Nigeria

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 25th May 2005.

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Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow North West 11:30 am, 25th May 2005

What his assessment is of the humanitarian situation in (a) Nigeria and (b) the Niger Delta; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

After 40 years of military dictatorship, mismanagement, and corruption, Nigeria's human development indicators are among the worst in the world. The situation in the Niger delta, although bad, is better than in most other parts of the country. Nigeria is now making some real progress and this is the best opportunity for reform in a generation. Last week, I visited Nigeria for talks with President Obasanjo, and announced a further £19 million in aid to improve the effectiveness of the federal Government. This is part of a trebling of UK aid to Nigeria from £35 million in 2003–04 to £100 million in 2007–08.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow North West

I thank my right hon. Friend for that extensive answer and for going to the Niger delta to see the situation. What work is he doing with the non-governmental organisations on the ground and with other Government Departments to ensure that there is stability in the Niger delta?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

Principally, we are working with the Government of Nigeria to support the reform process. One example is that the Nigerians are now supporting the extractive industries' transparency initiative, which aims to ensure that the natural resource which is of such benefit to Nigeria—oil—is used in a transparent and open way and does not fuel the corruption that is such a problem in the Niger delta. We are not working in the Niger delta states because they receive 30 per cent. of the total revenue allocated to states in Nigeria, but they contain only 13 per cent. of the population. That is why I said that, relatively speaking, they are better off. But tackling corruption, improving security and reforming the way in which the public administration works will help to deal with the problems that that part of Nigeria faces.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

I am sure my right hon. Friend will recognise the work done by our former colleague, Bill Tynan in setting up the Niger delta group, and also commend my hon. Friend John Robertson, who has volunteered to keep that going. Is not one of the problems in Nigeria that, because of cheap oil, 75 per cent. of the gas coming out of the oilfields in Nigeria is still flared when that resource could be used for the people of Nigeria and their economy? With the technical expertise that we have, can we not help the Nigerian Government to harness that gas and bring it to the mainland to be used for economic benefits?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to our hon. Friend John Robertson and our former colleague, Bill Tynan, who have played a part in the all-party group. I am sure that this is an issue that both the oil companies and the Nigerian Government will happily consider if they can find a way of making it work. Despite the fact that Nigeria has a lot of oil, its GDP per head is still only $350 because it is a very populous country, and therefore sometimes people have a misinformed impression about how well-off Nigeria is. It is very poor and that is why we are increasing our aid programme. It is also why we are backing the calls for debt relief from Nigeria, and that will be very important in helping the country to progress.