My Lords, the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls was an appalling example of Boko Haram’s brutality. Since their abduction we estimate that another 900 or more individuals have been abducted by Boko Haram in separate incidents. The UK, along with international partners, has increased its support for the Nigerian Government to help locate the girls and to tackle the broad threat posed by Boko Haram. We are providing a substantial package of UK military, intelligence and development support to Nigeria.
My Lords, Holocaust Memorial Day seems a particularly poignant time to remember the Nigerian schoolgirls, and indeed the others who are victims of Boko Haram’s violence and persecution of religious communities in Nigeria and now in neighbouring countries. Is the Minister aware that the African Union summit is being held this weekend? It originally planned to focus on the vital issue of the empowerment and education of women but will now also include the need to unite against Boko Haram. In the light of that, will the Government give urgency to their consultations with our European, Commonwealth and North American partners to see how international assistance can be stepped up?
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Northover is at the African Union summit this week, and will no doubt be taking part in some of those conversations. We are consulting not only with our North American and Commonwealth colleagues; Niger and Cameroon are directly affected. The French, British and American Governments, in particular, are working with all the countries in that region because Boko Haram, as noble Lords know, does not respect borders.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, given the pivotal role of the Commonwealth—with two affected countries, Nigeria and Cameroon, being members—it is appalling that the Commonwealth Secretary-General took four months before he responded to the abduction in the first instance; and can the Minister tell the House a little more about what efforts we are taking within the Commonwealth to step up efforts to defeat Boko Haram?
We are working very closely with Nigeria. I am not fully briefed on how far the rest of the Commonwealth is involved, but we have a training team and an intelligence team working with the Nigerians on coping with the pressure from Boko Haram, which now occupies a substantial chunk of north-eastern Nigeria.
My Lords, the Minister may be aware that Boko Haram has very strong ties with Islamic State and, indeed, with al-Qaeda. Does the Minister agree that the insurgency currently taking place in Nigeria is a direct result of the bad governance and the systemic corruption of President Goodluck Jonathan’s Government?
My Lords, my briefing is that Boko Haram is much more a Nigerian phenomenon than a global one such as ISIL. There are some links but that is what I understand. I also stress that the origins of Boko Haram go far back beyond President Goodluck Jonathan’s Government. It dates from the noughties, so to speak. Things have been getting worse recently but it is rooted in a range of underdevelopment problems in north-eastern Nigeria, such as overpopulation and government neglect.
My Lords, will the Minister join me in expressing his appreciation of those moderate Muslims who have spoken out in this country against Boko Haram and in emphasising the continuing need to be proactive in drawing together those communities that would easily find themselves pitched against each other in our towns and cities?
My Lords, in their negotiations, are the Government aware that everything Boko Haram is doing is contrary to the teaching of Islam, to the textual teaching of the Koran, which demands the education of women, and to the practice of the Prophet, who favoured his wives and daughters to be educated?
My Lords, I am well aware of that. But, as the noble Baroness well knows, radical movements of this sort, made up of the young, discontented and jobless, tend to latch on to whatever ideologies they can find.
My Lords, we understand that up to 100 British soldiers are being lined up for a mission to train the Nigerian military in its fight against the Islamic extremists of Boko Haram. Will the Government ensure that human rights training is included in this initiative?
My Lords, I am not going to comment on operational numbers. We have a military mission there and we are also sending people in on short-term secondments to help with the training. Of course human rights is a part of this, as I mentioned.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that speaking out against the horrendous Boko Haram has nothing to do with religion? We speak out against it, whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or whatever. It is an aberration that has nothing to do with any religion.
My Lords, in support of my noble friend Lady Kinnock, is it not clear that the Government in Nigeria have focused much more on the coming election and the wealth down in southern Nigeria and have ignored northern Nigeria; and, further, that local government and the police are corrupt and on occasions, as we know, have been helping Boko Haram? Are we putting pressure on the Nigerian Government to correct those faults? Without doing that we cannot really gain any momentum in the other areas the Minister has talked about.
My Lords, of course we are working closely with the Nigerian Government on a whole range of issues such as this. The north-east of Nigeria has been neglected compared to the north-west—not only to the south—and the noble Lord knows well the extent to which the oil wealth is now in the south but the northern elite that used to think it ran Nigeria feels excluded. There are many levels of different tensions that are reflected in this.
My Lords, given that we do not run Nigeria like we did until about 1960, and given that we have to be sensitive about the views of the Nigerian Government on overseas countries, of which we are one, being party to all the security concerns within the country, will the Minister comment on the degree to which he feels that the Nigerian Government are being open to other countries that wish to be of assistance, whether on a bilateral or multilateral basis?
My Lords, we are working very closely with the Nigerian Government. Of course, we are not trying to pretend that we are a colonial power coming in. We are an ally and we are concerned about the security of the whole of the broader Sahel region.