- Two policemen killed, two others thrown into River Niger in Asaba •Scores arrested in six states, CD, MASSOB condemn killings
The South-east and South-south regions of the country dissolved into a state of anarchy yesterday when thousands of protesters clashed with security forces in Anambra, Imo, Enugu, Abia, Delta, Cross River and Ebonyi States, leading to the deaths of dozens of people, including three policemen, several sustaining injuries, and the arrest of scores of protesters in all the states where the protests took place.
The protesters, who were mainly members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), had come out en masse to mark Biafra Day in memory of the former leader of the defunct Biafra Republic, the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
Ojukwu had led the secession of the old Eastern Region and declared the region the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967. His attempt to break away from Nigeria led to the three-year Nigerian Civil War and Biafra’s defeat.
In recent years, however, MASSOB and later IPOB have emerged, with its members attempting to resuscitate the ghost of Biafra.
Over 30 Killed in Onitsha
During yesterday’s rally in Onitsha, Anambra State, a combined team of the military and police clashed with members of IPOB during the celebration of Biafra Day in the commercial city.
The clash, THISDAY checks revealed, left about 30 people dead and many injured. It was equally gathered yesterday that over 50 members of the Biafran group were arrested by the military and taken to the 302 Cantonment of the Nigerian Army in Onitsha.
Following the mayhem, the commercial city of Onitsha, especially the Nkpor axis, was locked down with the security operatives taking over the roads.
The gun battle, which led to the killings, it was learnt, started when an IPOB member allegedly shot at a soldier who was patrolling where the protesters had converged to begin a procession in honour of the late Ojukwu around the Upper Iweka area of Onitsha.
Thick smoke also enveloped the Onitsha metropolis as a result of bonfires lit by the protesters on major roads and streets of the city.
The Public Relations Officer of IPOB, Emma Powerful, alleged yesterday that security operatives killed over 30 members of the group, while 50 persons were arrested and whisked to an unknown destination, adding that many others were seriously injured.
He said that the arrest of their members started at about 2am yesterday. “They (the military) were moving around in their Hilux vehicle with a native doctor when we were celebrating Biafra without any weapons. Does it mean that we have no fundamental rights?” he asked.
But when contacted, the police spokesman in Anambra State, Mr. Ali Okechukwu, said that there was no reason to discuss the casualty figures, as according to him, the authorities were still trying to clear the roads in order to ease vehicular movement.
However, an eyewitness told THISDAY in Onitsha yesterday that about 32 persons were killed during the clash.
The victims, he said, were taken to a hospital in Nkpor, near Onitsha, but were rejected.
Condemning the clash, the Campaign for Democracy (CD), a civil society organisation, said yesterday that the killings by the security personnel were unfortunate.
It said the IPOB/MASSOB members were harmless and only celebrating the declaration of Biafra on May 30, 1967 in memory of late Ojukwu.
MASSOB leader, Mr. Uchenna Madu, also said that the federal government should look into the massacre with a view to arresting the situation, adding that his group was not involved in the clashes.
He however warned that the Biafran agitators might be forced to take up arms in self-defence should the security forces continue to kill defenseless IPOB and MASSOB members.
Madu further said that the federal government was in negotiations with Boko Haram and Niger Delta militants while the security forces continue to fight its unarmed members.
Also reacting to the mayhem that ensued in Onitsha, the Anambra State Government condemned any illegal demonstration in the state.
A statement from the state Commissioner for Information and Communications Strategy, Ogbuefi Tony Nnachetta, said: “The attention of the Anambra State Government has been drawn to illegal demonstration by a group of individuals causing anxiety at the Nkpor/Onitsha axis of the state.
“The law enforcement agencies are fully engaged in the situation and are currently working to restore normalcy and ensure free movement for all law abiding citizens.
“Ndi Anambra are hereby advised to remain calm and vigilant and to go about their lawful businesses. All should note that there are laws against disturbance of public peace.”
Policemen Killed, Thrown into River Niger
In Asaba also, no fewer than seven persons were confirmed dead following the rally held by members of MASSOB which turned violent in the Delta State capital yesterday.
The acting Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in Delta, Mr. Charles Muka, who confirmed this in a statement, added that the police recorded two casualties.
He said in a statement that five members of MASSOB were killed by military officers who clashed with the protesters along the Asaba-Onitsha expressway in Asaba.
The police stated that the military arrested and brought eight members of MASOB to the police station and “are now in custody in Asaba”.
According to the police spokesman, the protesters turned violent and attacked the policemen deployed to monitor the protest, killed two and injured two others.
“We had to deploy our officers to ensure that the protest was peaceful but we were surprised that the people turned violent.
“To our surprise, they started attacking our men and at the Okwe junction in Abraka area of Asaba, the group killed a police corporal and took his AK47 rifle.
“Also along the Dennis Osadebey Way in Asaba, they wounded a police officer and took his anti-riot gun.
“This group also attacked and wounded two policemen, suspected to be marine police, and threw them into the River Niger at Cable Point in Asaba and in the process one died and one was rescued.
“This brings the casualties to two with two others injured on the side of the police.
“The protesters also attacked military vehicles along the Asaba-Onitsha expressway which left four members of the group dead, while eight others were arrested and brought to the police headquarters,” Muka said.
He added that a pregnant woman was hit by a stray bullet during the fracas but rushed to the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, where she was treated.
He advised parents and guardians to counsel their children and wards to follow the path of peace and pursue their agenda constitutionally.
10 MASSOB Members Arrested in Umuahia
In Umuahia, the Abia State capital, members of MASSOB also defied the police in the city and held a peaceful rally to mark the 49th anniversary of Biafra.
But the pro-Biafra movement said that 10 of its members were eventually arrested by the police, while one person sustained gunshot wounds.
However, the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Udeviotu Onyeke, said only four MASSOB members were arrested by the police during the “illegal rally”, which according to him, was not authorised by the police command.
The Abia Central Information Director of the Chief Ralf Uwazulike-led Biafra Independent Movement (BIM/MASSOB), Mr. Anselam Ogbonna, however, told journalists that armed policemen had swooped on their members at Asaba Street after the rally and opened fire on them.
According to him, scores were injured after inhaling the teargas used by the police to disperse the rally at the Isi Gate city centre where hundreds of Biafra activists and enthusiasts had gathered for the rally.
He said that the police team was led by the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of Umuahia central police station, who later whisked away the arrested Biafran activists to the police station.
A detachment of heavily armed and stern-looking policemen led by the DPO had attempted to stop the protesters at the Isi Gate junction but could not, as more sympathisers joined the protest, thus overwhelming the security operatives.
The protesters, chanting Biafran songs and waiving Biafran flags, took off from their base at Asaba Street after a prayer session and marched through major streets within the metropolis.
Residents cheered as the activists marched through the popular Warri Street before heading for Isi Gate when they were intercepted by the police.
The policemen, which in commando style stormed the scene in about three pick-up vans, attempted to stop the procession but the protesters remained undeterred despite the arrest of one of them on the spot.
As more sympathisers joined the protest, the police apparently aware that they could not contain the crowd stopped further arrests.
The police resorted to dispersing the crowd by shooting teargas canisters into the procession, but when they discovered that the Biafran activists were unruffled, they decided to escort them.
Some persons including journalists covering the procession sustained minor injuries after inhaling teargas.
Ikom Youths Stop Biafra Rally
However, the attempt by MASSOB members in Ikom town, about 300 kilometres from Calabar, the Cross River State capital, to celebrate the 49th anniversary of the declaration of the State of Biafra, suffered a setback as youths from the town kicked against the protest.
Though the MASSOB sypathisers had gathered close to the Ikom township Stadium, from where they were meant to march through many streets in the town, they were restricted to just the New Okomo Layout, about 400 metres from where had they taken off.
Scores of the MASSOB members dressed in uniforms and carrying the Biafra flag, nonetheless conducted themselves peacefully, during the short street rally.
The zonal leader of MASSOB in the state, Mr. Samuel Okah, while addressing the protesters, said the rally was in commemoration of the 1967 declaration of the sovereign State of Biafra by its leader, Ojukwu.
Okah said the peaceful rally was to send a message that even though Ojukwu did not succeeded in establishing a sovereign state through violent means, the dream of actualising a Biafran state could be achieved through non-violent means.
Okah, who said that Biafra encompasses the entire South-east and South-south regions of the country, added: “Cross River was in the old Eastern Region that fought for Biafra because we are all one and the suffering we are passing through is experienced by all people of the South-south and South-east so there is no separation or differences among us.”
Okah urged President Muhammadu Buhari to listen to the agitators for a state of Biafra and allow them to form a country they can call their own.
But the Vice-President, National Youth Council of Nigeria, Prince Ayuk Ojong, described the rally as a flop, stating that he mobilised his members to stop the MASSOB members from using Ikom for their unpatriotic act.
Ojong said Ikom Local Government Area was not part of Biafra, hence the stance of the youths of the area to stop the rally from gaining momentum.
Pro-Biafra Protesters Stopped in Ebonyi
Just like in Ikom, pro-Biafra protesters in Abakiliki, the Ebonyi State capital, were stopped by the state police command monday.
MASSOB leader, Mr. Uche Mmadu, in a statement, said it was a day of honouring fallen and living heroes whose services could never be forgotten.
But the police command said it uncovered plans that the protest was a plot by miscreants to cause mayhem in the state.
In a statement, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. George Okafor, said that the command got intelligence reports that pro-Biafra groups had gathered at Nkaliki Primary school in Abkaliki, but police swiftly arrived at the scene and stopped the gathering.
Okafor said that about 92 members led by one Vincent Nwamini and several other sub-leaders were arrested.
The police spokesman added that items recovered from the suspects included Biafra flags and banners with the inscription “United States of Biafra Independence celebration 30th May, 2016”.
He assured residents of the preparedness of the command to maintain law and order, stressing that protection of lives and property in the state was not negotiable.
The command appealed to law abiding citizens to go about their normal and lawful businesses and refrain from joining issues with organisations and groups proscribed by the federal government.
Protesters March in Warri
Hundreds of pro-Biafra protesters of Igbo origin also stormed Warri, Delta State, calling on the president to grant them freedom.
The protesters said: “We have met with all the conditions to become a separate country of our own; hence we decided to come out today to ensure that the struggle is achieved.”
The protesters in a peaceful rally to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the declaration of the State of Biafra, said the protest was in remembrance of the late Ojukwu, who initiated the struggle 49 years ago.
The protesters, who spoke with newsmen through their leader, Mr. Patrick Agulobi, said: “It is pertinent that we carry out this action to actualise the dream which Chief Ojukwu started on 30 May 1967. We believed that this laudable dream must not die.”
According to him, the whole world has now come to realise that the Republic of Biafra is a must, adding that all the requirements meant for the actualisation of the Republic of Biafra had been met.
The protesters appealed to Igbo leaders who are derailing the struggle to come out and support the movement, insisting that the effort was not meant to hurt anybody nor cause anarchy or confusion.
They decried indiscriminate killings of innocent persons by herdsmen in the southern part of the country, and called on Fulani cattle rustlers to stop stealing cattle.
17 Arrested in Owerri
In Owerri, the Imo State capital, the police arrested 17 members of MASSOB for holding a rally to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the declaration of Biafra.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Andrew Enwerem, who confirmed the arrests, said those arrested would be prosecuted.
The MASSOB members began the march at Waterside Primary School, Owerri, from where they moved to Rotibi Street to Oguamana Street before linking Douglas Road.
At Douglas Road, the marchers met heavily armed security men, who threw teargas at them at the Ama JK end of the street and arrested some of them.
Mr. Okechukwu Nwogu, a leader of MASSOB, said it was regrettable that the police arrested members of the group who were on a peaceful march to commemorate the 49th anniversary of Biafra and 17th anniversary of MASSOB.
“What the Nigerian government is doing to us is very unfair; MASSOB is a non-violent group moving without arms in remembrance of our history,” he said.
He called on Igbo leaders to come out and speak for Igbo people who have been unjustly treated by the security forces.
Earlier, Chief Canice Anojuru, the spokesman for MASSOB in Owerri zone, said the group decided to hold the rally to awaken the consciousness of the people of the defunct Biafra.
13 Arrested in Enugu
Like other states where pro-Biafra rallies took place, the Enugu State Police Command said it arrested 13 suspected persons believed to be members of MASSOB early yesterday at the Edinburgh axis of Ogui in Enugu, the state capital.
A statement by the Police Public Relations Officer, Ebere Amaraizu, said 13 persons were rounded up based on intelligence reports.
“It was gathered that suspects in the morning of Monday had converged with their bus, one Toyota Hiace bus, with registration number XG 265 UWN with flag and T-shirts with different inscriptions portraying MASSOB/BIM at the Edinburgh axis of Ogui to commence a protest march before the security operatives acting on intelligence/information rounded them up and arrested them,” Amaraizu said.
The suspects, in their reactions, maintained that they were not members of MASSOB but of Biafran Independent Movement (BIM). They further stated they had converged and prayed at the spot before embarking on their march with their flags to commemorate their independence.
The Enugu police command recalled that it had warned against protests by any group of persons under any aegis.
It said no iota of lawlessness would be entertained from any individual or group of persons fanning embers of unlawful acts aimed at causing the breakdown of law and order in the state as the command was working in partnership with other sister security agencies to maintain law and order.
It said it recovered Biafra flags, T-shirts and caps with MASSOB inscriptions.