UK asylum for IPOB, MASSOB members scares FG

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The Federal Government has expressed anger over a plan by the United Kingdom to offer asylum to “persecuted” members of the Indigenous People of Biafra and the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Abuja, said the plan was disrespectful to Nigeria as a nation and unacceptable.

Mohammed stated this as there were indications on Tuesday that the Federal Government might summon the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, over the asylum offer.

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 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, it is inexplicable,’’ he said.

The minister recalled that there had been heightened attacks against security agencies in the South East Zone which has been linked to the IPOB despite denials.

Mohammed stated, “For the UK to choose this time to give succor 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 UK Visas and Immigration issued new guidelines to its decision makers on how to consider and grant asylum applications of members of Biafran secessionist groups in Nigeria.

In the guidelines published on assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government, it stated that the asylum would be granted to “persecuted” members of IPOB and MASSOB.

The Federal Government a few years ago designated IPOB, which was formed in 2012 by Nnamdi Kanu, as a terrorist organization. MASSOB was founded in 1999 by Ralph Uwazuruike. The two groups are calling for the secession of the Igbo in the South-East and many other ethnic nationalities in the South-South from Nigeria.

In the guidelines titled, ‘Country Policy and Information Note Nigeria: Biafran secessionist groups,’ released in March, 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.’’

It further said the UK must also consider if the Federal Government’s actions were acts of prosecution, not persecution.

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“Those fleeing prosecution or punishment for a criminal offence are not normally refugees. Prosecution may, however, amount to persecution if it involves victimization in its application by the authorities,’’ the 56-page document noted.

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.”

It stated, ‘’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 UKVI also hinted at reports indicating that some IPOB members, supporters and leaders arrested had been charged with treason which is punishable with the death penalty.

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.’’

While acknowledging instances of attacks on security forces by IPOB members, the agency said where members of MASSOB or IPOB had incited or used violence to disrupt public order, the government might have legitimate grounds to arrest and prosecute those people.

It, 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.”