The Federal Government has frowned at plan by the United Kingdom to offer asylum to members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) who are being persecuted in the country.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Abuja, on Tuesday, said that it was a disrespectful move.
He added that the FG plans to summon the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, over the matter.
He stated, “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.”
Mohammed added that it is worrisome that the UK decided to offer asylum to members of IPOB that had been linked to the recent attacks on police infrastructures in the South East 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 said.
VANTAGE NEWS reports that the UK Visas and Immigration issued new guidelines on how to consider and grant asylum applications of members of Biafran secessionist groups in Nigeria.
Recall that the FG in 2017 proscribed IPOB, a group formed by Nnamdi Kanu.
The group alongside MASSOB are calling for the secession of the Igbo in Southeastern and other ethnic nationalities in other southern parts of the country.
In the guidelines published on assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government, and titled, ‘Country Policy and Information Note Nigeria: Biafran secessionist groups,’ released in March, the UKVI asked decision makers to consider granting asylum to persons who actively and openly support IPOB that are likely to be at risk of arrest, detention and ill-treatment.
The 56-page document also added 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.’’
An example of persecution, the UKVI said was “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.”
The document also mentioned the perceived marginalisation of Igbos by the government of President Miuhammadu Buhari.
“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,” the document read.
“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,’’ it added.
The UK government also observed that secessionist movements were, ‘’reportedly driven by a sense of unfair treatment and marginalisation.’’
The document further stated that, “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.”
On cases for consideration for asylum, the UK agency said, “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.’’