The United Kingdom (UK) Visas and Immigration (UKVI), a division of the Home Office ignited a diplomatic issue with Nigeria when it gave grounds to consider and grant asylum applications by members of the Biafran secessionist groups, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
IPOB, which was formed in 2012 by Nnamdi Kanu and MASSOB, founded in 1999 by Ralph Uwazuruike, are both campaigning for the secession of the South-east region from Nigeria.
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In the recently-released ‘Country Policy and Information Note Nigeria: Biafran secessionist groups,’ the UKVI 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 added that its officials “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. However, the prosecution may amount to persecution if it involves victimisation in its application by the authorities.”
Surprisingly, the offer was rejected by IPOB and MASSOB. But the Nigerian government, through its Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the UKVI guidelines were not only disrespectful of Nigeria as a sovereign nation, they were unacceptable and amounted to sabotaging the fight against terrorism and generally undermining Nigeria’s security.
Mohammed said: “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 organisation 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. If we could go down memory lane, what the UK has done is like Nigeria offering asylum to members of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) before the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement.”
In reaction to the Nigerian government’s complaint and condemnation, the British High Commission, Abuja, explained that all asylum and human rights claims from Nigerians were carefully considered on their individual merits in accordance with the UK international obligations.
But following diplomatic manoeuvres, the UK government suspended the asylum policy as it concerns IPOB, MASSOB and other Biafra splinter groups, with Senior Communications Officer, Newsdesk, at the Home Office, Hannah Dawson, saying: “Our note on Biafra separatists has been taken down for review; an update is expected shortly.”
The statement was silent on the timeframe as to when the updated policy would be uploaded to their website.
Though, the British government should never have considered such an offer in the first place, because the IPOB group is not only proscribed but it is viewed as a terrorist organisation in Nigeria, it is a good thing that it has now taken down the policy for review. We hope that the idea is jettisoned. This is because the policy amounts to open support for the dismemberment of the Nigerian federation. Also, maintaining such an asylum policy would be like pouring petrol to the simmering fire of secessionist agitation in Nigeria.
The UK government, or any other government for that matter, should not in any way take a decision that could remotely be interpreted to lend support to any secession or secessionist elements in the country. After all, you cannot be a friend of Nigeria and support the breakup of the same country. We have had a very good relationship with Britain and we would like it to remain so.
What the British government should do is support Nigeria in its efforts to remain stable and united by stopping incendiary broadcasts of the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, from UK soil. Nigeria wishes to remain a united country and it is hoped that all its friends would support it in that regard.