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Christian Persecution in Nigeria

Integrating Foreign Policy, Development Policy and Human Rights Objectives

The UK Foreign Office and the Department of International Development have merged. This results
from a UK government initiative to ensure that its foreign and development policy goals are aligned.
This is very important because the UK is a development superpower as the third largest provider of
Overseas Development Assistance in the world. If the UK’s development priorities are inconsistent
with or worse, in opposition to the rest of its foreign policy including its foreign trade policy, then
this will send conflicting signals to its partners and make it less likely that those foreign policy goals
are realised.

The UK’s foreign, economic and development goals should be aligned, but this does not mean that
its economic goals are purely mercantilist or commercial in nature. The UK was present at the
creation of the Bretton Woods institutions (in 1946-7) specifically because it recognised that trade
barriers and deviations from free and competitive markets would harm economic development and
possibly lead to conflict as we saw before the war.

Central to the vision which the UK has promoted in a multitude of global institutions is the governing
principle derived from centuries of tradition and experience that wealth is created when trade is
open and liberal, when markets are governed by competitive forces and not by government
distortions and when property rights are protected.

The ultimate property right is property in your own person and in your speech. The protection of
personal property, crucial though that is for economic development as Hernando de Soto and others
have written, is secondary even to that.

It is a core objective of UK foreign policy to ensure that all countries abide by these principles
because this will lead to greater economic opportunities for the people in these countries as well as
UK businesses, farmers and consumers. It is a core objective of UK development policy to ensure
that countries abide by these principles because this has been proven to be the best (and perhaps
only) way of ensuring that people are lifted out of poverty and have economic opportunity and

Ultimately the protection of property rights is the foundation on which open trade and competitive
markets rest as economic development levers. And human rights – the right to the safety and
security of your person is the foundation stone on which property rights rest. So, the whole fragile
architecture which performs the almost magical function of creating wealth, of making something
out of nothing, rests on the most basic of human rights.

As the UK government reorganises itself, central to its foreign, development and economic policy is
this protection of the basic human right to have security in your person – the right, simply to exist.
We will look at the changes in UK law that make the expression of this policy much more feasible to

The Tools for Protecting Human Rights

The UK is a signatory to a range of human rights conventions, from the UN Convention on Human
Rights to the European Convention on Human Rights. Many of these conventions make a virtue of
extending the scope of what constitutes a human right (often confusing rights and privileges) but
have not done a good job of actually protecting people from persecution, violence and even
genocide. These protections should be considered as the very basic threshold issues, and when it
comes to these protections current treaties have proved wanting. The shambolic UN Human Rights
Council (formerly Commission), made up of, as it often is, by the greatest human rights violators (in
recent succession, it has counted Cuba, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Egypt among its recent
membership) has become a global joke with regard to effectiveness.

Similarly, development tools have only recently added a dimension protecting human rights. During
the second Bush administration, the US created the Millennium Challenge Corporation to link aid
more directly to compliance with basic norms that included a scorecard to reflect commitments to
core concepts such as rule of law and democracy as well as human rights. Countries that are
beneficiaries of MCC grants (note the MCC’s other innovation was giving grants not loans) could lose
their grants if they violated these fundamental principles. But generally, aid in the rest of the world
is not subject to these principles. It is frequently given to countries that are violators of basic human
rights, as these are often countries that are at low levels of development.

The UK should use the reorganisation to promote aid that is given to countries that are moving in a
positive direction on a scorecard of issues that carry forward UK foreign policy goals.

But with respect to dealing with human rights violators, it is hard to win this battle merely with
carrots. There have to be some sticks too and the UK has developed one such in the form of its
version of the Magnitsky Law in the US. In 2017 amendments were made to the UK Proceeds of
Crime Act, 2002 which allowed the UK to freeze the assets of, or issue travel bans to officials in
countries that had participated in gross human rights violations or who had benefited from such
violations. At the time a group of UK parliamentarians had suggested the Act should go further and
apply similar sanctions to those who had benefited from corruption. The UK in general, and London
in particular, has become a haven for oligarchs, human rights abusers and other kleptocrats who had
squirrelled away their ill-gotten gains in London property or UK based funds. The new law reflects
the desire of UK foreign policy to crack down on this practice.

If human rights violators and government officials who turn a blind eye or conspire with them
through inaction understand that there are very real repercussions that could lead to a freezing of
their UK assets and travels bans, as well as concerted action among the ever increasing number of
countries that have Magnitsky like legislation, they will be more likely to cease and desist from such
conduct. Use of this type of legislation in a targeted fashion, alongside smart and targeted use of
development funding, can set up the necessary incentives to ensure governments do not engage in
egregious human rights violations.

We discuss below a case study which illustrates how the new law might be used as a stick to curb
these human rights violations.

Persecution of Christians in Nigeria

One particularly bad situation at the moment is the treatment of Nigerian Christian farmers living in
the middle belt of the country. Nigerian Christians living in the middle belt of the country are being
persecuted by a combination of Boko Haram, Islamic State in the West African Province (ISWAP) and
Muslim Fulani herders. The vast majority of farmers in the middle belt are Christian. Nigeria is the
12th highest ranked country in the Open Doors index for Christian persecution. The Nigerian
government has, at best, turned a blind eye to the issue and, at worst, has colluded in it.

A recent UK All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on religious liberty highlighted some key points
about the persecution of Christians in Nigeria:

  • On 4th July, 2018, the Nigerian House of Representatives declared the killing of Christian farmers
    in the middle belt to be genocide, and requested the government to act by establishing
    orphanages and taking other critical steps. [None of this has been done].
  • Churches have been, and continue to, be burned in Nigeria. Five hundred churches have been
    destroyed in Benue State alone. One hundred churches have been burned in Taraki and two
    hundred abandoned out of fear. Sixty-five per cent of the Churches in Wakari have been
  • Killings continue. As recently as 20th January 2020, Reverend Lawan Andimi, Chair of the
    Christian Association of Nigeria, was executed.
  • On the 26th December, to coincide with the Christmas holiday, ISWAP released videos of
    beheadings of 10 Christian hostages and one Muslim apostate.
  • As recently as 2 April 2020, three hundred Muslim Fulani attacked the village of Hukke, killing
    seven and setting fire to twenty-three homes.
  • On the 26th February 2019, the ECOWAS court censured the Nigerian government, especially
    with reference to the killings in Benue state in 2016. The court found that the government had
    neglected its primary duty to protect its citizens. Theophilus Danjuma, former Army Chief of
    Staff and former Defence Minister said that the “Army is not neutral. They collude” in ethnic
    cleansing. He urged people to defend themselves and not rely on the Army to protect them.
    Indeed, there is evidence that the security forces abandon areas just before atrocities are
  • President Buhari obtained 97% of his votes from the Muslim North and only 5% from the
    Christian south. Most of his political appointments are Northern Muslims. The APPG agreed
    that this was a violation of section 14(3) of the Nigerian constitution, that there should not be a
    preponderance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or sectional groups.

Nigeria and Foreign Aid

Despite not adopting many basic norms, and in many ways moving in the wrong direction on these
issues, Nigeria is one of the largest recipients of overseas direct assistance. By way of example, in
2015 it received $2.4bn, ranking it 8th in the world – an extraordinary statistic given its size and level
of economic development compared with the least developed countries in the world.

Given the level of support that Nigeria receives from donor nations, and given the abuses being allowed and
condoned by its government, it is imperative that the UK now acts swiftly to reign in these abuses
using the full portfolio of tools at its disposal. It is important that the major donors who subscribe to
the same philosophical approach outlined at the beginning of this paper come together in their
approaches to countries. We advise that at the very least the UK, US, Japan, Sweden and Germany
agree a common approach to the granting of development aid that includes these core principles.

The UK provides £2bn of aid per year to Nigeria – £800,000 per day. It is crucial that this be
conditional on appropriate responses from the Nigerian government.

Nigeria and Magnitsky Style Sanctions

But we must be realistic. The situation is sufficiently serious that a mere carrot approach will not
work. There need to be sticks deployed as well and they need to be credible. There are a number of
sticks beyond foreign aid conditionality.

As noted above, under the amendments to the UK POCA, the UK’s version of the US Magnitsky Act,
the UK government is empowered to freeze the assets, impose travel bans and apply other sanctions
to any foreign person guilty of human rights violations. Specifically, POCA now provides that the UK
may seize the assets of any person who has engaged in a gross human rights abuse or violation, or
for conduct connected with such abuse including directing, sponsoring or profiting from it, or
materially assisting with it. The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act (2018) (“SAMLA”)
empowers ministers to impose sanctions to provide accountability for or be a deterrent to either the
above types of conduct (which amount to a gross human rights violation).

Given the Nigerian government’s complicity in the persecution of Christians in violation of the
Nigerian constitution and international law, we believe that the provisions of POCA, as amended,
and SAMLA apply. The silence of the President of Nigeria and the Attorney-General as the chief law
enforcement officer are tantamount to consent for the violence being perpetrated against Christians
there. Their silence is certainly construed by the Fulani herders as tacit approval for their actions and
the comfort of knowing there will be no meaningful sanction from law enforcement.

The wider context is important here also. In addition to the persecution of Christians, there is a
history of the Nigerian government violating fundamental principles of property rights protection
(which I laid out in our paper on Nigeria and Economic growth, available at here). It is hardly
surprising that a government that has scant regard for human rights also has scant regard for
property rights.

It is anticipated that phase one of POCA as amended will be initiated in the summer with a focus on
the more winnable cases. However a number of parliamentarians are pushing for not only human
rights abuses but also cases of corruption and kleptocracy to be included in a phase 2 of the POCA
implementation (see here). This makes eminent sense, as the two issues are very often linked and
they do certainly seem to be so linked in Nigeria.

We advise the UK government to pursue POCA sanctions against the key officials in Nigeria
responsible by action or deliberate inaction including President Buhari, Attorney-General
Mohammed Bello Aduke, and [other officials].

Published inIssues