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NIGERIA: Nigeria Ready To Take The Stand Over Genital Mutilation Claims

Nigeria's minister for justice has offered to testify in an Irish court against Nigerian citizens who claim political asylum on the grounds they will be forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) if deported.

Michael Aondoakaa, a senior figure in the Nigerian government who is also the African country’s attorney-general, made the offer to Conor Lenihan, the integration minister, at a meeting held at the justice ministry in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, last Friday, according to a memo seen by The Sunday Times.

Aondoakaa is thought to have been referring to the case of Pamela Izevbekhai, the Nigerian woman who has appealed against her deportation, on the grounds that her two daughters, Naomi, 8, and Jemima, 6, will be forced to suffer the fate of their sister, Elizabeth, who she says died after FGM in 1994.

Izevbekhai has fought a highprofile legal battle to stay in Ireland since November 2005 after her application for asylum was rejected by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. She appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg last year. It has yet to decide if it will hear the case.

The memo, written by Kyle O’Sullivan, the Irish ambassador to Nigeria, states that Aondoakaa had heard reports that “some Nigerian citizen” had claimed in court that FGM would be performed on her daughters if they were deported by the Irish authorities.

Aondoakaa told Lenihan the claim was a “blatant lie” and said he would be prepared to “personally attend any court case anywhere to set the record straight, to refute these kind of claims”, the memo said.

“Aondoakaa said he had asked the Nigerian director of public prosecutions to attend the meeting to confirm to us [Irish] that criminal prosecutions would result in any cases where someone could be shown to have performed FGM,” the memo added. It quoted Aondoakaa describing the allegations of FGM being performed widely in Nigeria as “ridiculous”.

“He [Aondoakaa] said that it [FGM] was no longer a cultural practice in any sizeable body of Nigerian population, even in the countryside. He [Aondoakaa] said it was a criminal offence [FGM] and that police would immediately take action if cases were reported,” the memo said.

It quoted Aondoakaa as saying that some Nigerians “were prepared to say anything about their country abroad in order to advance their immigration claims”.

Aondoakaa is said to have raised the issue with Lenihan and spoke “heatedly” on the subject for approximately 15 minutes while meeting a delegation of Irish businessmen and government officials, including Pat Folan, the director of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service.

The meeting was also attended by Kemafo Chikwe, the Nigerian ambassador to Ireland, who has accused Izevbekhai of abusing the asylum process and challenged her to present evidence to support her claims.

It is unclear as to whether the Department of Justice is willing to accept Aondoakaa’s offer to testify.

Izevbekhai and her daughters presented themselves to immigration officials in Dublin in January 2005, claiming that a trafficker had smuggled them to Ireland via the Netherlands.

She claimed she had fled from Nigeria to stop her husband’s family performing FGM on her two daughters.

Gardai claim she is an economic migrant who wants to live in Ireland. They suspect she travelled from Nigeria to London using a holiday visa before travelling to Ireland.

Antonia Leslie, a supporter of Izevbekhai, said she was unaware of Aondoakaa’s offer.

“Pamela’s fight is not with the Nigerian government. Pamela knows the government is doing what it can to stop FGM but people still engage in the practice. I think the Nigerian government believes Pamela is criticising their efforts to stamp out FGM but this is not the case. If the Nigerian minister for justice and attorney-general wants to testify, that is fine by her,” said Leslie.

Izevbekhai declined to be interviewed by The Sunday Times.

SOURCE: Times Online

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DATE: 07/04/2009

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