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Minister Costello addresses Seanad on the abduction of schoolgirls in Nigeria

Emergencies, Governance, Speeches, Africa, 2014


Minister for Trade and Development Joe Costello TD speaking in Seanad on the abduction of schoolgirls in Nigeria

I welcome the opportunity to speak to you today about the ongoing, disturbing, situation in Nigeria at present.

From the outset let me reiterate that the Government condemns in the strongest terms the the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in Borno State, which was perpetrated on 14 April.  Acts of violence of this nature against school children are simply unacceptable.  Ireland is a strong supporter of the rights of women and girls, and in particular the right of girls to education and this is reflected in the Government’s international development policy “One World, One Future” and through Irish Aid projects across Africa.

These events in Nigeria have focused world attention on what is an intolerable situation.  Ireland fully supports the demands of the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and the High Representative of the European Union, Catherine Ashton, that these schoolgirls be released and that those responsible be brought to justice.  My colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has explicitly said this in his statements of 16 April and 7 May condemning these violent activities against all Nigerians, and particularly against children.

The offers of support to the Nigerian authorities from a number of our EU partners and from the US, to help find the missing schoolgirls are to be welcomed.  The Nigerian authorities need support in order to be able to do everything in their power to secure the safe release of the school girls and we have urged the Government of Nigeria to ensure that they take all appropriate steps to protect their citizens and to ensure that the girls can return safely to their families, and to education.

At the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels yesterday Ministers agreed Council Conclusions expressing EU concern at the recent terrorist attacks in northern Nigeria and the suffering caused to the population.  The Council strongly condemned the abduction of the schoolgirls and called for their immediate and unconditional release.  The European Union underlined its readiness to support the Nigerian authorities in the resolution of this despicable crime and their ongoing efforts to defeat terrorism in all its forms, in full respect of human rights.

In terms of our own actions to this situation, we have been active in a number of ways;

  • Our Embassy in Abuja is working closely with our EU partners and others on the ground to maintain contact with the Nigerian authorities to support them in their efforts to locate and free the missing schoolgirls. 
  • Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have also been in contact with the Nigerian Embassy in Dublin to express concern at the ongoing situation to and to request regular updates regarding the actions taken by the Nigerian authorities to recover the abducted schoolgirls. 
  • At the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva during March 2014, Ireland highlighted recent attacks by Boko Haram during discussions with the UN Special Representatives for Violence against Children and Children and Armed Conflict.  Our objective was to draw attention to the ongoing trend of attacks on education around the world and to highlight the importance of ensuring that the right of children to education is upheld during and after conflict

From an EU perspective, the EU is already actively supporting the Nigerian authorities to strengthen their capacity to provide security and combat terrorism.  An EU support programme to strengthen the investigation and prosecution of terrorist suspects will begin later this month.  It will include EU technical assistance to counter violent extremism and radicalisation.

I mention this EU support because it is important for us to remember that the security situation in Nigeria is complex and involves a highly diverse range of actors, including Boko Haram.  Boko Haram’s attacks are not limited to the abduction of these schoolgirls; the group is also responsible, most recently for example, for the bombings of a bus terminal in the Nyanya area on the outskirts of Abuja.

Perhaps one of the most sinister elements of these abductions and of Boko Haram is the fact that the group’s actions are based on an opposition to education, especially for girls.  As I have mentioned, Ireland has been a consistent supporter of the rights of girls to education, and this is reflected in our Irish Aid programmes to assist girls and women to access education across the developing world, but especially in Africa.

It is clear to us in government and indeed the global community that the Nigerian authorities have a clear moral obligation to do everything in their power to secure the safe release of these schoolgirls and to seek to deal with the wider issues of providing security for its citizens and combating terrorism.

I have been to Nigeria twice in the past two years and have discussed the security situation there with a wide range of stakeholders.  Last year, during Ireland’s Presidency of the EU, I represented the EU at the EU-Nigeria Ministerial Dialogue in Brussels in May 2013, during which the security and political challenges facing Nigeria were discussed in detail. I also maintain strong contacts on a day to day basis with Nigerian citizens in Ireland – many of whom have expressed to me their outrage at this atrocious crime.

I can assure you that until the missing girls are freed and returned safely to their families, and to education, the Irish Embassy in Abuja, in cooperation with EU and other key partners in Nigeria, will maintain pressure on the Nigerian authorities.  I have asked officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to keep in close contact with the Embassy of Nigeria in Dublin so that the concerns of the Irish people are known and we can have full information on the efforts of the Nigerian authorities to find the abducted girls.