The latest United Kingdom government announcement on separatist movements in Nigeria’s south east has two important ramifications. The first is that the region’s deteriorating security situation, the stomach-churning and senseless bloodletting and barbarism that has recently engulfed the region, and which has been blamed in part on IPOB and other groups, has likely done irreversible damage to the region’s international reputation.
The second point is that the United Kingdom, which has hitherto been a safe haven for IPOB members, will no longer be so welcome once such members are seen to favour violent methods in their pursuit of their cause. Such feelings are likely to spread to other Western nations, which have previously been tolerant and even sympathetic to IPOB’s self-determination objectives. IPOB, which began as a peaceful organisation but has since been accused of complicity in at least some of the killings in the South East states, has undoubtedly scored an own goal.
The British Country Policy and Information Note (CPIN) contains a statement that provides Country of Origin Information (COI) and analysis for UK government decision-makers. It enables officials dealing with specific sorts of protection and human rights claims filed by foreigners seeking asylum in England to do so with more detailed information.
As part of its refugee strategy in April 2021, a report credited to the CPIN stated that the UK government planned to provide sanctuary to persecuted members of IPOB and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
“If a person who actively and openly supports IPOB is likely to face arrest and incarceration, as well as ill-treatment that amounts to persecution, and if such a person can prove persecution, then the IPOB member or supporter could be awarded asylum,” according to the report. Following severe protests from the Nigerian government, the policy memo was removed a few days later.
Following that, on April 13, 2022, a revised CPIN stated that “decision-makers must consider whether one (or more) of the exclusion clauses under the Refugee Convention is applicable if a person has been involved with IPOB (and/or an affiliated group), MASSOB, or any other ‘Biafra’ group that incites or uses violence to achieve its aims.” Asylum should not be awarded to anyone who violate human rights.”
“The Nigerian government has designated IPOB as a terrorist organisation, and members of the group and its paramilitary wing, the Eastern Security Network (founded in December 2020), have allegedly perpetrated human rights crimes in Nigeria,” according to the same CPIN.
“MASSOB has been banned in Nigeria, but it is not a designated terrorist organisation.” It, too, is said to have been involved in violent skirmishes with authorities,” the statement continued.
However, several Nigerian news agencies distorted the amended CPIN, saying that IPOB had been added to the UK government’s terror list. The Nigerian administration jumped right in to applaud the news.
“It has taken our allies in the UK so long to follow (the Nigerian example in proscribing IPOB),” the statement continued, citing “IPOB’s international network of funders’ deep pockets, which allow lawyers and influence peddlers to aggressively lobby for and whitewash the activities of their client in Western courts; and… IPOB’s influential communication network of TV and radio stations – including London-based Radio Biafra – employed with great zeal in promoting their
The Nigerian government made a hurried and unnecessary declaration. It served no evident purpose at a time when the international community was rethinking its approach toward IPOB and other groups in Nigeria’s south-east. The British High Commission in Nigeria soon jumped in to explain that the IPOB was not designated as a terrorist organisation by the UK government.
In a statement, the High Commission said, “We are aware of erroneous allegations circulating in the media and online that the UK government has put the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to the UK’s list of terrorist groups or organisations prohibited under UK law.”
“These allegations are false. The “Indigenous People of Biafra” (IPOB) is not a banned organisation in the United Kingdom, according to the statement, and “only violent members” of the IPOB will be granted asylum.
This remark is loud, however, since it directly admits that there has been a policy shift in favour of awarding asylum to people linked with IPOB and similar groups. This is huge and could have a long-term impact.
Nnamdi Kanu, the head of IPOB and a British citizen, has been detained by the Nigerian government and is facing treason allegations, among others. The circumstances preceding his prosecution, IPOB’s activities and pronouncements, and conflicts between its members and security personnel have all been extensively chronicled.
Rather than diving headfirst into a problem with public pronouncements, gloating, or otherwise, the government must demonstrate that skillful diplomatic measures can win over allies. As a result, it should devote greater resources to this area. Such an initiative gives the government another, less expensive instrument to cope with violent unrest.
On the other hand, this event could be the catalyst for IPOB and other separatist groups to conduct self-examination in order to adjust their tactics. While lawful agitation or the pursuit of a legitimate cause is permitted in a democracy, the use of violence and the collapse of law and order render any claim to such a cause null and void.
IPOB and its affiliates owe it to themselves and the Nigerian state as a whole to de-escalate tensions and bloodshed in the South East, which the international world, as indicated by the UK government’s new stance, appears eager to promote.