Adelani Adepegba and Edward Nnachi
The United Kingdom has said that all asylum and human rights claims from Nigerian nationals are considered on their individual merits in accordance with its international obligations.
The British government states 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 British High Commission stated this on Wednesday, in response to inquiries by The PUNCH on the Federal Government’s allegations that the UK’s asylum offer for persecuted members of the Indigenous People of Biafra and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra undermined Nigeria’s security.
The UK Visas and Immigration had released new guidelines to its decision makers on how to consider and grant asylum applications to IPOB members whose founder, Nnamdi Kanu, is operating from London.
Kanu, who holds both Nigerian and British passports, fled Nigeria in 2018 after troops invaded his country home while he was facing trial on treasonable felony charges for criminal conspiracy, intimidation and membership of an illegal organisation.
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 arrest and prosecution of IPOB members for clamouring for the break-up of the country were acts of prosecution, not 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.
But the Federal Government frowned on the UK immigration guidelines, describing them as support for terrorism.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who said that the decision was disrespectful, noted that it amounted to sabotaging the fight against terrorism and generally undermining Nigeria’s security.
The enquiry The PUNCH sent to the high commission stated, “Following the release of the Country Policy and Information Note Nigeria: Biafran secessionist groups, in March by the UKVI, the Nigerian Government has declared this as an act of sabotage. It also accused the UK of supporting terrorism. What’s the reaction of the high commission to these weighty allegations?”
Responding to the allegations by the Federal Government, the British High Commission in an apparent rebuff, said the UK had a proud history of providing protection to those who needed it.
The emailed statement read,” 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.”
Meanwhile, prominent Igbo groups under the auspices of World Igbo Youth Congress and South-East Women Professionals, have supported the UK’s offer of asylum for persecuted IPOB and MASSOB members.
The President-General, World Igbo Youth Congress, Chief Alex Okemiri and the President, South-East Women Professionals, Dr. Helen Ogbonnaya, stated this in separate telephone interviews with one of our correspondents, in Abakaliki, on Wednesday.
Okemiri stated “Most youths are revolting against the faulty foundation of Nigeria. The Federal Government should address the issues that brought up these agitations, especially through respecting the principles of federal character, which has been abused.
“The declaration of the UK Visa for IPOB and MASSOB members has contradicted the falsehoods being presented by the Federal Government of Nigeria to the international community, about Biafra agitators.
“World Igbo Youth Congress urges IPOB and MASSOB members to take the opportunity offered by UK Embassy to save their lives; they should flee from persecution and continue the peaceful, but non violent agitations.
“The UK Visa and Immigration’s procedure had ended the wrong motion labelled wrongly against these secessionist groups, as terrorist organisations.”
Corroborating the WIYC, the President of SWP, Ogbonnaya, said the asylum granted to the groups’ members was a practical step at showing that persecution against self-determination was sheer violation of human rights in Nigeria.
Ogbonnaya said, “We, the South-East Women Professionals describe the asylum to IPOB and MASSOB by the UK government, as practical steps to ensure that the persecution meted out towards self-determination is a gross violation of human rights.
“The Federal Government should deploy carrot and stick policy of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to end the secessionist agitation in the South-East.
“South-East Women Professionals call on Buhari’s government to embrace dialogue with Biafra agitators.”