The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, held talks with Nigeria’s Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, on a number of topical issues on Thursday.
A statement by Mr Malami’s spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, said the AGF hosted Ms Laing, at his office in Abuja, where they discussed “bilateral issues” including asset recovery, and anti-corruption crusade for “almost an hour” on Thursday.
According to Mr Gwandu, the two officials also discussed the amendment of the Electoral Act, the Audit Bill, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), and the recent ban on Twitter by the Nigerian government.
Nnamdi Kanu’s arrest missing from agenda
But missing from the agenda of the meeting as stated by Mr Gwandu is the issue of the recent arrest of the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) Nnamdi Kanu, who holds dual citizenship in Nigeria and the United Kingdom.
The development is against expectations considering how Mr Kanu’s arrest has attracted local and international attention since Tuesday and also in light of the diplomatic relationship between the two countries.
Mr Malami, who doubles as Nigeria’s Minister of Justice, had said on Tuesday that the separatist leader who fled Nigeria in 2017, evading his treasonable felony trial, was intercepted through “the collaborative efforts of Nigerian intelligence and security services”.
But the minister and another official, who has publicly spoken on the matter, continue to hold back crucial details of where Mr Kanu, known to have been residing in the U.K. after escaping from Nigeria, was arrested, and how he was brought back to the country.
Responses from the British embassy on the matter as reported in the media have, also, only been helpful to the extent that they clearly stated that Mr Kanu was not arrested in the U.K.
Until Thursday, no other meeting between top representatives of the U.K. and Nigerian governments has been reported in the media since the controversy over Mr Kanu’s arrest started with Mr Malami’s announcement on Tuesday.
PREMIUM TIMES cannot immediately verify if Mr Kanu’s matter was discussed at the meeting between Mr Malami and Ms Laing, but was deliberately kept out of the statement issued by the AGF office on Thursday.
Mr Gwandu, the AGF’s spokesperson, did not take our reporter’s call or respond to his text message enquiry seeking further clarification on the matter.
With lack of official information, different media reports have speculated a number of countries such as Kenya, Cameroon, and Czech Republic, as the place where Mr Kanu was reported.
The Nigerian and U.K. governments have a history of mutual suspicion towards each other over Mr Kanu and the separatist activities of his IPOB.
Apart from facilitating Mr Kanu’s return to the U.K. from Israel, where he first surfaced after fleeing Nigeria in 2017, the British government has also rebuffed Nigerian government’s push to declare IPOB a terrorist organisation.
The U.K. government has also not hidden its positive disposition towards granting asylum to IPOB members and other separatists agitating for the Republic of Biafra being persecuted in Nigeria.
Nigerian government considers the attitude of the U.K. government as ignoring Mr Kanu’s roles as the mastermind of the violent activities of IPOB in the Igbo-dominated South-east – the region the separatists want carved out from Nigeria as an independent country.
Meanwhile the ban on Twitter by the Nigerian government, Mr Malami said the government had established a committee on the matter.
He said the management of the Twitter had approached the Nigerian government over the issue.
“If you want operate as a business entity in Nigeria, you must do so within the context of Nigerian laws. Nothing offensive or that breach the Nigerian laws should be entertained,” Mr Malami said.
He said public interest had been “the uppermost consideration within which the context of freedom of expressions should be regulated noting that reasonable restrictions to freedom of expressions are locally and internationally recognised.”
The ban on Twitter by the Nigerian government has been widely criticised within and outside Nigeria as an attack on citizens’ right to freedom of expression.
The British High Commission to Nigeria, also joined the U.S., Irish, and Canadian embassies as well as the European Delegation to Nigeria in denouncing the ban.
But Malami insisted on Thursday that the Nigerian government “is not averse to freedom.”
“Freedom is not borderless. Freedom of expression must not be used in such a manner that incites citizens to violence or calls for an overthrow of a democratically elected government. There are bounds to freedom within the laws,” he was quoted as saying.
The statement added, “The meeting which lasted for almost an hour discussed bilateral issues relating to Asset Recovery, Anti-corruption crusade, amendment of the Electoral Act, the Audit Bill, Petroleum Industry Bill, Twitter ban and counter-terrorism approaches.
“Malami said the fundamental interest and objective of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration was to leverage the bill to enhance value in terms of creating amiable environment for investment, protecting the public interest for the maximum benefit of the country.
“On Petroleum Industry Bill, the minister said necessary steps have been taken to ensure the pending bills are transmitted to the President for accent.
“Malami said the essence of the amendment of the Electoral Act was to enhance the democratic system thereby aiming at addressing delays in judicial determination of pre-election matters, as well as ensuring justice and fairness in the conduct of election processes including party primaries.”
He said to strengthen the fight against corruption, the Nigerian government came up with the Proceeds of Crime Bill and Audit Bill among others.
British ambassador’s reaction
In her remarks, the British High Commissioner, Ms. Catriona Laing, reportedly thanked the minister for the “clarification” of the issues and maintained that the steps taken in the fight against corruption and electoral reforms were “really encouraging”.
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