The Federal Government on Tuesday berated the United Kingdom for offering asylum to “persecuted” members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
The Nigerian Government described the decision by the UK as disrespectful to Nigeria as a nation.
The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on Tuesday while reacting to the development, gave indication that the Federal Government might summon the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing.
The UK Visas and Immigration issued new guidelines to its decision makers on how to consider and grant asylum applications of “persecuted” members of Biafran secessionist groups in Nigeria.
The FG had proscribed IPOB and declared it a terrorist organisation. The group was founded in 2012 by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, who escaped from Nigeria to Israel following persecution by the Nigerian Government.
MASSOB was founded in 1999 by Chief Ralph Uwazuruike.
The guidelines titled, ‘Country Policy and Information Note Nigeria: Biafran secessionist groups,’ the UKVI directed its decision makers to consider if a person “who actively and openly supports IPOB is likely to be at risk of arrest and detention, and ill-treatment which is likely to amount to persecution.’’
“Those fleeing prosecution or punishment for a criminal offence are not normally refugees. Prosecution may, however, amount to persecution if it involves victimisation in its application by the authorities,’’ the 56-page document noted.
Citing an example of persecution, the UKVI said “if it is the vehicle or excuse for or if only certain groups are prosecuted for a particular offence and the consequences of that discrimination are sufficiently severe. Punishment which is cruel, inhuman or degrading (including punishment which is out of all proportion to the offence committed) may also amount to persecution.”
On the marginalisation of the Igbo, which the UK said led to the current agitation for secession by IPOB, the UK said; “Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has been perceived by some as being dismissive and unsympathetic towards the people of the South-East, particularly with regard to the appointment of senior government officials which appeared to favour his northern constituents.
“Some Igbo complain of under-representation in the Federal Government, marginalisation, deficient infrastructure as a result of a smaller allocation of federal resources than other regions, and a sense of historical grievance against a state that they say does not represent them.’’
The UK further noted that she observed that new independence movements were “reportedly driven by a sense of unfair treatment and marginalisation.’’
It disclosed that MASSOB and IPOB had largely advocated peaceful change but on occasions had used rhetoric that might encourage violent resistance, adding that IPOB in particular, through its online platform, Radio Biafra, and online comments of its leader, Kanu, had stoked secessionist aspirations and encouraged resistance to the authorities.
The UK guidelines added that though MASSOB was not banned organisation and continued to conduct public activities, a number of its supporters had been arrested and other killed during demonstrations.
‘’MASSOB, since its formation in the late 1990s, has clashed with the security forces. Numerous members have been killed, wounded and arrested – usually during demonstrations. Over a hundred arrests were made in September 2018, at least 10 in 2019; and, in July 2020, it was reported that members of MASSOB were arrested following clashes with the police.
“IPOB has in recent years become the dominant Biafran group. Since 2015, the security forces have reportedly extra-judicially killed tens and injured hundreds of its supporters and leadership, often using excessive force to control protests.
“The security forces have also arrested hundreds of IPOB supporters at different events, usually when disrupting demonstrations or marches to promote Biafran independence, particularly during 2015 to 2017, as well as during raids on the homes of IPOB leaders. Sources also report clashes with the authorities during 2018 and Amnesty reported that security forces arrested at least 200 and killed 10 supporters at different times during 2019.
“Further clashes and violence occurred between security forces and IPOB in August 2020 in the city of Enugu when the police stormed an IPOB meeting and also in October 2020 during confrontations in Rivers State. These incidents resulted in the arrests and deaths of IPOB supporters as well security force personnel, although there seem to be contradictory reporting on the exact figures.”
The document also noted that some IPOB members, supporters and leaders arrested had been charged with treason, which is punishable by death penalty.
“A risk of persecution will depend on their role, profile and activities for the group, and previous arrests by the state. A person who actively and openly supports IPOB is likely to be at risk of arrest and detention, and ill-treatment which is likely to amount to persecution. Each case will need to be carefully considered on its facts, with the onus on the applicants to demonstrate that they are likely to face a risk of persecution.’’
Acknowledging instances of attacks on security forces by IPOB members, which gives the Nigerian Government grounds to arrest and prosecute those involved, the UK however argued that “where the government has arrested and detained persons who, for example, peacefully participate in demonstrations and has then charged them with treason or the person is subjected to periods of detention in degrading or inhuman conditions, such treatment is unlikely to be fair or proportionate, and is likely to amount to persecution.”
FG berates United Kingdom, says plan disrespectful to the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Reacting to the development, the Nigerian Government in a statement by its spokesman, Lai Mohammed, said the decision by the UK government was disrespectful.
“Let me say straightaway that this issue is within the purview of the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs and I am sure he will handle it appropriately.
“But as the spokesman for the Federal Government of Nigeria, I will say that if indeed the report that the UK will grant asylum to supposedly persecuted IPOB and MASSOB members is true, then something is wrong somewhere.
“Against the background of the fact that IPOB is not only proscribed but also designated as a terrorist organisation here in Nigeria, the UK’s decision is disrespectful of Nigeria as a nation.
“The decision amounts to sabotaging the fight against terrorism and generally undermining Nigeria’s security. It is not only unconscionable, it is inexplicable,’’ he said.
He noted that IPOB members had been attacking security agencies in the South-East region.
“For the UK to choose this time to give succour to IPOB beggars belief and calls to question the UK’s real intention.
“If we could go down the memory lane, what the UK has done is like Nigeria offering asylum to members of the IRA before the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement,’’ he said.
The development was welcomed by the Middle Belt Forum, the apex Igbo group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere and the Pan Niger Delta Forum. But the Coalition of Northern Groups however berated the UK, saying that the UK have become directly or indirectly complicit in the xenophobic, hateful and violent campaign for Biafra especially by IPOB. “The United Kingdom, for instance, has provided Nnamdi Kanu with the platform to incessantly insult and threaten Nigeria and Nigerians with violence and anarchy. In one such instances, he openly said that if Nigeria did not give them Biafra, “Somalia will look like a Paradise.”
President Buhari cannot be bullied – Presidency
Also, the presidency in a statement by its spokesman, Garba Shehu, said nobody could bully President Muhammadu Buhari to disintegrate Nigeria.
He described sessionists groups as enemies of Nigeria. “Look, one thing with this President is that you can’t intimidate Buhari. You can’t bully him. A lot of these people who are calling for secessions are the problem of this country and I’m happy that reasonable voices are now rising.
“Is it not only yesterday (Monday) we were reading Afenifere, the most credible faction of Afenifere saying we’re not for secession. The Ohanaze Ndigbo said this over and over again.
“So this thing about secession is, they had used it in the past. You create secession and break up Nigeria and then you intimidate the sitting leader and then he opens the booth and he brings money to settle people.
“President Buhari will pay no one. He is not going to pay and now it is clear that having ignored all of that, reasonable opinions are coming from those states and from those regions. The governors in the South West, we have all heard them, they have denounced all of these things.
“So it’s a sham. Nigerians want to be one, they want to continue. Yes, there are problems and we are hoping that as people united and loving of one another, we will come together and solve our problems,” Shehu said.
Ogbodo ThankGod is currently the Managing Director/CEO/Group Chief Editor at Naija Buzz News Network. He was the Chief Editor at NaijaBuzz.News before his new top leadership role. Ogbodo has years of experience in the Nigeria Media Industry and has co-founded some media companies. He is the founder of Ogbodo Solution Nigeria and 1Push.Ng. He loves playing football and is a strong supporter of Lionel Messi who he describes as the greatest footballer of all time.