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

I agree with the hon. Lady, as I often do. It is about ensuring that there is no impunity for attacks of that nature. It only fosters, as she rightly says, impunity for future actions.

As we know, there is also a huge continuing threat from jihadist terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province, and we must continue to support Nigeria in its fight against those groups. Terrible violence and insecurity in large parts of Nigeria continue to affect millions of Nigerian people of all faiths. I hope that we can agree here today that narratives about religious wars are not accurate, because I honestly worry that that kind of narrative risks making the situation even worse.

I would like to draw hon. Members’ attention to the perspective of Archbishop Ndagoso, of the Catholic archdiocese of Kaduna in north-west Nigeria. He said:

“In the northwest the farmers are mostly Muslims, and they also have conflicts with the Fulani. As you move to the middle belt, it is inhabited mostly by Christians, so there it will most likely be a Christian farm. Religion and ethnicity are very sensitive problems in Nigeria, they are always used for convenience, but primarily this conflict is not religious, I am absolutely sure.”

The archbishop went on to say that opportunists

“use these factors to their own advantage, but if you go to the root, you discover it is little or nothing to do with religion.”

The archbishop, like many in Nigeria, is absolutely focused on the desperate insecurity affecting his parishioners. In the same interview, he was understandably very critical of the Nigerian Government and of us in the west. He was, rightly, very clear about the many forms of legal and administrative discrimination that Christian organisations face in his state, and others in northern Nigeria. His is an expert perspective that we should consider.

In 2022, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project found that while, as we know, attacks on Christians had significantly increased, only 5% of the attacks on civilians were specifically targeting Christians based on the fact that they were Christians. However, I know that we in this Chamber will agree that even a 5% increase is far too great.

It is a simple fact that the extremist groups exploiting and victimising large areas of Nigeria kill and destroy the livelihoods of Christian and Muslim communities alike. We must call out targeted attacks against Christians, and we need a holistic approach to insecurity. We need to provide solidarity with all communities, because Nigerian communities of all faiths and ethnicities depend on the Nigerian state; and where there are failures, we need to support our Nigerian friends in addressing them.

When communities do not have access to state services, including access to justice that resolves and redresses grievances, it fuels vigilantes, bandits and revenge attacks. It creates a sense of abandonment and discrimination, which is fertile ground for the recruitment narratives of terrorists. When young people have no decent access to jobs, and families are without education for their children or food to keep them from going hungry, there is a push towards alternative economic models, such as crime. It is the same the world over, but in Nigeria, that might include kidnapping for ransom, livestock rustling, or, appallingly, even recruitment into the terrorist groups that continue to wreak such utter carnage on innocent communities.

I know that some colleagues may disagree, but many experts and international organisations are clear that climate change plays a role in this conflict. The African Union, the International Crisis Group, the World Bank and others believe that to be true. When grazing land becomes scarce, it drives herders to migrate. They, in turn, push into settled communities, and atrocities can result. We see similar stories happening right across the Sahel and beyond—from Mali to the Lake Chad basin, from South Sudan to north-west Kenya. Those conflicts are, sadly, nothing new, but they have become more and more intense.