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House of Lords Hansard
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06 December 2018
Volume 794

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to revise their assessment of the situation in northern and central belt states of Nigeria, following the report by local church leaders of the killing and maiming of 6,000 civilians by Fulani Islamist terrorists between January and June and figures from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that almost two million people have been displaced by jihadist attacks.

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My Lords, there has been a tragic escalation in intercommunal violence in Nigeria this year. While religious identity is certainly a factor, the drivers of the clashes are complex and need to be addressed if the violence is to be curbed. The United Kingdom Government have not seen evidence that links Fulani herdsmen to Islamist insurgency in the north-east and it is important that we avoid conflating the two issues, because that may risk exacerbating ethnic tensions.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply but, while the causes of violence are indeed complex and multifaceted, does she not agree that the asymmetry, scale and escalation of attacks by well-armed Fulani upon the predominantly Christian communities has an ideological basis that must be acknowledged? Will Her Majesty’s Government make representations to the Government of Nigeria to ensure that it will be safe for the huge numbers of people who have been displaced by Fulani attacks to return to their homes?

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There is no denying, having looked at the report from the noble Baroness’s charity with its deeply disturbing content, that the violence described is gruesome, chilling, repugnant and horrific, but we are all agreed that we must address the basic causes of the violence, which seem wider than simply a religious clash. Religion is a factor but attributing the violence to religious causes risks a dangerous oversimplification. I am aware that she is a member of the FORB APPG, which is undertaking an inquiry into the conflict in Nigeria and will produce a report. The Government keenly await the outcome of that report: it will be a very important step forward in trying to understand what is happening. To reassure her, I can say that the United Kingdom Government consistently represent to the Nigerian Government the need to address the causes of this completely unacceptable violence.

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My Lords, earlier this week Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former Minister in Nigeria and now a presidential candidate, told me that a failure of the nation state in managing resources and institutional criminality was stoking tensions between Fulani herders and farmers. She is calling for strong, competent military leadership to prevent non-state operations taking place with impunity in Nigeria. For more than four years, the UK has funded military training and capacity building in Nigeria from the Nigerian aid budget in excess of £300 million, yet rape, kidnapping and murder rates continue to rise. Will the Government therefore review measures to improve the effectiveness of the peace and security national plan and measures to counter the threat of Boko Haram?

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As the noble Lord will be aware, the UK Government provide significant support to try to address the challenge in Nigeria of Boko Haram, whose conduct is frankly vile and completely unacceptable. The UK Government are making significant contributions to assist humanitarian aid for Nigeria. My understanding is that last year we contributed £81.8 million, which delivered food assistance to over 2.8 million people, treatment for severe acute malnutrition to more than 39,000 children, and access to clean water and sanitation to over 135,000 people. We are also working in an advisory capacity to the Nigerian Government, emphasising the need for respect for the rule of law and responsibility in the exercise of whatever the Nigerian military considers appropriate and effective in the areas of conflict.

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My Lords, this violence is clearly organised and systematic. Will Her Majesty’s Government ask the Government of Nigeria to make available information regarding the sources and provision of sophisticated weaponry to the Fulani herders?

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I thank the right reverend Prelate for that pertinent question. There is an awareness and apprehension that much of the armoury is illegal and circulating illegally. That makes it difficult to track and to understand where the armaments are procured from. The UK Government are aware of the situation, as are the Nigerian Government. I note his observations and I shall certainly make sure that that point is pursued.

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My Lords, it is worth remembering that Nigeria is one of the biggest and most active members of the Commonwealth network. Will the Minister reassure us that Her Majesty’s Government will use the good offices of the Commonwealth as far as they possibly can in addressing this horrific situation and seeking to improve it?

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The Commonwealth is an increasingly important organisation in relation to issues such as this, and my noble friend is correct that Nigeria is an important member of it. It is also important that other operators—France, the US and the United Kingdom—engage with the Nigerian Government to do whatever we can to assist them in addressing the clashes. As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, indicated in her Question, these clashes are leading to scenes which are hideous and absolutely repugnant.

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My Lords, I completely agree with the Minister about how complex the causes of the conflict are, and certainly I support the Government’s response in the stability and reconciliation programmes that they have been supporting. Eighteen months ago the most reverend Primate spoke on an Oral Question similar to this one of the need for community-based support and community organisation. Will the Minister tell us what we are continuing to do to get civil society involved, particularly women’s groups? Where women are involved, conflict diminishes.

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The noble Lord makes a very important point. The UK Government endeavour to support situations where women have been under threat. He will be aware of action we took in respect of the Dapchi girls, and we deplore the continued detention of Leah Sharibu. He will also be aware of the action we took in relation to the Nigerian Government in respect of the Chibok girls. We are appalled that 113 of them apparently remain in the custody of their captors, Boko Haram. We have introduced programmes to try to assist, which means dealing with Boko Haram. He will be aware that a substantial package of intelligence, military and development support has been provided by the United Kingdom Government, but we regularly raise the issue of abducted women and girls with the Nigerian Government at the highest level.