On 28th June 2018 Lord Alton of Liverpool led a debate in the House of Lords, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the continuing violence between communities and armed groups in Nigeria”. The Bishop of Coventry, Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, I join with others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing a debate on the serious situation that threatens the very stability of Nigeria. With the noble Lord I deplore the violence and, with other noble Lords and indeed the victims themselves, some of whom have been in contact with many of us this week, I call on Her Majesty’s Government to use their influence on the Nigerian Government to ensure the security of their people and to bring the violence to an end.
The violence here and in other extreme situations is symptomatic of underlying issues in Nigerian society, ranging from security to justice to employment to the exclusion of children from education through poverty, and even including the effects of desertification and the epidemic of drug abuse. They all have their part to play. At a more fundamental level still is the distance between the demands of the constitution and the daily lives of many Nigerian people. Intercommunal and interreligious violence of any sort has no root in Nigeria’s constitution. Rather, the constitution is a challenge to political leaders to apply it and to local religious and civic leaders to respect it.
I would like to focus on the importance of unbiased public information across Nigeria, whether through traditional media, social media, formal education, private or state, or informal religious education, in order to build resilience into communities in a way that protects against malign political manipulation of religious identities and nurtures respect and reconciliation between peoples. As shown by another CSW report, Faith and a Future, education impacts on other human rights and,
“can either create a culture of tolerance or fuel stereotyping, animosity and extremism”.
That is surely happening in Nigeria, certainly in the northern and central states, and probably in the south as well. Unfair representations of the other, especially the religious other, are a powerful source of energy for the political purposes of those who seek to gain influence and power. They are not difficult to access and then use to fuel the fires of fear on which hatred thrives and violence depends. Fair, truthful, unbiased education in all its forms has its own greater power to resist the engine of hatred and starve the forces of violence.
Amidst the tragic realities of the suffering of minorities in Nigeria, the appalling suffering of Christians in the northern states to which other noble Lords have drawn graphic attention, the suffering of Muslims caused by reprisals from Christian communities, the prejudice towards Shia Muslims, and even, as we have heard, the wanton murder of Fulani men going about their lawful business en route to cattle markets—amidst the terror of all this suffering, good education in all its forms offers hope for the future. The federal and state Governments have levers they can use—especially in formal education, both private and public—to improve the quality of education as a power for good and not for harm.
Education operates in many forms, but my remaining comments will focus on the content, conduct and character of education within schools, private and state. My interest is in how the religious and ethnic other is portrayed. This includes not only the content of religious education that students receive about their own religion and the religious and ethnic identity of others but the way that content is taught, the way people from minority communities are themselves treated in schools—whether they are afforded their full constitutional rights—together with the character of the educational experience throughout the school: is it cultivating a culture of respect? My understanding is that each state education department has an inspectorate division. This gives a strong lever to monitor the delivery of education according to the principles of the constitution and the guidelines set at federal level.
There are some hopeful signs on the ground. The governor of Kaduna state is pursuing a thorough process of educational reform in which he recently dismissed large numbers of unsuitable teachers and recruited even larger numbers of qualified teachers, increasing their allowances to incentivise teachers to work in rural areas. So I conclude by asking the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government have offered their assistance to state governors who seek to raise the standards of education to a higher level, not only of academic achievement but of more religiously responsible citizenship, and to monitor it rigorously.
Baroness Goldie (Con) [Minister]:…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry referred to education and its importance. I could not agree more. DfID programmes are supporting improvements in the quality of education and increasing access for disadvantaged boys and girls to get education, focusing on three states in the north of the country where human development outcomes are particularly poor.
…The noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Chidgey and Lord Tunnicliffe, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, all asked what representations the Government have made to Nigerian counterparts in the light of recent events and allegations involving the country’s military. The military training and assistance provided by the UK for the armed forces of Nigeria have consistently emphasised the importance of adherence to internationally recognised rules of engagement as well as the importance of international human rights and international humanitarian law. All our military capacity-building support is delivered in line with HM Government Overseas Security and Justice Assistance Guidance to mitigate the risk of human rights violations. We are concerned about Amnesty International’s report alleging sexual abuses by members of the Nigerian security services. We have made clear to the Nigerian authorities the importance of protecting civilians in conflict and detention.
A final couple of points were raised by my noble friend Lady Berridge and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, about freedom of religion and belief, and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry and my noble friend Lady Stroud. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials have also raised this issue and tensions between religious communities specifically with state officials in Borno and Yobe during a visit there in May.