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. The impact of a changing climate is not a simple issue of cause and effect; it is about poverty and destitution.

I can understand the anxiety about states in Nigeria continuing to imprison people for exercising religious freedoms. We all know the case of Mubarak Bala—we have spoken about that in this place, with the same audience—but there are others imprisoned in Nigeria on blasphemy charges. We cannot just respond to insecurity and terrorism by calling out individual human rights abuses. We need to provide practical support to prevent further atrocities. Regardless of whether religious motivations have helped to cause an attack, I believe that we can absolutely support religious organisations to provide solutions.

I hope that the Minister will tell us much more today about how the Government are engaging with all communities of faith in Nigeria to support peace building; how we are encouraging interfaith work that creates trust and understanding; and how we are engaging with religious leaders to support their communities to adapt to more climate-resilient methods of agriculture and ways of living. How are we supporting the early warning systems and civil society networks that can help communities to de-escalate when a conflict becomes likely? How can we support the programmes of the federal Government or individual states that would aid that agenda? Are we offering support to the efforts of Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States in tackling the spread of weapons, which make these conflicts so appallingly deadly?

I hope colleagues will forgive me if I finish on a much more positive note. In much of Nigeria, people of different faiths and none are living side by side in peace. That is utterly normal, and it simply goes without saying. Interfaith marriages are common. We should not lose sight of this. I worry that an image of Nigeria is emerging that is scarcely recognisable to many Nigerians, because it does not reflect the dynamism, the inter-mixing, the excitement, energy and opportunity of Nigeria today. I believe that to support protections for all Nigerians, including those of freedom of religion or belief, we need to engage with those opportunities, deepening our partnership with Nigeria for our mutual benefit.