OBINNA EZUGWU

Nigeria’s federal government has kicked against a move by its United Kingdom counterpart, to grant asylum to prosecuted members of separatist groups: the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).

The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), had in its newly released guidelines, asked its decision makers to consider and grant asylum applications by members of Biafran secessionist groups under certain conditions.

According to the new guidelines, asylum is to be granted to “persecuted” members of IPOB and MASSOB.

IPOB was in 2017, labelled a terrorist organisation by the Nigerian government, a move that generated controversy in the country.

In the released ‘Country Policy and Information Note Nigeria: Biafran secessionist groups’ seenthe 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”.

According to the guidelines, the decision makers “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. Prosecution may, however, amount to persecution if it involves victimisation in its application by the authorities”.

An example of persecution, the UKVI said, is “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”.

They are also to “consider each case on its facts to determine if the person is likely to be of interest to the [Nigerian] government and whether this is for the legitimate grounds of prosecution which is proportionate and non-discriminatory”.

BURDEN OF PROOF

According to the guidelines, the onus is on the applicants to demonstrate that they will be “at risk of persecution or serious harm” in Nigeria, according to the guidelines.

The decision makers are to consider each case on its facts, taking into account: profile, size, and organisation of the group/organisation to which the person belongs and its activities; whether a person in the UK would wish to continue their activism if returned to Nigeria (if not, why not); whether the group/organisation has a presence in Nigeria as well as outside of the country and any evidence that it is being monitored by the government person’s profile and political activities (including those online) and relevant documentary or other evidence profile and activities of family members past treatment.

The UK said it acknowledges that the Nigerian government has a responsibility to maintain law and order, “to prevent and protect the public against acts of violence”.

It said 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,” the guidelines noted.

The UK defines ‘Biafra’ as an area “in the south-east of Nigeria that comprises the states of Abia, Imo, Ebonyi, Enugu and Anambra. The area is inhabited principally by Igbo (Ibo) people who are one of the country’s 3 largest ethnic groups”.

EVIDENCE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS APPLICATIONS

The UK, which is a signatory to several human rights and refugee conventions, believes Biafran secessionist agitations are covered by one or more of the following policies:

A person is reasonably likely to face a real risk of persecution or serious harm.
The general humanitarian situation is so severe as to breach Article 15(b) of European Council Directive 2004/83/EC (the Qualification Directive)/Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights as transposed in paragraph 339C and 339CA(iii) of the Immigration Rules.
The security situation presents a real risk to a civilian’s life or person such that it would breach Article 15(c) of the Qualification Directive as transposed in paragraph 339C and 339CA(iv) of the Immigration Rules
A person is able to obtain protection from the state (or quasi state bodies)
A person is reasonably able to relocate within a country or territory
A claim is likely to justify granting asylum, humanitarian protection or other form of leave, and
If a claim is refused, it is likely or unlikely to be certifiable as ‘clearly unfounded’ under section 94 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.
However, decision makers are directly to still consider all claims on an individual basis, taking into account each case’s specific facts.

Reacting to the new guidelines on Tuesday, Nigeria’s minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the plan of the UK to grant asylum to IPOB undermines the country’s security.

Mr. Mohammed who at a forum organised by NAN, argued that the decision is unacceptable and disrespectful to Nigeria.

“Let me say straightaway that this issue is within the purview of the honourable minister of foreign affairs and I am sure he will handle it appropriately,” he said.

“But 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.

“It is not only unconscionable, it is inexplicable. For the UK to choose this time to give succour to IPOB beggars belief and calls to question the UK’s real intention.

“If we could go down the memory lane, what the UK has done is like Nigeria offering asylum to members of the IRA before the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement.”