A 2013 photo shows a woman walking past houses in Baga that were burnt during fighting between Boko Haram and Nigerian forces. The town was completely razed to the ground last week. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Foreign Office minister says Nigerians living in UK can be proud of British assistance in fight against Islamist militants.
Nigerians living in the UK can be proud of the level of British support for Nigeria in its fight against the terrorist group Boko Haram, the Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire has said, while ruling out sending British troops to the country.
Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons from the Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, Swire said the UK’s contribution to the UN’s central emergency response fund and the European commission’s humanitarian aid and civil protection programmes in 2014 was £1.7m, and that the Department for International Development’s budget for Nigeria was one of the biggest in the world, at about £250m.
Teather asked how the government was responding to the escalating security situation in Nigeria and the mass displacement of people in west Africa where non-government organisations were struggling to respond to the Ebola crisis.
“This weekend saw an inspiring and moving display of international solidarity in the wake of the Paris shootings,” she said, “but while we were watching the horror unfold in Paris, hundreds or possibly thousands of civilians were slaughtered by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, with very little international attention.”
The debate followed reports that as many as 2,000 people were massacred by the Islamist group in the north-eastern Nigerian town of Baga last week. Witnesses have said the town, which had a population of around 10,000, was razed to the ground.
The attacks came five weeks before presidential elections, which are expected to trigger more bloodshed. The UN estimates more than 1.5 million people have been displaced by the insurgency.
The Conservative MP John Redwood asked the minister to clarify why the west was right to try to use military force in Syria and Iraq, in similar situations, but not in Nigeria.
Swire said drawing such parallels was not useful. Nigeria was one of the richest countries in Africa, spending 20% of its own budget on defence: “In the normal course of events, it should be able to handle these things itself, but it cannot and that is why we are providing assistance to enable it to do so.”
The Labour MP David Winnick asked whether there was any concern about whether the Nigerian authorities were up to dealing with the threat.
“Time and again, when the Nigerian president has been under a good deal of international pressure, and rightly so, his response has been such that one can conclude only that the commitment to fight the terrorism and atrocities in that country is not as it should be,” Winnick said.
Swire said that while the British government wished Nigeria’s institutions were stronger, “both the Nigerian government and the international community are absolutely certain that Boko Haram needs to be routed out, and quickly, before it does further damage within the country and to its vulnerable neighbours”.
Another Conservative MP, Richard Fuller, said that the more than 1 million Britons of Nigerian origin would regard Swire’s response as inadequate and that he had portrayed the problem as being smaller than they perceived it to be.
“With the greatest respect to those who took part [in the rallies against the French attacks], our response to Boko Haram needs more than a hashtag and a photo opportunity,” Fuller said. “It needs an active response from the British government, who believe in the freedom of the individual wherever they are in the world.”
Swire said the UK could not impose assistance, if it had not been requested: “There is something called sovereignty, which may have escaped my honourable friend’s notice, and the Nigerian government are perhaps, as I have said, too slow to ask the international community for help.”
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