Sir: In May, many of us wrote in support of further efforts to secure debt cancellation for the world's poorest countries. We stressed that the cancellation of debt is an act not of charity but of justice, a concept central to all our beliefs.
We therefore applaud the UK and Nigerian governments' efforts to secure international agreement on debt cancellation for Nigeria. The resulting deal means that $18bn of Nigeria's debt will be cancelled, which will be very beneficial in the long term. But we are deeply concerned by the huge $12.4bn payment that Nigeria must make first. Of this, $3bn (£1.7bn) is coming to the UK: this is twice as much as the UK is giving in aid to the whole of Africa in 2005.
Nigeria is among the world's 20 poorest countries: more than 80 million Nigerians live on less than $1 per day. The democratic government in Nigeria has been praised by the World Bank for its 'transparency and willingness ... to commit funds to the poor', but its efforts to tackle poverty have been hampered by enormous debts built up during former dictatorships. Despite having already repaid more than it originally borrowed, Nigeria's debts to rich countries total more than $30bn. Wealthy creditors should not now be demanding any of this money from Nigeria; they should instead return this money for spending on poverty alleviation.
It would be shameful for the year in which the UK government called for a focus on Africa to end with the UK accepting a huge payment from Africa. This is not the justice we called for in May. We urge the UK government to return this money to help end extreme poverty in Nigeria.
THE REV DAVID COFFEY, GENERAL SECRETARY, BAPTIST UNION OF GREAT BRITAIN
DR HANY EL BANNA PRESIDENT, ISLAMIC RELIEF
IBRAHIMSA MOHAMED, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, MUSLIM AID
THE REV DR DAVID PEEL, MODERATOR OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE UNITED REFORMED CHURCH
SIR IQBAL SACRANIE, SECRETARY GENERAL, MUSLIM COUNCIL OF BRITAIN
THE MOST REV JOHN SENTAMU, ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
HANNE STINSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, BRITISH HUMANIST ASSOCIATION
The Independent, Letters page, Monday 26 December 2005.