My Lords, Nigeria faces a serious threat from Boko Haram. We believe that more than 3,000 people have been killed by Boko Haram this year and more than 1.5 million people have been displaced. We are aware of reports that Nigerian authorities have agreed a ceasefire with Boko Haram and are in ongoing negotiations. We are also aware of reports of Boko Haram attacks since the ceasefire announcement. We monitor events closely.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that sympathetic reply. Is she aware that I have visited areas afflicted by Boko Haram and found that the scale of suffering to which she refers massively exceeds that reported by the media? For example, this year alone 2,000 women and girls have been abducted. In addition to the widely publicised kidnapping of the schoolgirls at Chibok, 173 teachers and hundreds of students, including Muslim students, have been slaughtered, and savage attacks on Christian communities continue to the present day. Despite reports of a peace agreement with Boko Haram, to which the Minister refers, local people do not believe that the federal and state authorities are sufficiently willing or able to stop Boko Haram’s reign of terror. Therefore, will Her Majesty’s Government make the strongest possible representation to the Government of Nigeria to do much more to implement effective policies to protect all its citizens from this escalating terrorism?
My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, to whom I pay tribute for her courageous work, not only in Nigeria but around the world. She is right: Boko Haram deliberately targets the weak and vulnerable, causing suffering in communities of differing faiths and ethnicities. It has no regard for human life. We are in continual discussion with the Nigerian authorities to press exactly as the noble Baroness says, and we give as much support as we can in intelligence matters.
My Lords, the Nigerian chief of defence staff, Alex Badeh, announced on 17 October a ceasefire agreement with Boko Haram. A little later, the presidential aide, Hassan Tukur, claimed that there was also an agreement to release the girls taken from Chibok. However, as my noble friend knows, since then all we have seen are many more girls being abducted. What action can the Government take to help galvanise the Nigerian authorities into some action to protect these schoolgirls from organised rape, forced conversion to Islam and mass murder? What specific action to protect the family members of the Nigerian security forces from reprisal acts can the Government help the Nigerians with? So far, some 7,000 have been killed in this manner.
My Lords, there were several important questions in there. At the core of what we do is the care we have for what might happen, not only to the Chibok girls but to others who have been seized. We are therefore most cautious in what we say in these matters. What I will say is that it is for the Nigerian authorities to resolve the matter. We will give the strongest support we can. Since the Prime Minister announced on 14 May that the UK would provide surveillance assets and intelligence expertise to help in the search for the Chibok girls, we have deployed Sentinel and Tornado GR4 aircraft with surveillance capabilities, and provided satellite imagery. We will do what we can.
My Lords, does the Minister have any further knowledge of the discussions between Abubakar Shekau, the head of Boko Haram, and ISIL, and any further information on the fact that Boko Haram is beginning to occupy and hold territory in the same way as ISIL and call it an Islamic caliphate? Are our intelligence assets able to give us this sort of evidence, bearing in mind that a lot of politicians at federal and local level in Nigeria are helping Boko Haram, as are some in the police force?
The noble Lord refers to some of the instabilities within the Nigerian system. Boko Haram’s affiliation to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb justified the organisation’s inclusion on the UN’s al-Qaeda sanctions list on 22 May. Boko Haram has been proscribed under terrorism legislation in the UK since July 2013. With regard to the negotiations to which he refers, there is, clearly, no resolution yet and we know that there have been some confusing and confused reports in the press.
My Lords, the atrocities outlined to your Lordships’ House obviously require vehicles, ammunition, explosives and sophisticated weapons, which all require significant funding. Can my noble friend outline where Her Majesty’s Government believe Boko Haram is getting such funding and what efforts we are making, via the UN or with the Nigerian Government, to cut off its funds?
My Lords, as I mentioned earlier, we are in continuous discussion with the Nigerian Government to offer what assistance we can to prevent any further supply of materiel to Boko Haram. It is a very complex matter in an area that is certainly under the kind of attacks that happen without any warning, where whole areas are seized by Boko Haram and the Nigerian forces clearly have come under great stress.
My Lords, reference has been made to the contents of the excellent Human Rights Watch report, which has described the violence and terror endured by girls and women held in Boko Haram camps. It described the shocking, appalling failure of the Nigerian Government to prevent these brutal abductions. What is the UK doing to press the Nigerian Government at last to: first, secure the release of the girls; secondly, make schools safe for girls; and, thirdly, ensure that there are medical and mental health services for the victims of abductions?
My Lords, I think I may have addressed the first two questions—rather briefly, it is true. However, the noble Baroness raises a new point at the end with regard to what happens next. Let us focus first on the release, not only of the Chibok girls but of others. One would then need to see what their needs may be, what support needs to be given to them and their families, and which choices the girls may wish to make. I assure the noble Baroness that, through our DfID programme, we provide aid to the area to try to assist the society to grow and survive.
My Lords, what does the Minister make of the claims recently made by journalists that the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram are being held as trophies for various tribal leaders, as is apparently common in these regions, and that they will be released as soon as some way is found to flatter these leaders?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right to refer to the forthcoming elections. We continue to engage regularly with our counterparts in Nigeria to convey our expectation that the February presidential elections must be free, fair and peaceful. Security in elections can help to have security in a country.