Freedom of Religion and Belief in Nigeria — [Ian Paisley in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 6 February 2024.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 9:30, 6 February 2024

I wholeheartedly agree. We need to be effective and probably urgent in our response. We have much faith in the Minister; I am sure that when he responds, he will give us some ideas about how that can be done better.

Ever mindful of Nigeria, on which we are focusing today—I referred earlier to the attacks before Christmas, my visit to the country and some of the lessons we learnt—it is frustrating and particularly worrying that, just over a year since we visited, things are no better. When we were there, campaigning was starting. We arrived in the early hours of the morning—I think it was about midnight or1 am—and wondered, as we went from the airport to our hotel, why there were crowds. I found out the reason when we got to the hotel, because a political document had been left on a chair: all the rallies were happening in the early hours of the morning. That was when we were hoping to see some change, but I understand that the elections have been postponed. We have great concerns about that.

The influence of people from Northern Ireland is always greater than people suspect. When I was leaving Nigeria, a young man came up to me in the airport and said in a Northern Irish accent, “Hello, Jim. How are you doing?” What are the chances of speaking to somebody with a Northern Irish accent at the airport after midnight in Nigeria? He turned out to have worked in the office of my right hon. Friend Sammy Wilson many moons ago; he was there as part of a lobbying and information group that was working on behalf of the opposition. The chances of having the change that we, and the Nigerians, all wish for have to be considered.

I am a well-known advocate for those who cannot speak out or who try to speak out but simply cannot be heard. Today is another opportunity to highlight the desperate daily battle that people face, seemingly without anyone knowing or understanding their plight. Today I seek to again speak out and draw attention to the horrific situation that exists for too many people throughout Nigeria at present.

Violations of FORB, along with broader discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, are often particularly serious in situations of crisis, emergency and conflict, which exacerbate it. I think we can all agree that the world is in turmoil. The Bible says that there will be wars and rumours of wars. How true that is across the world at this moment, nowhere more so than throughout the African nations, particularly Nigeria. What happens in Nigeria will dictate what happens across all of Africa. With a population of almost 220 million, Nigeria is the cauldron for the rest of Africa. That middle band of Africa is awash with weapons, arms and people with evil intent. That concerns me.