Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 6:04 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Crossbench 6:04, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I try to use the privilege of speaking in your Lordships’ House to be a voice for people whose voices are not often heard. It is with a very heavy heart today that I will speak a little about one of the world’s forgotten, or largely forgotten, crises: Nigeria.

In central Nigeria, millions of people have been displaced by intercommunal violence. The death count has risen to 22,000 in 15 years, with countless others suffering life-changing injuries. Many children cannot go to school and so have no education. Families have been torn apart by insecurity and fear. The crisis is not often reported in our news media, but militias drawn from the Islamist Fulani ethic group—I emphasise that not all Fulani are Islamist—are now very well armed. Their cache of weapons includes automatic weapons, laser sights, machetes, petrol bombs and incendiary chemicals used to burn houses. They have carried out hundreds of attacks on Christian villages.

My small not-for-profit organisation, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust—HART—has made numerous fact-finding visits to dozens of these villages. I have witnessed first-hand the ruins of homes, farmland, food stores and churches. During my most recent visit, I heard detailed accounts of the deliberate targeting and slaughter of children, a 98 year-old woman being burned alive, and people being hacked by machetes as they ran from rapid gunfire. One survivor, who I will call Beatrice, told me:

“I returned in the morning but everything was burned. I went to my home and saw my mother and siblings butchered and burnt”.

Despite the scale and nature of the killings, victims receive almost no support from the Nigerian Government or the international community. Neither the UK Government nor the US Government have provided adequate humanitarian assistance to central Nigeria; nor has any member of the EU or African Union, or any of the UN relief agencies operating in Nigeria. Aid for Nigeria is directed mainly to the north-east or the north-west of the country, so displaced families across the Middle Belt are often left to fend for themselves. As HART’s local partner, the Reverend Canon Hassan John, told me before today’s debate when I asked him what his views were:

“I can say categorically that none of these villages have received security or humanitarian assistance from the Government of Nigeria, the UK Government or anywhere else. Victims of conflict are forced to rely on aid from local churches or small NGOs, or they receive no aid at all”.

I am told that the FCDO has responded to the crisis with support for a handful of small projects to promote interfaith dialogue. It has also launched the five-year SPRiNG programme to assess the root causes of violence. These are steps in the right direction. However, such a tiptoe response from the UK does not reflect the urgency of the crisis in central Nigeria. The rate of killings, abductions and land grabs is escalating fast. The longer we tolerate these atrocities, the more we embolden the perpetrators; we give them a green light to continue their killings with impunity.

I ask the Minister whether His Majesty’s Government will encourage the Government of Nigeria to respond more effectively to protect the civilians in their own land suffering so horrendously in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region and in other parts of the country too, of which, sadly, I do not have time today to identify the problems.