My Lords, we have strongly condemned the recent violence in northern Nigeria, including that perpetuated by the extremists known as Boko Haram, which has afflicted all communities in Nigeria. We are also deeply concerned about the allegations of human rights abuses being perpetuated by members of the Nigerian security services. The British Government are working with the Nigerian Government and international partners to tackle the situation.
I thank my noble friend for such a comprehensive answer. The deaths in northern Nigeria are not just a tragedy for Nigeria but could be a cause of regional instability. Will my noble friend please outline when these issues were last raised directly with President Goodluck Jonathan, and, if she has not done so already, will she host a round-table meeting to talk about our Government’s work on this issue with representatives of the diaspora within the UK, for whom this is a key concern? It is often the relatives of British citizens who are dying in northern Nigeria.
I can tell my noble friend that the Prime Minister raised these matters when he met President Jonathan in February this year. The UK has a strong relationship with Nigeria on counterterrorism policy, focusing especially on extremism. Just over a week ago, our high commissioner in Abuja met senior officials at the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and discussed the specific violence that we saw recently in northern Nigeria, including the most recent attack in Kaduna city. Senior officials met on 25 October to discuss the ongoing conflict.
My Lords, religious freedom is a human right and one that, I fear, is abused in relation to Christians the world over. We hear a great deal about Islamophobia; we hear much less about Christianophobia. The noble Baroness made an extremely successful visit recently to Geneva to address the UN Human Rights Council. Will she raise the issue of the persecution of Christians the world over at that council?
The noble Lord raises an important issue. He will be aware that human rights is part of my portfolio and freedom of religion is a big part of that. It is something that I intend to put a huge amount of focus on, especially discrimination towards religious communities around the world. Specifically in relation to Nigeria, it is important to remember that Boko Haram comes out of a group known as JAS. That group, including Boko Haram, has targeted Muslims as well as Christians.
I thank noble Lords. I was in Kaduna less than a month ago. Will the Minister confirm what actions are being taken to support religious leaders, such as Bishop Fearon in Kaduna and the Sultan of Sokoto, and leaders from both communities in their work? Do they have access to funds provided through DfID in the major programme of conflict management and mitigation that is going on at the moment?
I cannot answer the specific point in relation to the individuals that the right reverend Prelate refers to, but I can say that we are funding a huge amount of work through DfID on conflict resolution, and specifically trying to create the right forums for interfaith discussions, including “Enduring Peace in Jos: Arresting the Cycle of Violent Conflict”. We are also involved in a programme to train youth peace ambassadors from both the Christian and Muslim communities. We are providing £800,000 over three years for work towards creating spaces where the different communities can come together to discuss some of these matters. We have also established the Nigeria stability and reconciliation programme, which specifically aims to address the grievances that can lead to extremism and terrorism.
My Lords, north-south relations in Nigeria are often very complex and can seldom be accurately described in simplistic terms as merely religious or tribal divisions—as the Minister has said, problems arise on both sides. Boko Haram’s objective is plainly contrary to any kind of modern view of democracy, freedom of belief or social inclusion—or indeed to the objectives of the Harare principles. What role might the Commonwealth have in assisting Nigeria to develop as a modern and inclusive country? Should we not encourage a Commonwealth Secretariat assessment, since that will be seen to be far less colonial and far more inclusive in global terms?
The noble Lord is right that the conflict in Nigeria, which spans many decades, has many facets to it, including a religious facet and many ethnic tensions. His is an interesting idea in relation to the Commonwealth’s role. He will be aware that we already have discussions with both the African Union and the European Union in relation to joint work, but it is a matter that I will take back.
Does my noble friend agree with the Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah, that the crisis in the north should not be seen as Christian against Muslim or north against south, but more as one of justice and fairness, which calls for a modern, quality education to be provided for girls as well as boys in the north and, most of all, sweeping reform to a demoralised and corrupt police force where absenteeism is now running at more than 50%?
The noble Lord raises an important issue and I would add to that the voice of the Sultan of Sokoto, a traditional leader among Nigerian Muslims. He said that this group, Boko Haram, was “an embarrassment to Islam”. It is heartening to hear people such as Dr Aliyu, the Niger state governor and the chair of the Northern Governors’ Forum—again, a Muslim—basically condemning Boko Haram and saying that it did not represent Islam. Nearer here, in the United Kingdom, the Muslim Council of Britain has also come out and condemned it.