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.

Alert me about debates like this

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

Again, I thank the hon. Lady for the intervention. In my introduction, I mentioned the fact that Nigeria has almost 220 million people, and it is clearly the cauldron for what happens in the whole of Africa—what happens in Nigeria will indicate what happens elsewhere. So the hon. Lady is right to re-emphasise the importance of dealing with terrorism and atrocities and dealing fairly and equitably with each and every person, of whatever faith, in Nigeria. Ensuring that their human rights are respected, that the aid gets to them and that they are secure, happy and safe in their homes is so important, because if that fails in Nigeria—this is what the hon. Lady is reminding us of—it fails for all of Africa. That is why this debate is so important and, as the hon. Lady said, so critical.

To refer back to the Igbo people in the south, armed separatists defending Igbo interests target Muslim civilians, based on ethnic or religious identity, and have also attacked individuals of various faiths travelling to worship and to celebrate holidays in the region. The FORB violations in Nigeria impact everyone in Nigeria; that is where we are—everybody is affected. What happens for the Christians will have an effect elsewhere. What happens with the Muslims will have an effect elsewhere as well.

In terms of FORB, even the judiciary are an area of concern—I have to underline this issue. In the past year, a sharia court sentenced Sheikh Abduljabbar Kabara to death for blasphemy, which is contrary to the constitution of Nigeria, as a sharia court should not have the power to do so. Other judicial authorities sentenced humanist leader Mubarak Bala to 24 years in prison for blasphemy and other charges. Mubarak Bala has been incarcerated since 28 April 2020. We used our visit to speak to some of the judiciary and judges in Nigeria and to make a case. David Linden will speak today for the Scots Nats. His hon. Friend Brendan O’Hara was in that delegation and made a very good case for the release of Mubarak. We thought we had made some headway on that, and the indications coming from the judiciary seemed to say that, but he is still in prison. I understand that he was given an option to leave the country, and his wife and child deserve to be able to be reunited with him, wherever that may be, in freedom. I said at the beginning of the debate that I speak up for those with a Christian faith, those with other faiths and those with no faith, and I mean that. The other members of the APPG mean it as well, and I think everyone in this room also means it. It is important to say that.

Additionally, a high court in Nigeria ruled that the blasphemy laws in the sharia penal codes are constitutional. In September, armed officers conducted a surprise raid on the presiding judge of the Kano court of appeal, who was the only judge who dissented from the ruling. Is there undue influence from the police and army on the judiciary? The question has to be asked. How impartial can those decisions be?

The Nigerian Government have failed to address the drivers of this violence and to prioritise justice for its victims. We must take action to address the systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom and human rights. The failures are clear. The Minister and his officials must think that I believe they have a magic wand. If only we all had a magic wand, imagine what we could do to fix things. I do not think they do have a magic wand, but I do think we can use our influence economically, culturally, historically and through families, because of the rich bond that is shared between Nigeria and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I know that there are limitations, but I do not believe that we are on the cusp of the limits; I believe that there is more engagement that can and should take place. When the Minister responds and tells us what has been done by the United Kingdom Government, I would be glad to hear that we are heading in a positive direction.

I believe that more on-the-ground missionaries could get involved. I have many in my constituency; in almost every church there are missionaries with contacts across the world, including in Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, Nigeria—in large numbers—Swaziland and South Africa. I make that point because there is a non-governmental workforce that could be used as part of the Government network. I have suggested before that missionary groups are there for one purpose: not to be political or to change the direction or focus of the Government, but to help people. I think they could be part of the network that we have in the UK. I know that there may be a sense of, “What else can we be asking for?” when Members see my name next to a debate, but lives are in the balance. There are people in Nigeria who I will never meet in this world, but hopefully we will meet in the next. The innocence of children is at stake, and I believe we have more to give.

When I used to get tired at home and feel like there was nothing left to give, I would recall a biblical verse that my mum ingrained in me. I mentioned in the main Chamber yesterday that my mum got me a bank account when I was 16 and got me my pension when I was 18. She is a lady of great influence. She is the same height as the hon. Member for Congleton—about 5 feet 6 inches— and I am over 6 feet. I get the height from my dad, not my mum. My mum ingrained in me a thought that comes to mind.