Skip to main content

Nigeria: Chibok Abductions

Volume 580: debated on Monday 12 May 2014

I wish to update the House on the UK’s response to the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in northern Nigeria on 14 April, for which the terrorist group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility.

Officials from our High Commission in Abuja have been in regular contact with the Nigerian Government since the attack, with whom the primary responsibility for responding to the abductions rests. I spoke to the Nigerian Foreign Minister on 18 April to offer the UK’s assistance.

Finding the girls and returning them safely will be challenging in the face of the determined and ruthless group which holds them in such difficult terrain.

The Nigerian authorities assess that the girls have been taken to the Sambisa forest, an area of challenging terrain about 40 times the size of London. The girls may have been dispersed and some may have been taken into Cameroon or Chad. A further 11 girls were reported to have been taken in two incidents on 4 and 7 May.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke to President Jonathan on 7 May. He reiterated UK support and offered to send an expert team drawn from across the British Government. President Jonathan accepted the Prime Minister’s offer.

A UK team arrived in Abuja on 9 May to offer advice to the Nigerian authorities on this incident, and on developing longer-term counter-terrorism solutions to prevent such attacks in the future. This builds on our existing extensive security engagement with the Nigerian authorities. We are co-ordinating closely with France, Canada and the US, who have also dispatched teams to Nigeria.

Since their arrival, the team, and the British High Commissioner in Abuja, have met President Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian national security adviser and senior members of the Nigerian armed forces. The team have also met the Nigerian police and representatives of the Chibok community in order discuss the UK approach to family and victim care, and potential avenues of support. Further meetings are taking place this week.

The UK team are also looking at social and economic factors behind the instability in northern Nigeria and neighbouring areas, with a view to advising on longer-term assistance, including in the area where the girls were abducted.

This appalling incident is a tragic reminder of the need for the international community to work together to eradicate sexual violence in conflict. The UK is leading the international community in addressing these crimes that have gone unchallenged for too long. I am delighted that on 25 April Nigeria endorsed the declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict, which I launched at the UN General Assembly last year. Next month we will hold the global summit to end sexual violence in conflict from 10 to 13 June 2014, which I am co-hosting with the special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie, at which we will seek practical action to shatter the culture of impunity for these crimes.

These events are also a reminder of the heavy price the people of Nigeria continue to pay from terrorism, including from the two recent bomb attacks in Abuja and an upsurge of attacks in north-east Nigeria, such as a Boko Haram attack on Gamboru Ngala in Borno state on 5 May which may have killed over 200 people. We will continue to work with the Government of Nigeria as they address these painful issues.

I will keep the House informed of further developments in Nigeria.