Working to end violence against Biafrans

Since September 2016, I’ve been working on a new human rights case with an organisation called the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). This issue was brought to my attention by a constituent, Solomon, a Biafran who has lived in the Manchester area for many years.

You may already know about Biafra. After Nigeria gained independence from the UK in 1960, like most ex-colonies in the continent, its boundaries were arbitrarily defined by the former colonial powers, without taking account of different ethnic groups. Several years of unrest followed and a secessionist state in eastern Nigeria was formed in May 1967. Biafra’s creation sparked the Nigerian Civil War, which left over a million dead, many from starvation after a blockade by the Nigerian government.

Now, four decades later, the movement for Biafra to be reborn is re-emerging. This movement is spearheaded by Nnamdi Kanu, a dual British-Nigerian citizen and the leader of IPOB. However, since October 2015, Kanu has been unlawfully imprisoned by the Nigerian government along with co-defendants Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, on trumped up charges, which have since been dropped. Successive judges have called for his unconditional release, but have been ignored by the Nigerian Department of State Services. Kanu and co have even been granted bail, yet despite this, they are still languishing in jail. Human Rights Watch have reported on the gross violation of the defendants’ human rights, including their right to a fair trial.

What is more, the Nigerian Government is also reportedly violating the human rights of Biafran activists. Scores of Biafrans are in detention for attempting to hold or participate in peaceful assemblies. On several occasions, security forces have used excessive force against pro-Biafran activists who have planned or attended peaceful protest marches. Amnesty International has documented cases of arrest, enforced disappearance, torture and frequent killing of supporters and members of various pro-Biafran groups in the region. Since the election of authoritarian Buhari in March 2015, there appears to have been an increased crackdown on Biafran protests and increased violence towards Biafra supporters.

I am very concerned about the complete disregard that the Nigerian authorities have shown for the human rights of Nnamdi Kanu and co-defendants Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, rights which are enshrined in the Nigerian constitution and in international law. I am also extremely concerned about the terrible violence that Biafrans are facing, even when peacefully protesting.

Following a meeting with Solomon and Alphonsus Uche Okafor-Mefor, the Deputy Leader of IPOB, who is also a dual national, I made a speech in the European Parliament calling on Buhari to end the violence. A video of my speech has been widely circulated amongst the Biafran diaspora and is helping to keep the issue alive at an international level. I was pleased to meet with Alphonsus Uche Okafor-Mefor and leading IPOB activists from several different European countries at the European Parliament in November to discuss the situation and plan future diplomatic and political actions.

I am writing to Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in order to push the Nigerian Government to restore Kanu’s human rights and end the violence against Biafran protestors.

The right to peaceful assembly and association, as well as the right of freedom of expression, is an important and healthy part of democracy. The European Union must not stand by whilst democratic principles are being trodden upon and Member States with historical ties to the area and its people must share the burden of responsibility for helping to end the violence and repression.