Labour Party MP David Lammy, who has represented Tottenham since 2000, has questioned the British government over the Nigerian military’s use of force to quell separatist agitation in the southeast region.
A significant number of black people and specifically the Nigerian diaspora live in Lammy’s north London constituency. It is likely he was prompted to intervene by those constituents. The MP first asked “the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs” (Boris Johnson) in a written parliamentary question on Monday: “What representations he has (a) made to and (b) received from the Nigerian Government on the use of force against unarmed citizens in the south-east region of that country.”
Rory Stewart, the Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) replied on Thursday on behalf of Boris Johnson: “We were concerned by reports of violent clashes between security forces and separatist protesters in Abia State. We recognise the right to peaceful and lawful protest as part of the democratic process. During my visit to Nigeria in June, I raised the issue of community tensions with the Governor of Kaduna. The Governors of the Northern States of Nigeria condemned the threats against the Igbo people, as did Vice President Osinbajo, then Acting President, who also called for unity.”
Lammy’s second written question of the same day was: “What assessment he [the Foreign Secretary] has made of the situation in the south-east region of Nigeria”. The official government response from Rory Stewart stated: “The British Government is concerned by the violence in south east Nigeria but we do not assess that there is institutionalised persecution of the Igbo or any other peoples by the Nigerian authorities. The UK fully supports the territorial integrity of Nigeria and President Buhari’s commitment to work for a secure and prosperous Nigeria. We are committed to working with Nigeria to help tackle threats to national security and the underlying causes of instability. We echo President Buhari’s calls for calm and reconciliation between the many ethnic groups and communities that make up and contribute to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The Nigerian army launched “Operation Python Dance” in the predominantly Igbo southeast last month. The operation involved a raid at the home of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of separatist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in Afaraukwu, Abia State. Kanu and his parents have not been seen since that raid in which several of his supporters were reportedly killed or injured.
It is clear from both responses to Lammy’s questions that the British government is fully behind its client state, Nigeria and its government. The likelihood of the British checking the excesses of the Nigerian military, which receives training and equipment from Britain, is remote. The British will express “concern” and not much else. British companies are doing a lot of business in Nigeria, especially in the oil industry. The interests of British capital drives British foreign policy and not democracy or human rights.