Serco celebrate Nigerian Independence Day with Mass Deportation
[Phil Miller, Stop Deportations Blog, 1st October 2012]
Prison guards at Yarl’s Wood have given detainees gift bags to celebrate today’s 52nd anniversary of Nigeria’s independence from Britain. Tomorrow, dozens will face mass deportation to Lagos in UKBA’s ‘Operation Majestic’.
Nigerian women detained at the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in Bedford report that Serco, the private contractors, presented them with gift bags in celebration of Nigerian Independence Day. With cruel irony, Serco are participating in a mass deportation of Nigerian detainees from Yarl’s Wood to Lagos tomorrow (Tuesday 2nd October). Serco’s twisted gesture comes after a month of resistance inside the detention centre. Detainees had attempted a co-ordinated hunger strike to demand “an end to the racist and abusive system of detaining people who have committed no crime other than seek a life free from torture, persecution, abuse and poverty”. Serco allegedly responded by breaking up meetings and intimidating leaders.
Instead of giving presents with one hand and suppression with the other, Serco should take today to reflect on their position at Yarl’s Wood. No doubt the detainees know that Independence in Africa required decades of anti-colonial struggle in the face of brutal repression. A catalyst for Nigerian Independence was the 1949 Iva Valley Massacre. Police fired on striking workers at the Iva Valley coal mine in Enugu, killing 25 and injuring 51. Owei Lakemfa explains how “contrary to the popular myth that Nigeria attained its independence on a platter of gold, events like those in Iva Valley showed that our forebears fought for independence with many losing their livelihood, liberty and lives. No exploiter concedes power by persuasion or repenting of his sins; pressure and power must be applied.“
Mass deportations from London to Lagos occur every 6 weeks. The UKBA use specially chartered flights with 2 security guards for every deportee, a process which is code-named ‘Operation Majestic’. In 2011, there were 11 flights expelling 492 Nigerian migrants. The Nigerian government is complicit in the degrading treatment of their citizens abroad. The UKBA pay staff from the Nigerian High Commission £65 each time they question detainees about their nationality and issue emergency traveling documents as required for a deportation. In a Freedom of Information request conducted by the author, the Home Office refused to disclose further details about this scheme, claiming it is not in the public interest because “providing details of the requested information would be likely to discourage the High Commission from co-operating with UKBA in the future”.
After 52 years of so-called independence from British rule, ‘Operation Majestic’ is just one example of the neo-colonial relationship between London and Lagos. Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil company, was granted exploration concessions in the Niger Delta by colonial administrators in 1937 and never left. The energy giant has profited handsomely from oil exports totaling more than $600 billion since 1960. However, the majority of the population live on less than $2 a day. Inhabitants of the Niger Delta have long accused Shell of polluting their environment and not sharing the oil revenue. British companies and state officials have systematically suppressed local demands for a more equitable share of Nigeria’s natural resources. Flag sovereignty was tolerated, resource nationalism was not. In 1967 Biafrans declared the eastern part of Nigeria to be an Independent State. Whitehall secretly armed the federal military government to crush Biafran self-determination. According to Mark Curtis, “the priorities for London were maintaining the unity of Nigeria for geo-political interests and protecting British oil interests”. The 3 year conflict claimed an estimated 3 million lives.
The struggle continues throughout the oil producing regions. An NGO, Platform, reported that:
“Shell was forced to stop oil production in Ogoni in 1993, when the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), led by writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, mobilised 300,000 people in a peaceful protest for environmental and social justice. Shell’s response was to encourage and assist the Nigerian military in crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations. On 10 November 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were hanged by the Nigerian military government after a flawed trial that was condemned as ‘judicial murder’.”
The failure of non-violent resistance marked a dawn of armed struggle in the Niger Delta. The Nigerian authorities have responded by militarising the region in a bid to wipe out militants. Under New Labour, Britian supplied £150m worth of arms to the Nigerian government and began the mass deportation of Nigerian migrants.
Critics have compared the deportation charter flights to slave ships, in reference to the Atlantic Triangle between West Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. It is true that Britain continues to send arms and investment to Nigeria, while Bonny Light Crude flows from the Delta to North America like the Palm Oil that preceded it. And so many people born among this tremendous mineral wealth are shackled, exploited and herded around the globe by the white man like their ancestors were before them.