First and foremost, please be assured that I regularly raise this issue in the House of Commons and will continue to do so, given that it does not get nearly enough publicity. I also have the Open Doors World Watch List 2023 map on my office wall.
Nevertheless, the events raised are deeply concerning, and HM Government (HMG) condemns all violence in Nigeria, irrespective of religion or group.
The UPR is a state-driven process which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations. As you will be aware, Nigeria will undergo its next UPR in early 2024. In the meantime, I would like to outline the steps HMG has taken thus far to support Nigeria in upholding its constitutional commitment to freedom of religion or belief.
The principal threats to this commitment are the multiple complex security challenges facing Nigerians. In particular, from extremist groups, including Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa, who attack both Christians and Muslims who do not subscribe to their beliefs. To support Nigeria’s efforts to tackle this issue, HMG has contributed £16.9 million since 2019 to the UN Development Programme’s regional stabilisation facility, which improves security, services, and economic opportunities for people in affected areas, and contributes to the demobilisation, deradicalization and reintegration of former group members.
Nigeria also faces other security challenges that undermine human rights and freedom of religion, including intercommunal violence and criminality. The UK’s wide-ranging bilateral security and defence partnership with Nigeria provides practical support to defend against all these forms of insecurity. This includes training Nigeria’s police force to tackle criminality and kidnappings, as well as helping them to prioritise the protection of vulnerable groups, such as religious minorities.
HMG also works with Nigeria to address the root causes of these issues including poverty, climate change and historical grievances between ethnic and religious communities. The UK Government’s ‘Strengthening the Delivery of Peace and Security’ programme in Nigeria has funded peacebuilding projects in several Nigerian states that build links and dialogue between civil society groups, religious leaders, and religious communities.
HMG, of course, recognises that Nigeria is a capable and sovereign state, and the Minister for Africa and Development raised the impact of insecurity on human rights, such as freedom of religion or belief, with President-elect Bola Tinubu when they met in December 2022. I understand that HMG will continue to raise those challenges after the new Nigerian Government is inaugurated at the end of this month. Regardless, I am assured that staff in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will continue to work closely with state governors, local community and faith leaders and NGOs to promote social cohesion and understanding between communities, including religious minorities.