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Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 30 March 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will make representations to the Government of Nigeria in response to the recent killings near Jos, Nigeria.

My Lords, we condemn the recent violence near Jos, which resulted in such a terrible loss of life. I raised UK concerns with Foreign Minister Maduekwe on 20 January, and my honourable friend the Minister of State Ivan Lewis spoke to the Foreign Minister on 15 March, underlining the need for the Nigerian Government to ensure that those responsible for crimes are prosecuted and the need to address the underlying causes of the violence. The British High Commissioner in Abuja visited Jos in February and will continue to raise concerns about intercommunal violence with the Nigerian Government and traditional and religious leaders.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Is she aware that the recent slaughter of up to 500 Christians and other non-Muslims was just the latest in a series of attacks by Islamic extremists? On a recent visit to Jos, I met both the Muslim and Christian leaders who were very interested in an initiative which I helped to establish in Indonesia, with rather a long name, I regret, the International Islamic Christian Organisation for Reconciliation and Reconstruction, or IICORR for short. Is the Minister aware that the Foreign Office funded an interfaith delegation from Indonesia which helped to contain further conflict in Ambon? Would the Government consider a similar initiative for the Muslim and Christian leaders in Jos that might help to stem the violence there?

I commend the commitment of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, to promoting reconciliation and reconstruction in the plateau states of Nigeria. Of course we are aware that communities in Nigeria remain suspicious and resentful of each other, even though in the past they have lived harmoniously together. It is important that victims are supported and that those who perpetuate violence are brought to book. I suggest that the noble Baroness sends me her proposal about the organisation she mentioned so that we can give it full consideration.

My Lords, considering that prior to the latest communal massacre in the neighbourhood of Jos there was clear notice in internet traffic of what was about to happen, has any consideration been given by the Nigerian authorities to setting up an early warning system and a rapid response force to prevent future outbreaks? Can the Minister say what measures the Nigerian Government have taken to implement the promise they made to the universal periodic review last year to promote interethnic and interracial harmony?

I thank the noble Lord. I confirm that the Nigerian Government under the current acting President have taken a number of actions such as have been suggested by the noble Lord. Of course, there was a great deal of media coverage and contact through text messaging that was firing the conflict at that time. It is something that we are asking the Nigerian Government to address urgently. It is important that acting President Jonathan acts quickly to improve security. We are heartened that, for instance, he has ordered a crackdown on the flow of small arms, which were a huge contributor to the violence that has occurred in that region, not just in January and March but over many years.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the recent violence, together with the violence to which she referred in January and last November, has left many hundreds of families homeless and in desperate need of shelter? Do the Government have any plans for emergency humanitarian aid to assist those homeless people, especially as the rainy season will soon be upon them and they desperately need shelter?

My noble friend makes an extremely important point, because thousands of people have been displaced as a result of the violence. DfID is considering supplying extra humanitarian assistance to those who have been displaced, especially as the rainy season is approaching. We are now considering funding of an extra £200,000 to ICRC, which is currently undertaking an assessment, and we have earmarked that funding so that, when the assessment is made, we can take the necessary action.

Does the Minister accept that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is entirely right to bring this concern before the House, because we are dealing here with butchery on a horrific scale? Anyone who has seen the videos on the internet of cold-blooded executions will be appalled by what they have seen. This is not just a matter of a distant horror; this is Africa's major energy-producing country threatened with total instability and danger. Will she keep the House informed about what emerge as the underlying causes? There seems to be considerable doubt about whether they were about retaliation, a deliberate extremist Islamic attack on Christians, or something else. These are matters that we want to follow very closely, and I hope that she will keep us informed.

The noble Lord makes an extremely important point, but I would say that apportioning blame will not assist us to make the proper analysis of why we have seen the outbreak of this kind of violence in 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2010. The noble Lord may be interested in reading a recent Chatham House report, which stated that it is about rights, access to resources and access to power, as well as poverty and unemployment. I think that issues of access to land and power are behind the violence that we have seen; then they take on a religious dimension.