House of Lords question: northern Nigeria

Baroness Cox

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of recent developments in the northern states of Nigeria.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con):

My Lords, the security situation in north-east Nigeria has improved over the past six months, with Boko Haram being driven from key towns. However, Boko Haram remains a threat, launching regular suicide attacks, often using children. We estimate that more than 20,000 people have been killed, more than 2.2 million people displaced and more than 14.8 million people affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.

Baroness Cox (CB):

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very sympathetic reply and important information. Is she aware that I returned just last week from areas affected by Boko Haram and found the scale of killing, kidnapping and destruction to be far worse than that reported in the media? As indicated, a reign of terror persists, with continuing kidnappings and killings, despite the Nigerian army regaining some territory, and families trying to return home find everything destroyed, mines on their land and severe shortages of food. In Borno state alone, 875,000 people face emergency levels of food insecurity. What contribution are Her Majesty’s Government and the United Kingdom making towards urgently needed provision of security and means of survival for victims of this Islamist terrorist regime?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her work in such war-torn areas. She sees at first hand the devastation that these depredations by Boko Haram cause to individuals. She is right to point out the terrible position that people face when they seek to go back to what has been home.

In the 2015-16 financial year, the UK has already planned an additional £4 million of humanitarian support to north-east Nigeria, including through the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The UK development programmes in the north-east of Nigeria are supporting civil society organisations and NGOs that are working to reduce intra-community conflict, promote community governance and security dialogue, reduce violence against women and girls, and improve access to schooling in an area where 600,000 children are out of school.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab):

My Lords, given the importance in the new aid strategy announced in November by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development of conflict and development and the link between the two, will the forthcoming bilateral aid review for Nigeria take account, first, of the impact of these troubles in northern Nigeria, the Central African Republic and Cameroon, and secondly the key role that Nigeria plays in ECOWAS not just in economic regeneration and activity in the area but in conflict resolution and conflict prevention?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

Yes, my Lords. The noble Lord is right to point out Nigeria’s position in ECOWAS and how important it is that it plays a strong role there and appreciates the position it ought to take. The advantage of the Conflict, Security and Stability Fund is that now we can have project funding on a four-year cycle, which makes it more certain.

Lord Chidgey (LD):

My Lords, Boko Haram systematically attacks education provision in the northern states of Nigeria, which now have exceptionally low levels of enrolment in primary, secondary and further education and where many schools have been closed for three years or more. With literacy levels falling to less than 60%, will the Government make representations to the Nigerian Government to prioritise education provision in these northern states? Will they also stress the importance of consistent, regular payment of teachers’ wages in state schools, improved teacher training and a focus on reopening closed schools and making them secure learning environments?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

The noble Lord is right to point to the importance of education, because it provides security for children that they can be with their families and have a future. We have stressed to President Buhari that the work carried out militarily to defeat Boko Haram is only one part of the process. It is crucial that we work to ensure that there is reform of the constitution and the way it tackles and respects minorities. It is also crucial to support education systems for the future security of that area.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, did the Minister hear from her colleague, Tobias Ellwood, about the testimony given by Victoria Youhanna at a recent meeting here in Parliament? Victoria had escaped from Boko Haram. Given that hundreds of girls are still enslaved, abducted, forcibly converted, entrapped in domestic slavery, used as fighters and denied education, will the Minister—referring to the point the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, just made—tell us more about what can be done to ensure that girls are able to go back into education and that they are rehabilitated and given help in dealing with trauma? The words “Boko Haram” mean “destroy western education”, and it is therefore important that we show the importance that we attach to education.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

My Lords, I have not heard the witness of that victim. I clearly sympathise with her experience. I have had the opportunity to hear witness from others about the appalling violence they suffered and witnessed. We regularly raise with the Nigerian authorities rescuing people being held by Boko Haram. We also work to support women and girls in northern Nigeria as part of our general humanitarian response. That includes helping the safe school initiative in north-eastern Nigeria. As part of our work on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, we help to fund a UNICEF programme which supports the reintegration of victims of conflict-related sexual violence.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab):

My Lords, what is DfID doing specifically to help those internally displaced persons who simply cannot return home and are forced to languish in deplorable conditions in camps?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

My Lords, DfID is providing a substantial package of security, development and humanitarian support, including a £6.5 million humanitarian programme and a £5.4 million development portfolio in Yobe state. The funds are used to provide humanitarian support in the protracted food and nutrition crisis. It is important to note that it is not just Nigeria that faces this; it is a matter that reaches across the Sahel.