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The UK’s House of Lords debates “religious violence” in Nigeria

22 September 2020

The UK’s upper legislative chamber, the House of Lords, yesterday held a debate on the “religious violence” in Nigeria, with several contributors drawing from their experience to attempt to get the UK government to put pressure on the Nigerian government to deal effectively with the problem.

Lord Anderson said “it is clearly beyond the capacity, or perhaps the will, of the Government of Nigeria to end the conflict and ethnic cleansing”.  He wondered if the Nigerian government had sought help from the Commonwealth or the British to deal with the problem. Lord Ahmad, minister of state in the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office said the British government was working with NGOs to address the issue.

As the debate continued, Lord Polak raised another example of religious persecution in Nigeria, an ostensibly secular country: “The singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu has been sentenced to death by hanging in the northern state of Kano. Will the Minister contact the Nigerian Government to ensure that due process is followed?” Al the minister could say in response, was that he was happy to look into the matter.

Lord Collins followed up with a request for the minister to “comment on another individual case, that of Mubarak Bala, president of the Nigerian humanist association, who has been held on blasphemy charges since April? He has not had access to a lawyer or been allowed family visits since being arrested. I know that the noble Lord is aware of this case, because it was raised at ministerial level back in May or June. What steps is the noble Lord taking to ensure that Mubarak Bala is given access to his legal team? If there is to be any justice at all, this arbitrary detention for 87 days without charge must end.” The minister’s reply was: “I am fully aware of the case. We continue to make representations and to ensure that Mr Bala gets the access mentioned by the noble Lord.”

Lord Alton then asked “will the Minister comment on two urgent matters about which I have given him prior notice? The first is the targeted slaughter of Igbos and occupation of their villages in south-east and southern Nigeria by jihadist Fulanis and mercenaries. The second is the repeated interrogation of and death threats directed at Dr Obadiah Mailafia, an economist and former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, after he publicly exposed state collusion with Fulanis in ethnic and religious cleansing in southern Kaduna and the Middle Belt?”

To which the minister replied: “We will continue to call for a full investigation to hold the perpetrators to account, and to implement long-term solutions, particularly, as the noble Lord mentioned, in relation to people in the south-east of the country. On Dr Obadiah Mailafia, the deputy governor of the central bank, we have already touched on media freedom, and it is vital that we stand up for the importance of individual media freedom. When freedom of expression is restricted or under threat, human rights are generally challenged. I assure the noble Lord that we will continue to engage on this case and others like it.” This would not reassure many of those affected that action was likely to be taken.

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