Minister 'smeared' Nigerian refugee

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The Independent Online
THE family of a Nigerian dissident missing after being deported from Britain have accused a Home Office minister of mounting a smear campaign against them.

Immigration minister Timothy Kirkhope wrongly claimed in letters to concerned MPs that Abdul Onibiyo, deported in October, was a bigamist who had fraudulently claimed welfare benefits. Mr Onibiyo was a member of the Nigerian Democratic Movement and an active opponent of the military dictatorship. He has not been heard of since being handed over to plain- clothes Nigerian officials after being deported to Lagos.

Labour last night demanded an investigation and said ministers should resign if they were found to be behind the spreading of falsehoods against an asylum seeker.

In letters to MPs and church groups who wrote opposing the deportation of Mr Onibiyo, immigration minister Timothy Kirkhope made a series of serious allegations against the dissident and his wife, Joyce: "When Mr and Mrs Onibiyo were arrested by immigration officers, they held documents which showed that he had claimed unemployment benefit while working."

In fact payroll records from Mr Onibiyo's then employersrefute a charge that he was signing on under one NI number while working under another.

Mr Kirkhope also claims that Mrs Onibiyo claimed single parent benefit while living with her husband.

According to the Benefits Agency, there is no record of Mrs Onibiyo ever claiming one-parent benefit. Nor was she awarded the Child Benefit she was entitled to until nine months after she was first arrested by immigration officers.

Mr Kirkhope also wrote that Mr Onibiyo had a second wife with three children.

Mr Onibiyo had, in fact, taken responsibility for his cousin's wife after he died, in keeping with a Nigerian custom called Ogun common among the Yoruba tribe. Mr Onibiyo did try to get his cousin's widow into Britain describing her as his wife. But neither he nor his first wife Joyce were ever allowed to present evidence refuting the allegations against them.

Mr Onibiyo was also accused of claiming the married man's tax allowance while his wife was abroad, although the Inland Revenue indicates this is lawful.

The minister also made other allegations for which the Onibiyos were never tried or convicted, and the family believes these were sent to the adjudicator who rejected Mr Onibiyo's claim for asylum. The Home Office says the minister stands by his claims.

Doug Henderson, Labour's immigration spokesman, has demanded an inquiry. He said: "The least I would expect would be for the Home Office and a government minister to get their facts right."

The Home Office also wants to deport Mr Onibiyo's wife and the three of his five children who were born in Nigeria, including 19-year-old Ade. This week the High Court will hear a judicial review of the Home Office's decision to refuse his request for asylum and deport him back to Lagos where his family fear he will be in peril.