to address the limitations of conventionally-organised Nigerian forces, who struggle to face Boko Haram, an insurgency that turned violent in 2009. Despite a shared history, the British role is under-studied compared to the US counterterrorism-focused assistance. To address this lacuna, this research project uses a single case qualitative methodology to explore UK assistance to the Nigerian Army & Air Force. It applies and updates Principal-Agent theory, often utilised to explain drawbacks stemming from cost-saving delegation strategies of training, advising and equipping allied militaries as alternatives to large ground force deployments. This thesis introduces the concept of tri-liminality to capture the collection of mechanisms that shape a distinctive UK-Nigeria relationship type and contribute to suboptimal performance. The central argument is that tri-liminality, illustrated by state-level and relationship transitions, affects demand, supply and outcomes. The resulting context is characterised by in-betweenness: not a superior-subordinate colonial relationship anymore, nor fully an exchange benefiting a principal and independent agent that share a strong cultural bond. The relationship dynamics offer some advantages but mainly reduce efficiency. Military training, complemented by humanitarian and development programmes, has expanded since 2009 and aims to enhance Nigeria’s short- and long-term capacity to counter irregular threats. Yet, the UK only provides training, advice and intel without any combat involvement, and challenges arise due to each state’s material capacity and colonial inherited cultures, power relations, and perspectives. The findings indicate a need to historically contextualise a case of exception, and demonstrate how a longstanding relationship can both facilitate and negatively impact the shaping, delivery and assimilation of assistance. Overall, the thesis contributes with original perspectives relevant for academics, policymakers and practitioners concerned with causal explanations for security force assistance performance in post-colonial contexts.
Date of Award29 Apr 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorEd Stoddard (Supervisor), Tony Chafer (Supervisor) & Tom Smith (Supervisor)

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