Following the United Kingdom (UK) consideration of granting asylum to Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) agitators, the Federal Government has faulted the plan and described the move as disrespectful and plans to sabotage ongoing fight against terrorism in the country.
It added that the move, if granted by the UK government to the proscribed members of both groups, further indicated that the Boris Johnson led government aimed to generally undermine Nigeria’s security.
The government further accused the british government of denying thousands of Nigerians that have suffered from the actions of both groups particularly those killed and their widows, justice they requested to assuage for their pains.
This came days after UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) released new guidelines to its decision-makers on how to consider and grant asylum applications to members of Biafran secessionist groups.
Faulting the planned move on Tuesday in Abuja, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, stressed that the federal government would not accept UK’s plan to grant IPOB and MASSOB asylum.
He said: “Let me say straight away 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, but it is also inexplicable,’’ he said. The minister said that there had recently been heightened attacks against security agencies in the South East Zone. He said IPOB had been fingered as being behind the attacks in spite of its denials.
“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 added.
In the guidelines, asylum is to be granted to “persecuted” members IPOB, a group that Nigeria had designated as a terrorist organisation. Also in the guidelines, asylum is to be granted to the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra.
IPOB was formed in 2012 by Nnamdi Kanu and is believed to be an offshoot of MASSOB, which was founded in 1999 by Ralph Uwazuruike, and both were campaigning for the secession of mainly the south-east but also several other ethnic nationalities from Nigeria.
In the just-released ‘Country Policy and Information Note Nigeria: Biafran secessionist groups’, the UKVI, a division of the Home Office, 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”.
According to the guidelines, the decision-makers begin to consider if the federal government’s actions against the groups were acts of prosecution, not persecution.
It noted that 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 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”.
They are also to “consider each case on its facts to determine if the person is likely to be of interest to the [Nigerian] government and whether this is for the legitimate grounds of prosecution which is proportionate and non-discriminatory”.
The onus is on the applicants to demonstrate that they will be “at risk of persecution or serious harm” in Nigeria, according to the guidelines.
The UK acknowledges that the Nigerian government has a responsibility to maintain law and order, “to prevent and protect the public against acts of violence”.
It said where supporters or members of MASSOB or IPOB “have incited or used violence to disrupt public order, the government may have legitimate grounds to arrest and prosecute those people”.
“However, 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,” the guidelines noted.
The UK defines ‘Biafra’ as an area “in the south-east of Nigeria that comprises the states of Abia, Imo, Ebonyi, Enugu and Anambra. The area is inhabited principally by Igbo (Ibo) people who are one of the country’s 3 largest ethnic groups”.