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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:09 am on 6 February 2024.

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Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs) 10:09, 6 February 2024

It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Paisley. I thank Jim Shannon for securing the debate. He is, as ever, a devoted campaigner for freedom of religion or belief around the world, and I sincerely thank him for that. I am grateful to him for recognising the complexities of the situation, including the marginalisation of Fulani communities, the role of climate change and the need to tackle the flow of weapons. We need to collectively consider all those issues. I also agree that our influence rightly has limits, but I believe that there is more we can do within our partnership with Nigeria, and I will address that in my speech.

As we know, Nigeria is a country of rich diversity, with more than 500 languages, over 300 ethnic groups and a massive range of different churches and branches of Islam. Our connection with Nigeria benefits enormously from our diaspora communities, which, as we know, include British Nigerians of all faiths and backgrounds. It is right to say that at the beginning of my speech, because it provides the context for where we want to go. However, against that background of co-existence and flourishing diversity, there have been many appalling violations of freedom of religion and belief. They include attacks on Christian communities, priests and churches. We must continue to remember the utterly horrifying attack on St Francis Xavier Church in Ondo state two years back, when 41 innocent worshippers were murdered during the Pentecost mass. We continue to stand with the survivors and with that devastated community. I ask the Minister how the Government are engaging with the Nigerian authorities to help ensure justice for that attack, because it must not be forgotten.

The hon. Member rightly highlighted the terrible killings in Plateau state in December. Amnesty International Nigeria reports that over 140 people were killed across 20 villages in just 48 hours. That is truly appalling. Others reported that several churches were burned alongside many homes, and there is speculation that the attacks were a form of indiscriminate reprisal by local herders for cattle rustling and village burnings that had started the previous day. The scale of it is simply horrifying. Is the Minister aware of any progress following the Government’s engagement with the authorities on this issue? We should not rely on speculation. There is a genuine need for a full and impartial investigation of those attacks, and we must see action to prevent those horrors from being repeated, as they have been in recent years.