I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Second Report of the International Development Committee, DFID’s programme in Nigeria, HC 110, and the Government response, HC 735.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this important debate, Mr Stringer. Following yesterday’s tragic events, we have been urged to continue with business as usual in Parliament. Many of the things that we could debate feel rather trivial compared with the many injuries and deaths that happened yesterday, but this debate is far from trivial.
Despite being a lower-middle-income country, Nigeria plays host to 120 million people who live below or only just above the poverty line, as well as 10% of the world’s mothers who die in childbirth and 16% of the world’s out-of-school children. There is great inequality, with very few people benefiting from its economic success, which is—or was—largely based on oil wealth. The Department for International Development’s programme in Nigeria is its second largest bilateral programme in Africa, and its third largest in the world, with £303 million allocated for 2016-17.
The second report of the 2016-17 session by the Select Committee on International Development, on DFID’s programme in Nigeria, was published on 27 July 2016. It looked across DFID’s work in the country, making the following key conclusions and recommendations. The Committee commended DFID for its work on governance, which had had a direct impact
“in contributing to a credible, fair and peaceful presidential election in 2015.”
The Committee urged DFID to maintain its support for systems strengthening, institutional management and civic education. It also recommended that DFID should, as a priority, develop a deeper understanding of Nigeria’s political economy and strengthen its judiciary.
The Committee expressed concern that DFID’s power sector reform programme—the Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility—was based on an insufficient research base and was
“hurting poor Nigerians in the short term, even if there is a net overall benefit to privatisation of the power sector in the long term.”
It therefore suggested that DFID encourage the Nigerian Government to take measures to mitigate the impacts.
The Committee recognised the key role of the private sector in successful economic development, but noted that there was not a coherent, joined-up strategy between various parts of the UK Government on achieving that. It recommended that as well as producing such a strategy, DFID should do further research on quality job creation in Nigeria.
The Committee was particularly concerned about Nigeria’s prospects for achieving sustainable development goal 4 on education, and called on DFID to do more to support Nigeria in mapping a route to achieving the goal, including emphasising the value of basic public services and spending on education. It expressed further concern about the affordability of private schooling, including that provided by Bridge International Academies, for the poorest families, and called on DFID to ensure that it aligns with the principle of “leaving no one behind”. We visited a school that had a morning and afternoon session; it had to do that, because so many children need an education and there are insufficient schools. The Committee also found that the UNICEF-managed girls education project was failing to perform, and asked that DFID lay out the steps being taken to improve its effectiveness.
The Committee commended DFID’s commitment to humanitarian support in north-east Nigeria, but noted that there is a funding gap. It recommended that DFID do all that it can to ensure that the 2016 UN appeal was fully funded, both through its own resources and its influence. It also commended DFID’s commitment to development in a fragile area, and recommended continuing support to address the drivers of conflict, and including community-based approaches in its peace-building work.
The Government responded to the Committee’s report in September 2016. They welcomed the constructive review, and stated that it agreed
“with the principles sitting behind all the recommendations provided by the committee, and in the majority of cases we fully agree with the practical next steps these imply.”
They made the following specific points. DFID agreed to continue its work on governance, and it has extended its “Deepening Democracy in Nigeria” programme until 2021
“to ensure full election cycle support.”
It noted that it is investing in research into the political economy of Nigeria and agreed to reach out to more UK-trained lawyers in order to strengthen the judiciary there.
On power sector reform, DFID agreed to do more to mitigate the short-term effects of its programme, and accepted that
“only a small proportion of consumers currently benefit.”
It agreed to
“encourage the Nigerian Government to increase the number of poor customers benefiting from the lifeline tariff”,
and to build more evidence on the poverty impacts of the work.
On economic development, DFID partially agreed with the Committee’s recommendation on a joined-up strategy from Her Majesty’s Government, claiming that the
“bilateral aid review…considered all elements of UK government efforts toward inclusive economic development in Nigeria.”
It stated that it had already taken steps
“to strengthen cross-departmental join-up”,
and agreed to
“ongoing operational research by programme teams during implementation”
on quality job creation.
On education, DFID stated that it is
“supporting the Federal Ministry of Education to develop the Government’s Ministerial Strategic Plan which sets out how it will move towards achieving SDG 4.”
It went on to restate its commitment to leaving no one behind, and said that its support for
“partners such as Bridge International Academies is intended to accompany DEEPEN’s sector wide work, with a focus on testing innovative school improvement models that will support stronger learning outcomes.”
It further noted that it has been
“working intensively with UNICEF to improve the effectiveness of GEP3”,
with an annual review due later in the year.
On humanitarian support and conflict, DFID only partially agreed to do all that it could to ensure that the UN appeal for Nigeria in 2016 was fully funded, but it agreed to continue support for addressing the drivers of conflict, and to scale up its community-based work. I have a series of questions for the Minister, which I will come to at the end of my speech. If he can answer them today, that is fine, but if not, perhaps he could write to the Committee to follow up.
Following the publication of our report, the Committee sought and obtained a Westminster Hall debate through the Backbench Business Committee on the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria. In that debate, which I do not believe this Minister attended, Committee members expressed their full support for the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, and spoke passionately about their experiences during the Committee’s visit, when we all met the campaigners outside our hotel. They had been there every single day since the Chibok girls were kidnapped, and they continue to be there. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who acted so heroically yesterday, responded to that debate on behalf of the Government. He laid out the support that the UK has provided, including specifically on the issue of the Chibok girls, such as support for hostage negotiation, military support, and support on governance issues more broadly, and he reiterated the Government’s support for defeating extremism in Nigeria and bringing back the Chibok girls.
In October, 21 more Chibok schoolgirls were freed. We know that they are not the only people who have been kidnapped in Nigeria, but a lot of international attention has focused on them. The problem is that many of the girls, whether freed or not, have been raped, forced to marry, or forced to change their religion, and many of them now have children. Sadly, some of the girls who have been freed have been rejected by their own community. They were in a terrible situation, and thought that they would be welcomed back by their families, but that has not happened universally.
Since the publication of the Committee report, the humanitarian situation in Nigeria has worsened. Nigeria is one of a number of countries in Africa and the middle east suffering from a severe crisis of food insecurity. More than 5 million people in the country’s north-east are estimated to be food-insecure, including nearly 500,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Despite the Committee’s calls for DFID to ensure that the 2016 humanitarian appeal was fully funded, it reached only 52% funding. The 2017 appeal is for more than double the 2016 appeal, and is currently 5.2% funded, with a funding gap of around $1 billion. Some progress is being made, though, as the Nigerian Government continue to make gains against Boko Haram, allowing development actors better access to those in need.
DFID began a major programme of humanitarian support in Nigeria in late 2015. In July last year, DFID committed an additional £50 million to the response for the remainder of the year. DFID has identified that the major challenge to humanitarian support in Nigeria is the lack of donor experience in providing it in that country, leading to weak co-ordination and leadership and, at times, lacklustre delivery. DFID is looking to scale up the capacity of its humanitarian team in the country, especially for work on nutrition, which is incredibly important.
After the Committee’s recommendations and the programme redesign, DFID now assesses the Girls’ Education Project 3 to be making good progress. In its latest annual review, carried out around the time when the Committee’s report was published, DFID gave the programme an A rating, and noted both that it is now delivering results, including increased enrolment, and the introduction of an early-grade learning initiative and an education management information system. That is good news. Perhaps the Minister can give us an updated progress report.
Early this year, President Buhari disappeared from the Nigerian political scene. Rumours about his health spread through Nigeria before it was officially announced that he was in London for medical treatment. After two months in the UK, he returned to Nigeria earlier this month and resumed his official duties, but rumours continue due to the length of his absence, creating a feeling of instability in the country.
Since the new Government were established, there has been some progress on security and corruption, which are perhaps at the heart of Nigeria’s problems. Boko Haram has been pushed out of most of the territory that it controlled in north-east Nigeria since President Buhari, whom some see as being on the back foot, took office. In the last six months, Boko Haram has lost most, if not all, of the territory that it held in the Sambisa forest in Borno state, which had been an important rear base for it.
In May 2016, not long after former Prime Minister David Cameron described the country as “fantastically corrupt”, the British Government said that they would give Nigeria £40 million over the next four years to help the fight against Boko Haram, and that they planned to train almost 1,000 Nigerian military personnel for deployment in counter-insurgency operations, which is clearly welcome.
On anti-corruption, there has been a wave of arrests of those who held office under President Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. The trial of former national security adviser Sambo Dasuki has begun; former Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke has yet to stand trial; and several major investigations have been launched. However, critics claim that the Government’s copybook is blotted on security and anti-corruption, saying that some of the steps taken against corruption have been politically motivated, rather than taken without fear or favour. As is often the case in Nigeria, investigations are proceeding at a snail’s pace.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian security forces remain prone to committing human rights abuses, but continue to enjoy impunity. A more fundamental criticism is that Buhari has not yet got to grips with the interlocking root causes of violence: poverty, inequality, marginalisation and, not least, corruption, whether in the north or elsewhere. With the possible exception of in the oil-rich Niger delta, he appears uninterested in seeking negotiated settlements. The authorities have also been criticised for their performance in response to the humanitarian crisis in north-eastern Nigeria.
The biggest challenge to emerge during the second half of 2016, apart from Buhari’s possible ill health, were the cracks in the fractious coalition of interests that makes up the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress. The main divisions emerging, which have never been far from the surface, are between Buhari’s faction and those loyal to former Lagos State governor and APC kingmaker Bola Tinubu, who is reportedly in cahoots with former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. According to Africa Confidential, that faction is actively contemplating setting up a separate party, coined “the mega party”. The party would bring together APCers disillusioned with Buhari and sections of the former ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party, which is also faction-ridden.
As a large producer and exporter of oil, Nigeria has taken a bad economic hit from the sharp fall in the price of oil in 2014. Government revenues have fallen, resulting in cuts to Government expenditure, while the value of total exports has fallen significantly, given that oil and gas make up around 90% of Nigeria’s exports. Nigeria has had huge problems with corruption in the oil industry, and its value has decreased so much that it continues to cause major poverty problems for the country.
The Government were also forced to abandon their currency peg, which fixed the naira to the dollar, despite having spent billions of dollars from their foreign exchange reserves to try to prop it up. The naira fell from about 197 to the dollar to 280 to the dollar in June 2016, and the official exchange rate is currently around 300 to the dollar. That is compounding the country’s problems. However, it appears that the currency was not allowed to float fully; Government intervention is still occurring. During 2016, there was a serious foreign exchange shortage and consumer price inflation rose rapidly, which had an impact on the poorest and on the people with the most severe problems.
These factors mean that full-year growth in 2016 is likely to have been negative for the first time since 1991. The International Monetary Fund estimates that GDP contracted by 1.5% in 2016, compared with growth of 2.7% in 2015. It does, however, forecast growth of 0.8% in 2017 and 2.3% in 2018. The outlook is supported by the oil price, which is higher than it was a year ago, in part because it has been boosted by a deal by OPEC members restricting oil supply.
Nevertheless, the longer-term challenges facing Nigeria’s economy remain. Corruption remains a huge problem, despite efforts by the Buhari Administration to clamp down on it, and broader conditions for conducting business remain poor. Poor-quality infrastructure, very low education levels, security worries and high poverty levels are additional barriers to faster long-term growth. One of my major concerns when we were in Nigeria was how the Government were going to tackle corruption. They came in with great ideas, wanting a clean sweep of the country, but they have delayed and delayed, and they are not delivering. They will have problems, because the people of Nigeria will not wait forever for things to change.
[Sir David Crausby in the Chair]
I have key questions that I hope the Minister will be able to answer—if not now, perhaps later. First, how has recent uncertainty surrounding President Buhari affected DFID’s work with the Nigerian Government and its work on governance in Nigeria? Secondly, what is DFID’s assessment of humanitarian need in north-eastern Nigeria? What support is it providing to deal with the humanitarian crisis and food shortage in that area? What are the UK Government doing with other donors to ensure that the 2017 humanitarian response plan is fully funded?
Thirdly, what is the UK Government’s assessment of the prospect of release of more of the Chibok schoolgirls? Does the Minister know how many have been released and how many are still being held? What continuing support are the UK Government providing to Nigeria to secure the release of more of them, and other schoolgirls who we know have been captured? Fourthly, on DFID’s power sector reform programme, how much progress has been made on extending the lifeline tariff and assessing the programme’s impact on poverty? Fifthly, how have the UK Government strengthened joined-up working on economic development in Nigeria? How is DFID working with the prosperity fund and the Department for International Trade on economic development in Nigeria?
Finally, what is DFID’s assessment of the likelihood of Nigeria achieving sustainable development goal 4 on education? That seems to me one of the key questions if, in the long term, the country is to lift itself out of poverty and its terrible situation. If Nigeria does not meet SDG 4 and provide a decent education for every single person in the country, it will never fully become a middle-income country or better.
I thank the Committee specialists who worked with us on the report, and those who went with us to Nigeria. It was an incredibly interesting visit to a country that I had never been to before. It held out so much hope, but I believe that its Government are failing. As I said earlier, the country will not forgive them if they do, because people there believed that their Government would transform the situation. All the money that we have put in should be helping them to get there. I believe that it is meant to do that, but I am not sure that the Nigerian Government are taking as much advantage of it as they could.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and the rest of the Committee for their work. She gave an extremely extensive and thorough speech that covered the Committee’s findings on Nigeria. I do not intend to repeat what she said, but I will raise a number of issues that were apparent to me on the Committee’s visit.
As the hon. Lady said, although it is a lower-middle-income country, Nigeria plays host to 120 million people living below or only just above the poverty line, to 10% of the world’s mothers who die in childbirth and to 16% of the world’s out-of-school children. I have to say that what struck me when I arrived there was the inequality, which is absolutely stark: many people have great wealth, but the majority of the population have very little at all.
I ask the Minister what the long-term plan is for DFID’s work with Nigeria and its Government. Nigeria is a lower-middle-income country and it has a number of resources, although they have not provided the same economic benefit in recent years as they did before. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the issue is what systems can be put in place to address inequality and ensure that the economy’s benefits actually reach people who are vulnerable and in need of support. What will the Department do to ensure that such systems will be put in place? What work is taking place with the Government to try to address that? Without those systems, the problem will be self-perpetuating: we will continue to give vast amounts to Nigeria, a lower-middle-income country—I think it is DFID’s second largest bilateral programme in Africa and its third largest in the world—when what it really needs is assistance to self-sustain and make long-term progress in the right direction, so that some of that money can go to other countries that are not in the same financial position.
The other issue that stood out to me was corruption. It was even apparent at the airport: I tried to buy something at the duty-free and was told, “No, you can’t pay with a card—you will have to pay with cash.” Even in places where you would not expect it, there is money flowing through the systems, with very little accountability for how much of it there is and where it ends up, and I imagine that very little tax is being collected. One of the key issues that the Department should look at in Nigeria is electronic cash transfer programmes—we have recently seen some excellent work on those in Kenya—to ensure that the Nigerian Government have a record of where money is being transferred, in shops and throughout the economy, and are therefore much better able to collect taxes. That was not at all evident to me in Nigeria, not even at the airport, which I would have expected to have some system in place.
We were taken to see an anti-corruption tower—that is the only way I can describe it. It was a massive building that the Nigerians hoped we were going to help to fund. It was exorbitant in size. It was to house the anti-corruption teams of the Minister. I was not sure that, by funding a tower, the money was going to go in the right direction—towards anti-corruption policies. What is happening in terms of the work we are doing with the Government and the anti-corruption Minister who was in place at the time to take forward strategic anti-corruption policies? Again, I feel that the crux of the matter is about knowing where money is coming from and where it is going to, and making sure that it is electronically registered.
The Committee recognised the key role of the private sector in successful economic development, but noted that there was not a coherent joined-up strategy between various parts of the UK Government on achieving that. What progress has been made? The other issue of grave concern to me was the prospect of achieving sustainable development goal 4 on education. When I visited the school in Kano in northern Nigeria, there appeared to be great ambivalence about ministerial-led support for girls’ education. Education was taking place in the school, but I would say the quality was extremely poor. On what was being taught, I cannot say from my visit that I had much awareness of any learning other than the continual reciting of religious books. I am all for religious education and I believe parents should have a choice in that regard. However, if we are providing money for education programmes, we should address the quality of those and ensure progress is made. I understand that some progress has been made of late, but I would like that to be repeatedly reviewed because I did not end the education visits with a great sense that the money was being spent in a way that would make a great difference to the girls.
I also had a sense—an undercurrent—of women’s place in Nigeria. That was even apparent when we visited Ministries, where there were no women aside from our own delegation around the table. I asked why there were so few women parliamentarians and I was told they cannot afford to stand. That is a huge gender equality issue. If there are few women in political life in Nigeria, there will be few policies that create gender equality, so we should focus on that. On the idea that someone has to have a set amount of money to stand, obviously, we cannot enforce our absolute democratic principles on every other country, but if we are working with Governments to try to improve governance and democracy, these are conversations that must be had. Unless the system and its failings are addressed, I fear that little will change for girls in Nigeria, particularly in the north, and we will continually have to try to monitor strongly what is happening and doubts regarding the effectiveness of what we do there.
One thing that emotionally struck me was meeting the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaigners, who are out every day speaking about the importance of bringing back the girls safe and alive. I really want the UK Government to work with the Nigerian Government to ensure that we do as much as we can to support them in that regard. We know only too well that defeating extremism should be our priority. It tarnishes society and reduces the hopes of people around the world. We know that only too well today after the impact even in this House.
We must provide support to defeat extremism. At the time, I thought that the Nigerian Government were taking that extremely seriously. I understand that they have made good gains. The President has a military background and defeating extremism is one of the key objectives that he is committed to. We need to support that positive objective to ensure that people in the north, the children, women and families have opportunity and hope outwith being kept in conditions of extremism. We must always fight to try to help to bring back those girls. Where else in the world would hundreds of girls go missing for such a length of time with nothing happening? That is very stark. Some have been released. But they were not found. We need to ensure that we do all we can to bring those girls back safe and alive for their families. I am a mother of girls. I feel very strongly and passionately that we should assist the Government.
Food insecurity is a humanitarian issue now in Nigeria. We must do all that we can to help the vulnerable people there who are suffering from acute malnutrition. We know that the humanitarian appeal has reached only 52% of the funding requirement, so we need to look at that and decide whether there is more that the United Kingdom can do. Again, I come back to saying that there also has to be a long-term plan. Nigeria has grave inequality and pockets of extreme wealth. There has to be a Government plan for situations that arise over the long term. Perhaps the UK might assist Nigeria to put in place a plan to help its own population in future, but in the meantime we have to do everything that we possibly can.
I have concerns regarding the governance of the work that we do in Nigeria. I am hopeful that DFID will be extra scrupulous in looking at programmes, their quality and outcome. Fundamentally, in order to help support Nigeria, there needs to be radical change in the politics in Nigeria and the will to make changes to deal with corruption and inequality. I hope that, wherever possible, the Minister will help to push on those particular issues. Also, I hope he will update us today on what we can do to bring back the Chibok girls.
I apologise for not being here at the beginning, Sir David. I was participating in the debate in the main Chamber. I am glad to follow the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). She has highlighted a lot of the very important issues. I would differ slightly with her on education, but I will come to that.
One thing that struck me more than anything in our visit to Nigeria, which was my first visit to that country, was when we were in Abuja and we visited a refugee camp where the refugees were cared for not by an outside agency or the United Nations, but by Nigerians themselves and by Christian organisations and mosques. The teachers gave up their time, often voluntarily, in a school that was almost in the open. I felt that Nigeria was a hugely self-reliant country, but, as the hon. Lady has said, perhaps the people are sometimes not supported sufficiently by their own Government. Nigerians are hugely entrepreneurial and dynamic people, but I believe they are sometimes a little held back. However, I felt that their caring for their own in the refugee camp in the middle of Abuja, where there were refugees from the north and particularly from Borno state, was a microcosm of what so many Nigerians do for each other across the country.
Education is clearly something for which the Chair of the Committee has a huge passion—as do we all—and he has made it a hallmark of its work. I welcome that. I agree that perhaps aspects of the schools that we visited in Kano surprised us, but other aspects encouraged me. For instance, in the Koranic schools we saw that, almost for the first time, many of the children were learning subjects to which they had not had access before. The curriculums that they were using—which have been largely supported through DFID—were encouraging; they were not, perhaps, the finished article, but they were probably a step forward from what there was before. Clearly, we want much more of an advance. We want girls’ education to be absolutely right; we want them to get the same education as boys. However, it was a step forward.
The other school had something like 13,000 children. It is one of the biggest primary schools in sub-Saharan Africa, if not the biggest, and, again, I felt that progress was being made. We visited a class with disabled children, where an effort was being made on their behalf. Clearly, in comparison with our education system or those of other middle-income countries—Nigeria is, of course, such a country—there are great shortfalls. Nevertheless, improvements are being made, particularly by one of the two education programmes that DFID is running in the north. Progress is being made, and much more could be done, but clearly that is fundamentally an issue for the Nigerian Government. In a country as large as Nigeria, DFID can only really supply technical advice and a little support here and there.
That brings me on to corruption, tax collection and so on. I share the views of the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow about the anti-corruption building. I was more interested in finding out about the anti-corruption work than I was in seeing a half-finished building in which that work might take place in future. There is little more to be said other than that I hope the building will be finished and that the work that is done in it will have a huge impact. I am not sure that the UK Government should finance the building. We should support the work that goes on there but not the infrastructure.
I was encouraged by the work on health that we heard about through some of our meetings in Abuja. I am the chair of the all-party group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases and I have a particular interest in the area, as does pretty much every Member attending the debate. We heard of the great progress that has been made in reducing the incidence of malaria across Nigeria, which, along with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, still has the largest burden of malaria in the world. We heard particularly of progress in the northern regions—the Sahel region of Nigeria, where there can be intermittent malaria, particularly in the rainy season.
We visited a midwife training school based at the hospital, and the pharmacy there. I was extremely impressed with the pharmacist, who was clearly dedicated to her work to prevent malaria. She contacted me and the all-party group after the visit and said, “I want to do something on World Malaria Day”—which was a month after our visit; “can you help us?” The all-party group agreed to send an amount of money—I think it was about $1,000; and with it the pharmacist co-ordinated a magnificent World Malaria Day event. She invited local people, local government leaders and health leaders, and also managed a mass distribution of bed nets. It was all done voluntarily and it showed the spirit of individual Nigerians—how they really want to work on behalf of their country and people. I very much hope that the same thing will happen again this year, and that our group will support it if it does. For $1,000 I think the impact was substantial, based on the report we received.
It is not only on malaria but on neglected tropical diseases that the work supported by DFID in the north has had a great impact. I believe that that programme is just coming to an end, and I urge DFID to look at supporting a continuation of the work. We know that, if work in areas such as neglected tropical diseases and, indeed, malaria is halted for a while, those diseases can come back. Clearly, we want the Nigerian Government to take up the work on NTDs. In the meantime I should like the Minister’s reassurance that DFID is considering supporting a continuation—perhaps in a different way—of the programme on NTDs in the north of Nigeria. I should declare an interest, in that I am a member of the board of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. I want to make that clear as I know that the school has great engagement in Nigeria and with DFID programmes, although I am not sure in what respects.
The economy in Nigeria has been far too dependent, clearly, on oil in the past decades, but a real effort is being made to expand and diversify it. That has been made necessary by the fall in the price of oil. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow rightly mentioned the lack of women in senior positions, and particularly the lack of women Members of Parliament. However, the Finance Minister of Nigeria is a woman, whom we had the pleasure of meeting in Abuja, and who was committed to reform of the Nigerian economy. I should hope that she—and, indeed, her reform-minded, progressive colleagues—would get the fullest possible support from the British Government, whether through DFID or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in their efforts to ensure that the economy of Nigeria works for everyone.
I want to touch on the issue of food, food security and famine. We have heard from the Government and from colleagues across the House of the issues in Nigeria and east and central Africa. I welcome the generosity of the British public in supporting the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for east and central Africa. Perhaps the Minister will outline for us the current situation in Nigeria, as it is a year since we were there. Nigeria has a proud reputation of wanting to help itself to deal with such issues, but I want to find out what the current food security situation is. Our efforts are concentrated on east and central Africa, but we would not want countries in the Sahel—not just Nigeria but Chad, Mali, Niger and others—to miss out on the efforts that are being made. Whether we like it or not, the UK is a leader in the area; particularly given concern about the potential withdrawal of United States funding it would be a problem if areas where the UK is not so prominent fell behind because they are not on our radar. I should appreciate an update from the Minister about that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and to follow my three colleagues from the International Development Committee, who have set out very fully some of the findings of our inquiry, and some continuing concerns. I shall speak briefly. I take this opportunity to apologise for the fact that I shall have to leave at about a quarter past 4, so I may miss the closing part of the debate.
I support the remarks of my friend the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) about the current food crisis in Africa and the Yemen. I would welcome a response to his points from the Minister, as well as an early opportunity for the matter to be considered in more detail in the House, whether by way of a statement or a tabled debate. There are massive challenges, and as the hon. Gentleman said, the public response to the DEC appeal has been extraordinary. The Government are already doing a lot of good work in the countries concerned, but it is vital that we should do all we can to relieve a massive humanitarian crisis.
I will briefly talk about two issues—governance and education. I do so really to reaffirm what others—in particular the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), who is an assiduous and hard-working member of the Committee—have said. She opened the debate by talking about the challenges regarding governance and made the important point that, partly because of the support of the UK, we saw in 2015 a credible, fair and peaceful presidential election in Nigeria, which resulted in the sitting President being defeated, standing down and handing over to a successor. That was a very significant development and was hugely welcome.
Alongside the many humanitarian and other development challenges that this debate has rightly emphasised, I urge the Minister and the Government not to lose focus on some of the governance issues and the importance of the UK—in the form of both DFID and the Foreign Office—continuing to engage on governance, both at the federal level in Nigeria and at state and local level. Part of that involves meeting the challenge that the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) rightly reminded us of, which is about not only women’s representation in public life in Nigeria, including in politics, but frankly representation for anyone who is not wealthy, which is difficult because of some of the barriers she told us about.
The other issue I will speak about is education. Nigeria is an enormous country. I think the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire said in her opening remarks that 16% of the world’s out-of-school children are in Nigeria—one in six of all the children in the entire world who are not in school are in that one country. So if that country makes the sort of progress on education that we would like it to make, it will be hugely important not only for Nigeria itself but globally.
When we were on our visit to Nigeria last year, some Members went to Kano; we heard some reflections on that trip from the hon. Members for Stafford and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow. Some of us saw schools in Lagos and saw some of the challenges there. Again, we saw some of the difficult issues that exist, which the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow rightly highlighted, but also some more encouraging aspects. I remember that we went to a state school in Lagos. On the one hand, the sheer number of children in each class and how challenging that was for the teachers was very striking; on the other hand, children with disabilities and special educational needs were in the same class as the other children, and the teachers were able to deliver for them all.
Clearly, Nigeria faces a massive challenge if it is to achieve sustainable development goal 4; it will be very hard for the country to do so. At the moment, the Select Committee is conducting an inquiry into DFID’s work on education, and Nigeria is probably one of the most striking test cases given the level of resource, support and ambition that is required, both within Nigeria, as the hon. Member for Stafford rightly said, and in the international system, to ensure that goal can be reached. Let us hope that it can be.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and I again congratulate the International Development Committee on securing time for this debate. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) on her comprehensive introduction of it.
In the context of all the speeches we have heard, it is clear why this debate is particularly relevant at the moment, especially given the growing food crisis in north-east Nigeria, which is starting to reach critical—famine—conditions. I echo the calls for the opportunity to question the Government in more detail about their response to that on the Floor of the House, outwith the Department for International Development questions session that is coming up next week.
As we have heard from a number of Members, Nigeria captures many of the challenges of delivering aid and international development in the world today. It is classed as a lower-middle-income country and it is in a period of economic and developmental transition, and therefore there are significant inequalities across the country, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) spoke about, including those caused by the famine situation and the terror attacks led by Boko Haram. Indeed, yesterday I saw reports of there being seven dead people and 18 injured people in refugee camps in the north-east of Nigeria, which again gives us cause to express our solidarity, following our own tragic experiences yesterday.
The structure of the Select Committee’s report emphasises the holistic challenge that exists in Nigeria and the need for a holistic approach to development to get everything right in governance, economic development and the delivery of basic services, as well as in the areas of conflict and security.
Getting governance right is an often unseen and occasionally questioned part of the development equation, but it is hugely important. The debate that we have just had on the situation in Syria demonstrated the need for strong internal governance and strong civil society, because if people cannot demonstrate peacefully or seek democratic change peacefully, situations can rapidly spiral out of control and into violence.
I welcome the recommendations in the report, especially those on corruption, support for the regional governments across Nigeria and the opportunities for the sharing of best practice, drawing particularly on the strength of the Nigerian diaspora in this country and elsewhere.
Openness of government and transparency of information are both absolutely critical, so I also welcome the developments on IT and open-access budgeting that are covered in the report. We recently had a more general debate in Westminster Hall on west Africa, including Gambia, where there has been a peaceful transition of power. In large part, that was due to the role of new technology, including mobile communications. Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned there.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow also reflected powerfully on the corruption situation in Nigeria, and said that gender equality is a very important way in which that corruption can be overcome. Economic development and economic inequality are also major challenges in such transitioning economies. If the cycle cannot be broken, there is a risk that it will be a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and growing inequality.
There are important recommendations in the report, including a focus on jobs. There is also a role for the Commonwealth Development Corporation, as we discussed in the previous debate. There is an opportunity for the Government to show how the CDC really can make a difference by delivering poverty reduction in places that are very hard to reach.
In the report, there is also an emphasis on the role of the diaspora, particularly in trade and the sharing of skills across borders. There is also emphasis on the issue of basic service provision. That is because despite the transitioning economy, despite the growth and despite the existence of pockets of wealth in Nigeria, there are places where such basic service delivery and service provision are needed.
Once again, there is a role for local NGOs, civil society organisations and faith-based organisations. The ability to gather data and monitor the impact of different measures has been highlighted, both in the report and by Members today. Two of the most basic aspects of service provision in education have already been widely covered in the debate, and there is also the issue of healthcare. I echo the points made by the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) about providing support to combat malaria and neglected and tropical diseases more widely.
Finally, we must consider conflict and security, and the dreadful impact of Boko Haram. We have heard very powerfully about the campaign to find the captured Chibok and other schoolgirls—the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign. I pay tribute to all who are involved in that campaign. Access to education, especially for girls, is particularly important to help to protect and support future generations.
Unlike the Members who have already spoken, I have not yet had first-hand experience of visiting Nigeria. I hope to join the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), who leads for the Labour party on international development issues, on a visit with the all-party group on Nigeria at some point in the next few months. I think the timing of Abuja airport’s reopening will largely determine the timing of that visit, but I look forward to having the opportunity to visit Nigeria, having made many friends from the Nigerian diaspora over the years, not least in recent weeks the two new priests in the parish that serves my constituency office, Father Ambrose Ohene and Father Dominic Alih, whom we welcome to St Columba of Iona in Woodside.
I will also reflect briefly on the fact that tomorrow is Red Nose Day for the Comic Relief appeal. Over the years, many millions of pounds from Comic Relief have made a huge difference not only in Nigeria but around the world. The very first Red Nose Day was on 5 February 1988, which was my eighth birthday, so I have always had a fondness for that particular charity, and I wish everyone involved with it the very best.
As I think the Select Committee’s report has demonstrated, DFID has a complex and detailed programme in Nigeria, which is making a real difference, but there are always lessons to learn, and the report draws some of them out. I always think it is interesting when the Government partially agree with recommendations; that is a polite and political way to respond to aspects of a report. Hopefully, the case has been made for the Government to come even closer to agreement on some of the Committee’s recommendations, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing another important debate. In particular, I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) on making a very informative contribution. She expressed particular concerns about education and electricity. I share those concerns and will speak about them. I also thank the hon. Members for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for making very important contributions in their usual styles.
The International Development Committee’s report on DFID’s programme in Nigeria was stark. It offered a scrutinising insight into DFID’s work in what is one of the world’s fastest growing economies and one of its most deprived nations. The report highlighted several pieces of positive work that DFID is doing in Nigeria; the hon. Members for Stafford, and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, both mentioned that.
DFID is spending money effectively on fighting malaria in the country, and the positive lessons that health professionals have learned and applied from anti-malaria programmes has had a knock-on benefit for the health sector more widely. DFID used a range of expertise to help deliver the fairest elections in Nigeria’s history. That allowed President Buhari to stand strong on his mandate of delivering economic growth, reducing inequality and tackling corruption. DFID is rolling back the neglected tropical diseases that have taken hold in the country, enabling more children to go to school and more adults to go to work. We commend that work and believe that the Government should hold up those successes as examples of DFID’s money being put to use to benefit the people of not only Nigeria, but the UK.
Nevertheless, as has been said, the report and hon. Members have expressed concerns about areas that need improvement. First, there is the economy. I welcome the work done on that. It is absolutely clear that there has been economic growth, but has it been inclusive of the whole country? I do not believe it has. The disproportion between growth in the south and the north is massive. That needs addressing, and I look forward to the Minister’s comments on that. In the earlier debate, a point was made about the CDC; with its increase in funding, there is an opportunity to look seriously at investment in industry in the north of Nigeria.
The second issue that could do with improvement is healthcare. While DFID spends quite a large amount of the total funding that goes to Nigeria on healthcare, the report highlights a number of basic hygiene problems in hospitals, which is counterproductive to the efforts. I urge the Minister to liaise with the Nigerian Government on addressing those issues. On the face of it, they are not major, but they are important.
Quite a lot was said about corruption and governance by the hon. Members for Stafford, and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, and by the Chair of the International Development Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby. The first point they made was that we have seen disproportionate growth—Nigeria has in a very short time become one of the countries with the fastest growing number of millionaires—but, unfortunately, that wealth has not been spread across the breadth of the country, and that needs addressing. If strange-shaped buildings could resolve corruption issues, we would all be in a much better place, but tragically, it is not that simple. I align myself with the comments made earlier on that front.
On governance, we have to accept that DFID has done some magnificent work around the 2015 election—the freest and fairest election in Nigeria. Power changed hands with very little trouble, but we cannot be complacent, and that work must continue. I know that there is a plan to continue that work until 2019, and that is clearly important. To address the corruption and governance elements—I hope that the Minister will accept and agree with this point—we must further strengthen institutions across the board. We need to strengthen the judiciary and the rule of law to allow investors and Nigerians to have confidence in the system. We are on the road to that, and I have every confidence that DFID will follow that through to 2019, when the next election will take place.
The two problematic areas where we have concerns are education and electricity, which the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned. Education is a universal right. We would all agree that everyone has the right to at least a good primary and secondary education. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Nigeria. The International Development Committee rightly pointed out that 25% of all those between 17 and 22 years old in the north of the country have fewer than two years of education. Just three out of five children will have completed grade 4. Those statistics have led to a dire literacy situation in the country; 85% of girls in the north-east cannot read, and 44% of those who have completed grade 6 are unable to read a complete sentence in English or their preferred language.
Bridge International Academies, which works with DFID, provided evidence to the Committee that stated that 90% of the communities in which it works are able to afford to send their children to school. That is good, but what happens to the other 10%? Do they send none of their children to school, or do they make a choice and send either their boys or girls to school? The stark reality is that when given that choice, the evidence shows that they are more likely to send boys to school. That further highlights the issue that Members raised about the lack of education offered to girls. Not only does that mean that DFID is supporting work that does not reach the poorest in Nigeria—the very people we should be reaching out to—but it raises further issues about the children who reside in the poorer states, which are often not reached by private education. One figure struck me: the Committee calculates that, on a conservative estimate, sending three children to school would cost $234 in annual fees, in a country where more than half the population lives on less than $2 a day. That is an easy calculation for everyone to make.
If DFID is to support an expansion of private sector education across Nigeria, what will happen to the children in poorer regions of the country, where less than 90% of people can afford schooling? We recognise that private schools are key providers of education in Nigeria, but we are steadfastly opposed to any DFID programme that sees an expansion of private, fee-paying schools in the country, particularly if it is done at the expense of public schools. There is a prevalence of private schools in Nigeria, but that does not mean that DFID has to accept that. I hope that the Minister will tell me what the Department is doing to promote an expansion of public education in Nigeria that can reach the whole population, not just the wealthiest.
Electricity production and distribution is of concern. Access to a stable, secure and reliable electricity network is of great importance, if not an absolute necessity, for promoting growth and freeing households from the burden of self-generation. Despite the immense importance of the electricity sector and Nigeria’s growth rate, the country has the highest number of Africans without access to electricity. DFID clearly recognises that that is a problem. If electricity is not supplied to millions of Nigerians, DFID will struggle to fulfil its aims and objectives in the country, so it put in place the Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility.
On the face of it, allocating more than £100 million to help bring light into the homes of 96 million Nigerians seems a positive step, until we look at the details of what the money bought. It brought in Adam Smith International—an international organisation that ultimately advised the Nigerian Government to put Nigeria’s electricity production and distribution networks up for sale, with the goal of creating a commercially viable and privately owned power network. While the intentions may have been good, at best the programme proved to be ill designed; at worst, it focused not on the needs of Nigerian consumers, but on private interests. It is putting electricity even further out of reach of many Nigerians, and it is loading purchasers in the energy sector with huge amounts of debt, preventing them from making any meaningful investments in the network. Tariffs had to be raised, rather than lowered, and the situation was so bad that a prominent university, Ahmadu Bello, was forced to cut power for 12 hours a day. Privatisation of the energy sector has not helped poor Nigerians or businesses to get secure access to the electricity network. It is hard to describe the endeavour as anything other than a failure for the poorest in the country.
It has been a year since the report, so I hope that the Minister can shed some light on how the matters it raised have been addressed. DFID has made very strong progress in certain areas of Nigeria. There have been commendable efforts to tackle malaria and neglected tropical diseases, and to strengthen confidence in democratic institutions, but we must address the other issues on which further progress can be made. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I thank hon. Members for their contributions and the very broad range of issues that they raised. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), whose tour de force opening comments covered a broad range of subjects—I hope I have been able to note them down sufficiently to answer her questions. In line with her gentle suggestion, if I fail to address any of her questions, I would of course be delighted to enter into further correspondence or discussion with her, as indeed I always am.
I am going to do my very best to go through the broad range of issues that hon. Members have raised, but I am going to base my comments, in the first instance, on my hon. Friend’s excellent contribution. She asked some specific questions at the end, but also talked in informative and in-depth terms about the Committee’s report and the Government’s response. The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) spoke in his typically witty and engaging way, and said, in a politically carefully worded phrase, that the Government were partially in agreement. I think that is probably fair. To be partially in agreement is often that for which we should strive in this place. Were he and I to find ourselves completely in agreement, I suspect that either I would be wrong or he would be right—I am not sure which it would be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire talked about power. I will start there, as the shadow Minister chose to end there. Power sector reform is crucial for Nigeria. I do not need to remind hon. Members that power supply can be a key perquisite for sustainable growth. I am sure they are aware that in early 2016 Nigeria’s power sector supplied an all-time record amount of power, but that since then disruption, and even terrorist activity in some cases, has impacted on its capacity. However, I am pleased to inform the House that supply levels are approaching those of early 2016.
We are clear that reform is needed. It is clear that significant investment is needed in Nigeria’s power system. Over 60% of Nigerians do not have grid connection, which holds back economic growth. Intermittent supply presents real challenges for those who wish for certainty and investment. Reform was necessary. The shadow Minister alluded to the involvement of the occasionally controversial Adam Smith International, which has had its fair share of coverage. We are reviewing some of our relationships with it.
It is important to recognise that there are pluses and minuses to all change. Along with the price increases that have come from privatisation and the removal of some of the artificial subsidy within the power system, fixed charges for those who do not use power have been removed, and the lowest volume users have been protected through reforms that have taken place. Much more needs to be done for the power sector in Nigeria. We need to build on the reforms we have seen and continue to review and improve on changes that have been made. The interest that hon. Members take is welcome.
We have had a wide-ranging discussion about the importance of education. The Girls’ Education Project, which is in phase 3 in Nigeria, is one of the programmes that DFID in the UK supports. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire recognised, it has seen reform and improvement and is now an A-graded programme, having had some issues in the past. We are helping more than 23,000 girls to stay in education through small cash transfers, which we discussed in the previous debate and which was raised in particular by the shadow Minister. There is no doubt that a significant amount needs to be done and that education is important in driving change and ensuring that a country such as Nigeria can develop its way out of some of the challenges it faces.
The sixth question asked by my hon. Friend was about sustainable development goal 4, which was also raised by the hon. Members for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). There is no doubt that there has been insufficient progress to date in Nigeria on education. Access increased by only 4% between 2003 and 2013, and the poorest are even less likely to complete schooling. That is why education is a real focus for DFID in Nigeria and why we have the programmes we have. However, it would be unrealistic not to recognise the scale of the challenge and the fact that more needs to be done and constant scrutiny is required. I welcome the work of the International Development Committee in that space.
The Minister will know that African countries committed quite a long time ago—I think it was in the early 2000s—in the so-called Abuja declaration to spend 15% of their budgets on health. Indeed, some of them, including Rwanda, have reached that target or are not far short of it. That commitment was made in Nigeria. Does he agree that it would be very welcome if a similar commitment were made by sub-Saharan African countries and other developing countries around the world to spend a specific amount of their budgets on education, which we have seen far less commitment on than health?
My hon. Friend makes a relevant and important observation. The long-term sustainability of education in countries such as Nigeria must be founded on Government support and investment. We want to see and encourage more of that. We can offer direct support, as we do now, for those who need to benefit from it. We can offer technical assistance and support in training teachers and establishing curricula. However, for long-term sustainability, domestic Government support is required. My hon. Friend’s suggestion deserves a good airing and consideration, and I suspect we have not heard the last of it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned the Chibok girls. That issue caught the attention and imagination, in the most dire of circumstances, of much of the broader global community. It has drawn attention to the terrible conflict in north-east Nigeria and the effect of Boko Haram not only there but in neighbouring countries. I will go on to talk about some of the challenges with the humanitarian response that is required, but specific questions have been asked about the girls by hon. Members, including the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow. One hundred and ninety-five of them remain to be released, which is a significant number. There are significant challenges in addressing that. Much of north-east Nigeria remains a challenging area in which to operate. Boko Haram is not yet defeated, although there are some signs of progress. The UK provides significant support in that work, including a recent commitment of a further £5 million in funding. We offer and indeed give training to the Nigerian armed forces; more than 20,000 personnel of the armed forces have now received training supported by the UK Government. We must continue to fight radical terrorism in all its guises. Today of all days, I do not need to remind right hon. and hon. Members of that or of the scale of the threat faced by so many people throughout the world. The Chibok girls are a stark and poignant reminder of the scale of the challenge that many countries face.
Many others are of course affected by the conflict in the north-east, Boko Haram and the other challenges there, but I am pleased that we are playing the role we are playing, even though I am not pleased that it has not been possible to make more progress. However, we will continue to focus our efforts in that area and to provide appropriate support that can make a difference in the medium and longer terms.
The humanitarian crisis is a significant one. About 5.1 million people face a severely difficult environment; they face food insecurity. If we take no action, we estimate that somewhere in the region of 90,000 children could die. That is a stark and worrying figure, and one with which the world and the global community must engage. Indeed, I am pleased to recognise that the global community did engage at the recent conference in Oslo and has committed a significant contribution to the amount of funding that is needed: more than $400 million has been committed. More is needed, and we expect more to be committed in due course, but the $1 billion target has none the less not yet been reached.
The Government of Nigeria, however, have made their own commitment to spend $1 billion in the north-east. We recognise that that is a welcome announcement and that it gives the Government of Nigeria an opportunity to present themselves as a true world leader in this space, and Nigeria as a country that is serious about humanitarian issues and about tackling the problems it finds within its own borders. We must encourage them to do so, so their announcement is welcome. We look forward to working with them to ensure that the money materialises and is spent in the right way, so as to have the maximum beneficial impact that it can. I expect we will see further announcements on this over the weeks and months to come.
I thank those right hon. and hon. Members who have taken the time to meet me, whether one to one in recent weeks or at the drop-in session that I held with officials to brief interested Members of this House and the other place on the work of this Government, on the broader situation in north-east Nigeria and on the other famines throughout the globe, in particular in Africa, in what is set to be a very challenging year indeed.
The fifth question of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire was on strengthening joined-up working across UK Government Departments. In my eight or nine months at the Department for International Development, I have been pleasantly surprised by the extent to which that already takes place. I am keen to drive it further and I have regular discussions with my counterparts in the Department for International Trade and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and have had meetings with Ministers and officials at the Ministry of Defence, to discuss a broad range of issues across the portfolio that I oversee. That has included discussions about the situation in Nigeria. We need to continue to drive cross-Government collaboration, to break down silos and to make a reality of one HMG.
The truth is that, when people look at UK Government engagement, they do not see the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence or whatever it might be; they see the UK Government, the role they play in the world and the contribution that they can make. Together we can make a greater contribution than in our individual departmental parts. I recognise that. It is a message that I reinforce continually to the teams for which I am responsible in DFID. It is an area in which we are making significant progress but, following this debate, I will take the opportunity to continue to push it, because it is one in which we can always do more. The more we can do, the greater the net achievement will be.
Many hon. Members have spoken about health and health systems. I particularly recognise the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford on the importance of tackling malaria. I commend him for the work he does; he supports this area of debate and activity and the work of Government in this area in particular. He is aware of the Support to National Malaria Programme—SuNMaP—in which the UK Government are engaged in Nigeria. That £50 million contribution—the figures underline the importance of our work to tackle malaria on a global scale—aims to reduce the number of children who will die before their fifth birthday from 128 in every 1,000 to 80 in every 1,000 by 2022. Eighty is still far too high, but it underlines the significant threat that malaria in particular poses to so many of the world’s poorest children and to developing nations. It is a disease that we can beat and are committed to beating. I am pleased that this is an area in which, along with the UK’s part in the Global Fund, programmes such as SuNMaP are making such a significant contribution.
My hon. Friend also mentioned neglected tropical diseases—another very important point and one that is not lost on the Secretary of State, who is very keen to pursue further work in the area.
Our programme in Nigeria being our second largest bilateral programme in Africa, it is one in which I take a very keen interest as the responsible Minister. In recent weeks, I have had significant and in-depth discussions with our teams, including in Nigeria, going line by line and component by component through the programmes that DFID supports there and talking about our strategy for the future and where we need to go to have the maximum impact with the money that we spend.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, in particular, talked about the need for a strategy—the need to see where we can make a long-term difference. I can assure her that that message is not lost on me as the responsible Minister or on our team in country, with whom I have been having those discussions. We expect to see changes as a result of those discussions, but it would perhaps be premature for me to pre-empt now what they might be. However, she is absolutely right to say that we need a ruthless focus on value for money, on where we can make a difference and on the impact that we can have. We need to ensure that we identify those programmes that are working and those that could work better, either change or close programmes and then reinvest to ensure that we get the maximum impact we can.
We need to recognise that there are big challenges in countries such as Nigeria. Corruption, which was mentioned by several hon. Members, is a key cause of poverty and a key factor that can hold back development. It is not like me to disagree with the former Prime Minister about much—actually, in effect, I do not disagree with him about this—but corruption cannot, in any context, be fantastic. To be fantastically corrupt is to be terribly so. That, of course, is what he really meant, and the attention that he drew to the issue was welcome. We have significant programmes, including Anti-corruption in Nigeria—ACORN—and PERL, the Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn, both of which engage with government structures and civil society groups, through which we are working both to empower people to tackle corruption when they see it, and to ensure that institutions have the tools to address it.
Several references were made to particular individuals and individual cases. With hon. Members’ permission, I will not talk about those cases, because many are live, but they make clear the point that we need to pursue corruption wherever it might hide, from the lowest to the highest levels, without fear or favour. We must always be alert to the risk that anti-corruption work will be focused on the political enemies of the people who control the direction of that work, and we are. We should be proud of what we do in this area. The work that we do to tackle corruption is an absolutely necessary and vital prerequisite for securing the long-term sustainable growth that we all want to see delivered and we all recognise Nigeria has the potential to secure.
Nigeria is a relatively affluent country in its region. It is blessed—or perhaps cursed—with significant natural resources. It accounts for about a quarter of the population of sub-Saharan Africa. It presents one of the greatest opportunities for growth and one of the greatest dangers of instability on that continent. We are right to be engaged there, we are right to play a key role given our historical ties and the country’s importance for the future, but we are also right to scrutinise what we do and to hold to account those who are responsible for it.
I therefore welcome the Committee’s work and thank hon. Members for their contributions and questions. I hope that I have addressed most of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire raised, but I know that she will take me up on any that I omitted to comment on. I look forward to continuing our work and the positive and constructive dialogue that we have had today as we all strive to improve life and realise the opportunities that exist for the people of Nigeria. Nigeria is a friendly and important nation that I hope we will continue to trade with, and I am confident that its economy will become further entwined with that of the UK as both nations develop and march forward into the world in a way that will deliver benefits for both our peoples.
I thank the members of the Committee who contributed to this important debate and in particular our Chairman, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who secured both of this afternoon’s debates. He is always a good speaker who covers many salient points, and his contribution in both debates, but this one in particular was well made.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) covered many personal parts of the visit we had to Nigeria, which was an important visit for the Committee. I and many people had not been there before, so it was certainly an eye-opener into a very large country with many, many associated problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) is always comprehensive. As the Minister said, he covered all aspects of malaria and neglected tropical diseases. Coming from his position as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases, he ensures at every possible opportunity that no one forgets that those issues are incredibly important to the people of Africa.
I also thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) for his contribution—he is unfailing in turning up to all of these debates—and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), who showed through his contribution that he had done much research into what we have been talking about and knew many of the issues surrounding the people in Nigeria.
I particularly thank the Minister, who covered pretty much everything asked of him. I am sure he will forensically look with his officials for anything he might have missed. I do not think he did, but he may have missed little bits and, if he did, I am sure he will come back to us. I thank him for his openness in allowing us to talk to him about any issue at any time and for always finding time for those of us who wish to get up to speed with what is happening in the Department. It has been a worthwhile debate, and I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Second Report of the International Development Committee, DFID’s programme in Nigeria, HC 110, and the Government response, HC 735.