[NEWS]: Biafra protests, claims 9 lives in Anambara
Irked by the stubborn disposition of the pro- Biafra agitators, who blocked the Niger Bridge Head and refused to give way to motorists, the JTF comprising Army, Navy, Police and Civil Defence troops, yesterday afternoon, opened fire at protesting members of Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, killing nine people and injuring 18.
Five people were killed at Niger Bridge Head while three were killed at Obodoukwu Road. A suya (barbecue meat) seller said to have been hit by a stray bullet died instantly.
The protesters were having a peaceful procession across South East states and had vowed to continue their blockage of the bridge for three days until detained Director of Radio Biafra, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu is released.
Miscreants, on hearing that some people had been shot dead by the JTF, started another protest, marched to the Central mosque near Onitsha Main Market and set it ablaze. A Hilux pick-up van with Federal Government number plate was also burnt when the JTF held motorists and commuters hostage at Upper Iweka with sporadic shootings that had never been witnessed before in Onitsha.
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.
It was gathered that what led to yesterday’s violence was an attempt by the JTF to reopen the blocked roads at the Bridge Head and at Upper Iweka road in the wee hours of Wednesday.
When the security operatives tried to open the roads, it was learned, they met resistance from the protesters, who grounded Onitsha on Tuesday and ensured that no vehicle entered or left the commercial city.
How protests turned bloody
The protesting IPOB members had blocked the Niger Bridge early Tuesday morning, thereby grounding vehicular movements in and out of Onitsha. From Asaba, Delta State, many boarded speed boats provided by the Marine Police to get in and out of Onitsha.
The protest was, however, aggravated by shooting to death of five IPOB members who were observing their peaceful procession at the Niger Bridge Head against the continued detention of their leader, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu at about 1.30 am
All the markets in Onitsha were shut around 12.30 pm, as thousands of traders in the markets and environs were seen scampering for safety as sporadic gunshots continued in many parts of the city.
The JTF, who could not disperse the protesters on Tuesday invaded the Niger Bridge at about 1.30 am, yesterday, and opened fire on the IPOB members who refused to leave the Niger Bridge, the gateway to the South East, killing six people including the suya seller said to have been hit by a stray bullet.
The killing of the protesters sparked off another protest by IPOB members who were joined by MASSOB members. They made bonfires along Onitsha-Owerri Road and Onitsha-Enugu Express way, forcing motorists coming in and out of Onitsha from Enugu, Asaba and Owerri to be trapped.
A reporter who went to Oba for an assignment was trapped at Oba junction, where he had to pay N3,000 from Oba Junction to Tarzan Junction, Onitsha, as over 2,000 vehicles coming into Onitsha were seen parked at the Oba Junction and refused entrance into Onitsha.
Commercial motorcyclists banned on the express roads by the state government made brisk business and had a field day as it was the only means of coming into and out of Onitsha.
Military should not push us into violence — IPOB
Speaking with newsmen, National coordinator of IPOB, Mr. Chidiebere Onwudiwe, alleged that five of their members were killed while 18 people sustained injuries, adding that he learned that more people were killed in the sporadic shooting by the JTF at Upper Iweka.
“The Joint Military Task Force could not disperse the protesters on Tuesday, and they went to regroup and invaded our members who were observing our three-day peaceful protest at the Niger Bridge at about 1.30 am Wednesday morning. We warned that they should not push us to be violent because we have people that can match them violence for violence,” he said.
It was 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.
The Campaign for Democracy, CD, South East branch, also condemned the killing of the protesters. Chairman of CD, South East branch, Dede Uzor A Uzor, said: “IPOB has been peaceful in their protest and there should not be any reason to open fire on them by security agencies. We are also calling for the unconditional release of Nnamdi Kanu and other IPOB and MASSOB members being incarcerated in various prisons and detention centres in the country, as they have not broken any law for protesting peacefully.”
We didn’t set Onitsha Central Mosque ablaze – IPOB, MASSOB
Meanwhile, the agitating groups have disassociated themselves from acts of arson and violence that culminated in the razing down of Onitsha Central Mosque and burning of some vehicles.
MASSOB Acting Leader, Uchenna Madu, in a statement said: “The setting of Ontisha Central Mosque and vehicles ablaze and making of bonfires, which depict violence are not done by the members of IPOB or MASSOB under my leadership.
“This unwarranted acts of violence are perfected by hoodlums sponsored by agents of the Federal Government to create impression that non-violence and peaceful pro-Biafra groups have turned violent in our agitation for Biafra. Our oppressors are no longer comfortable. There is no evidence of terrorism in our protest. How can we resort to violence now that we’re told that the presidency is about negotiating with leaders of pro-Biafra group?
“With today’s killing of our members and injuring many with bullet shots,we are no longer comfortable with the presidency’s move for dialogue. Federal Government’s move for dialogue is hypocritical and deceitful. Any Igbo group, organization and persons negotiating, meeting or dialoguing with the presidency on our behalf without our consent or mandate should stop now.
“MASSOB led by Uchenna Madu and IPOB led by Nnamdi Kanu have never mandated any person to negotiate for us. Even in this persecution, arrest, killings, clampdown, suppression against us by Nigeria Government, we shall continue and intensify our non-violence agitation for Biafra. For Nigeria to release their Armed Forces against non-violent, defenceless Biafra agitators shows their wickedness and the devilish mind of President Muhammad Buhari against our people.”