By Policy Analyst, Jeremy Hutton.
Writing for the Sunday Express recently, Baroness Cox highlighted a relatively unknown conflict in Nigeria. Since the 1980s, semi-nomadic herdsmen called the Fulani have sporadically locked horns with settled Christian farmers, as the former seek to graze their herds in the lands of the latter. In recent years this relatively low-level dispute has almost escalated into war.
At the same time Nigeria’s record of tackling corruption remains dubious, with almost as much lost to corruption as received in aid between 1960 and 2006 as Nigeria according to some predictions. Furthermore, despite the current president’s anti-corruption drive, Nigeria continues to lurk near the bottom of Transparency International’s corruption rankings. It is surely hard to justify sending huge sums to a country where accountability is so low.
Nevertheless, according to the DFID development tracker, Nigeria has received over £1 billion in British aid since 2015 and is second only to Pakistan in terms of aid paid for by British taxpayers. Yet far from making the most of this charity, Nigeria repays the UK by ignoring British courts and its legal responsibilities.
Nor have Nigerian or British policymakers recognised the scale of the atrocities being committed by the aforementioned Fulani militants.
Rather than tackling the sources of the conflict, the Nigerian President continues to kick the can down the road. So irresolute and muddled has been the government response, that whilst Nigerian security forces are accused of arming the Fulani, one state governor simultaneously pays them off to stop the killings. It is clear that whatever, if anything, is being done to temper the conflict, it is not working. Early forecasts of 2018 casualties indicate that violent deaths attributed to the Fulani have risen to their highest level yet of roughly 1,700. Some estimates credit as many as 6,000 deaths.
The value of British aid to Nigeria is dwarfed by the economic cost of the violence, which has been estimated to cost the Nigerian economy $14 billion USD every year (the equivalent of £11 billion today). That is approximately 34 times more than Britain spent on aid in Nigeria last year. A peaceful solution could see household incomes in afflicted areas rise by over 200 per cent, no aid project will promise as much.
Actively working to resolve this conflict would be worth more in financial terms than decades of British aid, boosting the Nigerian economy by billions, potentially saving thousands of lives and at less expense for British taxpayers.
Understandably Nigerian attentions remain focused on Boko Haram, but Britain cannot stand by whilst another war is just around the corner. A range of measures have been suggested to resolve the conflict now, including most importantly enforcing the rule of law in the Nigerian Middle Belt and negotiating a solution amicable to both sides. Assisting Nigeria to restore peace will be of much greater value than any aid, and can avoid the significant wastage that accompanies direct aid expenditure, the effects of which can become so diluted by nationwide corruption.
Over the next few months, the TaxPayers’ Alliance will continue to explore ways of maximising development prospects whilst minimising the burden on the British taxpayer. Keep an eye out for our upcoming research.