â€¢ 59 members of separatist group to be prosecuted, troops withdraw from Abia
â€¢ Jos curfew relaxed, youths push for dethronement of Kanuâ€™s father
By Davidson Iriekpen, Tobi SoniyiÂ in Lagos,Â Seriki AdinoyiÂ in Jos andÂ Emmanuel UgwuÂ in Umuahia
In another condemnation of the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the federal government has alleged that the separatist group was being sponsored by those who had looted the treasury in order to destabilise the nation.
Making the charge during a press briefing in Lagos yesterday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed however did not substantiate it.
According to him, IPOB was not set up to further the rights of Nigerians of South-eastern origin or any other group.
He said: â€œNigerians must understand that IPOB was not set up to fight for the rights of anyone or group, but as a tool to destabilise the nation, divert attention from the efforts of the Muhammadu Buhari administration and obliterate the laudable achievements of the administration.
â€œIPOB is being sponsored by those I will call the coalition of the politically disgruntled and the treasury looters. They believe that by sponsoring this group to destabilise the country and trigger chaos, they will realise their ambition of escaping justice and then be free to dip their hands into the nationâ€™s treasury again,â€ Mohammed alleged.
Mohammed noted that IPOBâ€™s activities became heightened with the advent of the Buhari administration and has been unrelenting since then.
He said the fact that the activities of IPOB picked up since Buhari became the president could not have been coincidental.
â€œRemember that Nnamdi Kanu, who led a protest at the Nigeria House in London against the Boko Haram insurgency and in support of Nigeriaâ€™s unity under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, has suddenly metamorphosed into an IPOB monster who would rather set the nation ablaze,â€ he said.
Mohammed pointed out that IPOB was nothing more than a contraption by those who believe they had lost political power as well as those who had looted Nigeriaâ€™s treasury.
â€œIt is a tool in the hands of the corrupt and disgruntled elements to sabotage the Buhari administration. It fights for no one but the corrupt and the disgruntled.
â€œIt seeks to set us apart as a people, exploiting our fault lines. Its modus operandi is to trigger conflagration nationwide through attacks and reprisals,â€ he stated.
The minister also wondered why IPOB decided to up the ante in its violent campaign immediately it was announced that Nigeria had exited the recession.
He said: â€œNow, instead of the government being given the chance to consolidate on that achievement, it is being distracted and the airwaves have been polluted with the activities of IPOB.
â€œThe good news of the end of the recession and its fallout are being replaced in the headlines with the IPOB show of shame.â€
He disclosed that the government had seen the trend in the past and warned the public about it.
â€œThe starting point was the rise of hate speech, fake news and disinformation. These were used in an attempt to downgrade the achievements of the administration and to hoodwink an unsuspecting public into believing that the administration has not moved the nation forward an inch since assuming office.
â€œSince 2016, we have been calling attention to the dangers posed by hate speech, fake news and disinformation. Our calls did not gain traction until those behind the campaign sought to overwhelm the nation,â€ he added.
He described the IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu as the master of hate speech, adding: â€œNo one, including the same people whose rights he claimed to be championing, escaped his vitriolic and primitive attacks.â€
He challenged all his sympathisers to scrutinise what he termed Kanuâ€™s incendiary, divisive and inciting speeches, the â€œname calling and the derogatory remarks about the nationâ€™s leadersâ€, and demand to know if such did not constitute hate speech.
â€œLeaders of thought and commentators who have shown the inclination to accommodate Kanu and his excesses should say if this is what they expect from someone who wants to lead,â€ he added.
Mohammed observedÂ Â that the wounds inflicted on the nationâ€™s psyche by the activities of IPOB would take some time to heal, noting that the past few days had been a trying one for Nigeria as IPOBâ€™s activities reached a crescendo and threatened the unity of the nation.
â€œA ragtag mob that calls itself IPOB and its gullible supporters felt they could seize a large swathe of the Nigerian territory, set up parallel military and para-military organisations, mount roadblocks and even confront the Nigerian military.
â€œTheir leader openly solicits for weapons and incites hatred and violence,â€ he added.
Mohammed blamed IPOB for the incident that happened in Abia State last week, saying no nation in the world would fold its arms and allowÂ Â people like Kanu to go on the rampage as he had been doing.
He listed some of the atrocities committed by the group to include the formation of the Biafra Secret Service, formation of the Biafra National Guard, unauthorised blockades of public access roads, extortion of money from innocent civilians at illegal road blocks, and possession and use of weapons such as stones, Molotov cocktails, machetes and broken bottles, among others, which he alleged were used on a military patrol vehicle on September 10.
According to him, IPOB engaged in a physical confrontation with troops at a checkpoint on September 11, during which they attempted to snatch soldiersâ€™ rifles and carried out an attack on a military checkpoint on September 12.
â€œNo nation, not Nigeria, will allow that to happen unchallenged. The fact that Boko Haram festered because it was not decisively tackled by the immediate past administration meant we should never again give room for any organisation to threaten the corporate existence of our country,â€ he said.
While welcoming the decision of the South-east governors to proscribed IPOB, Mohammed said the decision should have come earlier.
He also said IPOB had been writing to other countries in its effort to externalise its lies and propaganda.
He assured the international community that the Buhari administration has no agenda to suppress its citizens for whatever reasons.
He added: â€œNot even the excesses of some people on the social media has forced the government to do anything that will stifle press freedom or freedom of expression.
â€œThe truth is that IPOB is being sponsored to destabilise our nation. It serves no other purpose beyond that,â€ he said.
The minister further accused IPOB of engaging in a massive harvest of gory videos from the distant past and from other lands to hoodwink the public, and in particular the international community into believing that its members were the victims of state-sponsored violence.
He urged Nigerians and the international community not to jump to any conclusions on the basis of the videos but scrutinise them.
He also appealed to the media to show greater restraint, accusing a section of the media of sensationalising reporting on IPOB issues, especially since the military was deployed in the South-east for its exercise, tagged Operation Python Dance II.
He also expressed gratitude that the crisis had de-escalated, saying since the military has labelled IPOB a terrorist organisation and the South-east governors have proscribed it, it was time to let IPOB go to where it belongs â€“ the dustbin of history.
59 IPOB Members for Prosecution
Even as the minister gave the damning verdict on IPOB activities, the new Commissioner of Police in Abia State, Mr. Anthony Ogbizi yesterday confirmed that at least one person â€“ a police officer â€“ was killed in an attack by suspected members of the separatist group in the state.
He also announced that at least 59 suspected members of the now outlawed group were arrested by security personnel last week during the bloody clashes between soldiers and IPOB members, adding that the suspects will be prosecuted for murder, arson and other related crimes.
Ogbizi disclosed this during a press briefing and parade of seven suspected members of IPOB at Ariaria police station in Aba.
He said following the proscription of IPOB by governors in the South-east and its declaration as a terrorist group by Nigerian Army, anybody found with Biafran materials would be arrested and prosecuted.
He said they would be prosecuted under the Anti-terrorism Act to ensure they are properly dealt with.
Re-echoing the pronouncement of the Nigerian Army, Ogbizi stressed that IPOB by its action had shown itself to be a â€œterrorist groupâ€ which must be dealt with.
He said between September 10 and September 14, the Ariaria police station was attacked by suspected members of IPOB who destroyed everything at the station.
According to him, they came with petrol bombs which they used to gain entrance to the station, destroyed property and stole three pump action rifles.
â€œEven some policemen were seriously injured. In fact, as I am talking to you, one of the injured police officers is dead. Doctors tried in vain to save his life.
â€œNow we have lost a soul and you know what it takes to train a police officer. You know the vacuum that creates. It takes a minimum of one year to train a police officer,â€ he said.
Ogbizi said the IPOB members also destroyed the property of lawful citizens, adding that their demonstration was not peaceful.
He also alleged that the group attacked a nearby bank to get money to acquire more weapons.
The police boss said about 30 IPOB members were arrested when they attacked soldiers at Isiala Ngwa in Abia and about 29 were arrested in Umuahia, the state capital.
He said suspected IPOB members also attacked military officers and the residences of the Commissioner of Police and AIG Zone 9 in Umuahia.
Ogbizi said that the army recovered several exhibits including the coat of arms of Biafra from the suspects.
â€œAs I am talking to you, information reaching me shows that they have started gathering at Nnamdi Kanuâ€™s house,â€ he said.
Ogbizi called on the people to volunteer information on Kanuâ€™s whereabouts and denied rumours that his father was arrested.
IPOB Rejects Terrorist Tag
In defiance, however, IPOB yesterday defiantly rejected the invidious label, saying that the Nigerian Army â€œhas no right or powerâ€ to group it alongside other terror groups.
A statement issued by its media and publicity secretary, Emma Powerful, said the decision of the military high command to paint the separatist group with that of terrorism was â€œlaughable and a mockery of the armyâ€™s professionalismâ€.
The proscription of IPOB and tagging it as a terror group has drawn sharp criticism from Ohanaeze Ndigbo which rejected it, as well as from some senior lawyers, including Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), who stated that both the South-east governors and army lacked the power to ban IPOB.
IPOB insisted that since the inception of its struggle for the restoration of the Republic of Biafra, it had never engaged in criminal or terrorist activities and challenged the federal authorities to make public proof of the allegations and not fabricate lies aimed at demonising the Biafra independence struggle.
The group said it had never taken up arms and has always been a victim of unprovoked attacks by the security agencies who â€œkill and maim unarmed and innocent civilians who have not been involved in any act of crime or violence since the inception of this struggle for Biafraâ€™s independence championed by IPOBâ€.
IPOB also faulted the position of the South-east governors for wielding the big stick, saying that â€œit is very appallingâ€ that the governors should allow themselves to be â€œteleguidedâ€ by the powers that be to clamp down on their people â€œbecause they (South-east governors) want re-election in 2019â€.
Ikpeazu: Govs Averted Holocaust
But in yet another reaction to the bloody clashes in his state last week, Abia state governor Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu yesterday justified the action taken by the South-east governors to douse the tension generated by the clashes between the Nigerian Army and members of IPOB.
He also expressed gratitude to God for averting what would have been a bloodbath in the state, following the withdrawal of troops from the streets of Aba and Umuahia.
He said with the action of the state chief executives of the South-east and their Northern counterparts, â€œwhat could have been a holocaust has been avertedâ€.Â
According to him, the lives of over 11 million Igbos scattered across the states in the Northern part of the country could have been jeopardised if the situation had gotten out of control.
Ikpeazu made this known when he visited the secretariat of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Abia State council, to sympathise with its members, after the invasion of the press centre by troops last Tuesday.
â€œGod has intervened in what could have been the greatest bloodbath in the history of the whole world,â€ he said, adding that if the face-off had continued, the attendant reprisals would have led to a massive bloodbath.
He regretted that the security situation in Abia had attracted negative attention to the state at a time his administration was putting made-in-Aba products on the global map and concluding plans to establish three industrial parks in the state.
Ikpeazu assured that normalcy had returned to Abia, adding that doomsday prophets had lost the battle.
While he commiserated with journalists over the assault by soldiers, the Abia governor said that though â€œyou didnâ€™t deserve what happened, it is part of the hazards of the professionâ€.
He also commended the army for demonstrating â€œrare humilityâ€ by apologising for their invasion of NUJ press centre and restoring the damaged items.
Youths Want Kanuâ€™s Father Dethroned
In another fallout of the bloody clashes in Abia State last week, a group, the Umuahia Youth Movement, gave Ikpeazu a 24-hour ultimatum to dethrone Kanuâ€™s father â€“ Israel Kanu, traditional ruler of Isiama Afaraukwu in Umuahia.
In a letter addressed to Ikpeazu and copied to Buhari, the group said failure to dethrone the traditional ruler would make them take the law into their own hands.
The youths blamed the current security situation and shutdown of economic activities in the state on Kanu who â€œcould not call his son to orderâ€.
Details of the letter were disclosed in a statement issued yesterday by Ifeanyi Okwudili, the groupâ€™s president.
The letter read: â€œWith tears and sorrow, the Umuahia Youth Movement respectfully write to request the dethronement of Nnamdi Kanuâ€™s father as a traditional ruler of our clan.
â€œIt beats our imagination that a man who calls himself a royal father and an elder could not call his son to order but rather encouraged him in his madness that has plunged Umuahia city to a great crisis today.
â€œSir, recall that Umuahia had been the most peaceful capital city in Nigeria to live and do business in, but just because of one man, we are today facing the wrath of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
â€œOur shops, markets, schools, churches and all banks have been shut down. For the past three days, we have been indoors for fear of being attacked by the military just because of one man whose father is our traditional ruler.
â€œBased on the above, we hereby request he should be dethroned within 24 hours or we will take the law into our hands and dethrone him and even strip him unclad and raze his house.
â€œWe appeal to every well-meaning Nigerian as well to prevail on Governor Ikpeazu to as a matter of urgency dethrone Nnamdi Kanuâ€™s father.â€
The group also demanded the continuation of the military exercise (Operation Python Dance II) â€œas any attempt to withdraw will make the IPOB criminals rob our shops and housesâ€.
The group assured the governor of its commitment to a united Nigeria and making Abia State great.
Lalong Relaxes Curfew
Meanwhile, following the return of peace to Jos and its environs after the skirmishes last Thursday between Igbo and Hausa traders, the Plateau State governor Mr. Simon Lalong has relaxed the dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed on the Jos-Bukuru metropolis to 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Â A statement yesterday from the governorâ€™s spokesman, Mr. Samuel Emmanuel Nanle, said: â€œThe governor of Plateau State, Simon Bako Lalong, having considered the improvement in the state of security, since the unfortunate incident of Thursday, 14th September, 2017 which necessitated the imposition of a dusk-to-dawn curfew, has with effect from Sunday the 17th September, 2017 approved the relaxation of the curfew from 10 p.m. daily to 6 a.m. of the subsequent day until further notice.â€
While appreciating the swift response of security personnel in the quick restoration of peace in the state, the governor also commended the widespread community consultative meetings held by various community and religious leaders after the fracas.
Turkey Denies Supporting IPOB
In a related development, the Turkish government has denied supporting the secessionist agitations in Nigeria and disowned its citizen, AbdÃ¼lkadir Erkahraman, who has expressed support for the Biafran agitation.
Erkahraman, who identifies himself as the president of the International Nations Commercial Association in Turkey had visited Kanu in his hometown in Afaraukwu, Umuahia, Abia State last July.â€Ž
He announced the visit on his Facebook page and encouraged â€œBiafransâ€ to â€œrise up and fight a good fight for freedomâ€, which went viral.
In response to the development, the Embassy of Turkey in Nigeria issued a statement on its website.
The embassy distanced the Turkish government from Erkahramanâ€™s visit to Kanu.
In the statement at the weekend, the embassy said: â€œErkahraman is not a Turkish diplomat or an official representative of the Turkish government.
â€œThe Embassy of the Republic of Turkey wishes to inform the Nigerian public about the following: AbdÃ¼lkadir Erkahraman, a Turkish citizen, has been sharing videos for some time against the Nigerian government and presents himself as a Turkish diplomat.
â€œMr. AbdÃ¼lkadir Erkahraman is neither a diplomat nor a civil servant or an official representative of the government of Turkey.
â€œThe government of Turkey is committed to the territorial integrity and political unity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Furthermore, Turkey never supports secessionist activities against the Federal Republic of Nigeria.â€