The United Kingdom has broken its silence on why its willingness to grant asylum to members of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafran (MASSOB) and the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra.
MASSOB and IPOB, both domiciled in the South-East region of the country, are avowed separatist groups.
The decision of the UK to grant asylum did not go down well with the Federal Government which described the move as disrespectful to Nigeria as a sovereign nation stressing that it could also undermine the country’s fight against insecurity going by the agitations of the two groups.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, made the government’s position on the UK’s decision known two days ago.
But reacting to the inquiries by Punch on the Federal Government’s allegations against 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.
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.”
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.
IPOB has since been declared a terrorist group and outlawed by the Federal Government.
Despite leaving the shores of the country three years ago, Kanu has continued to fuel the agitation for secession from the cloistered ambience of the UK.
The Federal Government might have thought the UK, considering its place in the political history of Nigeria, would support it to repatriate Kanu to Nigeria.
But 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.
Meanwhile, while appreciating the gesture of the UK to grant asylum to its “persecuted members” IPOB has insisted on referendum for self-determination for the people of the South-East region of the country.
This was contained in a statement issued two
days ago by the publicity Secretary of the secessionist group, Emman Powerful.
The statement read in part, “We the global family of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) ably led by our great and indomitable leader 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 a referendum and not asylum in the UK.”