As the UK head of a Nigeria-focused charity working to improve the lives of millions in Africa’s largest economy, I welcome the recent news that the Foreign Office is taking over the Department for International Development (DFID).
The much-anticipated merger, set to be completed by September, is a fantastic sign that this Government cares about the financial interests of British taxpayers, who for too long have effectively lined the pockets of ‘unintended beneficiaries’ while being told our money is spent on charitable initiatives. Especially as coronavirus hits, the Prime Minister is doing well to redistribute this tax money according to the most effective needs of all. There will be no more “great cashpoint in the sky”, as Mr Johnson called DFID.
Helping poor countries around the world does not equate to naivety. It is both laudable and strategically prudent. It is however entirely possible to spend less, but at the same time help more. The reason for this is efficiency.
On my frequent trips to Nigeria, I have seen first-hand some of the difficulties of the current foreign aid system. Using British taxpayer money, schools are developed, hospitals are revamped, and agricultural technology is updated. Yet within years or even months, many such developments are threatened by various shades of insecurity of the kind unimaginable in the West. Nigerian authorities have been either unwilling or incapable of stopping the ongoing Islamist insurgency of Boko Haram and Islamic State that has claimed tens of thousands of innocent lives since 2010. As the recent APPG report on the 2-year inquiry into Nigeria highlighted, there is also the alarming and dramatic escalation of inter-communal violence in Nigeria characterised as the ‘farmer-herder conflict’.
So the question I ask those lamenting DFID is: what use is a furnished new classroom if the children who attend school fear for their lives? What is the point of building new hospitals if within months they are ransacked, patients attacked and medical supplies stolen? Part of the UK Government’s new foreign aid strategy must be to consolidate its many gains in recent years by bolstering diplomatic and military support in politically unstable regions.
In 2018, Britain handed over £150 million to aid projects in China, a Communist regime with a dubious record of defending its most vulnerable citizens, and with one of the most powerful economies in the world. That same year, we gave almost £100 million to India, who spent around that sum on a lunar probe, despite millions of Indians living in poverty and disease. Pakistan, another significant beneficiary of UK tax money, also has a moon-landing programme in place.
We have handed a staggering £1.5 billion in ‘aid’ to 20 of the world’s most corrupt and unstable regimes, and this wasted money has a domestic face too. DFID forked out a questionable £326 million on operating costs in the year 2018-19. We can and should help those less fortunate than us, but spending money on bureaucracy and on non-strategic projects in security-poor regions of the world is not the way to do so.
The charity I lead, PSJ UK, is working tirelessly to encourage peace and justice for all in Nigeria and across West Africa, one of the most volatile regions currently on the planet. A wise foreign aid strategy for Nigeria would recognise that it is key for the UK to assist Nigeria in defeating the greatest threats to peace and security in the country, Boko Haram and it’s various allied ‘insecurity forces’ by spending money efficiently and effectively. This involves schemes to safeguard and protect local communities as well as training, equipping and assisting regional military and police forces engaged in reversing the terrorist tide. The UK’s coronavirus-delayed offer to send 250 troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali is welcome, but not enough to stem the Islamist wave of violence engulfing Commonwealth countries like Nigeria.
As the Foreign Office begins to take the lead on overseas aid this summer, I strongly urge it to consider a holistic approach to those countries most in need. This approach must be both firm and pragmatic so as to consolidate the great social projects already established, and pave the way for more.
Ayo Adedoyin is Chief Executive of PSJ UK, a humanitarian organisation campaigning against the persecution of Christians and religious minorities in Nigeria