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Why UK May Consider Asylum For IPOB, MASSOB Members

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) –  A move by the United Kingdom to grant asylum to some members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has pitted the Federal Government and the UK.

The British government is considering asylum for members of the groups because of alleged marginalisation of the Igbo.

The Federal Government faulted the UK decision. Information, Culture and Tourism Minister Lai Mohammed said it (decision) amounted to sabotaging the fight against terrorism and undermining Nigeria’s security.

The perceived crackdown on the two organisations by the police and security agencies also accounted for the asylum window being offered by the UK.

The police and military actions against MASSOB and IPOB were traced by the UK Government to past administrations from 1990s to the tenure of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari.

It cited revenge killings in Oyigbo in Rivers State in November last year and the February 2021 onslaughts against the two groups as some of the factors behind the privilege.

The UK also joined issues with the government over mass arrest and non-prosecution of the organisations.

But the asylum is not automatic as those with genuine criminal cases may be exempted.

It clarified that since 2018, there had been no pro-Biafran activity in the UK.

These details are contained in “Country policy and information note: Biafran secessionist groups, Nigeria, March 2021”

The policy borders on “guidance used by UK Visas and Immigration to make decisions in asylum and human rights applications.”

The policy, which is on the website of the UK Government, was accessed last night .

It gave insights into the position of the Britain on the two pro-Biafra organisations.

It reads in part: “Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has been perceived by some as being dismissive and unsympathetic towards the people of the Southeast, particularly with regard to the appointment of senior government officials which appeared to favour his Northern constituents.

“Some Igbo complain of under-representation in 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 rated MASSOB and IPOB as groups that “have largely advocated for peaceful change.”

It alleged that MASSOB and IPOB members are being persecuted.

The policy X-rayed how state security apparatchik had been deployed against the peaceful groups by successive administrations in the country including that of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari.

“Since the 1990s, new independence movements have formed, reportedly driven by a sense of unfair treatment and marginalisation. While several groups have formed with the goal of achieving Biafran secession, the two main groups are MASSOB and the IPOB.

“Both MASSOB and IPOB have largely advocated for peaceful change but on occasions have used rhetoric that may encourage violent resistance. IPOB in particular, through its online platform, Radio Biafra, and online comments of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, has stoked secessionist aspirations and encouraged resistance to the authorities.

“In December last year, IPOB is reported to have set up the Eastern Security Network (ESN), a militia to counter the rising insecurity in the region. In February 2021, Facebook locked Kanu’s account for violating its rules on harm and hate speech

“In May 2013, former President Goodluck Jonathan identified MASSOB as one of the three ‘extremist groups threatening the national security’.

“In 2015, pro-Biafra marches were banned in some southern states. However, since August 2015, IPOB and MASSOB members and supporters have held protests, marches and gatherings.

In September 2017, IPOB was declared a terrorist organisation. There is no indication that smaller pro-Biafran groups have been banned by the Nigerian authorities. Sources are inconsistent, but DFAT concluded that MASSOB is not a banned organisation and continues to conduct public activities.

“MASSOB, since its formation in the late 1990s, has clashed with the security forces… Over a hundred arrests were made in September 2018, at least 10 in 2019; and in July last year, it was reported that members of MASSOB were arrested following clashes with police.

“IPOB has in recent years become the dominant Biafran group. Since 2015, the security forces have reportedly extra-judicially killed 10’s and injured hundreds of its supporters and leadership, often using excessive force to control protests.

“Sources also report clashes with the authorities during 2018 and Amnesty International 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 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.

“In November 2020 there were reports that security forces were carrying out revenge killings following the October attacks in the Rivers State area of Oyigbo, these reports were denied by Rivers Governor Nyesom Wike.”

“In February 2021 the Nigerian military launched land and air operations against operatives of the ESN, a militia/vigilante group originally set up to protect the south-eastern region, which IPOB claims marked the beginning of the second Nigeria/Biafra war.”

The UK also joined issues with the government over mass arrest and non-prosecution of MASSOB and IPOB members.

The document added: “Outside of demonstrations and marches, a number of IPOB senior members have been arrested, including the IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu, who was jailed for two years and then subsequently released on bail. Kanu managed to flee the country and is now believed to be in the UK.

“The prevalence of such arrests is difficult to gauge, however there were 51 arrests linked to persons in possession of IPOB material in December 2018, 140 in May 2019 and four in December 2019. However, the sources consulted did not indicate whether such flags and insignia are commonly on display in the South-East region.

“There are reports that some IPOB members, supporters and leaders arrested have been charged with treason which is punishable with the death penalty.

“However, sources do not indicate whether these cases have then been prosecuted and convicted for treason or other crimes. Some of those arrested have been held without charge and incommunicado.

“Following an attack by IPOB members in Rivers State in October 2020, the governor offered a reward for information that could lead to the arrest and prosecution of the IPOB state leader Stanley Mgbere. CPIT could find no further information in the sources consulted that Mr. Mgbere had been located and arrested.”

It said with the situation, MASSOB and IPOB members risk arrest and detention.

But the UK insisted that the offer of asylum is not automatic for members of the two groups.

It said: “However, the risk of arrest, violence and harassment by security forces is increased during pro-Biafra demonstrations or gatherings. 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 applicant to demonstrate that they are likely to face a risk of persecution.

“Decision makers need to consider each case on its facts to determine if the person is likely to be of interest to the government and whether this is for the legitimate grounds of prosecution which is proportionate and non-discriminatory. The onus is on the person to demonstrate that they will be at risk of persecution or serious harm on return.

“Decision makers must also consider if the government’s actions are 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; for example, 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.”

The UK said the Federal Government has the responsibility of maintaining law and order without trampling on the rights of MASSOB and IPOB members.

It said: “The government has a responsibility to maintain law and order, to prevent and protect the public against acts of violence. Where supporters or members of MASSOB or IPOB have incited or used violence to disrupt public order, the government may have legitimate grounds to arrest and prosecute those people.

“However, 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.”

It clarified that since 2018, there had been no pro-Biafran activity in the UK.

“From the sources consulted the most recent reported upon pro-Biafra protest in the UK was held in 2018. There is no evidence in the sources consulted that there is significant on-going pro-Biafran activity in the UK,” the document said.

(Culled From The Nation)


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