Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who also sits in the House of Lords, asked during a debate in the Lords Chamber on Tuesday: “Does the Minister agree that there needs to be work both at grass roots and at the highest level? Many of the signs we are seeing in Nigeria at the moment—particularly the threats against the Igbo, which are happily diminishing—bring back to mind the terrible events immediately prior to the outbreak of war in 1967?”
Welby’s question was a follow up as the House of Lords in Westminster discussed Nigeria during “Oral Questions” with Baroness Cox, who has a keen interest in religious issues in Nigeria, asking what the British government was doing to pressure the Nigerian government to safeguard the lives of all Nigerians.
Cox asked Baroness Goldie, representing the UK government in the Lords: “Is she aware of a new and disturbing development of severe threats by radical northern youth groups, who have ordered the predominantly Christian Igbo tribe to leave all parts of northern and eastern Nigeria or face dire consequences? Will Her Majesty’s Government ask the Government of Nigeria what measures they are taking to fulfil more effectively their duty to protect all religious and ethnic minorities in Nigeria?”
Goldie replied: “I thank the noble Baroness for her question, which I know is rooted in a deep knowledge of the area and the problems that exist there. The call by the northern youth groups for the predominantly Christian Igbo to leave has been taken very seriously by the Nigerian Government. Acting Nigerian President, President Osinbajo, has held exhaustive and wide-ranging consultations with stakeholders across the country—not just in the affected north but also in the south-east. National discussions have now moved on to the broader issue of restructuring Nigeria. As a result, tension around the initial statement by the northern youth groups has decreased significantly in the past few weeks, with the group itself moving towards rescinding the Osinbajo call for the Igbo tribe to leave. However, to our knowledge, it has not gone quite as far as that yet. The British high commission in Abuja will continue to monitor the situation carefully.”
Watch the debate here.
Baroness Berridge also added that Nigerians in the UK should be consulted by the British government: “Some of those affected by the conflict in the north of Nigeria are in fact the friends and relatives of British citizens, with hundreds of thousands of them within the British Nigerian diaspora. As well as meeting with Ministers in Nigeria and working through the high commission, could the Foreign and Commonwealth Office reach out specifically to that diaspora in order to hear their views about what is going on in the north of the country and how it is affecting their families?”
Goldie’s response was classic government-speak: “There are already good channels of communication through the embassy and our diplomatic connections, but I am sure that this is an issue to which our diplomatic presence will pay close attention. It is a very positive suggestion.” This means essentially that there will be no attempt to consult Nigerians in the UK on the issue.
Goldie was asked earlier by Cox about the clashes involving Fulani herdsmen and she responded: “We are deeply concerned by recurrent clashes involving pastoralists such as herdsmen and local farmers over land, farming rights, grazing routes and access to water. These conflicts, which are exacerbated by climate change and population growth, cause immense suffering to both the pastoralists and farming communities in central and northern Nigeria. We welcome President Buhari’s commitment to ending these attacks and call on all parties to find a peaceful solution to the causes of these incidents.”
Most Nigerians would not agree that Buhari is committed to ending those attacks.