We are delighted to be visiting Nigeria this week, especially during the UK’s Presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). We agree with new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that the UNSC must prioritise preventing conflict and sustaining peace.
That is why we are focusing our Presidency on conflict prevention in Africa, starting with a UNSC visit to the Lake Chad Basin. Nigeria itself has long played a major role in international efforts to tackle conflict and build peace.
Many Nigerians will be familiar with images of the famous blue helmets and berets worn by UN peacekeepers. But they may not know that more than 2,100 Nigeria military and civilian personnel are currently deployed on UN peacekeeping missions in countries including Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan, South Sudan, Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
We applaud Nigeria’s contributions to UN, ECOWAS and AU efforts in support of peace. The world saw the value of Nigerian leadership in this respect again in January, when President Buhari played a leading role in brokering a peaceful resolution to the political crisis in The Gambia.
Of course, Nigeria also faces its own threats to national and regional peace and stability. The UK strongly supports Nigeria’s campaign to tackle the scourge of Boko Haram’s violent extremism and terrorism, and its cooperation in this fight with neighbouring Lake Chad Basin countries.
We are very proud that the UK is training Nigerian troops fighting Boko Haram. The UK is also providing life-saving assistance for those affected by the conflict. In 2016, £70 million in UK aid for North-East Nigeria provided food to more than 1 million people, treatment for 34,000 children at risk of dying from malnutrition, and access to clean water and sanitation for more than 135,000 people.
Nigeria and its neighbours must maintain their military efforts to defeat Boko Haram, and do all they can to ensure that aid reaches those in need. But lasting security and stability will require a broader approach. As the UN Secretary General said in his first address to the UNSC this year, we cannot take peace for granted – it requires difficult decisions, hard work and compromise.
Communities and governments will need to find ways of working better together to address a range of underlying causes of conflict: countering extremism; addressing the effects of climate change; protecting and promoting human rights; tackling corruption, and creating economic and educational opportunities.
Nigeria’s recent pledge at the Nigeria and Lake Chad region conference in Oslo to spend US$1 billion dollars supporting Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and reconstruction in the North-East of Nigeria is welcome.
Such leadership is required from Nigeria to help address the urgent and longer term needs the North-East faces. Building peace also requires wide participation, starting at the grassroots and engaging civil society, faith leaders, youth and minorities.
The involvement and empowerment of woman and girls at every level will be indispensable. All too often, women and girls suffer most in conflict, and are not represented in the pursuit of peace. But we know that when they are involved in negotiations, the chances of peace increase by 20% to 35%.
The UK will continue supporting Nigerian-led efforts to counter violent extremism and terrorism and build peace, just as we support Nigerian initiatives to tackle corruption and achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
The UK is committed to standing by Nigeria’s side as a friend and partner in difficult times, because a more secure, stable and prosperous Nigeria is good for Nigeria’s citizens, good for the UK and good for the world.