UK urged to sanction Nigerian officials for failing to protect persecuted Christians

Emmanuel Sani, a farmer affected by a Fulani attack at his village, rests on a bed at St. Gerard’s Catholic Hospital, Kaduna, Nigeria, April 13, 2019. Credit: AFP via Getty Images.

A new report today urged the UK to sanction Nigerian officials accused of turning a blind eye to the persecution of Christians.

The report, published July 8 by Competere, a trade law and economic policy consultancy, highlighted the persecution of Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt states. It urged the UK government to use new powers to penalise individuals who are complicit in the violence.

Shanker Singham, CEO of Competere, told CNA: “Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has announced that the UK will no longer be a safe haven for those who engage in gross human rights violations. This is to be welcomed.” 

“The UK now has the tools to deal with human rights violations such as those being perpetrated in Nigeria against Christians in the Middle Belt. It is crucial that the full force of UK sanctions is brought against Nigerian officials who are guilty of collusion in these heinous acts.” 

On Monday, the UK announced its first sanctions under a new initiative seeking to punish human rights abuses around the world. The government imposed sanctions on 49 individuals and organizations connected to “notorious human rights violations.” The sanctions are the first issued by the UK independently, rather than through the United Nations and European Union.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said July 6: “From today, the ground-breaking global regime means the UK has new powers to stop those involved in serious human rights abuses and violations from entering the country, channelling money through UK banks, or profiting from our economy.”

The Competere report, “Integrating Foreign Policy, Development Policy and Human Rights Objectives: Christian Persecution in Nigeria,” chronicles recent attacks on Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt states of Taraba, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, and Adamawa.

It notes that Christians in the Middle Belt, many of whom are farmers, have faced attacks from three groups: Boko Haram, the Islamic State in the West African Province, and Muslim Fulani herders. 

It cites a report published last month by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, which questioned whether the violence amounted to genocide.

It says that the response of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has been to “deny, ignore, and deflect.”

“The willful blindness of the administration is seen by many in Nigeria and internationally as complicity with, and enabling of, the killings,” it asserts.

The report comes days after the president of the European bishops’ commission promised persecuted Christians in Nigeria that he would advocate for increased support from the European Union. 

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, who leads the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), wrote a letter to the Nigerian bishops stating that the commission will seek EU assistance and cooperation with the Nigerian authorities to combat persecution.

The Competere report notes that the UK sends $2.5 billion in aid per year to Nigeria, the equivalent of approximately $1 million a day.

“It is crucial that this be conditional on appropriate responses from the Nigerian government,” it says. 

The report challenges the government to apply to Nigerian officials the UK’s version of the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which allows it to freeze assets, impose travel bans and apply other sanctions to human rights offenders.  

It says: “The UK’s enhancement of its criminal law to allow promoters of persecution to have their assets frozen and to stop them from enjoying the hospitality of the donor countries themselves is a welcome development.” 

“Now the UK must prove that in the protection of human rights, it has the moral high ground.”