By Emeka Mamah, Jimitota Onoyume,Vincent Ujumadu, Chidi Nkwopara, Anayo Okoli, Peter Okutu, Nwabueze Okonkwo, Francis Igata, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Cyril Ozor & Chinedu Adonu
Awka— Biafra Day anniversary celebration turned bloody, yesterday, in South-East states as soldiers and policemen clashed with pro-Biafra groups.
In the commercial city of Onitsha, our reporters quoted eye witnesses as saying that about 40 people, including a soldier, were killed, while over 50 were arrested.
The incident, according to eye witnesses, started at about 3 a.m. when security forces entered the premises of St. Edmund’s Catholic Church, Nkpor Agu, near Onitsha and allegedly opened fire on the worshippers, accusing them of being Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, members, during which five were killed, while 10 others were injured.
The source further stated at 8 a.m., the security forces, who patrolled all nooks and crannies of Onitsha, Nkpor, Ogidi and environs, allegedly swooped on another batch of suspected IPOB members, where about 20 were allegedly killed and scores injured.
At about 11 a.m, the patrol team allegedly killed another 15, thus bringing the total casualty rate to about 40.
However, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, said it was not involved in the protest that paralyzed commercial activities in the area.
It was alleged that at 6 a.m, members of IPOB took to the streets, some naked, and were confronted by soldiers of the 312 Artillery Brigade, an action that allegedly led to scores of people losing their lives.
The pro-Biafra groups blocked most major streets in Onitsha and Niger Bridge head, which made most people to remain indoors. All markets in Onitsha were also closed.
Most of the killings were done at Nkpor, a suburb of Onitsha, where IPOB had chosen to celebrate Biafra Day.
Two killed at Niger Bridge head
According to Area Administrator of Nnewi Region of IPOB, Mr Sonny Chukwuebuka, two of IPOB members met their untimely death at the Niger Bridge Head as they were coming from Asaba, Delta State capital, with others to join their Anambra State counterparts in the celebration.
They were said to have ran into soldiers, who denied them passage into Onitsha and in the process, a heated argument was said to have ensued.
Vanguard learned that this later resulted in a bloody clash and consequently, a policeman was killed, while a soldier was stabbed.
MASSOB not involved
MASSOB leader, Mr. Uchenna Madu, said in a telephone interview that his organization was not involved in the protest, explaining that he had earlier issued a statement that this year’s Biafra Day should be celebrated quietly and that all MASSOB members should stay at home.
Madu said though MASSOB was not involved in the protest, it was not enough reason for securitymen to open fire on innocent people.
He said: “Security operatives of the Federal Government are arresting and killing people who are non-violent. Is it because we are not armed? It appears the only language the Nigerian security understands is violence.
“This issue is not about MASSOB or IPOB. It is about Ndigbo generally. In the ongoing killings, innocent people were also targets.”
IPOB protest illegal —Anambra govt
In its reaction, Anambra State government said the protest by IPOB, in Onitsha was illegal, noting that the group did not obtain the necessary police permit for the rally.
In an announcement shortly after the Onitsha incident, government, through the state Commissioner for Information and Communications Strategy, Ogbuefi Tony Nnacheta, said: “The attention of Anambra State government has been drawn to illegal demonstration by a group of individuals causing anxiety at Nkpor/Onitsha axis of the state. The law enforcement agencies are on top of the situation and are currently working to restore normalcy and free movement for all law-abiding citizens.
“Ndi Anambra are, hereby, advised to remain calm and vigilant and go about their lawful businesses. All should note that there are laws against disturbance of public peace.”
50 members arrested, IPOB alleges
Also reacting to the clash, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of IPOB, Mr. Emma Powerful, alleged that apart from about 40 people killed, security operatives also arrested over 50 members of the group and took them to an unknown destination.
He said: “We were celebrating Biafra without any form of violence and the question we are asking is whether we no longer have our fundamental rights.”
National Publicity Secretary of Campaign for Democracy (CD), Mr. Dede-Uzor-Dede, said the Federal Government should arrest those involved in the killings of the harmless youths, with a view to bringing them to justice, in line with Chapter 4, Sections 33 to 41 which centred on fundamental human rights and in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.
Enugu Police arrest MASSOB, BIM members
Also, yesterday, no fewer than 13 suspected members of Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra,MASSOB, and Biafra Independent Movement, BIM,were arrested by the Police at the Edinburgh axis of Enugu metropolis where they converged as take-off point to embark on peaceful demonstration to commemorate their independence.
An eyewitness told Vanguard that the pro-Biafra members stormed the venue at about 7.40 a.m. in a Toyota Hiace bus with number plate XG 265 UWN with flags and T-shirts bearing Biafra insignia and inscriptions.
They were said to have formed a circle, holding hands in prayers before the commencement of the protest when the police swooped on them.
Confirming the arrest, Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Ebere Amaraizu, Superintendent of Police, said the protesters were rounded up following intelligence report on the would-be protest which made the command ban any form of protest.
“They converged on Edinburgh axis and the arrested suspects in their reactions maintained that they are members of MASSOB and BIM. They further stated that they were to converge and pray at the spot before embarking on procession with their flags to commemorate their independence.”
Chekwas Okorie urges Buhari to release Kanu
Meanwhile, Founder, United Progressives Party,UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie,yesterday, urged President Muhammad Buhari to release detained Nnamdi Kanu, Director Radio Biafra, as a prelude to dialogue with the aggrieved members of MASSOB, IPOB, and other affiliate groups demanding for Biafra secession.
Similarly, the apex Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, declined to comment on the activities of MASSOB, IPOB, BIM and other affiliate groups involved in the averted protest.
President General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Gary Enwo Igariwey, told Vanguard on the phone: “I do not want to talk about anything concerning MASSOB and others involved in any protest.”
40 MASSOB members arrested in Nsukka church
In Nsukka, MASSOB raised alarm that the police arrested 40 of it members at St. Theresa’s Cathedral, Nsukka, yesterday, while attending a special thanksgiving mass in commemoration of 49th anniversary of the declaration of the defunct Biafran Republic by the late warlord, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
The zonal leader of MASSOB in Enugu North, Chief James Omeke, said it was surprising that police circled the Catholic Cathedral, sneaked into the church and arrested the members at the special thanksgiving mass.
He said: ”The arrest, harassment and intimidation of the members would not deter the movement but would spur the struggle to freedom. Nigerian government has not been fair to the freedom of Biafra.”
Efforts to get confirmation from the Police Public Relations Officer, Ebere Amaraizu. proved abortive as several calls to his line were not answered. However, a senior police officer in Nsukka who spoke on condition of anonymity, denied any arrest.
Pro-Biafra protesters shot in Umuahia
In Umuahia, a member of MASSOB was said to have sustained gunshot wounds when police allegedly shot at the members, who held peaceful rally to mark 49th anniversary of Biafra.
He was said to have been rushed to an undisclosed hospital in the Abia State capital.
Also, 10 members of the group were said to have been arrested by the police during the rally.
Meanwhile, Ohanaeze Youth Council has condemned the killings, saying it was wrong for the security to shoot citizens on a peaceful protest.
According to the Council, it is against international laws and conventions to attack unarmed protesters with live bullets and called on the security operatives to respect the laws.
Reacting to the Onitsha killing and shooting in Umuahia, President General of the council, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, also said the mood of the nation required that the security agencies tread with caution so as not to heat up the polity.
Isiguzoro, therefore, called on the Federal Government to call the security operatives to order and caution them against incessant attacks on armless citizens.
The Abia State Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Udeviotu Onyeke, when contacted, denied that any protester was fired at by the police. He also denied that 10 protesters were arrested, saying police only arrested four activists.
IPOB, MASSOB loyalists arrested in Imo
In a similar development, the Imo State Police Command said it arrested only 17 loyalists of MASSOB and IPOB, including two women, as against the 50 claimed by the groups.
The MASSOB and IPOB members kicked off the road show at Waterside Primary School Owerri, from where they moved to Rotibi Street to Oguamana Street before linking Douglas Road where heavily armed security men threw teargas at them at Ama JK.
Mr Okechukwu Nwogu, a leader of MASSOB, who spoke to journalists in Owerri, regretted the arrest of members of the group who, according to him, were on a peaceful march to commemorate the 49th anniversary of Biafra and 17th anniversary of MASSOB.
The PPRO, Mr. Andrew Enwerem, who paraded those arrested, yesterday, before newsmen in Owerri, on behalf of the CP, Mr. Taiwo Lakanu, saidthe MASSOB and IPOB loyalists were arrested along Tetlow/Okigwe Road Park, Owerri, by policemen who were on routine patrol.
Police stop protest, arrest 92 in Ebonyi
In Abakaliki Ebonyi State, the state police command said it stopped the proposed protest by MASSOB to mark their independence day in the state
In a statement by the spokesperson of the command, ASP George Okafor, about 92 members led by one Vincent Nwamini and several other sub-leaders were arrested.
According to him, the command also discovered that the protest was a plot by miscreants to cause mayhem in the state.
7 die as MASSOB protests in Asaba
No fewer than seven persons have been confirmed dead following protest by members of the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), in Asaba on Monday. The Acting Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), in Delta, SP Charles Muka, who confirmed this in a statement, added that the police recorded two casualties. He said in the statement that five members of MASSOB were killed by military officers who had confrontations with the group along the Asaba-Onitsha Expressway in Asaba. It stated that the military arrested and brought eight members of MASOB to the police and “are now in custody in Asaba.” According to him, 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 Okwe Junction in Abraka area of Asaba, the group killed a police corporal and took his AK47 rifle.
“Also along the Dennis Osadeby 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 casualty 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 and eight others arrested and brought to the police headquarters.” It added that a pregnant woman was hit by a stray bullet during the fracas but now receiving treatment at the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba. The statement advised parents and guardians to warn their children and wards to follow the part of peace and pursue their agenda constitutionally.
12 pro Biafra protesters arrested in Rivers
In Rivers state, twelve members of Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign state of Biafra, MASSOB were arrested yesterday at Oyigbo local government area by the Police during a peaceful protest by the body.
Oyigbo Regional Administrator of the body, Mr Sunday Amuzie and the Rivers south Director of Information and Publicity of the group, Mr Anukem Anthony condemned the arrest, saying it will not stop them from their peaceful agitation.
They further called on the Inspector General of Police to order immediate release of their members arrested.
Amuzie said : “Today is a big day for Biafra people because it is the anniversary of Biafra independence. It is what we are celebrating today. You know the mentality of Nigeria Police, they don’t maintain the law.
“If, in deed, they are people that maintain law, not just enforcing it, they do not have any reason whatsoever, to arrest any group of persons who are carrying out a peaceful activity.
“MASSOB is a non-violent movement and would continue to remain so, till the actualization of the freedom. No matter the level of harassment, we will continue to maintain the non-violent principle”.
We don’t need this distraction now—Okorocha
Reacting to the development, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State said the development was a distraction which the South-East does not need at this point.
A statement signedby his Chief Press Secretary, Sam Onwuemeodo, said: “What the South-East and her people need at the moment is economic revolution to reposition the area for development and growth. Anything short of this lofty dream is a distraction. What the people of the zone need to do now is to tap into President Buhari’s administration to get their due. They should forget these distractions.”
Former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nduka Eya, has said IPOB had no reason to confront soldiers if it was engaged in peaceful demonstration.
Eya, who spoke against reports that soldiers opened fire on IPOB members who were celebrating Biafran heroes at Nkpo, near Onitsha, warned those agitating for Biafran to remember that Biafra died in 1970 when the secessionist war ended in the country.
“I had always said that Nigerians must be disciplined and also imbibe the habit of engaging in peaceful demonstration.
“Anybody who wants to embark on peaceful demonstration must obtain police permit.
“If you do so, the police will provide security and ensure that hooligans do not hijack it. This is the standard behaviour all over the world.
“If it is true that the IPOB people actually killed a soldier, the natural reaction would be for his colleagues to open fire on the demonstrators.
“Many of us still have Biafra in our hearts but nobody should engage in illegality. They kill you and you are out.
As long as we continue to engage in illegality, we will not get our bearing.
Efforts to get the Presidency’s reaction proved abortive as the Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Femi Adesina could be reached.