Queen’s Speech Debate 07/01/2019: Baroness Cox Question on Nigeria

8 January 2020

Debate Question: Baroness Cox

My Lords, Her Majesty’s gracious Speech affirmed the UK’s commitment to “work closely with international partners to help solve the most complex international security issues and promote peace and security globally.”

That was a very important commitment, yet I deeply regret that I have personally witnessed how, in Nigeria, British foreign policy has caused more harm than good.

In recent years, many thousands of civilians have been killed in attacks led by Islamist Boko Haram and Fulani militias in northern and central-belt states. The underlying drivers of conflict are complex, yet targeted violence and the perpetration of atrocities against predominantly Christian communities suggest that religion and ideology play a key part, as emphasised in the Bishop of Truro’s excellent report. Christian communities are specifically targeted. Reliable sources claim that more than 5,000 Christians have been killed since 2015, with 1,000 murdered in 2019. The Global Terrorism Index in 2016 and 2017 named Fulani militia as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world, with only Boko Haram, ISIS and al-Shabaab being accounted deadlier. During many of the attacks, the Fulani are reported by survivors to have shouted “Allahu Akbar”, “Destroy the infidels” and “Wipe out the infidels.”

The attacks have, on occasion, led to retaliatory violence, as communities can no longer rely on the Government for protection or justice. However, we have seen no evidence of comparability of scale or equivalence of atrocities. During a recent visit to Nigeria, in November, I met survivors of five villages attacked by Fulani militia, forcing an estimated 12,000 people to flee. In two of the villages, 116 people were killed. It was possible to meet only a limited number of survivors, but the consistency of their experiences is deeply disturbing and consistent with evidence from numerous previous visits. These are disturbing statistics, but behind every statistic is a human horror story. I give just a few examples of the suffering of the people: sadly, I could massively multiply them.

Antonia from Karamai said:

“I saw my brother-in-law’s body on the ground, hacked to pieces by a machete. Our home was destroyed. The hospital was burnt. They tried to burn the roof of the church by piling up the chairs, like a bonfire.”

A pastor from Madugrui said:

“Every day we carry new corpses to the cemetery. They kill farmers. They destroy our homes and churches. They kidnap and rape women.”

Ta’aziya from Karamai said:

“We could see bullets whizzing. Everything was destroyed. In our whole village, only two of the homes were not burnt. Almost 50 people were killed.”

As a final example, it was my agonising privilege to weep with and to hug Veronica, from Dogon Noma, who told me:

“They attacked me with a machete twice, once to the neck and once to my hand.”

I saw the scars. She said:

“They said they wanted my daughter to suck my finger. So they amputated my forefinger and I passed out. When I woke up, I saw my six year-old daughter on the ground, dead, with my chopped finger in her mouth.”

More recently, 11 Nigerian Christians were killed by Islamic State terrorists in a brutal Christmas Day attack. The beheadings of the 11 Christians, shown in a video by Islamic State in West Africa, ISWAP, were gruesome so-called revenge for the killing in Syria of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In addition to the deep concerns caused by the brutal killings, there are the disturbing implications of the allegiance pledged by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the sect leader of Boko Haram, to ISWAP, suggesting that ISIS has consolidated its hold on a new African frontier. This indicates a more internationally organised terrorist group bringing together Islamist militants to achieve their objectives in West Africa.

While the underlying causes of violence are complex, the asymmetry and escalation of attacks by well-armed Fulani militia upon these predominately Christian communities are stark and must be acknowledged. Such atrocities cannot be attributed just to desertification, climate change or competition for resources, as our Government have claimed. The situation fulfils the criteria of genocide as recognised by the Nigerian National Assembly and must be so recognised, with the international community’s duty to respond accordingly.

Given the Nigerian Government’s apparent complicity in the persecution of Christians, there is a strong argument that international aid should be curtailed until Abuja fulfils its duties to protect and provide for its own citizens of any belief who are subjected to such horrendous suffering, and to end the impunity with which the perpetrators of atrocities perpetuate their horrendous crimes.

Can the Minister give us an assurance that our Government will fulfil the commitment made in the gracious Speech and pressure the Nigerian Government to protect and provide for all their people, bringing desperately needed protection and help to over 2 million citizens now suffering displacement, the many thousands mourning the deaths of loved ones and all those living in acute danger of terrorist attacks? They have been pleading for help and protection, which have not been forthcoming so far. I passionately hope that the Government’s commitment will result in these pleas for help no longer being in vain.

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