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Volume 783: debated on Tuesday 18 July 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of recent developments in the Northern and Central Belt States in Nigeria.

My Lords, we are deeply concerned by recurrent clashes involving pastoralists such as herdsmen and local farmers over land, farming rights, grazing routes and access to water. These conflicts, which are exacerbated by climate change and population growth, cause immense suffering to both the pastoralists and farming communities in central and northern Nigeria. We welcome President Buhari’s commitment to ending these attacks and call on all parties to find a peaceful solution to the causes of these incidents.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s sympathetic reply, because I have visited villages where Fulani have killed Christians and destroyed their homes—I witnessed their suffering. Is she aware of a new and disturbing development of severe threats by radical northern youth groups, who have ordered the predominantly Christian Igbo tribe to leave all parts of northern and eastern Nigeria or face dire consequences? Will Her Majesty’s Government ask the Government of Nigeria what measures they are taking to fulfil more effectively their duty to protect all religious and ethnic minorities in Nigeria?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question, which I know is rooted in a deep knowledge of the area and the problems that exist there. The call by the northern youth groups for the predominantly Christian Igbo to leave has been taken very seriously by the Nigerian Government. Acting Nigerian President, President Osinbajo, has held exhaustive and wide-ranging consultations with stakeholders across the country—not just in the affected north but also in the south-east. National discussions have now moved on to the broader issue of restructuring Nigeria. As a result, tension around the initial statement by the northern youth groups has decreased significantly in the past few weeks, with the group itself moving towards rescinding the Osinbajo call for the Igbo tribe to leave. However, to our knowledge, it has not gone quite as far as that yet. The British high commission in Abuja will continue to monitor the situation carefully.

My Lords, the Minister noted that climate change is contributing to the conflict in this region. Does she agree that long-term development is needed here, and might it be worth pointing out to the American President that tackling climate change helps promote global stability?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. We are all aware of the term “desertification”—a very long word for the drying up of ground in territories in Nigeria—and, certainly, that seems to be attributable to climate change. Across the globe, major powers recognise that there is an issue, and the United Kingdom is doing everything it can to contribute to both the recognition of climate change and its alleviation. I am sure that that will have a beneficial effect across areas of the world, including Nigeria.

My Lords, the United Nations predicts that, by the year 2050, the population of Nigeria will more than double, to 411 million, making it the third most populous country in the world. Is this increase not bound to lead to further internal conflict and again to mass emigration? I congratulate the Government on what they have done in co-hosting the recent family planning summit in London, but will they deplore the position of the Trump Administration in withdrawing substantial funds from their family planning programmes?

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for his question. Obviously, my responsibility and that of my colleagues is for the position of the United Kingdom Government, which have a positive record in relation to Nigeria. The estimates of population are extremely difficult to quantify, and reliable data are almost impossible to obtain. However, I have no doubt whatever that there is a significant population in Nigeria—it is thought to be the largest African country—and the noble Lord is right to allude to the possible consequences of population increase not being matched with education. The United Kingdom Government, both through our Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme and through our significant humanitarian aid, are making a positive contribution to try to address and alleviate these challenges.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there needs to be work both at grass roots and at the highest level? Many of the signs we are seeing in Nigeria at the moment—particularly the threats against the Igbo, which are happily diminishing—bring back to mind the terrible events immediately prior to the outbreak of war in 1967? What work are the British Government doing with partners locally, through their exceptionally gifted high commission and DfID staff, to work with grass-roots organisations, including religious organisations, which are capable of reaching the local leaders at the most vulnerable level?

I thank the most reverend Primate for his pertinent and important question. In relation to humanitarian aid, certainly the United Kingdom Government last year managed to donate £81.8 million, which provided food assistance, treatment for severe malnutrition to more than 39,000 children and access to clean water and sanitation to more than 135,000 people. This year, the Government will increase that support to £100 million, again to reach the most vulnerable people in north-east Nigeria. In addition to that, we are also providing £30 million of aid to help those affected by the crisis in Chad, Niger and Cameroon. The most reverend Primate raised an important question about religious belief. This Government are firmly committed to promoting and protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief around the world. In Nigeria, that right to freedom of religion is protected by the constitution. However, Boko Haram seeks to undermine this right by attacking Nigerians of all faiths and has caused immense suffering in both Christian and Muslim communities in Nigeria and neighbouring countries. The United Kingdom Government do everything they can to support the Nigerian Government in adhering to the terms of their constitution and in implementing and respecting, in a practical sense, that essential freedom of religion and belief.

My Lords, the Minister has referred to the 2014 programme and the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme, and last year the Government reported that £39 million had been spent on it. Picking up on the most reverend Primate’s point, certainly there has been expenditure on local groups, but have the Government prioritised the implementation of the 2014 programme and using that fund on a much broader basis?

I have explained how the humanitarian aid is being deployed. The Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme has brought together important programmes to help reduce conflicts and build bridges between communities. It has certainly brought together religious, traditional and community leaders, NGOs, police, security services and civil society to discuss and act on conflict issues. That is positive progress. The noble Lord will be aware that the programme also funds a number of peace clubs in various states, including Kano and Kaduna. That is a positive contribution.

My Lords, some of those affected by the conflict in the north of Nigeria are in fact the friends and relatives of British citizens, with hundreds of thousands of them within the British Nigerian diaspora. As well as meeting with Ministers in Nigeria and working through the high commission, could the Foreign and Commonwealth Office reach out specifically to that diaspora in order to hear their views about what is going on in the north of the country and how it is affecting their families?

I thank my noble friend for raising the issue, and she makes a good point. There are already good channels of communication through the embassy and our diplomatic connections, but I am sure that this is an issue to which our diplomatic presence will pay close attention. It is a very positive suggestion.