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Volume 826: debated on Wednesday 7 December 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Nigeria regarding the violent targeting of Christians, non-Islamist Muslims, and other minority faith and non-faith groups in that country, including reports of massacres, destructions of homes and clinics, forced displacement, and abductions.

My Lords, the UK Government believe that violence against any person because of their religion or belief is unacceptable. In Nigeria, attacks by terrorists and criminal gangs as well as localised community violence are having an unacceptable impact on people’s lives. We regularly raise our concerns, including about the impact that violence is having on different faith and non-faith groups, with Nigeria’s Ministers, state governors and security professionals. Through the UK-Nigeria security and defence partnership, we are committed to supporting Nigeria to improve security across the country and protect human rights.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very principled reply. Is he aware that, according to Intersociety, 4,020 Christians have been killed by militant Islamists; that more than 2,000 were abducted between January and October this year alone; that, according to Open Doors, 3,500 killed were last year; and that many Muslims have also been killed? I have visited Nigeria many times, including twice this year, and I have seen the mass graves of civilians, the burned villages, and met survivors who described the atrocities perpetrated by militants. Will His Majesty’s Government therefore make representations to the Nigerian Government to call perpetrators of violence to account and protect its civilians from the escalating massacres and abductions?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right: it is a grim picture, with atrocities being committed far too regularly. Of course, we continue to encourage the Nigerian Government to take urgent action to protect people at risk, bring perpetrators to justice and implement long-term solutions that address the causes of violence. Most recently, the British high commissioner for Nigeria raised our concerns about violence with all the main presidential candidates ahead of the 2023 elections. Our high commissioner works very closely with state governors, local community faith leaders, NGOs and so on to address these issues, including through our work with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. In January, the Minister for Africa raised our concerns with Nigeria’s Vice-President during his visit here. She also raised the various security challenges that Nigeria is facing with Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, General Monguno, at our security and defence partnership meeting in February. The former Prime Minister also raised the issue during his meeting with President Buhari at CHOGM in June.

My Lords, the Minister has mentioned the security and defence partnership twice. Bearing in mind that this has resulted in police advisers being deployed to Nigeria from the UK, as well as wider support for community policing, has the FCDO assessed how that is working? Has it made any commitment to it continuing?

My Lords, we refreshed our security and defence partnership with Nigeria in February this year. We committed to work together to respond to shared threats such as serious and organised crime and terrorism, and to support Nigeria to tackle its domestic security challenges. Our support is very wide-ranging, a reflection of improvements we brought to the partnership. It includes training, mentoring and advice on tackling serious and organised crime, countering terrorism, reforming and strengthening civil policing, improving capacity to prevent and respond to kidnappings, which are an increasing occurrence, and complying with international human rights law.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the situation in northern Nigeria—poverty, malnutrition and a perceived absence of government—could create the opportunity for terrorist groups, along with its potentially wide effect? This is a region on which DfID, when it existed, focused. Can he tell the House what used to be spent on the programme in northern Nigeria in 2020 and what is spent now?

The noble Baroness is right to highlight the problems in north-east Nigeria, where extremist groups and the ongoing conflict are having a massive impact on communities. These terrorist organisations are set on undermining the right to freedom of religion or belief by attacking those of all faiths who do not subscribe to their limited, extremist views. We are taking a co-ordinated approach to supporting Nigeria and its neighbours to address both the causes and impacts of that conflict. That involves political and defence engagement, humanitarian development and counterterrorism support, and stabilisation and mediation assistance. I do not have figures solely from the time of DfID, but I have some which overlap; over the last five years, the UK has provided £425 million in humanitarian aid to north-east Nigeria. We believe that has reached around 1.5 million vulnerable people.

My Lords, it is four years since a 14 year-old girl, Leah Sharibu, was abducted by Boko Haram. She was forcibly taken, raped and impregnated, and she has never been returned to her family. As recently as last week, the Nigerian high commissioner, speaking here in your Lordships’ House, said that she is still alive. The Minister has just referred to kidnappings and abductions. Can he tell us when we last raised Leah’s case with the Nigerians? What is happening to the Chibok girls and what more can be done to secure their release?

The case the noble Lord mentions is truly devastating and grotesque in so many respects. Of course, we continue to condemn Islamic State West Africa Province for that abduction and the ongoing captivity of Leah Sharibu. We have raised her case with the Nigerian Government on numerous occasions—I cannot tell the noble Lord exactly when the last time was, but I will ask the Minister for Africa—and we have called for her release and that of everyone held by terrorist groups in Nigeria. The problem, as the noble Lord knows, is that kidnappings are occurring frequently across Nigeria, and they are carried out by criminal gangs and violent extremist organisations which are indiscriminate in the treatment they mete out to those they capture. Needless to say, the UK condemns all such activities and we are doing everything we can to help the Nigerian police force cope with and tackle this growing problem.

My Lords, the Minister refers to upholding international human rights standards. As has been raised, there is increasing concern about the treatment of women and girls. Will he therefore reassure the House that he will go back to the Nigerian Government and raise this issue of the treatment of women and girls, as well as the discrimination faced by lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and trans people, who indeed face the death penalty?

The figures are truly horrifying. Just last year, an estimated 1.3 million people were in need of services to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states alone. The numbers are staggering: 82% of those people are women and girls. Sexual violence and exploitation are a serious problem across Nigeria, but particularly in those regions. The UK delivered sexual exploitation and abuse training to the Nigerian army the year before last and last year, to ensure that gender perspectives are taken into account during security operations. The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund has also supported community-led reporting structures, which give women a place to report sexual harassment and violence and seek support. Over the past five years, humanitarian funding from the FCDO in Nigeria has provided more than 590,000 people with access to services that can help protect them from conflict-related sexual violence.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that when violence and atrocities take place in the name of religion, the leaders of that religion should be the first and foremost to condemn those atrocities? Does he further agree that an opportunity was lost at the recent freedom of religion and belief conference, hosted by the UK, to get a binding commitment from religious leaders to that effect?

The noble Lord is of course right that leaders of all the great religions need to take every opportunity to condemn violence in the name of their religion. Obviously, religious belief—and indeed non-belief—is a driver for attacks by terrorist groups. Mostly in north-east Nigeria, Christian communities in particular are targeted by groups, as are Muslim communities which do not subscribe to a particular narrow and extremist point of view. Religious identity can of course be a factor in intercommunal violence, but the causes of these attacks go further than that. They are complex and frequently relate to competition over resources, historical grievances and sometimes just base criminality.

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell us about some of the work the Government are doing with not only local but international civil society organisations, particularly those which focus on interfaith initiatives and anti-radicalisation?

The FCDO base in Nigeria works frequently through religious organisations there, but also through civil society, on a wide range of issues, such as countering violence against women and girls, promoting media freedom and doing what we can to undermine the organisations behind some of the atrocities we have been talking about today. This is very much a focus of our work.

My Lords, how are we measuring the impact of this £425 million spent on humanitarian assistance alone? Listening to noble Lords on all sides of the House this afternoon, and drawing on one’s own experience, it seems that very little benefit is accruing to the people of Nigeria.

There is no doubt that Nigeria is a deeply troubled country, for all the reasons we have talked about today. It has also been a big recipient of ODA. However, it is possible to measure the impact of the investments we have made. Our assessment, which has already been cited, is that we have provided £140 million in bilateral ODA to Nigeria since 2021, and since 2015 we have supported more than 2 million Nigerians to improve their incomes and jobs sustainably. Since 2009, education has been reaching more than 8 million children in 11 states, and since 2012 more than 1.5 million additional girls have been accessing schooling in six states as a result of our funding. In fact, there are many other areas in which we have measurable success as a consequence of our support.