ANAYO EZUGWU writes that the asylum opportunity provided to members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) by the British Government may affect the country’s relationship with Nigeria
At a time when the United Kingdom government is ready to offer asylum to members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the Nigerian government seems determined to silence the group.
The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) on Monday, April 26 suspended a flagship programme of Channels Television, Politics Today, over an interview with IPOB’s spokesman. The acting Director-General of NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, said the television station breached the broadcasting code by allowing the group’s spokesperson, Emma Powerful, to make secessionist and inciting declarations on air without caution or reprimand contrary to the broadcast code. The commission further noted that in spite of the fact that IPOB has been proscribed by a court of law, Channels TV allowed its spokesperson to make what it called ‘derogatory, false and misleading statements about the Nigerian Army.” According to NBC, the interview was in contravention of several of the broadcast codes and extant laws of the land. The UK government had recently announced that it will grant asylum to IPOB members who are interested in seeking for it. According to new guidelines on how to consider and grant asylum applications by members of the groups, UKVI, a division of the Home Office had eralier directed its decision-makers in Nigeria 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.
The guidelines further stated that the decision-makers “must also consider if the Nigerian government’s actions are acts of prosecution, not persecution. Those fleeing prosecution or punishment for a criminal offence are not normally refugees.
The prosecution may, however, amount to persecution if it involves victimization in its application by the authorities.” An example of persecution, the UKVI said, is “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.
The 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.”
But the Federal Government quickly hit the UK government, saying the consideration of secessionist groups for asylum is tantamount to undermining the country’s sovereignty.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said the reported decision to grant asylum to IPOB is disrespectful of Nigeria as a nation. He added the decision amounted to sabotaging the fight against terrorism and generally undermining Nigeria’s security.
His words: “Let me say straight away that this issue is within the purview of the 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 organization 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.’’ The minister said that there have been heightened attacks against security agencies in the South-East Zone and that 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’ 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 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement,” he added.
IPOB was proscribed by government in 2017 as a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on September 18, 2017, labelled the group a terrorist organization. The tag was based on Nigeria’s Terrorism Act
The group has fought against its proscription and sought to reverse the court’s decision but its attempt has ultimately been unsuccessful.
The Biafran separatist organization was founded in 2012 by Nnamdi Kanu and its main objective is to restore an independent state of Biafra in the South-East of Nigeria through an independence referendum.
This might be the reason why British Government decided to consider the group for asylum. Justifying its position IPOB, the UK government said there is no discrimination in its asylum and hu
man rights policy. It further noted that all asylum and human rights claims from Nigerians are considered on their individual merits in accordance with its international obligations.it added that it has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it, in accordance with its international obligations under the Refugee Convention and European Convention on Human Rights.
“The UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it, in accordance with our international obligations under the Refugee Convention and European Convention on Human Rights. Our country policy and information notes are published on the gov.uk website.
“They are kept under constant review and updated periodically – an update to the Biafra separatist note is expected shortly. We publish them since our decisions can be appealed in the immigration courts, which are public, so it is clearer and fairer for all involved (applicants, their lawyers, judges, stakeholders such as the UNHCR) to know what our position and evidence base is.
All asylum and human rights claims from Nigerian nationals are carefully considered on their individual merits in accordance with our international obligations,” the UK government said. However, as the Federal Government and UK government’s row rages, IPOB said it not interested in the asylum offered by Nigeria’s colonial master.
The group said if the UK is interested in its plight, it should support a referendum on self-determination for the South-East of Nigeria.
“The global family of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, has noted with satisfaction the news that the United Kingdom has agreed to grant asylum to persecuted Biafra agitators resident in the UK.
While we commend them for this bold initiative, we wish to most graciously remind them that what we Biafrans need and cherish the most is referendum and not asylum in the UK. “We are tired of living in bondage in the devilish contraption called Nigeria they single-handedly created.
We would not wish our children, now and generations unborn, to share the same geopolitical space with those that reward terrorists and criminalize law-abiding citizens. We particularly thank the UK government for confirming what the rest of the civilized world already knows that the great IPOB worldwide family is not terrorists but peaceful agitators and freedom fighters.
“That Nigeria is a country run by terrorists for the benefit of terrorists has been confirmed by this noble move by the United Kingdom. Aso Rock, the seat of power in Nigeria is a terrorist haven with serving ministers who are openly sympathetic to terrorists and their activities coming and going as they please, while freedom fighters are languishing in jail.
We want freedom, not asylum,” IPOB said in a statement by Powerful. The Igbo National Council (INC), on its part, said that the United Kingdom wanted to pacify the Igbo people over the wrongs did to them with the asylum offer. President of INC, Chilos Godsent, who reasoned that it was part of the move by the UK to address the anomalies which they had supported in Nigeria, however said the UK was not sincere in its move for asylum.
“The only thing is that the UK is trying to address some of the anomalies targeted at the Igbo nation. They want the Igbo to feel pacified and believe that the UK is for social justice. The UK wants to redeem its image. In the history of Nigeria, the UK has not shown any support for the Igbo nation.
They know that things have fallen apart in Nigeria,” he said. Also speaking on the issue, a professor of Political Science at Abia State University, Prof. Hatz Ofoeze, cautioned members of IPOB and other Biafra agitators not to be carried away by the promise by the United Kingdom to grant asylum to persecuted members of the movement as according to him, Britain can never be trusted. Ofoeze accused Britain of causing Nigeria’s woes and doubted the sincerity of the promise.
He further said the promise could be a ploy to expose IPOB members and other pro-Biafra groups for persecution if they go for the offer. “Britain can’t be trusted. They are the cause of Nigeria’s problem. I won’t even want any IPOB member to trust them. This could be a plan to expose them. Right from independence, they seem to be giving undue advantage to a section of the country.
”So, what they are doing now is an afterthought. Biafra agitators need to be wary of that offer. Somebody granting asylum to another doesn’t need to announce it ahead of time.
They don’t even want to see people from the southern part of Nigeria because they know they are wise and intelligent. They want people they can easily manipulate,” he said. Since 2015 IPOB has been accusing the Federal Government of using violent and excessive security force to silence their movements.
Amnesty International released a report detailing that countless IPOB protesters were killed between the May 29 and 30 2016, during a governmental operation aimed to prevent IPOB members marching from Nkpor motor park in Onitsha, Anambra State to a rally.
The Nigerian Army claimed that they acted in self-defence and that the death count lies at five instead of 50. These killings have not been investigated by Nigeria, despite urgings from Amnesty International. Also, human rights organizations have been keeping records of extrajudicial killings in Biafra.
They claimed that from August 2015 through February 2016, 170 unarmed civilians were killed and that 400 were arrested, charged or detained without a proper trial.
Meanwhile, as the British government is currently reviewing the asylum policy following the reaction of the Nigerian government, Nigerians are anxiously waiting to see how the two countries will resolve the looming diplomatic row.