Nigeria

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th April 1998.

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Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Labour, Streatham 12:00 am, 7th April 1998

What assessment he has made of progress towards democratic civilian government in Nigeria; and if he will make a statement. [36545]

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We, along with the European Union, the Commonwealth and other partners, are following closely General Abacha's transition to civil rule. To date, we have concluded that in the absence of freedom of association or speech, and while the draft constitution of 1995 remains unpublished, there has been no real progress towards the restoration of democracy.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Labour, Streatham

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does it remain the Government's policy that it will not be acceptable to Britain for General Abacha to transform himself into a civilian president?

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We have always made it clear that the decision about who should be president must rest with the Nigerian people on the basis of a free and transparently fair electoral system. Those requirements have still not been met. We have appealed to the Nigerian Government to ensure that those conditions are put in place, but we are still waiting for real progress in that direction.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

While everyone is attempting to bring civilian rule back to Nigeria, is it helpful to deport Nigerians from this country back to a country where, as we have just been told, civilian democracy does not exist?

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The question of refugees is a matter for the Home Office. Conditions in Nigeria have led to the detention of journalists, the erosion of civil rights and the deaths of some people in prison. Unfortunately, those conditions also create a lively traffic in people who use the asylum system to pursue other ends. Sadly, they do so at the expense of the genuine refugees to whom this country would willingly give shelter.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Does the Minister agree that it is important that international human rights organisations and delegations from other human rights groups should have an opportunity to visit Nigeria to assess for themselves prison conditions and the treatment of people there? Will he do what he can to encourage the Nigerian high commission and the Nigerian Government to lay themselves open to the kind of international humanitarian examination that the regime certainly needs, in terms of looking at prison conditions and the lack of freedom of association, which the Minister rightly mentioned in an earlier answer?

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We know that prison conditions in Nigeria are not good. That is evident from the recent death of Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, who was a soldier of great integrity and whose death was widely mourned by, I think, the overwhelming majority of decent Nigerians. The Nigerian Human Rights Commission has itself criticised conditions in the prisons. My hon. Friend is right to say that it would be in the interests of all Nigerians and, indeed, in the end the Nigerian Government to make the process much more transparent. Sadly, I must record that I do not think that they are prepared to take that direction at the moment.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

Does the Minister agree that the Nigerian people had their say and elected a president, and that General Abacha is simply a crook who did not want to give up the chance of continuing to line his pockets? Her Majesty's Government should treat him in that way and should not dignify him with the title of President of Nigeria.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

There certainly was an election in 1993 and the international community as well as Nigerians believed that it was probably the fairest election that Nigeria had ever had. It certainly produced in Chief Abiola a person who was widely seen to be the victor. For his heinous crime of winning the election, Chief Abiola has languished in prison almost ever since. It is an outrage that he, together with General Obasanjo and 20 Ogonis, are held as political prisoners. We call on the Nigerians to release those in prison and to lay the foundations for a proper electoral process for the Nigerian people who are sovereign in the destiny of that country.