Photo of Viscount Waverley

Viscount Waverley (Crossbench)

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to recent developments in Nigeria.

My Lords, I am saddened that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, cannot join us this evening and would like, through the Minister, to wish him well.

It requires Nigerian resilience to lead Nigeria with its many challenges, its religious, ethnic and regional complexities. Mature democratic institutions have successfully replaced long years of military regimes, a free and critical press thrives, enforceable strategies to curb notorious corruption are emerging and forgiveness from the shackles of crippling debt have been negotiated. I wish to pay tribute to all the people of Nigeria for their tenacity in pursuit of those welcome developments.

I should also like to register the deep respect for the traditional rulers. I have had the privilege to consult the Ooni of Ife, the Emir of Kano and the Igwe of Achalla over the years and know of their tireless efforts to foster tolerance and encourage change, recognising that Nigeria's strength lies in its diversity. They continue to make an important contribution to a democratic Nigeria. In support of this, the Commonwealth observer group determined that, generally, the will of the people was expressed in the 2003 presidential election, including that of governorships and the National Assembly.

The Nigerian Minister of Finance, a past senior member of the World Bank, recently identified important economic successes: macroeconomic stability; structural reforms, including the deregulation and liberalisation of a number of sectors; identifiable positive results of the transparency and anti-corruption drive; and the mounting of additional programmes through the Niger Delta Development Commission. Indeed, the improved World Bank standing to BB, ranking the economy's growth alongside that of Brazil and India, is evidence that governance appears to be on the right path and has generated much-needed confidence.

It is also recognized that sustained and appropriate engagement with the international community is fundamental. John Shears of Centrica, the UK's largest utility, who took part in the 2005 licensing round in Nigeria, extols,

"the increasing transparency demonstrated by the Nigerian authorities and their desire to work closely with the wider international community. Nigeria recognizes the need to continue its process of economic, social and political change and is making progress in doing so".

Perhaps the Minister would identify practical measures that the Government are entertaining to strengthen the relationship with this strategic partner, including how Nigeria will benefit from the Chancellor's African "Education For All" initiative.

Of course, many challenges remain, including poverty eradication, in particular the regional political balancing act; the impact of HIV/AIDS; terrorism and the often politically expedient exacerbation of Christian/Muslim tensions; the challenge of attracting foreign investment for infrastructure rehabilitation in an ever-increasing competitive environment; the new phenomenon of China's strategic engagement with Africa at large; and, finally, an unhealthy security situation in the delta oil-producing area.

Prolonged engagement in the Niger delta is initially being addressed by economic development measures. However, in recognition that the supply of illegal arms and ammunition continues to fuel the conflict, would Her Majesty's Government offer assistance in, for example, identifying supply sources?

West African peacekeeping owes much to the Nigerian commitment to regional stability and the responsibilities accruing to regional leadership. It should also be acknowledged that Charles Taylor was held, and returned, by Nigeria after consultation with the US, EU, UN and AU in order to create a favourable environment for peace in Liberia. Credit and thanks should be accorded to President Obasanjo for both.

Two matters are worthy of note. First, there is considerable criticism of the unbalanced reporting on the Hausa service of the BBC. Because the BBC is considered a mouthpiece of the British Government, such perceptions, fuelled by unbalanced reporting, can generate considerable ill-will, especially given the north/south divide in Nigeria.

Secondly, the Nigerians have severed the relationship allowing foreign news services to broadcast on FM. I have discussed this matter with the Minister of Information and the High Commissioner, Christopher Kolade, but I am sure that a word from the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, would be helpful on both counts.

Pending constitutional amendments to create a constitution relevant to a modern-day Nigeria are exercising the minds of most Nigerians these days. The National Assembly in Abuja has postponed its debate of these proposals and is expected to vote in two weeks or so. The effect of the 100-plus amendments would consolidate advances already made, as well as lay down a federal framework for equitable governance through six geopolitical zones on a rotational presidency; provide for increased and equitable distribution of wealth; professionalise the armed forces; strengthen the independence of the judiciary; and, importantly, remove immunity.

Those are advances on the 1999 military constitution, designed to encourage inclusion and full participation. Also pertinent is the suggestion that no attempt should be made to divide Nigeria or to undermine the north, that the quota system should be upheld, that the allocation to oil-producing states should be increased to 18 per cent, and that Obasanjo should not stay beyond 2011 if he is allowed to run again. The proposition of a possible extension of the presidential tenure has overshadowed all this. It is unclear whether President Obasanjo would contest the 2007 presidential election if offered the opportunity. Hard work would lie ahead, and he would need the renewed endorsement of his party, the PDP, and of the electorate in the upcoming presidential election.

The intricacies of Nigeria's internal affairs require a more resolute appreciation by external decision-makers. Stability is paramount and the promotion of accountability is essential, but respecting parliamentary due process is in the best interests of Nigeria, the region and beyond. International pronouncements about constitutional change unleashing turmoil and conflict are somewhat premature. While international friends have a duty to ensure fair play, intervention would be neither useful nor welcome. It is exactly such interference, which derives from a dearth of nuanced cultural and political understanding, which encourages upheavals. The State Department and the White House in particular have recently signalled their acceptance of the proposed amendments, and it would be helpful if the Minister clarified the Government's position tonight. I can tell the House that senior representatives of the north and east, whom I called on two weeks ago, were far from critical of these amendments and now believe them to be in the best interests of Nigeria and the international community.

In conclusion, safeguarding a democratic outcome to the constitutional amendments and recognising that Nigeria has come of age and is now master of its own destiny is the only sustainable policy. I wish Nigeria well.

6:32 pm
Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall

Lord Lea of Crondall (Labour)

My Lords, I very much welcome this debate, and I, too, extend my good wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who cannot be here this evening.

From 1 to 8 April, I was privileged to be a member of the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation, who were guests of the Nigerian branch of the CPA. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the leader of the delegation, Roger Berry MP, and the secretary, Andrew Tuggey, for ensuring that the visit ran smoothly. I also thank Martin Shearman, our acting High Commissioner in Nigeria, and the political secretary, Alisdair Walker, for their indispensable assistance. They and their Nigerian colleagues put together a very impressive programme.

Meetings in Abuja were held with parliamentary and government leaders, trade unions and other civil society organisations, and with the independent Electoral Commission chairman as a counterpoint. In Lagos, meetings were held with the very lively editorial department of a newspaper and with the west Africa vice-president of Shell. Shell, incidentally, provides about half the revenue of the federal government. Last but not least, meetings were held with the staff of DfID and the British Council, who in some ways are the unsung heroes of the UK effort. They arranged an encounter with Debbie, an extraordinarily dedicated teacher from Peckham, who put a group of boys and girls of all ages through their paces on a football pitch beside a derelict school.

In Kaduna, we had a very interesting meeting with an inter-faith group, the Anglican Archbishop and a group of Muslim representatives, one of whom was a public health professional. Our discussions were very wide-ranging, and it was clear that the 2002 Kaduna declaration had been a very useful document after the riots that year. A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of chairing a meeting in the Moses Room after an address given by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who emphasised the importance of the Kaduna and Alexandria declarations. After the Danish cartoon affair earlier this year, there was no doubt in Kaduna that the procedures put in place for the fire brigade helped to nip the situation in the bud and that it could have been much more difficult without them. So we thought that that was a very important meeting.

Some of the social, political and economic difficulties require a slightly longer view to be taken. I worked in west Africa briefly 40 years ago. I was therefore struck by the following sentence on the World Bank website about Nigeria:

"GNP per capita, at about US$390, is below the level at independence forty years ago".

That is $390 per head per annum. It continues,

"About 57 per cent of the population now falls below the poverty line of roughly one dollar a day. Economic mismanagement, corruption and excessive dependence on oil have been the main causes of poor economic performance and rising poverty".

On corruption, I will give noble Lords just one figure: President Abacha embezzled $5 billion. He is up there in the first division league. Also with $5 billion to his credit, or discredit, is President Mobutu of Zaire. Of course, Abacha was not the only one. It goes on. In the words of the DfID briefing note,

"years of military rule, corruption and weak accountability have prevented the development of a social contract between Nigerians and their government".

It goes on to say:

"By 1998 approximately 70 per cent of private wealth had been taken out of Nigeria".

The fundamental problems of Nigeria include one of the fastest rates of urbanisation, at 5 per cent per annum, accompanied by economic stagnation rather than growth. Lagos has been growing at 10 to 15 per cent per annum and if this growth continues it will be the third largest city in the world by 2020. It is already a city throttled by infrastructure deficiencies and decades of neglect. Life expectancy of 49 years in 1991 fell to 45 years in 2002 and it is falling still.

I have to conclude from that that the Foreign Office and DfID need to give far greater emphasis than they currently give to the questions of excessive population growth and lack of jobs growth. There are approximately 140 million people in Nigeria today; the census is trying to find out exactly how many. Growth of 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent means that there will be 180 million Nigerians by 2015 and 275 million by 2030. That is a rise in share above a quarter of Africa's population. So my speech could be entitled, "Too Much Population Growth, Too Little Jobs Growth". In the old days in Africa it was not a question of unemployment in the subsistence field, but with urbanisation we have to think in terms of normal industrial country concepts of unemployment rates. That is one of the keys to the crisis of Lagos, I would think.

At the moment on EU Sub-Committee C we are looking at European Union strategy on Africa. It is obvious that there is a cluster of three key issues: security, governance and development. They are all interconnected. If private wealth through corruption leaves the country, that has an impact. I will come back to the delta question in a minute. But when one of the state governors said to us that we need a new Marshall Plan for Nigeria, we said, "Well look, there is already a $35 billion write-off of debt with the Paris Club a couple of weeks ago. There is already Gleneagles and the African Union strategy agreed in London". My noble friend Lord Triesman will know all that backwards, forwards and sideways, But the fact is that we cannot just turn on a tap. Our taxpayers would expect a degree of accountability that has not been provided, and the fact is that the issue of "value added" lay at the heart of the Marshall Plan. It has to be recognised that in 1948 the plan did set benchmarks for political, social and economic standards in Europe through the OEEC. If there is an analogy to be made with the Marshall Plan, that is it.

I strongly support the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, but it has to be taken a stage further in its implementation with transparency of auditing on the part of both the oil companies, which provide 90 per cent of state revenues, and the finance ministry. Only last week the Financial Times published an authoritative report describing a discrepancy worth several hundred million dollars between what the oil companies say they are giving the Nigerians through the state oil company and finance ministry and what is being published by the ministry itself.

I want to say only a few words about the Niger delta. Shell and the other companies are committed to making further investments, but I want to make the point that President Obasanjo has to become much more involved in the political economy of the delta region than he has been hitherto. The share paid to the delta states, the production states, from national revenues is due to rise from 13 per cent to 18 per cent. It is important that we do not get into a situation where the Americans, who take half the oil, declare the Niger delta to be part of the war on terror. We do not want some crazy assistant in the White House defining it as being part of that war. However, that could be the direction in which things go.

We had a good meeting with representatives from the trade unions. Our talks ranged from the difficulties of migration to the monitoring of the 2003 elections. The president of the Nigeria Labour Congress is a fine man who studied at Ruskin College, which is another example of the British connection. He is very highly regarded and could one day be a presidential candidate. He is also a good example of the dedicated people now to be found in Nigeria's political and socio-economic spheres. However, President Obasanjo has to be congratulated on his status as an international statesman. All I can say on the constitutional question in the time available is that we ought to be careful when we comment on it. It is obvious that it is possible to comment at the level of the African Union and NePAD on certain constitutional principles of governance. That is very important. But we are hardly in a position to discuss the details of a constitution as long as the process of change is carried out transparently and any ensuing elections are perceived by the people to be conducted fairly.

In conclusion, Nigeria has played a prominent role in the African Union. Although my comments have been rather downbeat, everyone in the business community and in government says that the developing role and aspirations of the African Union are making a difference. In the words, I think, of the president of the senate, it is now inconceivable that there could be a military government again in Nigeria. So we have to say that there are some green shoots which should be strong enough to promote democratic development—not just handing the whole country over to the Chinese, as it were—and ensure that the principles of parliamentary democracy flower, bringing economic and social success with them.

6:44 pm
Photo of The Bishop of Coventry

The Bishop of Coventry (Bishop)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for introducing this debate and I too send my best wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I wish to make it clear at the outset that I do not speak as an expert on this subject. Over the past 10 years I have developed an affection and respect for the people of Nigeria, and it is out of that affection and respect that I dare to make a contribution.

Eight years ago the diocese of Coventry set up a formal link with the diocese of Kaduna. Noble Lords will be aware that Kaduna is almost unique among Nigerian states in having a 50:50 split between Christians and Muslims. I first visited the city of Kaduna in 1999, just two days after a vicious attack on a Christian procession which left 600 Christians dead on the streets. Any sense of self-righteous anger on my part was very soon put into perspective when, a few weeks later, the Christians retaliated, leaving many more dead Muslims.

The presenting cause was, of course, the introduction of Sharia law, but it is rarely quite as simple as that. It has been well said that there is almost nothing one can say about a country as rich and diverse as Nigeria which does not end with the words, "But, of course, it is more complicated than that". Our history as a nation in bringing together the north and the south under Lord Lugard and our record of colonial rule—which, of course, included some exploitation of natural resources—suggest a need for us to have a certain care and humility in saying what ought to happen in Nigeria.

Much is made of the religious conflict in Nigeria. We in Coventry are well served in our International Centre for Reconciliation by a number of people who have committed themselves wholeheartedly, not only to working in the country but to researching it as well. Canon Justin Welby, Dr Stephen Davies and, presently, Dr Beatrice Mwaka have investigated very thoroughly some of the issues which seem to be religious in origin. They have concluded—and I think I share their conclusions—that religion is often used as a pretext to provide a simplistic hook on which to hang complex ethnic, social and economic problems. The difficulty, of course, is that if the hook is used frequently enough, it becomes the problem.

Religion has been the pretext for the most recent disturbances—the riots in Maiduguri in the north and retaliation in Oniche at the apex of the delta. We have seen as a result the shutdown of virtually 25 per cent of Nigeria's oil production. Within five years, Nigeria will be the single largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, with this country as a major customer. Events in the last few months show the importance of a secure supply of energy and thus the importance of Nigeria to this country as an economic partner to be treated with respect.

In humanitarian terms, civil disorder in Nigeria has already cost several tens of thousands of lives since 2000 and resulted in the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. The approaching 2007 elections put yet more strain on the stability of the country. External organisations such as the International Centre for Reconciliation in Coventry, Christian Aid and many other NGOs undoubtedly have a part to play, but, in the end, it is only the natural gifts of Nigeria's leaders—among the most dynamic in Africa—that can enable this regional giant to realise its full potential.

That being said, the British Government can make a significant difference in a number of areas. They have already done much through the talents and imagination of the Abuja missions of DfID and the FCO, to which we must pay tribute, and I should also acknowledge gratefully the financial support that the FCO has given to the ICR as well as to other agencies.

What might the British Government do? First, they have the power and the position to continue to support a vigorous fight against corruption in conjunction with the courageous steps already taken by President Obasanjo and with those who lead the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, especially, I would suggest, Dr Alhaji Al Rubai. The City of London, as the largest centre for international finance in the world, enables Britain to be more effective than any other country in tackling money laundering. In addition to laundered money, cash may not always be traceable in bank accounts. Certainly other money has been invested in real property and other non-financial assets, both in the UK and in our overseas territories.

Secondly, we need to support capacity building in the conduct of elections and of government, both directly working through the security forces and the Electoral Commission, and by offering media training and the development of monitoring skills within civil society. Thirdly, there should be continued support for those assisting in the fight against long-term destabilisation. Christian Aid is crucial in its struggle against AIDS and HIV. Educational partnerships at an institutional and individual school level can be of great value, both in Nigeria and in the transformative experience that they offer to schools in this country. These are the building blocks for a new society, tapping into the genius of this enormous and remarkable nation.

To conclude with a further comment on religion, reference has already been made to the Archbishop of Kaduna, Josiah Idowu-Fearon, and to the Kaduna declaration, which was one of the fruits of the ICR in Coventry. The Archbishop's nickname locally is "Mr Dialogue". To our ears, that may sound like a compliment, but his insistence on regular, open discussions with Muslims does not always endear him to his own people. Simply by talking with the enemy—that is, with Muslims—many Church members feel that he is betraying them. To many Muslims, he is simply not to be trusted because he is a Christian leader. Mr Dialogue—Archbishop Josiah—frequently finds himself in a lonely place, yet there are many indications that the approach of open dialogue can work and can lead to greater understanding, trust and mutual respect.

Only the religious leaders can achieve this breakthrough. Religion, while not the sole cause of conflict, is inextricable from other aspects of life in Nigeria, as it is in most of Africa. For that reason if for no other, people like Archbishop Josiah demand and deserve the strongest possible support from our Church and from our Government.

6:52 pm
Photo of Lord Chidgey

Lord Chidgey (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I begin by thanking you for your good wishes for the speedy recovery of my noble friend Lord Avebury. I will ensure that those thoughts are passed on to him, and am equally sure he will be fortified by your concerns.

My contribution will raise three issues, as briefly as I can. In particular, we need to look in more detail at the problems of corruption, which has been endemic in Nigeria for some decades. I will comment on the economic developments in the Niger delta, and finally on the implications for good governance of moves to amend the constitution to allow an incumbent president to continue his term of office.

To put tackling corruption in context, it would help to refer your Lordships to the recently published report of the All-Party Group on Africa, The Other Side of the Coin—the UK and Corruption in Africa. Corruption is a two-way issue. This group, of which I have the privilege of being vice-chairman, found that in evidence gathered for its report Nigeria sadly featured prominently. As the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, mentioned, Nigeria's past leaders have scaled new heights in unprecedented levels of embezzlement from the state. The national Economic and Financial Crimes Commission believes that in Nigeria some £220 billion was stolen or misused by the country's rulers between 1960 and 1999.

As the All-Party Group on Africa points out, prior to becoming president, Olusegun Obasanjo said in a letter to the Financial Times back in 1994:

"I shudder at how an integral part of my continent's culture can be taken as a basis for rationalising otherwise despicable behaviour . . . In no society is it acceptable to the people for their leaders to feather their own nests at public expense".

That was a very brave statement to be made by him at that time. He should be commended for trying his best to live by those thoughts.

President Obasanjo has been making strenuous efforts at federal level within the constraints of the Nigerian constitution to tackle corruption and introduce greater transparency—aided, it must be said, by action by our Government through the extractive industries transparency initiative.

Nigerians have welcomed the president's moves but, not surprisingly, many have yet to be convinced that they are seeing the end of the all-pervasive corruption system that has held Nigeria back for so long. Human rights lawyers in Nigeria claim that the society is permeated with corruption and that it will take more than a few high-profile sackings to make a difference, particularly when the sackings come against a backdrop of political infighting over who will be the ruling party's presidential candidate in the 2007 elections.

There was a hope that with the current president nearing the end of his second term and excluded from standing again, and free from concerns over pleasing his political allies, he would finally grasp the vicious nettle and seriously address institutional corruption. That would probably be the best possible legacy he could leave his country. Moves to change the constitution to allow him to stand for a third term have, I fear, rather diminished those hopes.

Tackling corruption also requires positive action from governments and institutions in the developed world. In this regard, I stress that the United Kingdom is a signatory to several binding international anti-corruption conventions. The Government have endorsed the report of the Commission for Africa, declaring it to be part of UK policy. Through that report's recommendations, the Government are committed to a range of measures to increase transparency in a wide range of transactions in commerce, industry and services.

President Obasanjo has played a leading role in establishing NePAD, with its emphasis on good governance, the rule of law, transparency and peer review, throughout the African continent. Given, therefore, that both the United Kingdom and the Nigerian Governments are so strongly committed to the same ends, I hope that the Minister will be able to tell your Lordships what steps have been taken recently by the Government, in consultation with Nigeria, towards achieving these aims.

On economic development in the delta region, the Nigerian economy is almost entirely driven by oil production. However, the lack of transparency means it is impossible to determine how much the Nigerian Government actually receive from this production and where that money is spent. The Niger delta region is, of course, the heart of oil production, accounting for more than 50 per cent of gross government revenues.

The oil companies face significant problems in transporting the oil to market. Major losses occur from the delta's massive pipeline system through the practice of "bunkering". This organised theft accounts for losses of between 100,000 and 200,000 barrels of oil a day, costing Nigeria up to £2.5 billion per year in lost revenues.

The all-party group on the Niger delta reports that, according to Shell, government action has resulted in the capture of 32 barges and six ships involved in the illegal trade of bunkering oil. Given the scale of these crimes, however, clearly much more needs to be done. International co-operation, along the lines to which the United Kingdom Government are strongly and publicly committed, is essential.

Efforts are being made at federal level, and the United Kingdom is promoting transparency of oil revenues through the extractive industries transparency initiative. However, there are institutional difficulties, particularly constitutional limits on federal action. Perhaps inevitably, destructive tensions have developed between the oil companies and local communities, and it is not helped by the extent of the criminal bunkering activities.

There are many individuals and groups seeking power by posing as champions of the people, demanding a greater share of oil wealth for their homelands. There are plenty of disgruntled youths whose anger can be exploited by these people. These self-professed people's champions, crucially, are able to maintain their sway through access to arms. The illegal trade in small arms seems endemic throughout west Africa, and its proliferation in the Niger delta must be a major concern to the federal and United Kingdom authorities.

I see the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, is here tonight. In his response to the Niger delta group in early January, he said that the Government were considering what support they could give. Could he provide an update on progress in the past three months? In particular, what progress has been made on identifying weapons types and their origin? Can he advise whether any UK companies have had applications for strategic export licences refused because of concerns that their eventual end use would be unregulated, and in fact they would be used in Nigeria?

The people of the delta are well aware of the huge wealth generated by oil, of which they see virtually nothing. Profits are siphoned off at various levels of federal and state government and by a criminal fraternity, in a perpetual cycle of corruption. The process demonstrates emphatically and dangerously that politics can be a route to enormous wealth, not just to power. The destabilising impact on government and the resentment generated against the oil companies and community leaders seen to be in league with the oil companies is self-evident. In consequence, this breeding ground for resentment and despair plays into the hands of the unscrupulous, ready to exploit those tensions in ways that can only damage the source of wealth itself. As the all-party group on the Niger delta emphasises, the ones who suffer are the people of the Niger delta and ultimately Nigeria as a whole.

Finally, I turn to the issue of the forthcoming presidential elections and moves to amend the constitution to remove the bar on the president standing for a third term. It is right to say that we should approach this issue somewhat delicately. After all, who are we to tell other democratic countries how to run their affairs? Nevertheless, some of your Lordships will be aware of the heat that this has generated in many quarters and will no doubt have received only today a communication from a group calling itself the Nigerian Democratic Movement, based in Maryland, USA.

For the record, the NDM is expressing fears that the ruling party is in fact seeking not one additional four-year term for Mr Obasanjo, but an additional 12 years—presidency for life in all but name. As would be expected, the NDM has supplied a raft of excerpts from across the range of Nigerian professional and civil society vehemently opposing these moves. It is not possible to corroborate these excerpts, but it is interesting that a study of reports by the BBC monitoring service for west Africa—in which I have great faith for accuracy—over the past few months confirms strong opposition to changes to the constitution from throughout society in Nigeria. The opposition ranges from Christian leaders in the north urging the president not to seek a third term, to militants in the Niger delta in the south threatening to engage the federal government in guerrilla warfare if he does not desist.

In the light of the UK Government's previous support for President Obasanjo and his professed belief in good governance, the rule of law and democratic accountability, I would hope that we could have from the Minister a detailed account of the Government's reaction to what many will see as a series of unsettling and, to say the least, challenging developments.

7:03 pm
Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford

Lord Howell of Guildford (Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, Parliament; Conservative)

My Lords, I share the gratitude expressed by other noble Lords to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for initiating this debate at a very good time. I also join with others in sending my best wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his early recovery. We miss him in precisely this type of debate where he always speaks with great expertise.

The timeliness of this debate is reinforced by events over the Easter weekend. On the one hand, the IMF executive board met yesterday to finalise the ratification of the policy support instrument approved for Nigeria in October last year. That was one story. On the other hand there were over the weekend, and continue to be even today, reports of renewed and, I am afraid, bloody unrest, between the various groups, which all add to the miserable total of more than 20,000 deaths that are said to have occurred in the country since President Obasanjo's election in 1999. These two differing messages—the one positive and the other, sadly, negative—provide a backdrop to what has been undoubtedly a very interesting and useful debate, with knowledgeable contributions that one would expect from all sides of the House. That leads me to my first question for the Minister—and I know that he will seek to answer these questions. What assessment have we made of this renewed violence over the weekend, and the peace demands made by the Ijaws, which are the largest ethnic group in the delta region?

Against that background, we have to look at Nigeria in the world scene. This morning in New York, crude oil prices rose again, well above the $70 a barrel level, and the markets in contango—that is to say the futures prices—are even higher. We have not yet reached the levels in real terms of 1983 and 1984, during the great oil shock of that period following the fall of the Shah in Iran, but we are getting quite near. These prices are being pushed higher and higher by concerns about supply disruptions in Nigeria among many other things. The tension over the Iranian nuclear programme is contributing, as are the disruption in Venezuela, the problems in Sudan, the political problems in Russia and the continuing incidents of sabotage in Iraq, where oil production is running at anything between 1 million and 2 million barrels fewer than many people had hoped that it would be by now.

Nigeria is the world's eighth largest oil producer, the largest in Africa—and it will be, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry reminded us, one of the major exporters of liquid natural gas—that is, frozen gas—and, presumably, even of gas-to-liquid products, or GTL, in future. That will be the chief fuel of northern Europe for many years to come, so there is an important practical reason, quite aside from all the other reasons, why we should be very concerned with what is happening. Sadly, in Nigeria exports of oil have been cut back by sabotage and other attacks. The right reverend Prelate referred to one-fifth or almost one-quarter of oil exports being cut; the figure that I have is about 0.5 million barrels a day, which would be between one-fifth and one-quarter. But at any rate a big chunk of oil is being shut in and not exported as it should.

Tragically, despite these enormous oil and other mineral resources, Nigeria is currently ranked down at 151 out of 177 countries in the human development index of suffering from extreme poverty. I find that very hard to get into my mind. Incredibly, despite being oil-rich, it is among the 20 poorest countries in the world in terms of per capita income, with 75 million out of 140 million people living in absolute poverty. Of course those who suffer most are the small children, as usual, one in five of whom dies before reaching the age of five, while 12 million of them are not in school—and there are nearly 2 million AIDS orphans.

So there is a good story for the future—and, let us hope, the basis for development; but there is also the sad story of yesterday, which is that one of the potentially richest countries in Africa is not as stable as it should be, still suffers, as your Lordships have rightly observed, from intense corruption, and still has to live with criminal networks that are currently stealing an estimated 300,000 barrels of oil a day, leaving oil income per capita at a miserable 30p per person. So here is the greatest country in Africa, full of rich potential and ready to act as a stabilising anchor for the rest of the region, but not yet in the position to do so. This is an example of the syndrome of the curse of oil, a dreadful reminder that huge flows of revenue from oil, rather like huge flows of unsuitably focused development aid, do not lead to development; they lead to the opposite. They entrench governments and corruption, and actually paralyse development.

What are the keys we should be trying to find to turn the situation around and reinforce the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, about a more positive era now developing? Obviously good governance and transparency are the key. Endemic corruption and decades of military misrule resulted in steadily increasing debt and worsening socio-economic indicators. We all recognise the significant steps President Obasanjo has taken towards reforming the country since 1999—it has undoubtedly come a long way—including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the fight against corruption, but it is a puzzle that that same president now wants to amend the constitution to give himself the third term he said he would not take. Clearly that is adding to the lack of confidence, and one wonders what word we, as friends of Nigeria, have passed to the president about how he should handle this delicate situation. It is not for us to interfere from outside, that is fair, but we are all members of the Commonwealth and have common standards, and we are entitled to a view.

The noble Lords, Lord Lea and Lord Chidgey, mentioned the story over the weekend about the gap between the money the oil companies say they are handing over to the Government and the amount the Government's central bank says it actually receives. These are unhealthy figures, and the whole story needs to be brought out and made more transparent if confidence is to be restored.

I am sure we are all increasingly aware that new players are on the scene in Africa. The biggest new player is of course China, which has an increasing involvement everywhere. There was a report only today that China and Russia are playing a different hand as far as Sudan is concerned, where China has huge oil interests, and are blocking sanctions against Sudanese officials accused of involvement in Darfur violence. The Chinese Foreign Minister was saying only the other day that he regarded his country's involvement in Nigeria as operating on the principle that,

"We try to separate politics from business".

One wonders what links, exchanges and dialogue we are developing with these great new powers in the world—namely, China and the other Asian powers—as they pursue their agenda. Are they on board, as it were, in terms of a joint approach to the work of the UN regarding human rights? Are they acting as positive, responsible nations that want peace, as they keep saying they are? If they are, should we not co-ordinate more closely with them, and not think of ourselves just as part of a western world that has separate interests from the Asian world? After all, we do not; we all have the same interests, increasingly, in Africa.

In my allotted time I can touch on only some of the issues affecting this enormous country, which could be the keystone to stability in the whole region; indeed, almost in the whole continent. I appreciate what the noble Viscount has reminded us of, that all is not doom and gloom in this part of Africa. But with the renewed violence, sabotage and the loss of oil, there is a feeling that one step forward often leads to one step back and that no progress is made—in fact, living standards continue to fall in some areas.

We have one overriding and binding link with this great country. We and Nigeria are both members of the Commonwealth network, which is proving to be the kind of organisation and pattern far more suitable to the 21st century than the traditional blocs and institutions that were created in the last century. It is in our direct interest to see Nigeria stabilised and fulfilling its massive potential for Africa and the world, and that is what we must all work for, in the right way. I hope we will do so.

7:15 pm
Photo of Lord Triesman

Lord Triesman (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Labour)

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for introducing this important debate. I applaud the balanced and sound reasoning in everything that he said. He invited me—I take up his offer of course—to send the good wishes of the House and of the Government to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who I believe is recovering from his operation. He is in our thoughts. I thank also the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry, who covered almost all the key questions. I hope that I will be able to do justice to some of those questions this evening.

The United Kingdom's relationship with Nigeria is very close. It is bilateral and, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, reminded us, it is through the Commonwealth. We are the biggest bilateral donor to Nigeria—DfID's budget will rise to £100 million for 2006–07—and the largest investor. Increasing numbers of Nigerians are living and working in the United Kingdom. Ours is a deep and historic friendship, and we are proud of it. What happens in Nigeria matters to us. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs stressed this during his visit to Abuja and the Niger delta just last February.

Presidential, state and local elections are due to be held in 2007. Since Nigeria's independence in 1960, there has been only one successful civilian-to-civilian transfer of power. That was in 2003, when President Obasanjo was elected for his current, second term. 2007 will be an important milestone. DfID, as well as the other international donors, is already supporting the Independent National Electoral Commission in a programme to ensure that elections are free and fair, and are seen to be so. We will work also with the EU and the Commonwealth to this end.

Speculation is rife in Nigeria about whether the president intends to change the constitution to enable him to stand for a third term. I accept that tensions are running high. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, described the issues as generating heat. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, reflected on these electoral issues as well. The national assembly is expected to vote later in April on a raft of proposed constitutional amendments. These include a proposal to allow a further four-year term for the president and state governors, but also, importantly, withdrawing of the current immunity from prosecution for serving governors and increasing the percentage of oil revenues that go to the producing states from 13 to 18 per cent. Debate about such issues is an important part of strengthening the democratic process. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, raised all these key issues. As he requested, I shall clarify the Government's position.

The decisions on constitutional amendments are for Nigeria alone. The United Kingdom, the United States or other interested bystanders would have no standing to intervene. President Obasanjo has said publicly on a number of occasions that he will not act unconstitutionally. We—together with the rest of the international community, including the United States—have welcomed that assurance. We know that he fully understands the importance of maintaining peace, stability and reform for the future of Nigeria, as well as the importance of sustaining reform and his own legacy. We are confident that his decisions will reflect this understanding.

Having had the privilege of meeting the president on a number of occasions, I would say by way of a general description of him that he was elected on a mandate of reforms for Nigeria and that he has kept to his agenda. He has pushed forward economic reform. He has agreed a major debt relief package and has acted decisively to tackle corruption and financial crime, arresting key figures such as the governor of Bayelsa state and sacking corrupt Ministers. He is an international leader in promoting the extractive industries transparency initiative. Politically and economically, Nigeria plays a leading and positive role throughout Africa, and the president has helped reduce tension and conflict. During his presidency, Nigeria has become a leading contributor to peace-keeping operations through the United Nations and ECOWAS, and it provides peace-keepers to Darfur. In 2005, as president of the AU, he intervened in Togo following a coup d'état and successfully negotiated a return to democracy. Also through the AU, he has been trying to engage with Zimbabwe over the growing crisis there.

But there are problems. Recent events in the Niger delta, including an upsurge of violence, attacks on oil installations and kidnappings of foreign oil workers, have serious implications for Nigeria and for the international energy supply and global oil markets. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, identified the global pressures on oil supplies which are made much more significant by these developments in the delta. Recent events have cut production by about 25 per cent, we believe. The loss of revenue in the longer term could impact on Nigeria's ability to deliver its own budget and, hence, its development goals.

There are three main challenges to address—security, governance and development. There is no single solution to the problems; they have to be approached together and in a co-ordinated manner, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said. The United Kingdom, through the FCO, DfID and the MoD, is working with the Nigerians on two main initiatives to address these issues. The first is the Gulf of Guinea energy security strategy, which aims to professionalise the Nigerian military through training and capacity building and to increase co-ordination between the security forces, specifically on small arms proliferation and money laundering, to which I shall return. We currently support work to assess the nature and scale of the small arms problem.

The second initiative is the Rivers State development initiative, which focuses on community-led development through large-scale infrastructure to create employment as well as sustainable development programmes. We have to reduce tensions and poverty in the delta if we are to improve living standards for the people of that region. In all this, we are working closely with the Nigerians and the United States. The next meetings take place in Washington later this month. We must reach concrete decisions that will make a difference on the ground.

Of course we are concerned for our own citizens and for the foreign companies that operate in the vital oil-producing region. There have already been two kidnappings of expatriates in 2006; both included British nationals and involved officials and Ministers. Oil companies and their employees must be able to go about their work in a secure environment. We have been talking to Shell, with which of course we work closely on this, and to the Nigerian authorities about what they can do and what more we can do to assist. But there needs to be greater commitment on the part of the Nigerian authorities to tackle the problems, as well as better co-ordination between the interested parties.

On reform and development, President Obasanjo was elected in 2003 on a radical and clear programme of reform. He is delivering it and we fully support his efforts and those of his impressive economic team under the leadership of Mrs Ngozi. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, emphasised the need for effectiveness in economic and social change and greater transparency in those areas. I wholeheartedly agree. Economic policy-making is moving to a more rational footing for the first time since independence and Nigeria has made a real start in tackling corruption.

Reform in Nigeria is also essential if it is to meet the millennium development goals. DfID is playing a leading role in helping. Nigeria is at the heart of the education initiative recently announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—it is a remarkable initiative. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, asked about our plans in that respect. Through DfID, the UK will help Nigeria to create a 10-year education plan, which will aim to provide free education for every child in Nigeria.

The investment in people is important in every respect. The noble Lord, Lord Lea, raised the questions of population growth and the need for jobs. One of the most fundamental issues has to be education as a key to achieving good jobs and stability in employment. So, investment in people is increasing. Nigeria's 2006 budget will see increases of over 30 per cent in recurrent expenditure on education and health and of over 60 per cent on water. Savings on debt relief will free at least an additional $1 billion a year for Nigeria to spend on poverty reduction, helping to employ an extra 120,000 teachers and to put 3.5 million people into school. Those are the figures that the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, was asking for.

It was progress on reform that persuaded the United Kingdom to take a leading role in championing the debt deal for Nigeria in the Paris Club in 2005. It is a main part of our agenda for the Commission for Africa. Under the deal, Nigeria used part of its oil windfall to pay US$12.4 billion of its external debt with creditors cancelling the remaining $18 billion. Money saved on servicing debt will make a difference to the development agenda. There is of course more to do.

The economic reform team is determined to embed its work as much as possible ahead of the elections next year and the legislative agenda is ambitious. We are keen to see the Nigerian Government pass the Fiscal Responsibility Bill soon. It is a key piece of legislation that will develop transparent frameworks for prudent management of Nigeria's resources. It will help Nigeria achieve long-term macro-economic stability, placing conditions, importantly, on all three tiers of government: federal, state and local; and bringing consistency to decision-making.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Bill, which will enshrine the EITI process into law swiftly, and the Public Procurement Bill, which will improve transparency and competitiveness of public procurement at all levels of government, are also important elements of the legislative programme. It is true to say that transparency demands the highest auditing standards and accuracy.

Corruption has understandably been raised in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, focused on it in the first of his three main points. It is a serious hindrance to Nigeria's development and we welcome the president's efforts to strengthen the operation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and support investigations and high-level prosecutions. It is a major change from earlier periods such as those described by my noble friend Lord Lea. Crime, especially serious financial and organised crime, also has a significant impact on governance and poverty levels throughout Nigeria. It impacts on the UK directly too through advance-fee and other frauds, trafficking and money-laundering, and a high level of illegal immigrants. However, I wholly accept the proposition that corruption is a two-way street and our own house must also be in order. We have a clear obligation and we have an obligation in our legislation to track and return stolen assets, and to prosecute where we can.

We have been asked this evening to say what the Government are doing to assist those processes. We are cutting down the avenues for corruption. DfID is providing support for Nigerian participation in the extractive industries transparency initiative; we are strengthening the anti-corruption agencies; the UK is providing equipment and expertise to strengthen the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission; we are working to strengthen co-operation on specific cases; and the Metropolitan Police are working with Nigerian law enforcement and security agencies to bring specific cases to prosecution. We have ratified the UN Convention against Corruption. Bringing cases to trial under the standards of proof required in the United Kingdom courts is no easy matter. It is not an undertaking that can be embarked on lightly, but our obligation is to do so and to make sure that we achieve those standards of proof. We are currently investing heavily in the training and research institute of the EFCC as well.

Co-operation to tackle all those issues is already strong. We have signed the MoUs on human trafficking, police co-operation and an immigration returns agreement in the past 18 months. We are stepping up co-operation even further: my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced during his recent visit a project worth £250,000 to train the Nigerian police.

I turn to the questions that have been raised about human rights and the Muslim/Christian relationship. Nigeria has more Muslims than any other sub-Saharan African country—around 60 million. Ongoing and historical tensions between the communities in Nigeria can lead to violence across the country—unfortunately, sometimes with significant loss of life—although I accept that these things can also be an excuse for other reasons for violence. Most often this violence is driven by political events, such as speculation about the elections in 2007 and recent public hearings on the constitution. Whether the last weekend was more violent than others, our information does not show. It may have been very little different.

Violence can also be triggered by other events, such as the publication of the Danish cartoons—a matter raised by my noble friend Lord Lea. Attacks on one group often lead to violent retaliatory attacks, and we condemn all such violence. The British High Commission in Abuja raises, when verified, individual cases of religious persecution that come to our attention and it makes representations to the authorities when riots occur. But we do not believe that reports of large-scale subjugation of Christians are well founded. It is important to promote better understanding between religious communities.

At this point, I turn to the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry, who knows these areas of concern so well. In Plateau State, Coventry Cathedral's International Centre for Reconciliation is doing outstanding work, as I have been able to acknowledge in the House on a past occasion. It is work on reconciliation and promoting better relations between Christians and Muslims. The ICR also has responsibility for a small arms project worth £50,000. It was started in January, so I suspect that it is rather too early to draw conclusions from it. However, its aim is to identify the sources of small arms, and I can say that at present we believe that there is no evidence of small weapons being sourced in the United Kingdom.

We are also engaging more with Nigeria's Muslim north. The High Commission is undertaking a programme of visits to the north by prominent British Muslims to discuss women's education and voters' rights, as well as to demonstrate the British view of multiculturalism. DfID is opening an office in Kano. I suspect that the lessons learnt from Archbishop Josiah—"Mr Dialogue"—could well serve all of us.

On human rights, there are concerns about heavy-handed interventions by the police and the security forces, but there has been an overall improvement in Nigeria's human rights record since 1999. The state does not systematically or deliberately oppress the rights of individuals or particular groups, and the constitution provides for freedom of speech, assembly and religion and for an independent judiciary. The media and political discourse are free.

Here, I have to comment on the BBC World Service—an important question that has been raised. I am Minister for public diplomacy and am therefore responsible for the BBC World Service. I understand that the World Service has an arrangement with Raypower FM to relay live news programmes made by the World Service. In the past, this worked well and benefited both partners, but problems have arisen over the re-broadcasting of World Service programmes by Raypower, particularly in news areas. The Nigerian National Broadcasting Commission enforced a directive banning all Nigerian stations from relaying live news from foreign broadcasters and that has had an impact.

I say to the House—I am sure that it is known without my having to say it—that the World Service has total editorial and managerial independence from government, and it has a reputation for delivering authoritative, accurate and impartial news. To deliver the service effectively, it established the partnership with Radio Raypower, and the current banning of news programmes means that the service is broadcasting for only about seven hours each week. I should like to see the service fully restored, not least because I believe that it is one of the best and most independent relayers of impartial news anywhere in the world, and we are entitled to feel proud of that in this country.

A number of other issues have been raised in the debate. A dialogue is taking place with China. It is not easy, but it is taking place. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, it would be foolish beyond belief not to try to engage with a country and a power so systematically involved throughout Africa, Latin America and other parts of the world. We raise human rights issues and peace issues. We are trying to find common ground. I suspect that it will not be a rapid dialogue, but it is essential to have a dialogue.

As I said, it is in the interests of us all, including Nigeria that we discuss all those kinds of issues, precisely because Nigeria will remain central and important to this country. One in four people in sub-Saharan Africa is a Nigerian. If Nigeria fails to meet the millennium development goals, it is unlikely that Africa will meet those goals. What happens in Nigeria impacts on the wider region and on Africa generally. As chairman of the AU, President Obasanjo played such an active role across Africa and he has continued to do so. He has taken a constructive part in the Darfur peace process and he has demonstrated his courage most recently by helping to deliver Charles Taylor to stand trial before the special court in Sierra Leone. That was a personal commitment for the president and it was not easy for him to deliver. I acknowledge it fully in the House tonight. I welcome what has finally happened.

I do not believe that we shall ever make the mistake of ignoring how things develop in Nigeria. We shall continue to work hard to support the country, its president and his impressive team, to build on the successes of the past few years and where we can to address the issues that are important for Nigeria's continued stability and development. Let me emphasise how we see the situation. This is a long-term relationship and a long-term friendship. It can never be anything else. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in Abuja on 14 February:

"We will remain committed to this country and to the closest possible relationship with it".

That is a simple obligation, best said simply and I repeat it tonight.

House adjourned at twenty-three minutes before eight o'clock.

Tuesday, 18 April 2006.