I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of armed violence against farming communities in Nigeria.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this debate—it is of the utmost importance that the House, the Government and the whole international community do not ignore such immense and devastating suffering. I am grateful to all hon. Members for participating in the debate, and I particularly thank the Minister for her esteemed presence and for her informative remarks last Thursday, when she spoke at an event that examined some of these issues, which was organised by the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief.
I imagine that some hon. Members will discuss the Boko Haram crisis, so I will focus on the conflict between nomadic herders and farming communities. According to some estimates, it has claimed up to 60,000 lives since 2001. I would like to discuss the scale of the violence, how to resolve the crisis, and the long-term consequences of failure to address the violence.
For decades, nomadic cattle herders from north Nigeria, who belong predominantly to the Muslim Hausa Fulani ethnic group, have been in dispute over land with predominantly Christian farming communities further south. However, in recent years, the scale and violence of these disputes has escalated dramatically, and we will want to look at the reasons for that in the discussions we have today. As many as 1,300 people have been killed in violence between these groups since January, and at least 300,000 have been displaced. The conflict is estimated to cost the Nigerian economy $10.5 billion a year. It is good to see the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) in his place; he is the Government envoy to Nigeria, so we look forward to his comments. We cannot ignore the impact on the Nigerian economy.
The International Crisis Group has said:
“What were once spontaneous attacks have become premeditated scorched-earth campaigns in which marauders often take villages by surprise at night.”
When we talk about these enormous crises, there is sometimes a danger that we forget about people and their families—we cannot do that. Real people have lost their entire families. Real people have seen their homes and villages destroyed. Real people have been devastated, disfigured and dismembered. In terms of sheer scale and horror, the violence we have witnessed in Nigeria is six times deadlier than the Boko Haram crisis of 2018 —six times more horrible, more horrific, more evil and more brutal.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he agree that the scale of the difficulties, which he has articulated, has not made news? If it were happening in any part of the western world, it would make news.
My hon. Friend must have read the next sentence of my contribution, which says that we have barely heard about this—that is exactly right. That is why we are taking the opportunity today to highlight this matter. The scale of the violence is already extraordinary, and it has the potential to become much worse if it is not dealt with. This is a good place to discuss these matters.
To resolve the situation, one must first have a deep understanding of the drivers of the violence. The single conflict is actually a series of countless, smaller conflicts between many disaggregated, and often rapidly formed, militias. What drives these militias to violence in one area might not drive other militias in a different area, so we probably do not need a one-size-fits-all policy here. We need something a wee bit more delicate to address these complex issues. It is vital to remember the interconnected factors that have encouraged this extraordinary violence: increased pressure on resources, the collapse of traditional mediation mechanisms, and the failure of the Nigerian Government to respond effectively.
In last week’s APPG meeting, which the Minister attended, there was unanimous agreement among the speakers that religion is also a factor in the violence, and we cannot ignore that. They agreed that militias fighting over dwindling resources have been mobilised along religious lines. Some—not all—might be driven by religion, so I wholeheartedly agree with the Government’s previous statements on the issue: we must be very careful not to attribute religious motivations to actors unless we see substantial evidence. However, I would put it on record that there is a lot of evidence that many of the attacks are religiously based, which we cannot ignore.
Many issues need to be examined thoroughly, and the answers might not point to underlying religious motivations, but those have to be considered. The fact is that Christians and Muslims have been attacked, and we have to ask why that is happening. According to some reports, herder militias have claimed at least 6,000 lives since 2011, whereas the number of herders killed is much lower. It is important that such evidence is gathered; one must question why the violence in certain areas of conflict has been so brutal, so devastating and seemingly so one-sided. Why is it that members of religious groups are so often the victims of what is happening?
Some time ago, I was informed by some of the groups I have met and by some people I have met from Nigeria and elsewhere that weaponry seems to be available in Nigeria. They said that Nigeria is probably the arms base for a great many conflicts across Africa and maybe further afield. Some of the militias are using sophisticated weaponry, and we have to ask how they can afford to do that. There are reports of some herder militias using rocket launchers, machine guns and large explosives. Both sides might be using such weaponry, but we hear reports only of the herders using it. Are these weapons extremely cheap on the black market, and which groups are financing the acquisitions? Are domestic extremist groups providing funding to militias? These questions warrant answers.
Reports also point to the difficulty in obtaining specific information about such a widespread and varied conflict. The mainstream and traditional media have been heavily criticised for a lack of thorough investigation of violent incidents. To resolve the situation, there is a great need to combat the spread of misinformation and to get to the truth of opposing claims. I therefore wonder whether the Minister might consider supporting a group of impartial international journalists to investigate many of the stories, as well as media content and contradictory claims, about the many conflicts in Nigeria. I and others in the House believe that it is crucial that such a group is international and independent of the Nigerian Government, so that its findings could not be easily dismissed or biased. It is important that we put that right.
On the motivation of certain militias, there seems to be unanimous agreement that the actions of the federal Government and state-level governments have been woefully inadequate, which is a key factor in the violence. The withdrawal of Government from rural areas has led to a collapse of the rule of law in many parts of the country. Security forces have hardly been mobilised—that is a fact—and perpetrators of violence operate with impunity. We need an active police and army presence in areas where these militia groups seem to roam at will. It is unacceptable that so many people should suffer simply because of a lack of political will to help them. It is imperative that much more pressure is applied by the UK and the international community to get the Nigerian Government to formulate a comprehensive and holistic security strategy that adequately resources and mobilises the security forces.
It is important to acknowledge that once people believe that religion is a motivating factor for violence, policy responses must adapt. My noble Friend, Baroness Cox of Queensbury, recently travelled to Nigeria and spoke to many people affected by these conflicts. They were convinced that they had been targeted exclusively because of their religion. That belief must surely lead to hostility and mistrust between religious groups. There must be reconciliation between them if there is to be peace between communities in the future. Stopping the perpetrators of violence must be the first step, but I encourage the Minister to consider the need for religious reconciliation and tolerance programmes in any long-term response plan. Had we not had peace talks in Northern Ireland, we could not have stopped the fighting.
It is important that we have that verbal interaction, as it will enable us to move forward constructively and stop those who wish to carry out violent acts. There are potential long-term consequences if the violence is not addressed in the short term. More and more Nigerian Muslims and Christians may begin to believe that they are being targeted because of their religion. In turn, that could lead more and more Christians and Muslims to believe that they are engaged in an existential battle. There are already reports that many leaders in Nigeria are calling for groups to arm themselves if they want to survive, so, worryingly, the whole thing may escalate.
We must do all we can to ensure that the violence, which is already at extraordinary levels, does not explode into an even wider religious conflict that spreads across the nation or even the region as a whole. It is sometimes difficult to express how devastating the conflict could be to Nigeria and beyond. What chance do we have of reducing poverty if there is long-term violence and instability? How will people feed themselves if farmers are too scared to go outside or have been driven from their lands? What happens when the hundreds of thousands of people in internally displaced persons camps decide that anything is better than their horrid conditions and turn to Europe in search of a better life?
I am conscious that several hon. Members want to speak, and I want to ensure that all those who made the effort to be here have the time to make a contribution. I repeat that the scale of the devastation is extraordinary, so we must do more to address it. I thank the Minister for the work that she and the Government have already done. We look forward to her response on how we can help the Nigerian Government to move forward and ensure that my Christian brothers and sisters in Nigeria are not persecuted or victimised because of their belief. I want to ensure that those with Muslim beliefs who are victimised, persecuted and targeted are free from that. I trust that the Minister will do all she can, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to wake the Nigerian Government up to this crisis and the plight of their own people. It is infuriating and perplexing that they have turned a blind eye to the violence, which is having a profoundly negative impact on their country and its future. They must realise how the world sees Nigeria.
I thank the Minister for the nuanced and inquisitive approach the Government have taken thus far. I encourage her to continue to strive to find the causes of the violence in the different areas, and not to apply a one-size-fits-all approach. That would not be a good way to do it—the Minister said that last week, but we need a commitment to a strategy that works. I wholeheartedly agree with her commitment to remain impartial and to assess events objectively. In that spirit, I hope she will ask tough questions about the asymmetry of violence and the funding of weapons, even if the answers are inconvenient to the Nigerian Government.
Similarly, I hope the Minister will consider what can be done to help independent journalists enter the hard-to-reach places in Nigeria to find out the truth and build an evidence base. On that point, I remind right hon. and hon. Members that, on 12 December at 10 am in Committee Room 7, the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, which I chair, will be having a roundtable meeting with experts to discuss the impact that the media have had on the violence.
The fact that people are convinced that they are being targeted because of their religion means that religious reconciliation and tolerance programmes are vital for long-term peace. The long-term consequences of failing to take those steps and address the violence are unthinkable. Instability, displacement, death, famine, civil war and mass migration are all possible outcomes. They are all happening now, and will continue to happen unless action is taken. Now is the time to stop this. We in this House can contribute to an action plan and strategy through our contributions to this debate. I look to the Minister and our Government for answers on what we can do in the future. We must do everything in our power. We must act quickly so hon. Members do not find themselves back in this Chamber 10 years from now talking about all those who have lost their lives and about what we should have done to prevent the situation in Nigeria.
This House has an opportunity to come together constructively to beseech our Minister and our Government to act in Nigeria to help the Nigerian Government to grasp the nettle. In parts of northern Nigeria, Christian and Muslim groups have absolutely no protection. This House is duty-bound to speak up for those across the world who do not have the opportunity that we have. We must not be found wanting. I have often said that we are a voice for the voiceless. Let us be a voice for all these people.
Order. I will not impose a formal time limit, but as a guideline there are about nine minutes for each Back-Bench speaker. Observant Members will have noticed that the two clocks are slightly different, so we will go for the large clock as a guide.
I commend the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for his excellent speech and his devotion to promoting freedom of religion or belief right across the world. Those of us who are people of faith are concerned about ensuring that we do that. We must seek the truth when we speak. The main theme of my speech is that we must find the truth about what is happening in Nigeria, and urge our Government to do all they can in that respect.
I fully accept that the escalating violence in central and northern Nigeria has many complex sources. We have heard that the failure of governance in the area has resulted in a sense of injustice and vigilantism. Population growth, urbanisation and desertification have put pressure on the grazing areas and water sources that the traditional nomadic herders—the Fulani—use.
In our meeting with the Minister last week, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I was pleased that she acknowledged that religion and religious identity form a part of the violence and are a cause of it. My concern is that the role they play is increasing, and we need to do more to recognise that; our Government must do the same and press the Nigerian Government to do so, too. There is a real risk of genocide, if indeed it is not already happening.
I use as my sources of support two reports that have been published in the past week. The first was produced by Aid to the Church in Need and was published last Thursday; I was privileged to attend its launch. Every two years, Aid to the Church in Need produces a report about religious freedom in the world. It is very well resourced, with on-the-ground references throughout. It is a detailed publication, and I hope the Minister will read it. About Nigeria, it says:
“Assessments of the violence have highlighted ethnic differences between Christians and the Fulanis and disputes concerning the grazing of the herdsmen’s cattle but”—
this is an important “but”—
“religion seems to have become an increasingly important factor…violence by Fulani militants in Central Belt has terrorized Christians.”
“Father Alexander Yeyock, parish priest of St. John’s Church, Asso, gave an interview after a Fulani attack in Easter Week 2018 left two of his faithful dead: ‘The attack has two dimensions. The first is to Islamize the Christian community...The second dimension is that Fulani herdsmen want to confiscate our arable land for grazing purposes.’”
Bishop Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe of Makurdi told the African Christian Network:
“There is a clear agenda: a plan to Islamise all the areas that are...predominantly Christian in the…Middle Belt”.
That is really concerning, and I wonder whether our Government representatives on the ground really have an understanding of radicalisation and the spread of Islamist ideology that is taking hold, not only in Nigeria but in other parts of the world.
The report goes on:
“A core finding of this report is the failure of the international community to recognise the scale of the problem, which is compounded by the inaction of the authorities in the countries concerned… One bishop warned the international community: ‘Please don’t make the same mistake as was made with the genocide in Rwanda.’… Nigeria’s violent hotspot—the Middle Belt—is predominantly Christian, and human rights observers suggested that the militant action there is intended to achieve the imposition of Wahhabi-style Islam. Church leaders suggested that the attackers were ‘jihadists imported hiding under the guise of herdsmen and sponsored by people from certain quarters to achieve an Islamist agenda.’ As evidence, commentators pointed to the swift upgrade in weaponry from bows and arrows to AK-47s and other high-tech arsenal.”
There is more in the report that I cannot go into today, but I hope that Ministers will read it and provide a response to it. One of its important findings—we have heard of this in the actions of Daesh elsewhere—was the way that militant Islam uses women, subjecting them to violence as part of a process of forced conversion.
In that respect, I refer to a report from the charity Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, which was also released in the last two weeks. The charity’s inspirational leader is Baroness Cox, who has had a 20-year involvement in Nigeria and went there specifically to produce the report, “Hidden Atrocities: The escalating persecution and displacement of Christians in northern and central Nigeria”. In the report, she talks about the atrocities that have been perpetrated. This is one example she gives:
“My sister was raped and her wrists cut off before she was shot through the heart. They took my brother, his wife and all their six children, tied and slaughtered them like animals.”
I concur with the hon. Member for Strangford. During a recent discussion, someone from Nigeria said to me:
“The Fulani herdsmen are far more violent than Boko Haram. Boko Haram don’t mess with them.”
In the report, there are many other descriptions of similar atrocities, which are deeply concerning. Yes, there are many reasons for this violence, but, as Baroness Cox said,
“Less well known, however, is the escalation of attacks by Fulani herders against predominantly Christian communities in the middle belt region.”
The Bishop of Bauchi, an Anglican bishop representing many of the worst affected areas said that
“The conflict between herdsmen and farmers has existed for a long time. But the menace in recent times has jumped from a worrisome itch in the north to a cancerous disease, spreading throughout the country, claiming lives and threatening to spiral into a monster.”
The human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that in the first quarter of 2018, the Fulani perpetrated at least 106 attacks in central Nigeria. The death toll, purely from Fulani militia violence, stands at 1,061. The Christian Association of Nigeria estimates that between January and June this year, around 6,000 people have been killed by the Fulani. In Nasarawa State alone, in the first six months of 2018, 539 churches were destroyed, and on July 4, the Nigerian House of Representatives declared killings in Plateau State to be a genocide. That is deeply concerning, and there are a number of recommendations in Baroness Cox’s report, of which I hope the Government will take note.
In the light of Baroness Cox’s report, does the hon. Lady agree that the people of Nigeria—indeed, many people of faith on the African continent—will be looking to countries such as the United Kingdom for a unified response that is emphatic and robust, and which not only expresses solidarity, but takes action internationally to try to bring pressure to bear on the Nigerian authorities?
I could not have expressed that better myself. Indeed, to warn of the risks of this escalating into a serious genocide, there is a responsibility on the part of the international community to respond to the reports that we are receiving. I am particularly anxious that the Department for International Development does so responsibly.
I was in Nigeria in 2016 with the International Development Committee, and with my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who cannot be here but asked me to put on record that he shares the concerns that I, and others, are expressing. DFID representatives and fieldworkers on the ground arranged a roundtable meeting with civil society for us. I was extremely concerned, because I knew even then about the region’s escalating violence and the religious element developing within that, that there was no representative from the Christian Association of Nigeria at the meeting, and it took considerable effort on my part to persuade DFID officials to involve one. Even then, I was deeply concerned that that representative did not have an opportunity to express his concerns about the religious element of those attacks, the nature of which we are now seeing developing in the area.
I thank the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, because in recent years it has responded to many debates in this very Chamber, developed an understanding and demonstrated its commitment to freedom of religion and belief all around the world, but I do not have the same confidence in many of the DFID staff posted around the world. I urge the Minister to ask her colleagues at DFID what their staff on the ground in Nigeria are doing to address the situation and to engage with faith leaders and others to ensure that they can find the truth, which, as I have said, is what we seek to establish in our consideration of the issue. We need to know the truth about what is happening in Nigeria—such as the information brought to bear in the reports that I have referred to—so that our Government has the information and can respond.
Order. When I give a guideline for speaking, I hope that hon. Members will adhere to it. If some Members go over the time limit, other Members have less time. As a result, I now have to reduce the guideline to eight minutes. I call Dr Drew.
Thank you, Mr Betts; I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship. I acknowledge your guidance and will try to be brief.
I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) —my hon. Friend in this respect—not only for securing the debate but for his assiduous questioning. The situation in Nigeria is something that we should be concerned about and we quite rightly highlight it today.
I visited Nigeria a long time ago, in 2006, with Christian Solidarity Worldwide—it is good to see Mervyn Thomas, the CEO, in the Public Gallery—and to my knowledge, this issue is historic. We saw the antecedent of what is happening today. As part of that visit, we went to Jos and to Kano, and we saw, even then, burnt out churches and loss of life because of religious conflict. The situation is complex and is partly about the conflict between pastoralists and farmers; it just so happens that the pastoralists tend to be Islamic while the farmers are Christian. The issue dates back a long time.
During that visit, I met the then Archbishop of Jos. During a debate in the other place on 17 July, which was initiated by the noble Baroness Cox, who has taken a strong interest in what has been happening in Nigeria, no less a person than the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke to alert the House of Lords to yet another attack on the Archbishop of Jos, who is a very brave man. He and his predecessor have been through all manner of conflict and lived with it. We must recognise that it is not just people out in rural areas who are affected; in the cities too there are regular attacks, and prominent Christians are subject to all aspects of that conflict.
I have one simple point to make. Even in the days when I visited, clearly the federal structure of Nigeria meant that much of the power lay in the hands of the state governors. As much as I would say that President Goodluck Jonathan and now President Buhari could do much more—I hope that the Minister will tell us what the UK Government are doing to lobby directly—we must also recognise that the different state governors have enormous influence, even to the extent that when I was there, a long time ago, it was common to hear of some Christian governors helping Islamist extremists because it was politically advantageous to do so. My visit clearly predates much of the terror of Boko Haram, but even then some extremist groups on the ground were well organised. State governors could have done much more to deal with them using the police and, dare I say it, the army, but they refused to do so.
I hope that the Government will say what they are doing to engage with not only the federal President but the state governors, because they are the key to dealing with some of the violence on the ground. Unless we ensure that our lobbying of those people is effective, that violence will continue and get worse, and the Christians—a minority now, sadly—will be driven further and further from where they have always lived and had their livelihoods. I hope that our Government will do that and ensure that this issue is dealt with appropriately. We must stop the violence to allow people to live in peace and harmony, as they have done for generations, and to get on with their lives.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. It is also a pleasure to be in Westminster Hall again for a debate on protecting people’s ability to express their religious faith freely, which was initiated by my good friend, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I know it is rare that we get the chance to hear the hon. Gentleman—[Laughter]—at 9.30 on a Tuesday morning, but it was a particular pleasure today. I make that comment in jest, but the laughter is probably a sign of how often he has managed to secure a debate on oppressed communities around the world. Such communities are often oppressed purely because they have made a choice about their faith, or to have no faith—I am always clear that this issue is not just about the faith that we share.
The problem is, sadly, not a new one. We only have to look at the Open Doors website to see articles from the past few years about Fulani attacks on those from a Christian background. The hon. Gentleman was right to highlight the huge impact not only on people’s freedom to express their religious faith but on the economy in an area to which poverty is sadly not a stranger for many people. Conflict is continuing and feeds into wider concern about the stability of Nigeria.
Some colleagues and Members in the Chamber are old enough to remember the appalling Biafran war, when Nigeria suffered horrendous loss of life. We have seen the impact of Boko Haram and how it has used its extremist ideology to cow people and try to make them bend their knee, rather than make free choices. Boko Haram has also, famously, sought to deter girls from seeking an education. We reflect regularly on the fact that this debate is about groups seeking both to take away religious rights, to force people to agree with their particular faith or belief, and to remove every other right—not only to religious faith but to supporting oneself, freedom of expression, choice of person to lead one’s country and, generally, to living life as one chooses.
People might wonder why this is an issue for us here in the United Kingdom, but some of us believe that it is important to protect the right to express faith and political views anywhere. Most of us rightly take the view that if people cannot do that somewhere else, the threat is always that such an ideology might spread to this country. For me, it is also about the migrant flows towards the Mediterranean. The fundamental reason for much of that is conflict and war in sub-Saharan Africa, which makes people feel that they have absolutely no hope of making a better life for themselves if they remain in their own country, that they might not be able to progress economically, or that their life will be in genuine danger. It is therefore right to focus on this subject.
It will be interesting to hear from the Minister about the Government’s work with the Nigerian authorities to tackle the problem. The obvious question is about what support our military in particular might supply, which is not so much boots on the ground as capacity building. Support to Nigerian forces could include provision of capabilities to do with surveillance and reconnaissance that might not be available to them but are to us. Furthermore, how are we working with the Nigerian authorities to build their capability to strengthen enforcement of law and order? Ultimately, without the ability to enforce the law in parts of Nigeria, problems will remain. How can confidence in the state authorities, which the information we have read shows is clearly damaged, be built up? How can we as the UK work with the authorities to do that?
We can help not only to achieve short-term security but to support long-term development, particularly through our international development programme. It is all very well stopping the conflict today—perhaps with a better security operation, dealing with specific armed individuals, or tracking down where weapons come from and blocking a particular supply—but if the underlying economic issues that drive people towards conflict remain, that conflict will re-emerge in the future. As the UK looks towards a future as more of a global trader, how can we use aid to stimulate trade and, in turn, economic development, which can be as vital to ending conflict as merely carrying out an operation to prevent attacks in the short term?
It has been a pleasure to make a contribution to this debate and, as always, to be in the Chamber with some familiar faces to talk about defending the rights of others to express their religious beliefs freely. This debate shows that the issue extends beyond states such as North Korea, where people face formal persecution by the state they live under; in so many other cases, in particular in parts of Nigeria and the middle east, non-state actors are the source of persecution. How can we work with the Government of Nigeria to ensure that we are not still debating this subject in 10 years’ time?
Order. We can now go back to nine minutes as a guideline. Hon. Members have been very helpful.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this important debate. It is a great pleasure to participate in it.
I will leap in straightaway, since we do not have much time. I, too, believe that President Buhari has not done enough to focus on the problem. He came to power with a radical agenda to get rid of Boko Haram, and he has been partially successful. As hon. Members have pointed out, however, some Boko Haram insurgents have transformed into terrorists in the country, and they might well be fuelling this particular crisis.
Since we last spoke in this Chamber about the issue, one of the major things to have emerged is the intensity of the problem and of the killings that are taking place. It is always possible to blame the President for what happens in a country, but let us remember that President Buhari faces action in the International Criminal Court for what he has done against Boko Haram. That is quite remarkable, but it is not surprising that his focus has been elsewhere. As the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) pointed out, the real focus in Nigeria is not the national Administration but the state governorships. I particularly condemn the governor of Ekiti state, Mr Fayose, who encouraged farmers to take up arms against the Fulani herdsmen. That was not helpful—it just increased tensions and killings in the country. We should ensure that we condemn that.
I have said several times in this Chamber that President Buhari was summoned to Parliament and condemned following the recent killings, and that a no-confidence motion was passed in respect of his advisers because they had done nothing to solve the problem. President Buhari was the first African leader to go to the White House, in April. I am afraid that President Trump’s involvement with the situation in Nigeria was less than helpful—he made a rather simplistic judgment and did not put pressure on President Buhari to take action. We need to put pressure on the state governors and the national Government to do something.
One good solution to the situation would be for the national Government not to look at it solely in military terms. I do not think it will be solved by a military operation. It will be solved by political activism. There is a Bill before the Nigerian Parliament, which is known in shorthand as the land grazing Bill, that would allow national grazing reserves to be set aside for Fulani herdsmen to use without coming into contact or conflict with Christian farmers. We should support that and other actions the Nigerian Parliament is taking to solve this problem.
The situation is complex. It is wrong to characterise the conflict just as a religious one. It certainly has strong religious elements and overtones, but it has been going on for many years—it was going on before Open Doors became involved and long before we became aware of it. We can see that it is more than just a religious conflict by looking at the timing of the killings, which increase around national elections. That is instructive.
I always have poverty in my mind when I carry out my work in Nigeria. I am absolutely committed to trying to help the Nigerian Government improve the impoverished situation of many of people. I have explained on a number of occasions that that is in our best interests, because it enables us to prevent mass migration from Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa to Europe, but it is also in Nigeria’s best interests. We need to put pressure on the Nigerian Government and the state governors to solve this problem in order to deal firmly and finally with poverty.
Given his knowledge of Nigeria, can the hon. Gentleman see any reason why the Nigerian Government have been reluctant, unable or unwilling to respond to the high levels of violence?
That is an interesting question. There is an ethnicity element to it. President Buhari comes from the area that identifies with the Fulani. I am not going to make that point more strongly. I do not know the extent to which that ethnic belonging influences him and his actions. All I will say is that I agree that less action has been taken in this area than anyone would have liked.
Since I am running out of time, let me conclude by saying that this issue is enormously important. I know the high commission raises it very frequently with the Nigerian Government. It is technically outside my remit as trade envoy, but in a country such as Nigeria, one cannot focus on one issue—they all interlock and play a part. I will continue to put pressure on the Nigerian Government to ensure that something occurs to resolve the situation.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank and commend the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for bringing this debate to Westminster Hall. It was a pleasure—indeed, it was rather humbling—to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), who is a true expert on matters pertaining to Nigeria. I certainly do not want to detract from anything that has already been said.
Much was said about the situation in Nigeria, especially in the so-called middle belt, which straddles the divide between the largely Muslim north and the majority-Christian south, and which is the scene of an escalating cycle of violence between settled farmers, who are mostly Christian, and the mainly Muslim Fulani herdsmen. The Fulani are an ethnic group of about 20 million people across 20 west and central African countries. Exacerbating factors include the environmental impact of climate change and the proliferation of armaments—especially those that were looted from the arsenals of the former Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, which are smuggled across the region and used to dreadful effect.
We have already heard that the 2017 global terrorism index estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed across west Africa in clashes between Fulani herdsmen and settled communities since 2001. The number of violent deaths in Nigeria is again spiralling. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project estimated in a report in the summer that armed Fulani gunmen had killed nearly 1,000 people so far this year—more than Boko Haram. Those killings, which take place in villages and small farming communities, include the cold-blooded murder of women and children, of which we have heard accounts.
The Nigerian Government blame the violence on armed banditry and organised crime, but there are clear ethnic and religious issues at play. The violence seems to be based on economic insecurity, but its root causes run deeper. The conflict is rooted in the complex religious history of the region, going back to the Sokoto caliphate in the 19th century and the missionaries who brought Christianity to the region at that time. The long-standing conflict has been brutal and most inhumane.
Who can forget the atrocities of Boko Haram, which are funded by the most horrific crimes of kidnapping, slavery, human trafficking and rape? In June this year, 86 people were killed and 56 homes destroyed by herders. However, the situation is not without hope. I read an interesting and inspiring story about Christians who fled the scene of an attack. Brutal raiders descended on their homes in the middle of the night, but many of them got away by running for their lives. Shelter came in the form of an imam from the local mosque, who took them in and gave them sanctuary, and protected them within the walls of the mosque. In that instance, the family survived.
That is the paramount value of faith—that in the sight of such adversity and violence we can still see humanity in each other. When we acknowledge our common humanity, we can truly achieve peace. Peace with each other is one thing, but we also need peace within ourselves, which is another transcendent value. Despite claims to the contrary, the central truth of Islam, as with the message of the Christian gospel, is about love for one another and our common humanity.
One thing to come out of our recent trip to Pakistan were three words that were used by those of the Islamic and the Christian faiths: love, tolerance and respect. If we get those three things together, and we believe in them and act them out through our faiths, people in society can move forward with respect for each other.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention.
The situation in Nigeria is riven with mixed signals. The Government make claims about reduced violence and say that the situation in the north is improving, and a significant amount of UK aid has been spent trying to help the Nigerian authorities fight the insurgents. However, the late Catholic bishop, Joseph Bagobiri, accused President Buhari’s Government of actually siding with the herdsmen, saying Buhari
“unabashedly takes sides with the armed herdsmen, his kinsmen, thereby failing in his responsibility as a true statesman.”
That is quite an accusation, and such allegations of complicity between the Nigerian President and those who perpetrate these acts of violence must be shown to be unfounded, as there is no room for such complicity, if it exists at all. As long as there is endemic corruption in Nigeria, there will be conflict, and if the Government have no moral authority, there is a vacuum into which extremism will step.
The attacks take place on an ethno-religious basis, but there are no doubt also economic and political aspects to them. In a country such as Nigeria, in which 90 million Muslims and 76 million Christians live together, under- standing and tolerance are essential. The attacks will dissipate only when there is a sense of fairness, a Government who have moral authority, and a world community that stands alongside the decent people of Nigeria.
I have some questions for the Minister, which are concurrent with other points that have been raised today. What is the UK Government’s assessment of the situation on the ground in northern Nigeria and the middle belt? What is the Minister’s assessment of the effectiveness of the part played by the UK to strengthen internal security and encourage cross-border co-operation to control the movements of marauding terrorists and the illicit trade in armaments? What are the Government doing to strengthen existing local machinery to support conflict resolution? My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) raised a point about DFID. What are we doing to build sustainable solutions to the issues impacted by climate change? That point was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) in relation to the establishment of grazing reserves. Such things would be significant steps.
I will conclude with the haunting words of Lord Alton. Speaking in the other place earlier this year, he quoted the Archbishop of Abuja, who described the escalating violence as “territorial conquest” and “ethnic cleansing”, and said that
“the very survival of our nation is...at stake”.
Lord Alton went on to ask:
“Are we to watch one of Africa’s greatest countries go the way of Sudan? Will we be indifferent as radical forces…seeking to replace diversity and difference with a monochrome ideology that will be imposed with violence on those who refuse to comply? We must not wait for a genocide to happen, as it did in Rwanda. Ominously, history could very easily be repeated.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 June 2016; Vol. 792, c. 286.]
I repeat his warning today.
I thank hon. Members for their co-operation. We will now move on to the winding-up speeches, for which there are a good 10 minutes each, and we will leave a couple of minutes at the end for the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) to respond to the debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, and I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing a debate on this important and grave issue. I also thank other hon. Members for their invaluable contributions today.
Without doubt, the farmer-herder conflict has become Nigeria’s gravest security challenge. The tensions and violence between nomadic Fulani herdsmen, who are mostly Muslim, and farmers, who are predominantly Christian, over land and natural resources have a long history throughout sub-Saharan Africa. As we heard from the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), and at the start of the speech by the hon. Member for Strangford, there have been 60,000 deaths since 2001, and attacks have escalated dramatically this year.
According to a report released by the International Crisis Group in July, violence between Nigerian farmers and herders killed at least 1,300 people in the first half of 2018 and claimed
“about six times more civilian lives than the Boko Haram insurgency”.
Outside this Chamber, very few people are aware of the current conflict in Nigeria, yet we are all very much aware of Boko Haram. Indeed, when researching for this debate, I found only a small number of articles in the press, so the first question to ask is: why is this conflict largely unreported?
In June, 86 people died in just one incident in Plateau state after violent clashes broke out between farmers and cattle herders, and the violence has continued unrelentingly during the second half of the year. It is clear that this violence has evolved from spontaneous reactions to deadlier planned attacks, particularly in Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, Nasarawa and Taraba states. The conflict’s roots lie in the degradation of land due to climate change, and increasing violence in the country’s far north, which has forced herders south. As farms and settlements expand, they swallow up grazing reserves and block traditional migration routes, and farmers’ crops are damaged by the herders’ indiscriminate grazing.
Three immediate factors explain the escalation of violence this year. First, there is the rapid growth of ethnic militias bearing illegally acquired weapons—that point has already been made. Second, there is the failure of the Nigerian Government to prosecute past perpetrators or notice early warnings of impending attacks. Third, there is the introduction in November last year of anti-grazing laws, which were strongly opposed by herders, sparking further clashes with farmers.
Nigeria’s Administration, led by President Buhari, have been accused of not doing enough to stop the violence. The report in September 2017 by the International Crisis Group analysed the roots of the conflict and laid out detailed recommendations for resolving it. Those recommendations remain largely valid, and I suggest that the Minister reads the report if she has not already done so. It focuses on immediate priorities—tasks that both the federal and state authorities, as well as community leaders and Nigeria’s international partners, must urgently undertake to stop the violence spinning out of control. It recommends that the Nigerian Government deploy more police in affected areas, improve local ties to gather better intelligence, and respond speedily to early warnings and distress calls. In addition, they should begin to disarm armed groups, and closely watch land borders to stop the inflow of firearms. The Nigerian Government should also order an investigation into all recent major incidents of farmer-herder violence, and may need to expedite the trials of anyone found to have participated in violence. They should expand in detail the new national livestock transformation plan and implement it immediately. It is also important that they encourage herder-farmer dialogue and support local peace initiatives.
Where do the UK Government fit in? They can play a leading role in tackling this conflict, and it goes without saying that they must do all they can to put a stop to this violence. Can the Minister tell us today what co-ordinated and practical actions DFID is taking to alleviate the tensions around resources and whether it is providing enough aid to ensure that people are not at risk of starvation or of losing their cattle or harvests? It is important that more resources should be committed to internally displaced persons in Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau states, with special attention to women and children, who constitute the majority of the displaced.
I am reminded of the abduction of schoolgirls and young women, probably into forced marriages and forced conversions, which has not been mentioned so far. One young girl who is on our minds and who I pray for every morning—many others probably do too—is Leah Sharibu, who was kidnapped and has still not been freed. I think that the Government need to look at that. Does the hon. Gentleman agree? In her response, can the Minister indicate what help has been given in terms of her discussions with the Nigerian Government to provide protection for schools in northern Nigeria, where people are very vulnerable to abduction and kidnapping?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I share his concerns and look forward to what the Minister has to say. Over the last couple of years in particular, we have often heard about Boko Haram and the kidnapping of schoolchildren and women, who are forced into marriage and are often never seen again. I particularly want to hear what the Minister has to say on this point.
Can the Minister tell us what action DFID is taking to explore the link between water shortages and climate change and to review UK climate justice policies accordingly? In particular, I recommend that she considers the success of Scottish Government innovations in this area. Can she explain how the UK Government are encouraging and supporting the development of effective Government mechanisms and policies that are able to arbitrate fairly and earn the confidence of all the people of Nigeria in finding a resolution? Finally, what actions are being taken to grow and strengthen the UK’s capacity or the capacity of international agencies as observers, to ensure that such escalations can be reasonably identified in advance? We have heard today about the question of genocide, and it is potentially imminent. The SNP would support the introduction of a 12-point system for gauging genocide risks instead of the traffic light system currently used by the UK.
In conclusion, despite escalating at an alarming pace, the farmer-herder conflict has been completely under-reported, which is why we must speak out more loudly against these atrocities. We simply cannot turn a blind eye to what has become Nigeria's gravest security challenge. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what actions the Government are taking to make sure that the UK is playing its part to help put an end to this deadly conflict and to explore further what is behind the underlying tensions.
It is a pleasure to serve under your Chairmanship, Mr Betts and to follow the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law). I am grateful for the opportunity to speak for the Opposition in this important debate and I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for his eloquent and passionate introduction to the debate. It is clearly an issue about which he is knowledgeable and passionately concerned.
I pay tribute to my constituent, Mr John Wilkins, who shares the hon. Member for Strangford’s passion for and interest in the situation. Although many hon. Members in the Chamber have remarked that this issue has not made the news, Mr Wilkins ensures that I am kept well informed of the terrible situation, and he is very grateful to the hon. Member for Strangford for calling the debate.
I am grateful to the hon. Members and hon. Friends who have spoken in the debate. I particularly mention the contributions made by the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who is no longer in her place, who voiced legitimate concerns about the situation developing into genocide and about the role of religion in the violent attacks, which has been acknowledged by many in the Chamber. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) gave us an insight into the development of the situation, drawing on his visit to Nigeria in 2006. The hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) spoke about historical instability in Nigeria. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) spoke about the intensity of the problem and the actions of President Buhari, who is facing the International Criminal Court for actions against Boko Haram. The hon. Gentleman, like my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, raised the important issue of the role of state governors in facilitating the violence. Finally, the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) spoke about the role of climate change in the conflict and about the illegal supply of weapons to Fulani herdsmen.
It is immensely important that we discuss the intercommunal violence of Nigeria’s volatile middle belt, which divides the largely Muslim north from the Christian south. The area between Kaduna and Plateau states has witnessed internecine violence over the past two decades which has claimed too many lives. As has been noted, violence between Nigerian farmers and herders killed at least 1,300 people in the first half of this year. It has been said that this is
“about six times more civilian lives than the Boko Haram insurgency”.
The fact that this intercommunal violence has claimed more lives than one of the most dangerous terror groups in the world means that this issue deserves our most urgent attention.
As we have heard in the debate, disputes between pastoralists and farmers have historical roots and comprise many issues, such as land and natural resources, as well as the struggle for cultural and religious control. More recently, the effects of global warming have driven much of the intercommunal conflict. Longstanding and complex issues like these will not be solved by quick fixes, but instead will need a collaborative approach to implement initiatives with a long-term focus. This is likely to be a major election issue when Nigerians go to the polls early next year.
I welcome President Buhari’s condemnation of the violence and his commitment to justice. However, it is important that we now aim to achieve solutions to the decades-old conflict that are durable and settle disputes for all those involved.
The hon. Lady reminds me that some 300,000 men, women and children have been displaced. I do not think we can ignore the problems, which are having an impact on other parts of Nigeria as well. People hope to return to their homeland, but just how will that happen? Does the hon. Lady think that the Government should be addressing the issues of the displaced in the discussions with Nigeria?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important point, which I think has also been made by several hon. Members during the debate, with reference to the genocide in Rwanda and the situation in Sudan. I would be grateful if the Minister could give us some idea about what action the UK Government are able to take to help those who have been displaced. It would be helpful if the Minister explained specifically what assistance the UK Government and DFID are giving to the Nigerian Government in general, to help deal with these violent episodes.
The Minister will know that the Most Reverend Primate set out three recommendations for addressing the violence during a recent debate in the other place. He recommended that the Nigerian Government strengthen their role of enforcing security and local mediation; ensure reconciliation between farmers and herders; and actively and tangibly support regional efforts to combat the effects of climate change, which is exacerbating ancient rivalries. Would the Minister explain what steps the UK Government are taking to support Nigeria in the three points raised by the Most Reverend Primate?
I am sure it will be possible to give the hon. Member who moved the motion a couple of minutes to respond at the end.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this important debate, on a matter that he has pursued tirelessly not only in the Chamber but through his role as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on religion or belief. He has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to Nigeria and to the issue that we are debating today. I pay tribute to the wisdom and experience of the hon. Members taking part in the debate, as they have shared a range of perspectives, and made excellent points based on their own engagement with the issue—the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew), my hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), for Torbay (Kevin Foster), for Henley (John Howell) and for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), and of course the hon. Members for Dundee West (Chris Law) and for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes). I also thank Mr Wilkins for his continuing engagement with what is an important, complex and complicated issue.
We have heard the concern of all the hon. Members who spoke about the current situation. That concern is well founded because intercommunal violence is the biggest internal security challenge facing Nigeria today. In fact, as we heard repeatedly, in 2018, more lives were lost as a result of that conflict than in the separate conflict with Boko Haram. As the UK is a long-standing partner of Nigeria, it is right that we seek to understand the reasons for the violence, and I appreciate and welcome the inquiry undertaken by the all-party parliamentary group.
The key point that I want to make clear, as I did last week when I met the all-party group, is that the situation is not a straightforward, binary religious dispute between farmers and herders or Christians and Muslims, although it is sometimes portrayed in that way, particularly in the local Nigerian media. We heard from colleagues that there are a range of causes. We also heard—and it is true—that farming communities are not the only victims, as the rather unequal media reporting tends to suggest. Sadly, there have indeed been a number of reports this year of attacks by Fulani herders on farming communities in Benue state, Berom and Jos that have led to serious loss of life and deserve clear condemnation.
The causes of the conflict are complex. Herder communities have also been victims of the violence, and both communities are believed to have suffered hundreds of casualties. Colleagues have cited assessments, and Amnesty International assesses that last year intercommunal clashes resulted in about 550 deaths. This year, the number of incidents and the level of violence are rising. Reports suggest that the number of deaths has already exceeded 1,850. The source for that figure is the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. Incidents have been reported in all regions of the country.
Why is the conflict escalating, and what are the underlying reasons? As we heard in the debate, one reason is that herders, who for centuries have followed ancient migration routes across west Africa, have been forced to divert south, owing to a range of factors including population growth, urbanisation, desertification and failures of governance. That has brought them into direct competition with farming communities for scarce land and water, and their cattle have encroached on farms, causing costly damage to crops. That has understandably led to tensions, then to a cycle of violent reprisals, criminal banditry and cattle rustling. The religious identity of the groups involved is certainly a factor, but again it is not as clear-cut or as dominant as it might seem. Not all herders are Muslim Fulani, and not all farmers are Christian. If religion were taken out of the equation completely, the violence would not go away.
That is because other issues are also involved, including ethnic prejudices, the growing availability, mentioned by several colleagues, of weapons—many of them smuggled through criminal networks from neighbouring conflict zones—and discontent with the way in which the violence is dealt with by the authorities. Both farming and herding communities complain that their demands for justice have not been met. That is feeding a sense of victimhood and encouraging vigilantism on both sides. All those factors and grievances, some old and some new, are fuelled by partial media reporting and a narrative that portrays what is happening as a religious conflict. There is a real risk that the violence could escalate further if it is not addressed effectively.
Colleagues have asked about the role of the UK Government, who are of course extremely concerned about the violence. It is destroying communities and poses a grave threat to Nigeria’s stability, unity and prosperity. It poses significant risks to the peaceful conduct of next year’s important presidential elections; so we take every opportunity to raise our concerns with the Nigerian Government at every level. When the Prime Minister and I were in Nigeria in August, she discussed the issue with President Buhari, and I was able to raise it with the Vice-President and Foreign Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay asked about the defence and security partnership. Of course we have a strong defence and security partnership with Nigeria—specifically focusing on joint work to defeat Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa, in the north-east of the country. In addition, we have offered UK assistance and repeatedly called on the Government to demonstrate a clear strategy for ending the bloodshed, resolving the conflict and ensuring that the needs of all affected communities are met.
May I ask the Minister, as I asked the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) when I intervened on him, about the abduction and kidnapping of schoolchildren? What is happening—kidnappings and abuse—is abhorrent. I am ever mindful of Leah Sharibu, a young Christian schoolgirl, who was abducted and is still in that situation. Did the Minister or Prime Minister have an opportunity on their visit to Nigeria to raise her case, and the issue of protection for schools in northern Nigeria? I am a father and grandfather and I ask the Minister, who is a mother, what could be worse for anyone than knowing their child or grandchild had been abducted and taken away, never to be seen again.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that case, which, in relation to the conflict in the north-east and Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa, would merit a debate of its own. Our hearts go out to Leah Sharibu and the 113 kidnapped girls, some four years after the original kidnapping. Of course the hon. Gentleman will know that the UK is passionate about promoting the value of education for girls around the world, in particular.
Our high commission in Abuja is engaging closely with religious and traditional leaders from a range of communities and faiths. We are working with international partners to support the Nigerian Government in their strategic response, and encouraging them to address all the complex causes of violence. Colleagues asked about the role of DFID programming. Of course that is focused very much on ending poverty and tackling the drivers of poverty. In that context, this year, our programming bilaterally in Nigeria is some £235 million, but that would be added to by the multilateral programming that we engage in through other organisations. The emphasis is on the kinds of approaches known to be best for addressing the causes of poverty in the long term, such as education, nutrition—particularly for under-fives—and healthcare programmes. There are programmes on adaptation to climate change; access to safe water and sanitation for many communities; governance at federal and state level and, for next year, ensuring that free and fair elections are held. Many programmes are about human trafficking. There is an extensive range of DFID programming in Nigeria, but it requires political will in Nigeria. Political will to deal with the situation at the federal level is vital.
We have heard clearly in the debate that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The causes of the violence vary across all the states, and so must the solutions. I welcome the call from the hon. Member for Strangford for objective journalism to play a role. He will be aware that the BBC World Service is expanding its footprint in Nigeria, based in Lagos but broadcasting on a wide range of Nigerian issues. I draw colleagues’ attention to an important report by the BBC’s “Africa Eye” that was put out recently on the role that Facebook and fake news are playing in spreading unreliable reporting and inflaming tensions in this area.
I asked the Minister in my contribution, as have others, whether it is possible to have an independent inquiry in Nigeria, bringing together the evidential base of what is happening and the reasons for it, and then to present that to the Nigerian Government, while ensuring that the inquiry takes place without the overbearing influence of the Nigerian Government—that it is independent, in other words. Is that something the Minister could help us to achieve?
I welcome the inquiry that the hon. Gentleman’s committee is undertaking, but in terms of an inquiry within Nigeria, which I think he is alluding to, we are exploring options for how the UK could support the dialogue and peacebuilding efforts, working closely with like-minded international partners. That offer is definitely on the table and we would welcome ways of providing constructive engagement on this issue.
I thank the UK Government for the support they give in Nigeria through DFID. The Minister has listed a number of key areas—education, nutrition, health and governance, but also adaptation and saving water, which I want to focus on specifically. A number of hon. Members in this House are concerned about the root causes of the security issues in the north and the bloody violence that has ensued, and I want to know specifically how much of that funding goes toward adaptation and mitigation in the north, and what lessons could be learned about what funding will be needed in future to support a peace process?
I would like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that, as he will know, the focus on this important area is one where the UK has been at the forefront of international commitments. He will know that we are committed to spending some £5.8 billion on the international climate commitments we have signed up to through the Paris accords. That means that there is a range of programming and we can increase the programming in parts of the world that are particularly vulnerable. I do not have time in this debate to go through the long list of ways in which we work in this area, but he should be reassured that it is an area where UK Government commitments and programming are only growing in the years to come.
Will the Minister give way?
It is almost like a conversation. I give way to the hon. Gentleman once more.
It is always a pleasure to be in a conversation with the Minister. One of the things that I and others have mentioned is how different faiths can react better together. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, I, along with others in the audience and around the Chamber, see that we need to have that dialogue. Has the Minister been able to have any discussions with the Nigerian Government to encourage that dialogue between Christians and those of Islamic faith? Sometimes when we talk and have a dialogue about things, there is a respect, tolerance and love that come from that. Can I get her thoughts?
We are exploring options for how we could support that dialogue and those peacebuilding efforts. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the next two to three months in Nigeria are part of an election campaign and that the UK is concerned that the politics around this issue sometimes exacerbates and drives the conflict. We welcome the commitment of both main candidates for the presidency to tackling this important issue.
What we have heard today is that the causes of this violence are many and complex, and have been fuelled by a wide range of factors. We have mentioned over-simplistic media reporting and inflammatory disinformation on social media, the political context and the frustration in communities with the official response so far. As we go into the Nigerian election campaign period, there is a real risk that intercommunal violence will only worsen and become increasingly politicised.
The UK believes that Nigeria needs to put in place long-term solutions and that those solutions need to be addressed urgently, in consultation with all groups. That must be done in a way that respects the rights and interests of all groups and lays the foundations for a sustainable and peaceful future for all Nigerians. I can assure colleagues who have raised this important issue in today’s debate that the United Kingdom Government will continue to support the Government of Nigeria as they work towards that long-term strategic solution to the underlying and complex causes of this violence.
I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their significant, heartfelt, sincere and conscientious contributions on an issue that touches all our hearts and our persons; that is why we are here. I thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), as always, for her contribution. I know it is her job to be here, but she is also here because she has an interest in the subject matter, as I know from my discussions with her. I thank the Minister for her response to what has been said on the issues of poverty, education, the environment, land grabs and human trafficking, the escalating violence and the brutality. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) and others referred to that escalation of violence; it is something that we cannot comprehend, but it is even worse than what Boko Haram has done to the Fulani tribesmen. That issue, and the genocide that has taken place, affects us all.
I thank the representatives from the audience, from Christian Solidarity Worldwide, for their contributions. I met the hon. Gentleman many years ago on a trip we had to Egypt, looking into a similar issue in that country, and I know he has an interest in Nigeria. We thank him for his contribution and his help with this debate, and we thank the staff of the APPG, particularly Amro Hussain, for putting the evidence and information together to make this debate happen.
As I always say, because it is so important, this House always shines when we come together, from both sides of the Chamber, and collectively show what we are here for. Our job is to speak on behalf of others, and as an MP, like other MPs in this House, I do so regularly, every day that we are here in this House. Our job is to speak up for those who have no voice, to ensure that those people, our Christian brothers and sisters and those of other religions, facing conflict in Nigeria will know that this House has come together to speak on their behalf and hear a significant response from the Minister to help us to move forward. We hope that over the next period of time, the dialogue we have initiated through this debate will bear fruit and the people of Nigeria will be free from the violence that plagues that country and will be able to have that love, tolerance and respect that we think are so important and that this House often proposes as a way forward.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the matter of armed violence against farming communities in Nigeria.