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

The hon. Lady again makes a very pertinent intervention, which illustrates the issue I referred to earlier. Nigeria and the middle belt of Africa are awash with weapons. We need to address those issues.

The ethnic nationalist groups fighting for greater power for ethnic Fulani people overwhelmingly target civilians with violence in northern Nigeria. In north central Nigerian, Christians represent the majority of victims of that violence. There was a recent attack, at Christmas, in which 200 Christians lost their lives. As parliamentarians, it is our duty to denounce and address such action against freedom of religion or belief, which is a basic human right. One young American lady said to me just last week that the United States has failed to address this situation—I understand that Fiona Bruce was in the States for a weekend, and I am sure she heard similar remarks. Just last week, that American lady urged me to ensure that we do not fail. We are having this debate today, and we will not fail when it comes to addressing the issues—those who are here will ensure that.

I am fully aware of the limitations of our Government’s ability to control the situation in Nigeria. But by the same token, I believe that there is more that we can and must do to make changes on the ground to get help and support to those who need it most, and simply to do what is right—it is right to do these things. In addition to the recent Christmas massacre, Islamic insurgent-directed Fulani gangs killed at least 10 Christians in Taraba state—another in a catalogue of murder—while a dozen similar gunmen kidnapped over 150 people in Zamfara state, and Boko Haram killed 15 rice farmers in Borno state. It seems to never end.

Those incidents serve to further escalate tensions in a country where violence divides people and erodes trust, threatening Nigerians’ freedom of religion or belief. Historically, violence in Nigeria has fallen along ethnic or religious lines. Violence by Boko Haram, the JAS— I will not try to pronounce the full name; you might understand if I said it in an Ulster Scots accent, Mr Paisley, but I suspect that no one else will—and Islamic State in West Africa threaten the freedom of religion or belief of Nigerians. Despite statements in favour of inter-faith unity, the Nigerian Government—I say this respectfully—have generally failed to enact meaningful policy reforms and changes to address the drivers of the violence impacting on religious freedom. I remember being outraged when I first heard about Boko Haram’s actions against women and children and the trafficking of those young girls. Even today, one young girl, Leah Sharibu, is still under the control of Boko Haram.