The Federal Government expressed outrage on Tuesday over the United Kingdom’s decision to give asylum to “persecuted” representatives of the Indigenous People of Biafra and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said the plan was insulting to Nigeria as a country in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Abuja.
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.
But socio-political groups including the Middle Belt Forum, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, supported the asylum offer by the UK and berated the Federal Government over the development.
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 organisation. 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.
“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.
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.”
On the alleged marginalisation of the Igbo, which it said led to the current agitation by IPOB, it said, ‘’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.
“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.’’
The UK government observed that new independence movements were, ‘’reportedly driven by a sense of unfair treatment and marginalisation.’’
It disclosed that MASSOB and IPOB had largely advocated peaceful change but on occasions had used rhetoric that might encourage violent resistance, adding that IPOB in particular, through its online platform, Radio Biafra, and online comments of its leader, Kanu, had stoked secessionist aspirations and encouraged resistance to the authorities.
The guidelines noted that though MASSOB was not a banned organisation and continued to conduct public activities, a number of its supporters had been arrested – and some killed during demonstrations.
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.