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British MPs with the Bring Back our Girls campaign during a visit to Abuja

British MPs debate the missing Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria

British MPs took part in a debate today scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee on the missing Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria.

A background briefing paper for MPs before the debate stated: “In April 2014, 276 school girls were abducted from a secondary school in the town of Chibok, north-eastern Nigeria, by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. Their kidnapping led to the creation of a large global social media campaign, #BringBackOurGirls. The campaign’s leaders were highly critical of the former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, who was in charge when the girls were originally abducted, and they have become increasingly dissatisfied with the performance of his successor, Muhammadu Buhari since he took office 15 months ago.

“The bulk of the girls are still missing. On 14 August 2016 Boko Haram released a video showing about 50 of the girls. It featured a demand for the release of imprisoned militants in exchange for them. The group also claimed that some of the girls had been killed or injured in government air strikes. Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of other women and girls since the beginning of 2014”.

The debate was opened by Stephen Twigg, Labour MP for Liverpool, West Derby, and Helen Grant, Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald, both are members of the International Development Committee and had visited Nigeria earlier this year. They both wore badges from the Bring Back Our Girls campaign.

Watch the debate here.

Twigg spoke about 9,000 West African regional troops fighting Boko Haram and the UK support in terms of military advice from 130 personnel, including hostage advisers and £5m in funding. He reminded President Muhammadu Buhari of his inaugural speech in which he said that Boko Haram wouldn’t have been regarded as defeated until the Chibok girls were freed. The president would like to forget this statement, especially as he declared last year that the militants had been “technically defeated”.

Helen Grant spoke emotionally of meeting the Bring Back Our Girls campaigners at the Unity Fountain in Abuja. Another MP and member of the International Development Committee, Lisa Cameron of the Scottish National Party representing East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, described how during their visit to Nigeria they were accompanied by armed security, and this showed how “risky” it was for British citizens in Nigeria. She also said that they visited Kano and observed that girls in schools had a different curriculum to boys. In her opinion, “equality was not high on the agenda” in Nigeria. She also suggested that the rise of Boko Haram was linked to the economic situation in the country.

Another MP, Albert Owen, claimed that 40% of Nigeria’s oil revenues was stolen. He noticed during their visit that there were very few young people in both houses of the Nigerian parliament. You must be at least 35 to be a senator in Nigeria and 30 to be a member of the House of Representatives.

Owen reported that the Bring Back Our Girls group was very angry with their government in terms of efforts to rescue the captives. He declared that he stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the campaign. There was no mention that the police stopped the campaign from holding a rally in Abuja two days ago.

Anne McLaughlin, of the Scottish National Party and representing Glasgow North East, said she had a lot of Nigerian friends and constituents and described Nigeria as a place where “opportunities for women to achieve a decent standard of living were scarce”. Meg Hillier, the Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, a constituency with a large Nigerian population, talked about how the lack of infrastructure and corruption created obstacles for businesses.

Twigg rounded up the debate by calling for the important voice of the Nigerian diaspora to be heard both in Parliament and the wider British public. Helen Grant’s father is a Nigerian surgeon. Other British MPs with Nigerian roots include Kate Osamor and Chuka Umunna.

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