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Arresting the secessionists risks diplomatic damage

British officials say they asked for access to Nnamdi Kanu while Beninois authorities delay return of Sunday Igboho

Behind the photo opportunity shots of President Muhammadu Buhari meeting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London on 29 July at the Global Education Summit diplomatic tensions are welling up.

Britain has not joined the chorus of criticism, mainly from international human rights organisations, against the extradition of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, from Kenya to Nigeria. Nor has it taken a public position on claims that the militant activist, who skipped bail from Nigeria in 2017, was abducted from East Africa. Kanu is currently being detained by the Department of State Services (DSS) in Abuja.

But Kanu, who has joint Nigerian-British citizenship, is demanding help from London as he prepares for his trial on terrorism charges now due to start in October. Britain, which has set much store on boosting trade with Nigeria, was initially reluctant to get involved but has little choice given the diplomatic rules.

Britain's Africa Minister James Duddridge told parliament in London that he is trying to get consular access to Kanu. We hear that so far Nigeria has rebuffed Whitehall's requests, citing Britain's own regulations on the treatment of dual nationals in trouble outside its national territory.

Privately, Nigerian officials are asking how Kanu, who received visits from British diplomats before he skipped bail in 2017, was able to secure the British travel document that he had been using before his extradition to Nigeria (AC Vol 62 No 12, Nnamdi Kanu celebrates).

Catriona Laing, Britain's High Commissioner in Nigeria, has suggested the case could damage bilateral relations, in an echo of the Umaru Dikko affair that triggered a stand-off during Buhari's tenure as military ruler in 1983-85. Then, Nigerian and Israeli intelligence agents abducted a former minister accused of corruption from his self-imposed exile in London, but British police rescued him before he could be secretly flown to Nigeria.

Nigeria's attempt to extradite the militant Yoruba nationalist Sunday Igboho, also known as Sunday Adeyemo, from neighbouring Benin has hit its own diplomatic obstacles.

Igboho was charged with immigration and forgery offences in Cotonou after he tried to board a flight to Germany with what he said was a Beninois passport. But even if a court establishes the passport was fake it would not necessarily lead to Igboho's extradition to Nigeria.

Benin and Nigeria have an extradition treaty but its terms do not include political offences. Igboho fled Nigeria after the DSS raided his compound in Ogun state in late June. More than a dozen of Igboho's associates have been arrested and are in detention (AC Vol 62 No 14, Abuja takes on the secessionists). Tetchy relations over trade between President Buhari and Benin's President Patrice Talon could drag out the problem or perhaps offer the basis for a negotiated deal on Igboho.

Abuja's third diplomatic snag is the bipartisan scepticism, if not outright opposition, in the United States Senate about the sale of 12 AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria's air force. According to Foreign Policy magazine in Washington DC and Reuters, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has 'put a hold' on the planned sale due to human rights concerns about Nigeria's military tactics.

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