To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of recent developments in Nigeria, including violence by the Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram.
My Lords, we remain concerned by clashes involving pastoralists and farmers. The root causes are complex, including access to land, grazing routes, and water, exacerbated by population growth and insecurity. We have raised our concerns at federal and state government levels. Urgent action is needed by the Nigerian authorities to prevent further loss of life. We remain committed to supporting Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram, and we are providing a substantial package of military intelligence and humanitarian assistance.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Is she aware that last time I was in Nigeria I visited four villages that had been destroyed by Fulani and stood in the ruins of the pastor’s house, where he had been slaughtered? Given the escalation of attacks on Christian communities in which many hundreds have been killed recently and that the Nigerian House of Representatives has declared this to be genocide, does the Minister agree that while the causes of such violence are complex, there is a strong ideological dimension to the Fulani attacks? Will Her Majesty’s Government make representations to the Government of Nigeria to take more effective action to protect all its citizens and call to account all those who have been perpetrating atrocities?
We are deeply concerned by the recurrent clashes, and we welcome President Buhari’s commitment to assist affected communities to bring perpetrators to justice and examine long-term solutions. Urgent action is needed to prevent further loss of life. The root causes of these clashes are complex. Our assessment is that they are not religiously motivated. However, they are exacerbated by deep-rooted ethnic tensions.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister shares my deep concern about the violent attacks on Christians. For instance, the compound of my colleague the Archbishop of Jos was attacked a couple of weeks back, and one of his friends was killed. The Minister has rightly said how complex the situation is, but can she answer more specifically on what assistance the UK Government can give in the short term to strengthen the Government of Nigeria in their role of enforcing security and local mediation; in the medium term, to ensure reconciliation, which will enable the lives and economies of farmers and herders to be protected; and, in the long term, actively and tangibly to support regional efforts to combat the effects of climate change—the development of desertification, which is exacerbating ancient rivalries?
I am very concerned about what the most reverend Primate identifies and reports. In relation to violence, the UK has offered our assistance to the Government of Nigeria through the vice-president’s office. We stand ready to support Nigerian-led initiatives. As for what else we can do, we are working closely with international partners. We have encouraged the EU and the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel to extend their influence and develop sustainable solutions to the conflict, including through support to community conflict resolution initiatives, which we believe are essential. I reassure the most reverend Primate that we are considering options for how the UK can support reconciliation at local levels. We cannot ignore the fundamental causes of the violence, so we are reviewing HM Government’s support for Nigeria in, for example, as the most reverend Primate identifies, tackling the effects of climate change.
Can my noble friend confirm that the Fulani herdsmen have destroyed 500 churches since 2001 and that in the first quarter of this year they have caused 1,061 deaths, mostly in attacks on Christians? In the current quarter, the death toll is so far 440. The most reverend Primate has hit the nail on the head: this is moving from genocide to “credocide”.
I totally agree with my noble friend that these clashes are having a devastating impact on lives and communities as well as being a major barrier to Nigeria’s economic development, which does not help the people of Nigeria. As I indicated to the most reverend Primate, we are engaging with federal and state government to encourage them to work with all parties to develop solutions that meet the needs of all the affected communities.
My Lords, yesterday the Nigerian Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development announced a plan for ending the crisis between farmers and Fulani herdsmen across Nigeria. Speaking to Nigerian postgraduate students at a university in Holland, he said that that President Muhammadu Buhari would urge state Governments to develop ranches with water and electricity to persuade the nomadic Fulani herdsmen to settle. This imaginative plan will need rigorous security management, yet only yesterday, again, Boko Haram apparently overran an army base in Yobe state, leaving hundreds of soldiers unaccounted for. What assistance are the UK Government considering to prevent terrorism thwarting this initiative?
I thank the noble Lord for his question and also for outlining what may very well be a way forward. But as he rightly says, the activities of Boko Haram are risking and imperilling any progress that might be made. Let me assure him that the UK remains committed to supporting Nigeria and its neighbours in the fight against Boko Haram. We are providing a substantial package of military intelligence and humanitarian and development support to Nigeria. The objective in doing that is to try to do whatever we can to assist the Nigerian Government in resolving these very significant difficulties.
My Lords, given my noble friend’s reference to the resolution of the Nigerian House of Representatives declaring events in Plateau State to be a genocide, how does the Minister respond to the respected former chief of staff of the Nigerian army and defence chief, Lieutenant General Danjuma, who said that the armed forces are “not neutral. They collude”—in, in his words—“ethnic cleansing”? Does she disagree with the Archbishop of Abuja, who says that the atrocities of the Fulani militia and Boko Haram mean that:
“The very survival of our nation is at stake”?
In relation to the noble Lord’s question about the Nigerian security services, we have made clear to the Nigerian authorities the importance of protecting civilians in conflict and detention. Any member of the Nigerian security services found to have been involved in human rights violations must be held accountable.
My Lords, the most reverend Primate outlined three stages to possible solutions to a very complex situation. We have raised the question before of how we build community solutions, especially when they are so complex. Have the Government thought of working with the Nigerian Government to institute more interfaith group work, so that the solutions embrace all sides of the community?
I thank the noble Lord for that positive contribution. I am sure that his suggestion will be reflected upon.