OTTAWA — Months after arguing Nigeria's ruling party is responsible for terrorist acts, the Trudeau government has sent a cabinet minister to celebrate the swearing-in of its new president.
This week, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen visited Abuja to attend the inauguration of President Bola Tinubu, whose All-Progressive Congress party has ruled Nigeria since 2015.
Yet in Immigration and Refugee Board filings, Canada called the party "an organization that engaged in subversion of democratic processes as they are understood in Canada" and said it was responsible for numerous acts of terrorism.
That phrasing appears in a December 2022 immigration decision in which the adjudicator rejected Ottawa's attempt to have an unnamed man deported to Nigeria.
Canada argued that the president's party has used "armed thugs/men to intimidate voters and eliminate political opponents" and incited violence between groups since the end of military rule in 1999, the case file reads.
The ruling found that "the burden required in proving the allegations of terrorism and subversion of a democratic process have not been met."
The adjudicator noted that Canada pointed to statements from politicians affiliated with the party who it argued were inciting violence, when the comments appeared instead to be strident opinion. One person that government lawyers cited was a member of an entirely different party.
During other immigration hearings, Canada has also made claims against Nigeria's other main political group, the Peoples Democratic Party, accusing it of supporting terrorism.
Nigeria's high commission in Ottawa has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Ebenezer Obadare, a senior fellow for Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said he and others who "detest" Nigeria's governing party can only criticize it for not doing enough to prevent terrorism.
"To say that it's responsible for (terrorism), that would be stretch. It's going too far," said Obadare.
"It's not a party that has sponsored terrorism. I have seen no evidence to support that."
Global Affairs Canada referred questions about Ottawa's terrorism claims to Public Safety Canada.
"Canada's ministerial attendance at Nigeria’' presidential inauguration is a concrete representation of Canada’s continued interest and commitment to a very important country on the African continent," Global Affairs spokeswoman Patricia Skinner wrote in a statement.
"Canada is a champion of democratic and inclusive governance, and recognizes the ongoing peaceful transition of power in Africa’s largest democracy."
Hussen's visit comes as the Trudeau government continually delays its plan for Africa, which is no longer being described as a strategy akin to one the government launched last fall for the Indo-Pacific.
Instead, the Liberals plan to issue a framework primarily focused on how Canada's diplomatic footprint on the continent can better serve its trade and development goals.
Obadare said Canada has a great reputation across most of Africa and should be forming deeper ties with like-minded countries on the continent, including through ministerial visits.
"Canada has a lot to gain from actually being more proactive. I think Canada is one of those countries that, increasingly I think, doesn't say enough about itself," he said.
"The onus should be on the country to put its money where its mouth is, and one of the ways to do that historically is to support the cause of liberal democracy."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2023.
— With files from David Fraser.
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press