No fewer than 11 persons, including two policemen, were killed during the fracas that followed a clash between the protesters and the Joint Task Force (JTF), during the three-week-long pro-Biafra protests which turned bloody, on Wednesday, December 2, 2015, around 1:30 am.
The cause of the clash was the insistence by the JTF that the Onitsha-Asaba road barricaded by the IPOB who said they would protest for three days until the Director of Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu is released be opened. Irked by the stubborn disposition of the pro- Biafra agitators not to open the bridge, the JTF opened fire on the IPOB members.
At the end of the clash, about nine members of IPOB activists were allegedly killed by the joint task force. Five dead bodies were allegedly picked at the Niger River Bridge head; three at Obodoukwu road, all in Onitsha, as well as a meat seller said to have been hit by a stray bullet and died instantly.
The Anambra Police Command said, yesterday, that despite losing two of its men during the pro-Biafra protests in Onitsha, the command never retaliated. The command’s Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Mr. Ali Okechukwu, in an interview, faulted the allegation that Police fired at the protesters, adding that one of the policemen, a sergeant, was killed at Obodo Ukwu, while the other was killed at Eze Iweka road. He said that following the problem in Onitsha, police kept vigil to ensure that peace was maintained and totally denied police involvement in the bloody riot that led to the death of about nine people.
We did not fire a shot at anybody and even when our men were felled, we still did not retaliate,” he said.
On the other hand, the news of the death of the IPOB members early yesterday morning which broke out in Onitsha ignited another round of violent protest as youths and protesting IPOB members went on rampage destroying everything in sight.
They converged on the bridge head and marched to the central Mosque near Onitsha Main Market and set it ablaze, alongside eight trucks marked “Dangote Group” packed within the premises, as well as a Hilux Pick Up van with federal government number plate. This was even as the Joint Military Task Force held motorists and commuters to a standstill at the Upper Iweka Area of Onitsha shooting sporadically. The protests forced traders in Onitsha and its environs to close shop as thousands of traders and travelers scampered for safety. The Niger Bridge head was still blocked by the IPOB as at 5p.m. Wednesday.
However, the newly installed acting leader of MASSOB, Comrade Uchenna Madu had rejected the earlier claims that pro-Biafra agitators were responsible for burning the Onitsha Central Mosque, the DANGOTE vehicles and other heinous acts within the city. He rather blamed the soldiers and other unnamed agents of the FG who sponsored the violence for the acts. According to him,
The setting of Onitsha Central mosque, vehicles ablaze and making of burn fires which depict violence are not done by members of IPOB or MASSOB under my leadership.
“These unwarranted acts of violence are perfected by hoodlums sponsored by agents of federal government to create impression that non-violence and peaceful pro- Biafra group have turned violence on our agitation for Biafra.
“Our oppressors are no longer comfortable and jittery, there is no violence or terrorism, violent or act of war against us hence they sponsored violence against us.
“We have been on this peaceful demonstration and protest for over a month without any act of violence, how can we now resort to violence now that we are told that the presidency is about negotiating with leaders of pro- Biafra groups? With today’s killing of our members and injuring many with bullet shots, we are no longer comfortable with Presidency’s move for dialogue”, the MASSOB spokesman stated further.
It was also reported that the IPOB protesters were later joined by members of the Movement for the Actualisation Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) who made a bonfire along the Onitsha-Owerri Road and the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway making entry in and out of the commercial city difficult. Hundreds of the pro-Biafra agitators also gathered at the Onitsha end of the Niger Bridge with the intent to march to Delta State through the neighbouring town of Asaba apparently to establish some presence but were prevented by the police from proceeding. Meanwhile, their attempt to force their way into Asaba was halted by a detachment of anti-riot policemen, which was reinforced from neighbouring Edo State police command.
Vanguard gathered that Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka, the Ogirisi Igbo, a respected Igbo leader who has the loyalty of both MASSOB and IPOB youths was attacked at about 1.35 am when he went to talk to the protesting youths at the Niger Bridge Head, after some Igbo leaders had pleaded with him to speak with the protesters.
Speaking in an interview at his house in Oba, Chief Ezeonwuka said: “The dangerous game being played by the Federal Government of Nigeria in the continued incarceration of Nnamdi Kanu will end up being an expensive joke and dangerous mistake.
I am calling on Igbo elite to speak with one voice for immediate release of Nnamdi Kanu before the youths turn their peaceful protest to violent protest. The protest started with free flow of traffic, but today it has advanced to road block,” he said.
However, the Inspector-General of Police, IGP Solomon Arase, has disclosed that no fewer than 137 protesters have been arrested and are currently undergoing prosecution. The police boss spoke yesterday, when he visited the Ministry of Interior. According to him, the suspects are all members of MASSOB and IPOB. Arase, who also described Nigerians as lawless, said inasmuch as government respects the right of citizens to free expression, MASSOB and IPOB activists must stop threatening public peace or face the full wrath of the law. His words:
What I can assure you is that we will not allow any group to disturb the peace of this country. We will clamp down on them, we will deal with them, we will prosecute them. Already, we have about 137 of them who are undergoing prosecution across the length and breadth of the South East and we will continue to do that.
The latest manifestation of this threat is the attempt to block the Onitsha end of Niger Bridge on December 1, 2015, an action that caused major hardship to innocent and law-abiding motorists and citizens. The act also occasioned serious dislocation of business activities.”
Arase issued a stern warning to MASSOB and IPOB activists to stop threatening public peace or face the full weight of the law.
To maintain law and order, the IG in a statement by Acting ACP Olabisi Kolawole, directed Assistant Inspectors–General of Police Zone 5, (Benin); Zone 6, (Calabar) and Zone 9 (Umuahia) and all Commissioners of Police in the affected states in the South East and neigbouring states “to henceforth maximally exercise their statutory mandate in relation to prevention and disruption of any gathering that threatens public order and national cohesion. Any person or group of persons so arrested in furtherance to the enforcement of this order will be made to face the full wrath of the law”.
On his on part, Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State has appealed to the various groups of agitators protesting for the release of Kanu in Onitsha to do everything within their power to maintain the peace as his administration would not stand by and watch what had looked like a peaceful procession get out of hand.
Delivering a special address on the continued siege laid in commercial city by thousands of protesters, Obiano expressed concerns that the activities of the agitators might destroy the peace that his administration had laboured so hard to bring to the state.
As your governor and the chief security officer of the state, I am compelled to act to avert any likely breakdown of law and order. In all situations, the preservation of human life comes first and I am determined to enforce that,” the governor declared.
Pointing out that his administration had made security of lives and property its priority from inception, Obiano warned that he had no intention of compromising on that.
Consequently, he appealed “to the members of IPOB, MASSOB and other aggrieved groups and individuals to maintain the peace and resist any attempt by hoodlums to take advantage of the situation and destabilize any part of Anambra State.”
The governor further warned all mischief makers who might want to take advantage of the peaceful demonstration to foment trouble to “keep off as we will not tolerate any breach of peace under any guise or pretense.”
He assured residents and visitors to the state that he was in touch with all the security agencies in the state and had their assurances that mischief makers would not be allowed to take advantage of the situation to disrupt the peace that Ndi Anambra currently enjoy.He said:
I therefore wish to assure Ndi Anambra and all visitors to the state to go about their normal business peacefully as the security agencies are on top of the situation to preserve law and order.”
The Ohaneze Ndigbo chapter in Niger state has also pleaded with the Federal Government not to apply force in stopping the pro-Biafra protests as that will eventually lead to more violent Agitations. He urged them to employ dialogue to address and resolve the issue.