• Igbo leaders meet Buhari
• Catholic Bishops protest
• IG directs police to disarm activists
Dele Ogbodo, Senator Iroegbu, Paul Obi, Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja and Charles Onyekamuo in Awka
The Nigeria Army on Tuesday gave reasons for the killing of some members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), saying the security forces acted in self-defence when their intervention to restore law and order was resisted by the agitators.
The military alleged that the protests were designed by the sponsors to mar the Democracy Day celebrations held nationwide on Sunday.
The Deputy Director of Army Public Relations, 82 Division, Nigerian Army, Enugu, Col. Hamza Gambo, stated this while giving an account on what transpired.
He said the incident that led to the drafting of soldiers to quell the violent protests left about five members of IPOB/MASSOB dead, while several others were injured on both sides.
But the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) said the killings could not be justified no matter the provocation.
Also in an apparent show of concern, a delegation of Igbo leaders met with President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The delegation was led by former president of the Senate, Ken Nnamani, under the aegis of the Southeast Group for Change.
Although no statement was made after the meeting, it was believed that last Monday’s killings was the focus of meeting.
The delegation included former Senators Ifeanyi Ararume and Osita Izunaso; former House of Representatives member, Sharon Ikeazor; former Executive Vice-Charman of Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), Ernest Ndukwe. Others were the All Progressives (APC) National Vice-Chairman (South-east), Hon. Emma Eneukwu; member of the APC Board of Trustees, Chief Austin Edeze; Dr. Uzoma Obiyo; and Chris Akomas.
“Instructively, troops of 82 Division Nigerian Army as the lead agency of the security agencies had to invoke the extant Rules of Engagement (ROE) to resort to self-defence, protection of the strategic Niger Bridge, prevent re-enforcement of the pro Biafran members apparently surging ahead from the far side of the strategic Niger Bridge at Onitsha,’’ Gambo stated.
Gambo, who said the protests were orchestrated to mar the Democracy Day celebrations and had to be put down because the protesters were endangering the peace of Onitsha and the lives of the people in the area, explained that all efforts to disperse the crowd were abortive.
“In the aftermath of the fire fight that ensued, many of our troops sustained varying degree of injuries. The injured troops are currently receiving treatment at our medical centre. Similarly, five members of MASSOB/IPOB were killed, eight wounded while nine were arrested for due legal actions,” he said.
The Army spokesman explained that the security agencies, including detachments of the Nigerian Navy, Nigeria Police, Department of State Services (DSS) and National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), were compelled to intervene to put down the protest, adding that the protests had created panic among the populace, in consonance with constitutional provisions of aid to civil authority where and when such occasion demands.
“The overarching imperative to ensure a reign of peace, security and stability in this circumstance was most starring,’’ he said.
Gambo further claimed that the members of MASSOB/IPOB, who had earlier assembled at a school location on Ataa Road near Saint Edmunds’ Catholic Parish Maryland Nkpor-Agu in Anambra State, resorted to fierce attacks against the intervening security agencies who were carrying out their legitimate mandate.
The nature of these attacks, he disclosed, involved brazen employment of various types of fire arms and all sorts of crude weapons, volatile cocktail such as acid and dynamites.
Gambo, however, assured the people of Anambra State of the military’s professional commitment to the protection of lives and property and indeed across its entire area of responsibility in tandem with the recent directive of President Muhammadu Buhari.
But the CBCN expressed concern over the killing of IPOB, MASSOB members and the current siege in the Niger Delta region following the bombings of oil installations in the region.
The CBCN President and Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, said the crises in the two regions portend great danger and bad omen towards the unity of Nigeria as an entity with a common identity.
According to Kaigama, “It is not very good news for us. I just returned from Germany. Everywhere I went, I was asked about what the problem was with Nigeria? We are still struggling with Boko Haram, now we are talking about Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) and IPOB, the solution is not to intensify the crises.”
Asked if the federal government policies towards the two regions might have engineered the current agitations, Kaigama said: “I don’t know what criteria they used in appointment or allocation of projects, when you are marginalised, short changed, the culture of dialogue is the best way to go, I’m not sure when we are going to dispense with these regional agitations.
“If a leader comes from the south, others will make his government difficult, when somebody from the north comes to power, others will target his government. It is so sad. Where is the rational behaviour in that? No matter how shortchanged, no matter how marginalised you are, violence and resorting to crisis is not the best solution.”
On the application of force by the government, the CBCN president advised the National Assembly to rise up to its responsibility of defending the people.
Also speaking, the Executive Director of Caritas International, an arm of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), Rev. Fr. Evaristus Bassey, advised the federal government not to approach the dispute with military option.
“Why are we having these crises? It is because of the structure of the country. We still need to look at the structure of the country and see how we can address some of these challenges,” he said.
According to him, “It was very disappointing for President Buhari to say that he will discard the National Conference report to the archive. He has not even read it; I see it as careless. There are fundamental things we should sit down and address.”
Meanwhile, the Inspector General of Police (IG), Solomon Arase, yesterday directed the assistant inspectors general of police and the commissioners of police in the affected areas to disarm members of the group immediately.
In a statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, Force Headquarters, Abuja, Assistant Commissioner of Police Kolawole Olabisi, the IG was quoted as accusing members of the IPOB of premeditated attacks on police officers engaged in peaceful operations in both zones.
“The Inspector-General of Police, IGP Solomon E. Arase, has directed the Assistant Inspectors General of Police and the Commissioners of Police in the affected area to disarm members of the group operating with firearms immediately,” it stated.
It added that: “The IGP noted that the targeted attacks on police personnel, who have been performing their statutory functions in the most professional and civil manner since the latest resurgence disorder, portrays the IPOB activists who are orchestrating the insurrection as having crossed the threshold in their misguided attempt to test the common will of the nation.”
In its reaction yesterday, the Anambra State government said it did not issue a shoot-on-sight order to the security forces.
The state Commissioner for Information and Communication Strategy, Mr. Tony Nnaecheta, said at a press conference in Awka that though the peaceful demonstration by the Biafra agitators was hijacked by hoodlums, it did not order anybody to shoot at the protesters.
“The state government is not blaming anybody who is demonstrating peacefully but the miscreants who infiltrated the procession. But even at that, the state government didn’t order anybody to shoot at the protesters,” he said.
He said that within 24 hours of the incident, the state government had empanelled a team of its officials to ascertain what transpired between the agitators and the security personnel, adding that preliminary reports available to government showed that majority of the protesters were not from the state and that no church was burnt in Nkpor.
“Our investigation confirmed that many of the young men who came to participate in the procession arrived from outside the state. Some came from Delta, Abia, Cross River, Ebonyi, Imo and Enugu States,” Nnaecheta said.
Also speaking on the crisis yesterday, the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekwerenmadu advised security agencies to handle various unrests in the country with caution to avert persistent and unnecessary waste of innocent lives.
Ekweremadu, who gave the advice while raising a point of order on the confrontation between security agents and pro-Biafran protesters in the South-east and South-south on Monday, said the brutal attacks against civilians who were staging peaceful protest were misplaced.
According to him, the protests by members of MASSOB, which were followed by the onslaughts of security agents in Delta and Anambra States on Monday ought to have been handled with extreme caution as he lamented the uncivil approach of the agents to the matter.
He said: “I will like to use this opportunity under Order 43 to say that the security agencies must apply caution in trying to quell disturbances. We have had so much of blood bath in this country under different circumstances and we cannot continue to lose young men and women because the future of this country belongs to them.
“It is important that this Senate rises to condemn any act of killings in any part of this country especially the one that concerns the major part of our future which remains the youth. We are now in a democracy and people should be entitled to speak their minds to assemble under responsible circumstances. Security agencies must also be responsible in dealing with those circumstances to ensure that lives are not lost unnecessarily.”
In his reaction, Senate President Bukola Saraki described the bloody encounter as unfortunate, pointing out that prompt action needed to be taken to address the issue raised by Ekweremadu.
“But I think that the point he has raised must all draw our attentionto see what necessary action will be taken in order to address this matter,” he said.