A Conservative MP, Charles Walker, who represents Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, England, has fired a series of questions about Biafra and human rights in Nigeria at the UK government.
On Biafra, the MP who was elected to the House of Commons in 2005 and who claims in his website that “he is not afraid to tackle difficult or controversial issues”, asked the British Foreign Secretary: “what assessment he has made of the potential risk of civil war in Nigeria as a result of the policy of the government of Nigeria on Biafra”.
Wheeler also asked the Foreign Secretary two follow-up questions on Biafra: “What reports he has received of the potential effects of the grazing bill being considered by the Nigerian National Assembly on land rights in Biafra”. And “what reports he has received of confiscation of land (a) in Biafra and (b) owned by Biafrans by the Nigerian government”.
Responding on behalf of the Foreign Secretary, James Duddridge, the junior minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth office said: “The UK fully supports the territorial integrity of Nigeria and President Buhari’s commitment to work for a secure and prosperous Nigeria for all Nigerians. We are committed to working with Nigeria to help tackle threats to Nigeria’s security and to address the underlying causes of instability which exist within Nigeria. We do not assess that there is institutionalised persecution of the Igbo or any other peoples by the Nigerian authorities.
“We are not aware of any patterns of land confiscation in Nigeria by the Nigerian Government. Nigeria does face the challenge of inter-communal violence between farmers and herdsmen over land, farming rights, grazing routes and access to water. We are aware that the Nigerian legislature is currently debating a bill on grazing routes and reserves for Nigerian herdsmen. Part of that debate focuses on balancing the rights of land owners with the requirements of herder communities.
“Through our development assistance the UK supports initiatives to reduce these conflicts and build bridges between communities. We will continue to work with the Nigerian Government, non-governmental organisations and civil society to improve the security situation and human rights for all the people of Nigeria.”
Wheeler also asked the Foreign Secretary: “what recent assessment his Department has undertaken of the incidence of repression of Christians by the Nigerian government; and if he will make a statement”.
And “what information his Department holds on the number of Christian churches that have been destroyed in Nigeria since 1990; and if he will make a statement”.
Responding, Duddridge stated: “In Nigeria, the right to freedom of religion is protected by the Constitution. Boko Haram seeks to undermine this right by attacking Nigerians of all faiths who do not subscribe to its extremist views. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not hold information on the number of churches that have been destroyed in Nigeria, but it is clear that Boko Haram has caused immense suffering in both Christian and Muslim communities. We assess that the majority of their victims are Muslim.
“We are providing a substantial package of intelligence, military, development and humanitarian support to Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram, including training and advice on counter insurgency and £5 million of support to a regional military taskforce.
“Nigeria also faces the challenge of inter-communal conflicts between farmers and herdsmen over land, farming rights, grazing routes and access to water. Through our development assistance, the UK supports initiatives to reduce these conflicts and build bridges between communities.
“We will continue to work with the Nigerian Government, non-governmental organisations and civil society to improve the security situation and human rights for all in Nigeria.”
It is not clear why Walker has taken up the Biafran issue, which clearly puts him at odds with the official position of a government run by his party.