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Nigeria

Volume 455: debated on Wednesday 10 January 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations she has made to the Nigerian Government on the continuing destruction of churches in Jigawa State. (113335)

We are concerned by all reports of inter-religious conflict in Nigeria. Unfortunately, clashes between religious groups are not uncommon. The primary underlying cause of the conflict in northern Nigeria is rivalry between ethnic groups over the control of resources and power.

Our High Commission in Abuja is aware of a local dispute in Dutse in Jigawa state, which occurred on 19 and 20 September 2006, during which a small number of people were injured and churches were burnt down. The police quickly took control and imposed a curfew. There have been no further outbreaks of violence in the area and this appears to be an isolated situation, which boiled over. Our High Commission in Abuja regularly raises incidents of religious conflict with the Nigerian authorities but no representations have been made about this specific incident.

My noble Friend Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, recently met with representatives of Christian and Muslim communities at an interfaith seminar in Kaduna to see the work they are undertaking to build bridges to better interfaith understanding. We continue to urge restraint and reconciliation on all sides and stress that intervention must be carried out with full respect for human rights.

Supporting measures to address religious conflict is also a key part of our conflict prevention strategy for Nigeria. We are funding projects to build trust between Nigeria's various religious communities. This includes support to the excellent work of Coventry Cathedral on building trust and understanding at grass-roots level between different religious and ethnic communities, which has contributed to a drop in the level of violence and an increased level of dialogue between Christians and Muslims. We are also funding the work of the Bridge Builders Foundation, a mixed Christian and Muslim organisation operating in northern Nigeria, to look into the causes of recent conflict between Christians and Muslims. They are in the process of setting up early warning mechanisms in all the northern states to prevent future conflict.