Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Persecution of Christians in Nigeria

Delivered in Plenary - April 22nd 2004

Mr President

Nigeria is Africa's most populous state. It is a regional superpower and has made progress in terms of democracy, as well as contributing to vital peacekeeping military operations to settle regional conflicts. It is also a member of the ACP and the Commonwealth. I have many Nigerians living in London, my constituency.

Like a number of other countries with co-existing Muslim and Christian communities, such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt, there have been periodic clashes. This most recent outburst of violence in the Nigerian state of Plateau is particularly troubling as not only has the violence been horrendous, but also there is evidence that Islamist extremists have been recruited from neighbouring Muslim countries, such as Chad and Niger, possibly with international Islamic terrorist connections.

Sadly, Nigeria is a country divided by ethnic and religious differences and every effort must be made by the government to build solidarity and social cohesion nationally. The introduction of Sharia law since 1999 has been particularly divisive and we have witnessed the imposition - although not yet carried out - of lapidation, or stoning to death sentences on women convicted of the so-called crime of adultery. It is only a matter of time before this issue resurfaces to disturb the consciences again of the western world.

In the past, I have personally called in this House for the expulsion of Nigeria from the Commonwealth in the event of such a barbaric punishment occurring. After all, the 1999 Nigerian Constitution guarantees total freedom of belief, and the country has signed international convenants on human rights. Therefore, I appeal to the federal and state authorities of this big African country to rapidly re-establish law and order, conduct a full investigation into the identity of the culprits and, in particular, where there has been outside provocation or infiltration, bring all those concerned speedily to justice.