HL Deb 18 July 1995 vol 566 cc112-4

3.1 p.m.

Viscount Waverley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have yet received a copy of the final report of the national constitutional conference in Nigeria, and what is their reaction to its contents.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, a copy of the final report of the national constitutional conference and draft constitution was received by the British High Commission in Abuja on 14th July and will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Its contents are a matter for the Nigerian people. However, I regret that the Nigerian authorities have yet to respond positively and rapidly with a credible timetable for a transition to civilian democratic rule.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that far-ranging reply. What measures might be implemented, should the Nigerian authorities not adhere more closely to the Harare principles? Would there be a Commonwealth consensus? What is the reaction to today's reports of possible retaliatory measures against UK subsidiary companies—I understand Shell and BP have been targeted—for perceived government meddling in Nigeria's internal affairs?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, as both the former Foreign Secretary and I have made clear on many occasions, the Harare principles adopted at the 1991 Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference on respect for human rights and for democratic rule are principles which are still good and to which all members of the Commonwealth seek to aspire.

What the Commonwealth will do at the Heads of Government meeting in Auckland I cannot foretell. However, we have made it absolutely clear that we share the widespread concern across the Commonwealth about continued military governments, wherever they occur. If the principles of the Harare Declaration are not put into practice, it is difficult to see how any single country could play a full role in the Commonwealth until it puts its house in order.

As regards the oil companies, I understand that the Nigerian oil minister summoned local representatives of BP and Shell to inform them of the Nigerian Government's displeasure about Her Majesty's Government's recent statements on the political situation in Nigeria. The oil companies have informed us about it and the contacts took place last week. I am not quite sure why the Nigerian authorities chose to communicate their concerns through private companies. Political and diplomatic channels would have been more appropriate. However, many of the matters about which they complained were comments in the press which were quite a variation on what had actually been said.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, I accept that this is a matter for the Nigerian people. However, how can opponents of the regime express their view when they are arrested by a corrupt regime, imprisoned on false evidence and there is no voice for the opposition? Is it not a matter for the Commonwealth to discuss at its forthcoming meeting? Perhaps the British Government may consider suggesting to the meeting that the head of the military regime, who has shown himself to be a complete tyrant, should be excluded from the next meeting.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, we are deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Nigeria. He is absolutely right that people who are denied a voice in the political scene are bound to have a real problem. I suppose that the announcement on 27th June that the formation of political parties is now legal is a step forward. However, we were all dismayed to find that any further announcement on a political future for Nigeria has been postponed until 1st October.

We agree with the noble Lord that it is a matter for the Commonwealth. I am quite certain from the representations which have been made, both to us on a bilateral basis and to the Commonwealth Secretary-General, that the matter will be discussed at Auckland. I sincerely hope that there will be progress before then and also that the rumours that have been reaching us about what might happen to the 40 people found guilty by a military tribunal will be found to be without foundation. If those now detained were to be subject to summary justice or capital sentences, it would be incomprehensible and totally without justification. I am sure that the Commonwealth would then respond in the only way it can. At present, our efforts are to ensure that no one is summarily executed and that civilian democratic rule is restored in Nigeria.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, what assistance, such as help in preparing an electoral register, might be forthcoming if the Nigerians work out an election timetable?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we have received no request for help in drawing up an electoral register. If there were such a request we would be prepared to look at ways in which we might help, once a credible process of transition was engaged in. We have helped other nations and are fully prepared to help Nigeria. But the country must go down the path of restoring civilian democratic rule.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, following the answer given by the noble Baroness to the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, has her attention been drawn to the report in the Daily Telegraph today? It indicates that General Shehu Yar'Adua and 13 other officers have been sentenced to death and that General Obasanjo and 10 other civilians and military men have been gaoled for life. Can the Minister give the House any information about that?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I have indeed read the reports in the press today. I can only say that we know no more than is contained in the reports. We have had no collateral on the matter. It is well known that there is widespread concern throughout the Commonwealth, the European Union and across the world because there is no way in which a country as big and important as Nigeria has been, with a population of well over 100 million, can continue in this way. The people of Nigeria are suffering. The reputation of Nigeria—indeed, of Africa—is suffering. The sooner that is understood by the military regime in Abuja, the sooner the country can set matters going in the right direction.

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