The dangers of Western interference in Nigeria

From the UK funding SARS to global testimonies of the human cost of sanctions: the white man is NOT our saviour, nor friend.

Last week Thursday, a Member of Parliament for the UK’s Labour Party, Kate Osamor revealed truth to the rumour that the UK government had been funding Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad, the infamous SARS unit guilty of perpetrating heinous violent crimes, including serial murders, extortion, physical abuse and more. Tweeting a letter signed by Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, Osamor revealed that, though Duddridge originally denied the rumours on October 19, British officials were indeed providing training and equipment to SARS between the years of 2016 and 2020. During this period, the Nigerian government had announced the reformation of SARS five times, owing to the plethora of violent crimes the Nigerian people have long since been reporting against the corrupt unit.

The Independent, a British newspaper, also reported that the England and Wales’ College of Policing trained Nigerian security officers in financial and economic crime, last year. They sought to improve standards “however this did not involve public order training,” a spokesperson of the College told The Independent. Perhaps this is an excuse for them, as to why they shouldn’t be held accountable for the crimes perpetrated by SARS, but the reality is, police ought to be trained in public order, regardless of their unit, because their underlying duty, which trumps everything, is their duty to the public.


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Whether SARS was funded with nefarious intent is yet to be known, regardless, it shows a clear disregard for Nigerian lives that for over four years, the British Government can fund and train such a corrupt policing agency with no sense of responsibility for how their support is being used. The College of Policing have a track record for giving abusive police forces in foreign countries training, coming under fire for their support of the Hong Kong Police Force during their ongoing protests.

We know from the Black Lives Matter movement that stirred up over the summer that police units in the West are corrupt, that they abuse their power and they target individuals about whom thy have a prejudice, just like we have in Nigeria. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that their training does not alleviate these issues – in fact, the hatefulness that swims in their blue waters is likely to be translated into their training, inadvertently condoning the violent acts so many of our brothers and sisters have died as a result of.

Similar can be said for their governments. Though the West purport to be the epitome of democracy, their systems of governance remain prejudice and oppressive, driven mostly by capitalistic intent. In this vein, there are many dangers that arise from Western interference in Nigeria – as exemplified by the suspicious funding of SARS by the UK government – warning us of the potential cost our cries for the international community to act, over the last few weeks, may bear, most especially calls for sanctions against Nigerian officials.

On October 20, 2020 the world watched as the Nigerian Army opened fire on Lagos citizens who were exercising their right to protest at the Lekki Toll Gate. With cameras being taken down, streetlights and the billboard (an alternative source of light) being switched off, covering the area in a blanket of darkness, this attack on the innocent protestors presents as a calculated act of state-sanctioned violence. As we watched live reports shared through social media, many of us who felt powerless rushed to find ways to hold our government accountable for their crimes against our human rights, looking for penalties that would encourage the government to treat its citizens better. These are the aims of international sanctions, and why the Nigerian people began sharing and signing petitions to for the UK to implement targeted sanctions at Nigerian government officials.

Unfortunately, sanctions are not the kind-hearted corrective tool Western powers would have us believe. In fact, sanctions have historically had rather terrible effects on countries, leading to more civil unrest, rises in poverty, strains on medical resources and ultimately, as a result of these factors and more, exacerbated loss of life. Sanctions are a complicated weapon, and now that the petition calling for sanctions to be implemented against Nigeria’s government personnel is to be debated in UK Parliament, we must look closely at the implications this could have and tease out the potential ways in which these sanctions could have a positive impact and direct our government toward change.

Sanctions are a foreign policy tool to exact punishment on a state or individuals/entities within a state, with the hope that the individual(s) or state(s) upon which the sanction has been placed will alter their behaviour in order to be relieved of the sanction.

There are many different types of sanctions that can be levelled. Economic sanctions, which we commonly refer to as simply ‘sanctions’, include trade restrictions (embargoes, tariffs, quotas) asset freezing or seizure, travel bans and also removal of embassies, as well as other diplomatic sanctions. Sanctions can be exacted on whole countries, or particular businesses or individuals (targeted sanctions), by individual countries (unilateral) or by a group or bloc of countries, such as the UN or the EU (multilateral). In the case of the petition that was most popularly spread across social media, garnering over 200,000 signatures, the proposed was a unilateral sanction from the UK onto Nigerian government officials.

The United Kingdom’s sanctions list is maintained by HM Treasury, and it is a list comprised of the UN sanctions list, the EU sanctions list (although post-Brexit this becomes unclear), and Britain’s own sanctions list. In accordance with the sanctions policy in the UK, banks and financial institutions, are barred from transaction with states and non-state entities on the UK sanctions list and British citizens can also be subject to HM Treasury Sanctions. What this means is that, if targeted sanctions are implemented against Nigerian leaders from the UK, they will be barred from doing business in the UK, disrupting their trade and travel – even if these restrictions are not also part of the sanctions – regardless of whether or not they are citizens of the UK.

However, it must be noted that unilateral sanctions may be bypassed through the use of a third party country with allegiances to the targeted country. If the UK does enact sanctions against Nigeria, trade with other countries may be a way for the government to get out of serious damage, depending on the nature of the sanctions. In this case though, extraterritorial sanctions may be placed on these third party countries or entities for helping the originally sanctioned state bypass their sanctions. For example, because international transactions are routed through US banks, the US have the means to confiscate or block or freeze transactions made by or to the sanctioned state from other third party countries. More often than not, America also threatens to sanction these other countries’ banks, and because US banks are so powerful in terms of their global financial dominance, they can get away with it.

As well as the petition to the UK, there were also calls for the United Nations to intervene and place sanctions on Nigeria. The Security Council – the crisis-management body of the UN – are responsible for sanction resolutions, which “must pass the fifteen-member council by a majority vote and without a veto from any of the five permanent members: the United States, China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom,” according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).  The most commonly used sanctions by the UN are embargoes (specifically arms embargoes), asset freezes and travel bans. However, according to the CFR, enforcement of UN sanctions are weak, as the UN does not have their own means of enforcing sanctions, which leaves the job to the member states, who might not be incentivised to lend their resources to enforcing the sanctions. This means that if the UN Security Council does agree to place sanctions on Nigeria, or members of the Nigerian government, for their human rights abuses, unless individual states are interested in punishing Nigeria, sanctions might not be an effective way of getting our leaders to listen to their people.

Across the world, success rate of sanctions are typically low. Many countries have recorded that despite the increased economic hardship the sanctions have brought about, policies and governance hardly changes, leaving a worse of state of affairs for the people, without any positive change. One of the most recent examples that was cited in great frequency in the early hours of that Wednesday morning, following the massacre, is Iran. During this COVID-19 period, sanctions on financial transactions from the United States were held directly responsible for the distressingly high death toll of Iranians from COVID-19. In February, Iran was reported to have the largest number of deaths relating to COVID-19, outside of China, particularly worrying considering their comparatively small population of just over 80 million. According to Iranian health ministry spokesperson, Kianush Jahanpur, “for sure, our death tolls would have been lower if the US sanctions were not enforced and had not caused a delay in treatments.

With the US sanctioning the import of goods, receiving medical goods has been a challenge for Iran, long before the coronavirus, however the situation worsened this year, as borders with neighbouring countries – Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey – were closed, isolating Iran even more from importation. Similarly, in Haiti – where sanctions were imposed by the US following the 1991 coup that booted the less than year old, President Aristide – medical supplies, as well as food and other essential welfare goods, grew into scarcity, and this had a most pointed impact on children. “According to one report released by international public health experts at Harvard University, up to 1000 Haitian children were dying every month,” write Robin Davis, Onyesonwu Chatoyer, and Nancy Wright, in their detailed explanation of The Devastating Human Cost of Sanctions. Writing for Hood communist, the article goes on to proclaim:

“Sanctions are designed to exact the maximum human cost from a particular nation in order to force that nation to do the bidding of US and Western imperialism.”

From cases such as Iran, Haiti, Cuba (the longest lasting trade embargo, which is widely condemned), Zimbabwe (where President Mugabe and his inner circle were given a travel ban by the US in 2013), we can glean that sanctions are an ineffective tool when looking to encourage policy reform. In fact, the very people for whom the sanctioning states claim to be imposing the sanctions for, wind up as collateral damage in a political cockfight, based primarily upon greed and control and not for the betterment of human life. It is unlikely that we see sanctions placed upon Nigeria, because it geopolitically doesn’t make sense, at the moment – whilst this might be for the best, it shows the self-sustaining attitude our world leaders have to governance. Ultimately, sanctions are yet another method by which the West reproduce their global dominance. Western States bear the most geopolitical power; their use of sanctions as a default response to international affairs shows their perceived superiority and the effects of these sanctions evidences their disproportionate, undeserved hegemony – in particular the US, who use sanctions rather liberally.

Bad governance is rife globally. We are suffering from it at an alarming rate in Nigeria already, inviting Western leaders into the picture will continue to have adverse effect. From the UK funding SARS to global testimonies of the human cost of sanctions, the evidence is there: the white man is NOT our saviour, nor our friend.

Featured Image Credits: Hood Communist