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Volume 582: debated on Tuesday 17 June 2014

The British Government fully support the efforts to combat terrorism in Nigeria. On 12 June, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary chaired a meeting with regional Foreign Ministers and representatives from the US, France and others to strengthen the international response. A package of measures was announced to support building peace and security in Nigeria.

It is obviously essential, as the Minister knows, that bilateral and international efforts concentrate on finding a long-term response to the problems caused by Boko Haram. Following that meeting, will the Minister indicate how the UK will work with our international partners to support the international effort that needs to be focused on this issue?

The hon. Gentleman raises an excellent point and I can confirm that the announcements we made after the meeting chaired by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last Thursday specified offering direct tactical training and advice to the Nigerian and regional forces and strengthening the Nigerian Government’s capacity to deliver a co-ordinated and effective response, including support for an intelligence fusion cell. Importantly, we also increased our support for girls’ education, drawing, we hope, 1 million more children into education in northern Nigeria. In addition, we will increase assistance to Nigeria to ensure that services and infrastructure are provided in the medium to long term to withdraw the very root causes of the problem.

The issue of the schoolgirls has resonated in our constituencies, particularly among schoolchildren—it is of great importance to a great many people. What are countries and organisations in the region doing to co-ordinate action against Boko Haram?

My hon. Friend raises an important part of resolving the challenges that northern Nigeria faces. That is why, the week after I went to Abuja to discuss with President Jonathan how the UK could be of assistance, I went to Cameroon to meet the Cameroon Government and assist them in continuing to strengthen our security co-operation. At the London meeting, we maintained the regional momentum by committing to implement a regional intelligence fusion unit and multinational taskforce patrols, as well as considering further focus on development, particularly empowering women and girls.

As other hon. Members have said, this is an important subject. May I press the Minister on regional co-ordination? Is he planning to speak further to other countries in the region? How can the UK make sure that all the partners are focused on the very significant challenges?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to refocus on the importance of regional co-operation. At the meeting in the fringes of the end sexual violence in conflict conference last week, the Nigerian Foreign Minister as well as regional Foreign Ministers, including the Chadians and Nigerians, as well as representatives from multilateral institutions such as the African Union and the United Nations were all present to make sure that the thinking, the progress and the focus was all joined up—particularly on important regional issues such as shoring up the borders.

Nigeria is, in effect, two countries with an affluent south and a poor north that is part of a new front line of violent extremism in the western Sahel. Does the Minister agree that we need a robust security response? When the Foreign Affairs Committee looked at regional co-operation in our recent inquiry, we found a lack of clarity about where the responsibilities for the response lay. Could the Minister look at that?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the enormous diversity within Nigeria—now the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, with parts of the country such as Lagos state growing at an extremely rapid rate. There is now, I think, a real focus both from the international community through the multilateral organisations and from the regional countries on ensuring not only that we do everything we possibly can to buttress and support the Nigerian Government in removing the security challenges of the northern part of Nigeria, but that we put in place long-term plans to remove the root causes of terrorism and build developmental and economic progress.

Will the Minister clarify the nature of the work carried out by the UK security advisory team? Is he satisfied that it is receiving the full support of the Nigerian Government?

The original offer from the UK Prime Minister to President Jonathan, which I went to discuss with the President in Abuja, sets out four specific areas, including the use of the Sentinel aircraft, building capacity in the Nigerian military as well as for intelligence co-operation, interpretation and, indeed, putting resources into education into the northern parts of Nigeria under the UN safe schools initiative. We are working extremely closely with the Nigerian Government to make sure that the United Kingdom, France and the United States as well as the regional countries and the international multilateral institutions are doing everything possible to resolve the terrorist activities in the northern part of the country and to remove the root causes by making long-term economic and developmental progress.