No fewer than 30 persons and a soldier were allegedly killed on Monday in Onitsha, the Anambra State capital, after some pro-Biafran protesters, said to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the defunct Biafra republic, engaged soldiers and policemen in a bloody clash.
Leaders of the protesters did not, however, produce the corpses of those said to have been killed by security operatives, but one of our correspondents saw two corpses in Onitsha on Monday.
The late Biafran leader, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, declared the secession of the Republic of Biafra from Nigeria on May 30, 1966.
The anniversary of the declaration, however, turned bloody when members of the Indigenous People of Biafra reportedly clashed with security agencies in Onitsha while some members of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra clashed with security operatives in Asaba, the Delta State capital, where two policemen were allegedly killed.
On the other hand, The PUNCH gathered that the Joint Security Taskforce arrested the Nnewi South Regional Administrator of MASSOB, Anthony Nwodo.
“Nwodo and 14 others were arrested at the Ezinifite area in the state on their way back home after the observation of the celebration,” an IPOB Leader, Mr. Sunny Chukwuebuka, said on Monday.
IPOB spokesperson, Mr. Emma Powerful, said, “They killed about 25 of our armless members at Nkpor without any cause. They just opened fire on us as we were having a peaceful procession.
“As I speak to you, and from the statistics we have on the ground, 22 of our members were also killed in other parts of the state, just like that.”
According to him, two out of the IPOB members that died met their sudden death at the Niger Bridge head.
“They were coming from Asaba, the Delta State capital, with others to join their Anambra counterparts in the celebration. On getting to the bridge, they met a stiff resistance from the JST and it resulted in a bloody clash and consequently a policeman died while a soldier was stabbed,” he added.
A source in the Press Unit of the Government House said the Governor, Mr. Willie Obiano, had “convened an urgent security meeting to seek ways to curb the crisis before it escalates.” We will issue a statement as soon as we get a directive to do so.”
However, Mr. Emmanuel Omenka, the Personal Assistant to the MASSOB leader, Chief Ralph Uwazurike, said, “No amount of killing of Biafra agitators will deter us from fighting to actualise a sovereign state of Biafra.”
The pro-Biafran protesters also took to the street in Port Harcourt, Enugu, Owerri and Calabar. While some residents claimed that IPOB collaborated with MASSOB on the protests, the MASSOB leadership in Anambra State distanced itself from the clash.
MASSOB leader, Mr. Uchenna Madu, said in a telephone interview that the organisation was not involved in the protest.
Madu explained 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.
He, however, condemned the use of firearms against the protesters. It was gathered that as early as 6am, members of the IPOB protested on the streets, some of them naked.
The pro-Biafran group blocked major streets in Onitsha at the Niger Bridge Head area, forcing most residents to remain indoors. Markets in Onitsha were also closed as a result of the anniversary that turned bloody.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Mr. Alli Okechukwu, confirmed the clash, but declined comments on the number of casualties. He said, “We are busy clearing the blocked roads in Onitsha to ensure that normalcy returns. We are not counting the number of casualties at the moment.”
The Anambra State Government condemned the IPOB demonstration that culminated in the alleged death of scores of people and a soldier on Monday in Onitsha.
In an announcement by the state Commissioner for Information and Communication Strategy, Chief Tony Nnacheta, the state described the IPOP demonstration as illegal.
It said, “The attention of the Anambra State Government has been drawn to an illegal demonstration by a group of individuals causing anxiety at the Nkpor/Onitsha axis of the state.
“Ndi Anambra are hereby advised to remain calm and vigilant and to go about their lawful business. All should note that there are laws against the disturbance of public peace.”
The Nigerian Army said security agencies intervened in the Onitsha protest due to the “wide spread panic, tension and apprehension” which the activities of the MASSOB and IPOB members generated.
It alleged that the protesters attacked the security agencies, forcing a reaction from them, in a statement by the Deputy Director, Army Public Relations.
Gambo added, “The nature of this attack involved brazen employment of various types of fire arms and all sorts of crude weapons, volatile cocktail such as acid and dynamites.
“In the aftermath of the fire fight that ensued, many of own troops sustained varying degrees of injuries. These injured troops are currently receiving treatment at own medical centre.
“Similarly, five members of MASSOB/IPOB were killed, eight wounded while nine were arrested for due legal actions.” Also, on Monday, the protest led by persons, said to be members of IPOB in Asaba, led to the death of two policemen after a clash between the agitators and the police in the state capital.
The protesters hit the streets in Asaba and its environs after their efforts to march to the toll gate area of Asaba were resisted by policemen, who sprayed them with tear gas.
The irate members allegedly attacked the policemen who were on patrol, killing two of them. Some sources claimed that the bodies of the two policemen, one of them a Deputy Superintendent of Police, were dumped into River Niger.
A nurse at the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed to the News Agency of Nigeria that some of the injured were brought to the hospital.
An eyewitness, Mr. Uche Okelue, told NAN that the fracas broke out after a police team threw tear gas at the protesters in an effort to disperse them.
“The police used tear gas on the MASSOB people as they were protesting along Anwai Road this morning; so, the people got angry and attacked the policemen with knives and broken bottles.
“They caught one policeman, beat him up before stabbing him to death. It was a fierce confrontation as everyone ran in different directions,” Okelue said.
A policeman, who did not want to be named, alleged that MASSOB members attacked some policemen at the bridge head, overpowering two of them, before throwing them into the river.
The Acting Police Public Relations Officer in Delta State, Charles Mouka, confirmed the death of seven persons, including two policemen.
Mouka said in a statement on Monday 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.’’
The PPRO added, “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 the Abraka area of Asaba, the group killed a police corporal and took his AK47 riffle.
“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 casualty number 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.”
Meanwhile, no fewer than 50 pro-Biafran activists were on Monday arrested by the police in Enugu.
It was learnt that the arrested secessionists were mostly members of the ‘Biafran Independent Movement’ faction of MASSOB.
The agitators were rounded up by police operatives around Edinburgh Street in the Ogui area of Enugu metropolis, where they had gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the defunct Biafra Republic.
Chanting pro-Biafran solidarity songs and hoisting Biafran flags, members of the group brandished placards, some of which read, ‘Biafra has come to stay’, ‘We want Biafra now’, ‘No to Nigerian government’, ‘No going back on Biafra’, and ‘Biafra is our last hope’.
Shortly before the police arrived in the area, one of the leaders of the group, Mr. Eugene Eze, who was among those that were subsequently arrested, explained that the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the defunct Biafra commenced on Sunday with a church service.
Eze said the celebration was organised to honour Biafran soldiers and other heroes, especially the late Ojukwu.
He added, “Since the end of the civil war, no Igbo man has occupied any sensitive position in the country.”
Sources among the secessionists, who did not want their names published, said more than 50 persons were arrested and taken away by the police.
The Enugu State Police Command on Monday confirmed the arrest of some pro-Biafran activists in Enugu.
But the command, in a statement by the state PPRO, Mr. Ebere Amaraizu, gave the number of the arrested persons as “no fewer than thirteen”.
He added, “Suspects, in their reactions, maintained that they are members of MASSOB but of Biafran Independent Movement.
“They further stated they were to converge and pray on the spot before embarking on a march with their flags to commemorate their independence.”
In Owerri, no fewer than 21 members of MASSOB were on Monday arrested by the Imo State Police Command.
Addressing journalists at the command’s headquarters in Owerri, the state PPRO, Andrew Enwerem, said protesters were arrested for causing public disorder in the state.
He said though their march was a peaceful one, the police were not informed before the march.
He added, “Any march, no matter how peaceful, without the knowledge of the police, is a breach of the peace. We did not know about the march until we started seeing Biafran flags in the air with over 150 MASSOBians.We arrested them because the march might cause a problem.”
Enwerem, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, stated that the protesters were arrested at Tetlow by Okigwe Road, where they were chanting war songs and proclaiming the coming of Republic of Biafra.
In Port Harcourt, 12 members of MASSOB were arrested by the police in the Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State on Monday.
The MASSOB members were on a peaceful procession on some streets and also along Market Road in Oyigbo when they were accosted and apprehended by a team of policemen.
It was learnt that the security operatives who effected the arrest of the pro-Biafran protesters were from the Counter-Terrorism Unit, Base 3, Port Harcourt.
The Region Administrator, Oyigbo Region of the group, Mr. Sunday Amuzie, urged the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, to release the arrested members of the group within 24 hours.
The state PPRO, Mr. Ahmad Muhammad, said 11 suspected members of MASSOB were currently in police custody.
Also, pro-Biafran protesters held a rally in Calabar, calling for the creation of a Biafra republic.
Organisers of the rally, which held on Monday at Ikom in the Cross River State Central Senatorial district, said the agitation was aimed at actualising the dream of the late Ojukwu for the creation of Biafra through non-violent means.
They walked from the Ikom Stadium to the New Okomo Layout axis of the town.
Zonal leader of MASSOB in Cross River State, Mr Samuel Okah, said the rally was in commemoration of the 1967 declaration of the sovereign state of Biafra by then leader, the late Ojukwu, which was not actualised through violent means, but could still come to reality through non-violence.
“Instead of violence, we have decided to change the approach by learning to agitate for the request through roundtable negotiations and dialogue, which are the most effective means of bringing about political and social emancipation. Biafra should be allowed to go its own way since it has come of age,” he said.
Okah added that the fight for the creation of a Biafran state was not only for the people of the South-East as erroneously insinuated, arguing that it would be for those in the South-South region as well.