The deportation of Biafran activist Alphonsus Uche Okafor-Mefor to Nigeria has been halted after vigorous campaigning by several groups, including trade unions. Nevertheless, he remains detained at Tinsley House Removal Centre awaiting the outcome of a judicial review of his case.
Prior to his detention in the UK, Alphonsus was due to speak at a rally on immigration controls in Liverpool on 31 March (organised by the ‘No One Is Illegal’ coalition). He is also a leading figure in Asylum Voice, a group which campaigns against abuses suffered by asylum seekers in the UK, as a direct consequence of the inhumane asylum system.
Because of his very public involvement in disrupting the ‘Heart of Africa’ project of the Nigerian federal Ministry of Information at Westminster (a joint venture between the Nigerian and UK governments), Alphonsus is at risk. He faces detention, torture and serious danger if he is returned to Nigeria, yet the Home Office refuses to acknowledge these factors.
Alphonsus alleges that he was tortured and detained in Nigeria because of his political activism on behalf of the Igbo-Biafrans, who have been the targets of repression since the 1940s. An Igbo from Biafra, which is the eastern region of Nigeria, Alphonsus is a member of the political group MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra) that advocates a separate state of Biafra. (Biafra seceded from the Nigerian nation in 1967 but the new Biafran republic was defeated in the Bifran War of 1967-70.)
After MASSOB re-declared the Biafran nation in 2000, the group was banned and its actions deemed illegal by the federal government of Nigeria. Alphonsus alleges that he was detained and tortured after attending a MASSOB meeting in Nigeria and he then sought asylum in the UK in April 2005 as the political situation in Nigeria continued to deteriorate.
The Home Office is aware of the political situation in Nigeria. As its Operational Guidance Note on Nigeria of 18 January 2007 stated: ‘In the south-east over 600 people were arrested and detained during 2005 on suspicion of being members of MASSOB. The leadership of MASSOB, i.e. “those that energise and mobilise support for the movement,” and those affiliated with the leaders are at risk of arrest and detention by the authorities on account of their political opinion.’
‘If it is accepted,’ states the Guidance Note, ‘that the claimant has had significant political involvement in MASSOB and has previously come to the adverse attention of the authorities, then a grant of asylum is likely to be appropriate.’
The decision by UK officials to deport Alphonsus has sparked an unprecedented alliance of trade unions’ general secretaries against his removal. Some of the bodies that are actively lobbying for Alphonsus’ protection include the University and Colleges Union (UCU), the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) and the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU). Other lobbyists include John McDonnell MP, UK MASSOB members and friends and colleagues.