Cutting aid to Nigeria over the persecution of Christians may lead to more suffering, Open Doors UK has warned.
The calls have come after a Savanta ComRes Poll found that half of UK adults (53%) believe that foreign aid to Nigeria should be contingent on greater protection for Christians.
Stephen Rand, adviser to Open Doors UK’s Advocacy team, has responded with caution.
He says that the role of UK aid is “complex” and that while calls for it to be axed in the case of Nigeria are “understandable”, they are “misguided”.
“If you simply cut all aid to Nigeria, the people who would genuinely suffer would be the poorest families and displaced communities living in camps. And that’s true around the world,” he said.
“A simple threat to withdraw aid is unlikely to change anything. Advocating for change is a much more complicated and drawn out process. But the effective and right use of UK Aid is a real issue – and one over which the UK government has control.”
Nigeria ranks 12th on the Open Doors World Watch List of the top 50 countries where Christians suffer the worst persecution.
The organisation said that 1,350 Christians were killed in Nigeria last year, mostly at the hands of Islamist Fulani herdsmen, but also militants belonging to the ISIS-linked terrorist group Boko Haram.
Despite the spread of coronavirus to Nigeria this year, there is little indication from Christians in the country that the violence has abated.
In June, a report by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG-FoRB) warned of an “unfolding genocide” in the country.
The report was dedicated to Leah Sharibu, who was abducted from her school by Boko Haram two years ago at the age of 14, and kept prisoner after refusing to renounce her Christian faith.
“Christians are being ruthlessly targeted, specifically because of their faith,” the report said.
“Undoubtedly though, peaceable Muslims, through collateral violence, can also become victims of this cruel Islamist religious ideology.
“It is a destructive and divisive ideology which readily mutates into crimes against humanity and can pave the way for genocide. We must not hesitate in saying so.”
Last month, Nigeria-based human rights group, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law said that 1,200 Christians had been killed in the first half of 2020 alone.
Over £2bn in aid was given to Nigeria by the UK Government between 2011 and 2018, equivalent to around £800,000 a day, according to Rand.
He predicts that this figure will be slashed as a result of coronavirus. Instead of cutting it altogether, he believes that whatever aid is given is better invested to help persecuted Christians.
“So it’s vital that instead of threatening the Nigerian government, the UK government need to find ways to work with them and spend that money more wisely,” he said.
He believes UK aid should be focused on Nigeria’s middle belt, the region running between the largely Muslim north of the country and mostly Christian south.
“That’s where the killings are taking place,” he said.
“We need to protect religious minorities from being subjected to discrimination, persecution and even genocide. And that process has to start with both the UK Government and the Nigerian Government recognising the very definite religious dimension to this slaughter.”
In addition to the thousands killed, an estimated 300,000 Nigerians have been displaced as a result of the violence.
Open Doors is distributing food and aid, and providing financial support to vulnerable Christians affected by the ongoing violence. It says an estimated 9,000 Christian families are living without a secure source of food.
Rand said that it was time these families receive compensation and “a chance to rebuild their lives and livelihoods”.
“This is a waste of nobody’s money,” he said.