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Nigeria: Intercommunal Violence

Volume 794: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they are providing to the government of Nigeria in its efforts to end the violence between herders and farmers in that country; and what assessment they have made of the impact on that country of the continuance of such intercommunal violence.

My Lords, we remain deeply concerned by the escalation in intercommunal violence across Nigeria, which has a devastating impact on lives and communities and is a barrier to that country’s development. Insecurity and the politicisation of the violence risk localised disruption of the 2019 elections. We urge the Nigerian Government to develop a clear strategy to address the underlying causes and we continue to develop options for how the United Kingdom could further support dialogue and peacebuilding efforts.

I thank my noble friend for his learned response. Will he agree to work with the international community, including the Commonwealth, to encourage and support the Nigerian Government to mobilise their security forces in response to violence and to develop a comprehensive plan which addresses the different factors affecting the conflict, such as population pressure, climate change and religious tensions?

I assure my noble friend that we will continue to work with European partners and, as he rightly articulated, with other members of the Commonwealth. He will know that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister recently visited Nigeria, as did His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. These visits were also intended to strengthen the support we are giving to the Nigerian authorities and Government in addressing the violence which has gripped the country for far too long. In terms of military support, we have been engaging directly in assisting with the training of up to 30,000 members of the Nigerian security forces.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the underlying causes, as well as helping on the security side. Does he agree that one underlying cause of friction is the alarming increase in Nigeria’s population? What help are we giving the Nigerian Government with family spacing and women’s reproductive health?

The noble Lord is right to raise that issue. There are many underlying reasons for the conflict in Nigeria but its population growth and the challenges that that poses to the country’s public services, wealth and economy are well known. I assure him that we are working through a series of initiatives with the Department for International Development to provide support in health and education to address some of the challenges caused by the country’s population growth.

My Lords, following Amnesty International’s report yesterday which confirmed that more than half of the 3,600-plus deaths over the past three years of the conflict in Nigeria have occurred this year, what discussions are the Government planning with their Nigerian counterparts about the failure of their security forces? I note the Minister’s comments about the 30,000 who are being trained. Will he also comment on the negative impact that the corruption among senior officers is having on the welfare and security of their troops? Does he agree that it contributed to the recent massacre at Metele, which was not helped by the ineffectiveness in these matters of the ex-general, President Muhammadu Buhari?

The noble Lord is right that there has been an escalation in violence and the number of deaths in Nigeria in a variety of different conflicts, and it is extremely concerning. I assure him that we have raised the issue at the highest level with President Buhari, who has not only condemned the violence but is investing government time, effort and resource to ensure that he is speaking to the regions impacted and has convened a meeting of the different states. Equally, as I said, we are working with European partners to see what policies and plans can be developed in that respect. That is work in progress. Most recently, we have been encouraged that the Nigerian Government are planning to introduce a government Bill to address some of the events that have occurred, particularly between the Fulani and the farmers in Nigeria. It will look at reforms relating to farmland and private-property protection and at ensuring that agriculture is protected. It will seek to build a positive relationship and co-operation between communities not only in different states but across the country as a whole.

My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister further on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, about the report published yesterday entitled Harvest of Death. It says that,

“these attacks were well planned and co-ordinated with the use of weapons like machine guns and AK47 rifles”.

Will the Minister tell us what ideology is underpinning this and who is providing these weapons? Will he also update the House on the position of the women who have been abducted, primarily by Boko Haram, and on the case of Leah Sharibu, who is being held captive by Islamic State in West Africa?

The noble Lord is right to raise those matters. On the case of Leah Sharibu, we are continuing to press the authorities for her release. There is some positive news in that we understand that more than 70 of the 110 Dapchi schoolgirls who were kidnapped have been released. We continue to implore for and work towards the release of the others, and back-channels are open. The noble Lord is also quite right to raise the issue of arms. As he will know, there is a major challenge regarding the trafficking of weapons, particularly from nearby states, including the flow-through from places such as Libya. As to the ideology, there are, as was said earlier, various factors underlying the different conflicts within Nigeria. However, it is an indisputable fact that both the Islamic State in West Africa and Boko Haram operate in certain states, and their philosophy and ideology are perverse. They are hijacking the noble faith, and it is important not just in Nigeria that we collectively work to eradicate such a philosophy.

My Lords, on Friday the most reverend Primate initiated a debate on reconciliation; and, of course, the two key elements of the very complex situation in Nigeria are security and development. Can the Minister tell us a bit more about how DfID and the Foreign Office are working together to ensure that we actually have the strategies to deliver on reconciliation and development?

I agree with the noble Lord but would add a third element in terms of delivery strategies, regarding security. On all three fronts—whether it is our work through the Ministry of Defence or through diplomacy and direct contact with the Government, and he is right to raise the important work of DfID—our work in Nigeria includes a strong focus on, for example, tackling inequality and exclusion, increasing employment and livelihood opportunities, and improving governance at the local level. We are working across all the different areas to ensure that, as we invest in Nigeria, we work with it and look to build not only its key economic sectors but the key elements of its justice system and governance.