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Baroness Cox has a keen interest in Nigeria

The UK’s House of Lords debates Fulani herdsmen crisis

Baroness Cox (Caroline Cox), a crossbench peer and founder of Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) asked a question in the UK’s House of Lords on Monday 26 March about the endless violence visited across Nigeria by Fulani herdsmen, with little being done by the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari to bring the violence to a meaningful end.

Her question was: “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of recent developments in Nigeria, with particular reference to attacks on civilians by Boko Haram and the Fulani.”

Lord Ahmad, the Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) replied: “My Lords, we welcome the news that some of the Dapchi girls have been released and offer condolences to the families of those reported to have died. We call for an immediate release of all those abducted. Such attacks are abhorrent and must stop. We are also deeply concerned about ongoing clashes involving pastoralists and farmers, and have raised the issue with the Nigerian authorities. We urge the Nigerian Government to bring the perpetrators to justice and implement longer-term solutions”.

Lord Ahmad, FCO minister

It should be noted that the British government’s official line is to follow the same line as Nigerian officials in describing the violence as “clashes between pastoralists and farmers”.  This helps frame the debate as both sides being at fault.

Cox was not impressed, asking the minister: “Is he aware that, last time I was in Nigeria, I visited four Christian villages in Plateau state that had been attacked by the Fulani herdsmen, stood in the house where they had murdered the pastor, visited the homes which had been destroyed and saw Fulani cattle grazing everywhere? This situation has been multiplied many times, with the murder in recent months of hundreds of Christians and the destruction of their villages by increasingly well-armed and aggressive Fulani. Will Her Majesty’s Government therefore make rather stronger representations to the Government of Nigeria to fulfil their obligations to ensure the protection of all their citizens, especially given recent developments of Christians being deliberately targeted?”

The minister responded: “Let me assure the noble Baroness and all noble Lords that wherever in the world we find minorities being targeted, we raise that as part of our prioritisation of the freedom of religion and belief. I assure her further that we have raised the issues of the current and recurrent clashes between the herdsmen and the local farmers. We welcome President Buhari’s commitment to assist the affected communities. I agree with the noble Baroness that this has had a devastating impact on lives and communities, as well as on the general safety and security of all citizens. We are engaging with the federal and state Governments to encourage them to work with all parties, so that we can develop safe solutions for all communities in that part of Nigeria”.

James Brown would have described this as “talking loud and saying nothing”.

Lord Alton made this significant contribution to proceedings: “When the Minister next meets his Nigeria counterparts, will he address two of the causes of the growth of the Fulani militias and Boko Haram and ask him why, in defiance of the Nigerian constitution and Article 18 obligations, sharia law has been imposed in 12 states, providing impunity during the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, abductions, land seizures, murders and violence such as the shooting in the mouth of a female choir singer, and how the Nigerian Government will address the fertile breeding ground for recruiting sergeants such as the kleptomania of corrupt leaders that has led the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to state that some $360 billion has been stolen, while in the impoverished north where these groups have been growing some 70% of children never go to school?”

Of course, the minister wouldn’t raise this with his Nigerian counterpart, but he replied: “The noble Lord is right to raise this. Corruption is part of the reason that we see various challenges. It is very prevalent in certain parts of the country, which drives other causes and results in groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa coming to the fore. Those vacuums exist and need to be filled. On the issue of sharia law being imposed on communities that do not adhere to sharia, it is against all principles, it is against the Nigerian constitution and—I will also add—against Islam itself. They need to wake up and smell the coffee, because they are perpetrating heinous crimes against humanity and are nothing to do with any constitution or religion.”

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