Lords oral question: intercommunal conflicts in Nigeria

On 22 November Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the continuing intercommunal conflicts in the northern and Middle Belt states of Nigeria; and what assistance they are providing for those displaced by these conflicts.

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

My Lords, we remain deeply concerned by recurrent clashes involving pastoralists and local farmers, particularly in the Middle Belt. We call on all parties to find a peaceful solution. We welcome President Buhari’s commitment to ending intercommunal violence and addressing the economic and environmental challenges that fuel tensions. The Government support a range of initiatives and economic projects to build bridges between communities across Nigeria through the £39 million Stability and Reconciliation Programme.

Baroness Cox (CB)

My Lords, in thanking the Minister for her sympathetic reply, may I ask whether she is aware that last week I was in northern and central belt states of Nigeria and found deeply disturbing evidence of continuing violence by Boko Haram, with the abduction of many hundreds more women and girls in addition to those from Chibok, and growing attacks by Islamist Fulani herders on non-Muslim communities, which have spiralled since May 2015, killing civilians, driving them from their villages and occupying their lands? One such attack happened just last week when we were there, in Kauru, Kaduna state, where 41 villagers were killed. Will Her Majesty’s Government ask the Government of Nigeria what measures they are taking to fulfil more effectively their duty to protect ethnic and religious minorities?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

The noble Baroness is right to draw the attention of the House to the terrible plight of those who suffer the devastating consequences of intercommunal conflict. I note that she is careful, and right to be careful, to differentiate between the activities of Boko Haram and those of the Fulani—the pastoralists and the farmers—and the conflict there. The result for those who suffer is appalling, whoever the aggressor may be. Therefore, I can say to the noble Baroness that we call on all parties to find a peaceful solution to the underlying causes of these incidents, as I did when I visited Kaduna. We work closely with the Government of Nigeria on these matters.

Baroness Northover (LD)

My Lords, the International Development Select Committee in the Commons, in its report on Nigeria, cited climate change as fuelling the conflict in this area. Now that the UK has finally ratified the Paris climate change treaty, what will be built into our actions in Nigeria to mitigate this problem?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

The noble Baroness is right to remind us of the report’s conclusions. When I was in Kaduna state the impact of desertification was drawn to my attention, particularly on the Fulani, who, having been tribal herdsmen for centuries, and having moved across country, felt that they had to go deeper into Nigeria. We work very closely with the Government of Nigeria, using DfID and ODA funds to ensure that we can provide some economic support. We particularly want to support some of the peace clubs, which bring together the various conflicting groups that find themselves trying to fight for the same access to land and therefore their livelihoods.

Baroness Berridge (Con)

My Lords, as the Minister outlined, the issue of the Fulani herdsmen has always been a transnational phenomenon. Will the Minister please outline whether there are any proposals for regional meetings for the many countries affected by this issue? In particular, have we had any requests for assistance from the Commonwealth country Cameroon, whose northern part is sandwiched between this area of Nigeria, Chad and the Central African Republic, which are areas of instability affected by this phenomenon?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, our representatives in post—our ambassadors and high commissioners—work on a regional basis. In particular, we have a regional approach to security matters. My noble friend raises an important issue about the impact on Chad, because Lake Chad has been drying up, which has caused people to be displaced and further conflict. However, it is a matter also for ECOWAS to address.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s reference to supporting President Buhari’s attempts to meet different elements within the country, and to the £39 million for peace and reconciliation. I want to ask two other questions. What expertise is this country able to provide in building peace and reconciliation, in addition to the money? Will the Minister reassure the House that these funds will not be affected by any future review of DfID spending?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, although I cannot predict what the multilateral aid review will conclude or whether publication is expected before Christmas, I will say that DfID’s £39 million Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme currently supports a range of initiatives across the country to reduce the conflicts and to build bridges between communities, including, as I mentioned briefly, the peace clubs. We are now in a position where more than 4,000 girls and nearly 3,000 boys take part, advocating in their respective communities for peaceful coexistence and contributing to the resolution of communal tensions. The young people can decide the future.

The Lord Bishop of Coventry

My Lords, my diocese is linked to the Anglican diocese of Kaduna, so I know something from the first-hand testimony of the bishop of the effects of communal violence in the Middle Belt states of Nigeria. Some very good reconciliation work is being undertaken there, as we have heard, and it is helpful to hear the assurance of the Minister on DfID funding for such projects. Perhaps I may ask her a little more specifically whether the Government are able to exert any influence on the Nigerian Government to ensure the return of land to communities that have been forcibly displaced.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, there are two parts to this. The first is the displacement of those who have suffered from the appalling and atrocious attacks by Boko Haram, and the only real solution to people being able to go back to an area where the infrastructure has been destroyed is a long-term political solution. We are assisting the Government of Nigeria, particularly from the security point of view. With regard to the conflict over land because of desertification, and the issue of the Fulani and the farmers, there is a government Bill currently before the Nigerian parliamentary system to establish grazing reserves, routes and cattle ranches. It is important that that Bill takes into account fully all the sensitivities of both farmers and herdsmen.

This debate is sourced from the uncorrected (rolling) version of Hansard and is subject to correction.